"Gender, Modernity and Liberty" presents a dialogue between Western and Middle Eastern women that is often presumed never to have happened. Not only were women from the Middle East imagined to be shut up in a harem all day without access to education, ideas or the outside world, but the extent to which Western women travellers were able to engage with women in the regions they visited has often been overlooked. This pioneering collection provides substantial extracts from Ottoman, Egyptian and British and American writers - each with a biographical and literary introduction - that trace the development of an intellectual, personal and critical dialogue between women over a period of accelerated social change marked by Arab nationalism and Egypt's move to independence, and the establishment of the Turkish Republic at the end of the Ottoman Empire. The ways in which the role of woman as either guardian of tradition or in the vanguard of change was hotly contested in both countries and by all sides of the political spectrum is explained in an editors' introduction and photo-essay that set up the common themes of the collection.
"Gender, Modernity and Liberty" includes writings by Halide Edib, Musbah Haidar, Hoda Shaarawi, Emine Foat Tugay, Demetra Vaka Brown, Zeyneb Hanoum, Lady Annie Brassey, Grace Ellison, Annie Harvey, Emmeline Lott, Sophia Poole and Ruth Woodsmall. Participating in local and international debates, they wrote about the harem, polygyny, nationalism and modernism and commented on fashion alongside discussions about feminism and slavery, knowing all the while that their books were likely to be read through the exoticising frame of Western Orientalist stereotype. Their success in negotiating the very constraints that provided the - often prurient - market for their books, reveals a will to self-determination that speaks to the challenges still faced today by women from the Middle East and the Muslim world.