COOL CLASSES: “The Exotic Other: Gender and Sexuality in Africa and the Middle East”

A political science course examining the historical and theoretical categories of gender and sexuality in Africa and the Middle East and analyzing the politics and power surrounding “othering.”

Class name: “The Exotic Other: Gender and Sexuality in Africa and the Middle East”

Taught by: Visiting Associate Professor of Political Science Deborah Harrold


Here’s what Harrold has to say about the course:

In calling the class “The Exotic Other” I explicitly call attention to the processes of alienation, fetishization, eroticization, and commodification that belong to Orientalist views of African and Arab women, men, and sexualities. For example, an earlier Western fascination with the repressed women of the harem has been replaced with today’s obsession with veiling. At both moments, though, Middle Eastern women are seen as in need of rescue from controlling men. Women of sub-Saharan Africa are also portrayed as in need of rescue from African men. That they should wear more clothes was an older missionary project replaced by today’s wide menu of liberations directed at birth control, genital cutting, and education as well as their rights within the larger society and state, and their relationships with men. The effort to remake and free women was a Western project; a better understanding of its colonial history is essential if we are to evade the dominion of the colonial frame.

Men and masculinity, the family and the couple, same-sex sociability, and same-sex practices have also been subject to intense Western attention. Western ideas about modern relationships and sexual identities have been incorporated into new ideas of normal, especially for middle classes and elites. Social change in these regions usually has some relationship to the earlier projects, as people remake their social worlds, In short, gender and sexuality are historical and theoretical categories, made and made again by the shifting complexities of our social and political worlds. They are expressed in public—and ostensibly private—performances, in law , popular culture and all the arts at the juncture of politics, ethics and aesthetics.

I created an earlier version of the course in response to requests from students. Initially, I avoided teaching these topics because the weight of those historical frames seemed overwhelming and I was afraid that we would re-inscribe colonial frames once again in the class room. And I wanted to engage seriously with change in these regions, reading and listening, instead of stewing over my dissatisfaction with the eternal return of colonial tropes. For this class, I was happy to include some newer and very cool books I wanted to read, including Marc Epprecht’s Hungochani: A History of a Dissident Sexuality in Southern Africa, Eve Troutt-Powell’s Tell This in My Memory: Stories of Enslavement from Egypt, Sudan, and the Ottoman Empire, Farha Ghannam’s Live and Die Like A Man: Gender Dyamics in Egypt, and, brand new, Sanyu Mojola’s Love, Money, and HIV: Becoming a Modern Young Woman in the Age of AIDs. I’ve been rewarded with a group of smart students who challenge the readings, and me. They have different interests and backgrounds and bring incisive questions that open the course further.


See what other courses the Political Science Department is offering this semester.
Cool Classes is a recurring series on the Haverblog that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford College experience.

Photo, “Women Protesting in Tahrir Square,” by Joe Hill.