Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2018

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Karim Mattar

Second Advisor

Emily Harrington

Third Advisor

Brian Quinn


The post-9/11 memoirs of Malala Yousafzai’s I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban and Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books intervene in and offer pertinent experiences for the Western discourses of Muslim women. These two life-stories both revolutionize and further the Othering of Muslim women, and this thesis will utilize the genre as a lens through which to assess how biographical literatures can supplement post-9/11 Western Orientalism in the misrepresentation of Muslim women in Pakistan and Iran. In addition, this thesis will also disrupt the discourse of Orientalism with critical attention to relevant Occidental critical texts and questions, and ultimately maintain a goal in its assessment of rethinking current stereotypes of Muslim women in Western and Middle Eastern countries.

In my argument, I will demonstrate that centuries’-old Othering, as defined by Edward Said, or “subalternization,” as coined by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, has not disappeared but merely come to target those of Muslim faith and Arab descent. Fortunately, emerging Muslim female voices and writers over the past two decades and an increased availability to Westerners of such works pose challenges to this kind of continued Othering. Given the vast scope of such an inquiry, this work will limit its focus both geographically on Muslim women from Iran and Pakistan and temporally on the fifteen years since the early 2000s, as the events of September 11th, 2001 acted as a catalyst for a more extreme version of Western Othering towards Muslim peoples. The actual experiences, lives, and opinions of Muslim women cannot be cast as universal – thus, I will focus on individual experiences as examples of potentially broader themes.

By no means comprehensive, this work aims to prove that education, as exemplified by Malala and Azar, can help transform the current Othering of Muslim women into an understanding of the complexities that make up every Muslim woman, and every person, across the globe. Overall, Malala’s and Nafisi’s works help enlarge our perceptions by bringing into relief important and relevant discourses, and by personally engaging dominant cultural perceptions not always available (or visible) in the West.