Film, Video Afghan Women's Stories: the Problematics of Cover

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Afghan Women's Stories: the Problematics of Cover
Afghan women in burkas have become iconic representations of women's oppression in western media, but this representation is contested in various ways by Afghan women and men. The most common observation by Afghan women activists is that we westerners should get over it, that the burka, hot, uncomfortable and inconvenient as it is, is certainly not their most pressing problem. It has even proved useful at times as an enabling device to preserve women's mobility and anonymity under circumstances of surveillance or constraint. Westerners have their own preoccupations with visual access and its meanings, reflective of our ideas about bodily privacy and self-determination. This talk, illustrated with Afghan women's folktales and personal reminiscences about the use and misuse of cover, both imaginary and actual, explores how Afghan women understand and strategize around constraints on their public presence and social authority. These observations are used to reflect on certain recent mismanaged representations of Afghan women and families in global media and their repercussions for the women so represented.
Event Date
September 19, 2007
-  Margaret Mills was raised in Seattle and educated at Harvard, where she developed her lifelong interest in Persian-language oral narrative under the tutelage of Albert Lord and Annemarie Schimmel. She has taught ethnographic field research methodology in the U.S., Bangladesh, India and Tajikistan. She has done research on schooling and foodways in Pakistan, on everyday ethical speech in Tajikistan, and continues her work on Afghan oral narrative, both fiction and oral history. Her previous publications include "Rhetorics and Politics in Afghan Traditional Storytelling" (1991) and she co-edited "South Asian Folklore: An Encyclopedia" (2003) with Peter Claus and Sarah Diamond. She has a book project under way presenting the oral history of an Afghan family as well as a monograph on tricksters and gender in Persian-language oral tradition. Mills recently completed a term of service as the chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Ohio State University.
Related Resources
American Folklife Center:
Running Time
1 hours 42 minutes 32 seconds
Online Format

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Afghan Women's Stories: the Problematics of Cover. 2007. Video.

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(2007) Afghan Women's Stories: the Problematics of Cover. [Video] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

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Afghan Women's Stories: the Problematics of Cover. 2007. Video. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

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