Gendering The Researcher’s Body: Ethno-Religious Identity, Femininity, and Participant Observation in Muslim Bridal Salons in Northwestern China

Authors: Yang Yang*, National University of Singapore
Topics: Qualitative Research, Gender, China
Keywords: Gender, body, Ethnography, Islam, China
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 43
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In this paper, I examine the gendering of the researcher’s body in the field to better understand the intersections of gender, class, religion, and ethnicity in the researcher’s positionality in fieldwork. I ask how the gendered body of the researcher could become sites where multiple meanings of ethnic and religious identity are co-produced by both the researcher and the researched. I reflect on my positionality as a non-Muslim Han Chinese female researcher in the ethnographic fieldwork in urban Hui communities in northwestern China, especially the process of changing my everyday “non-Muslim-like” look into the Hui’s locally defined ideal bridal look that represents transnational Islam. Hui Muslim staff of bridal salons projected their visions of the appropriate and ideal bridal look on my body. This shift from the researcher’s gaze on the researched to the other way around did not only allow them to elaborate on their understandings of the ideal transnational Muslim-ness through their choices in colors, styles, fabrics, and cosmetic products. It also revealed how the assumed universal image of transnational Islam became localized and hence accessible to the local Hui people through compromises and choices aligned with the local Hui’s preferences in displaying specific versions of femininity that were not necessarily associated with Islamic values. Highlighting the production of “Muslim-ness” on my body in the gendered space of bridal salons, I suggest understanding the process of gendering the researcher’s body as an approach to unpack the gendered hierarchies and aspirations in spaces that are not codified as “religious.”

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