Images of overt sexuality on the covers of magazines like Cosmopolitan have become the norm to young Western audiences. Lebanese poet, translator and journalist Joumana Haddad will discuss the restrictions that social constraints have placed on Arab women and their representation in this week’s Penny W. Stamps lecture.

Joumana Haddad

Thursday at 5:10 p.m.
Michigan Theater

Haddad’s lecture, “Taboos,” aims to dissolve the assumed cultural and gender roles that shape the view of Arab women in both Western and Eastern societies. Her work has extended throughout a diverse range of media, including poetry, journalism and collage art.

“Joumana is very much trying to tear down the stereotype of the Arab woman,” said Chrisstina Hamilton, director of visitor’s programs and the Penny W. Stamps Speaker Series.

“The thing that … really hit our radar here (at the University) was her work with this magazine she started, JASAD, which is the Arab word for the ‘body,’ ” Hamilton said.

Founded in 2008, JASAD is an often-controversial cultural magazine published in Lebanon. Explicit topics revolving around the body and sexuality have sparked a heated response in the Arab world. According to the magazine’s website, JASAD aspires to break cultural taboos and “aims to reflect the body in all its representations … providing writers, researchers and artists with the freedom that they rightfully deserve.”

As founder and editor-in-chief of JASAD, Haddad is a recipient of both praise and resentment for her work. JASAD’s focus on controversial issues has sparked various protests, including an attempt by Hizbullah to close down JASAD’s stand at a Beirut book fair, according to the Guardian. Haddad’s status as a female leading figure has made her the target of plenty of criticism, including hate e-mails.

Although JASAD has experienced disapproval by audiences, Haddad feels that the problem of the restricted representation of Arab women is partly internal.

“She feels that … the first part of the problem of the stereotype of Arab women comes from the West but it also comes from Arab women themselves,” Hamilton said. “And she’s trying to combat that.”

Haddad has received numerous awards, including the Arab Press Prize in 2006. She is also head of the cultural page in a daily Lebanese newspaper, An Nahar.

For speakers like Haddad, whose work is repressed in other parts of the world, the Penny W. Stamps Speaker Series provides “a forum for communicating around issues of the day,” Hamilton said.

“She’s bringing the subject up in a forum where it can be discussed. So it’s an opportunity for people to … gain another perspective, gain insight and … possibly make a decision on how they feel about it,” Hamilton added.

Both Haddad’s personal work and her involvement with JASAD aspire to release the stereotyped Arab woman from taboos that resonate in today’s world. Whatever preconceived notions one might have, Haddad’s lecture offers a fresh look at how multiple views in the Arab world render the body, women and sexuality.

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