Lebanese pantries : the battle for women’s rights in Lebanon

Ayoub, Elissa Khoury (2022) Lebanese pantries : the battle for women’s rights in Lebanon. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Lebanese pantries, mouneh in Arabic, are part of an old tradition wherein residents in remote Lebanese villages preserved fresh produce such as jams, oil-packing labneh, makdous, and awarma, making provisions for the harsh winter. I recall as a child, when I visited my grandmother Marie in her village house in summertime, there were women gathered on the roof, where white sheets were spread. They were making kishk, a traditional Lebanese dairy food, cooked into a soup during winter. The women sat in a circle collectively, kneaded the dough in early stages or crushed the dried kishk into powder with their hands, and conversed together. They spoke about the price of the yogurt they bought, the latest engagement and wedding in the village, and land feuds. The title of this research project, Lebanese Pantries: The Battle for Women’s Rights in Lebanon, claims this practise of collectively preserving food as a metaphor. It maps this tradition, whereby women created collectively through rhizomatic relationships and tactful practises to provide for their families and help one another, to the documenting of the Lebanese female experience of family, motherhood, and work. This research investigates the socioeconomic, political, and cultural experiences which Lebanese women live through, aiming to identify societal patterns (i.e. making provisions for my daughters). Through autoethnography, I provide insight about my becoming as a Lebanese woman: becoming (over the course of this PhD journey) a married woman, a mother of two daughters, and a migrant worker in academia in Dubai. The research surrounding myself and my family members is an intrinsic part of the research methodology, for it allowed me to document my life not in a vacuum but rather in the fluidity of my personal journey. Using film as a methodological tool, developed to document and investigate the personal and collective accounts of Lebanese women, the project asks if an autoethnographic filmmaking programme can represent the status of middle-class women in Lebanon. The hybrid methodological approach fuses filmmaking with theoretical inquiry, combining documentary, drama, experimental form, generational testimony, and autobiography to produce observational documentary, performative documentary, and autoethnographic films. In the thesis, I examine the theoretical performativity, rhizomatics, and tactics and how they work together in the filmmaking methodology to produce a rhizomatic, autoethnographic filmmaking methodology. The project is presented as a body of audio-visual work and a written thesis. They combine to provide a complex documentation of female experiences of motherhood, family, and work in a Lebanese context. The project examines the status of the Lebanese middle-class and how it has evolved and regressed over the course of three generations in my family. Through depicting my grandmother Marie El Hachem; my mother, Elige El Hachem Ayoub; and my four aunts, Jeanette, Julie, Jana, and Georgette, I have captured/documented an oral history of their intimate, personal experiences and memories of how they recall the facts in their lives as a context from which I have made choices. In the process of becoming a wife, a mother bearing two daughters Elsa and Arya , and an academic filmmaker, I documented my experiences autoethnographically, reflecting on the position of other Lebanese women of my generation. The Mother of My Mother (2014) and Mama (2014) are two short films based on familial interviews with my grandmother and mother, respectively. The interviews revolve around their lives and their perspectives on women’s status in Lebanon. In the short essayistic film Papa O C’est Eau, Maman O C’est Au, Bebe O (2015), I depict becoming a mother by documenting the one-year postpartum phase of my life. Away from Elsa (2016) and Christmas Break (2016) explore the theme of movement across different landscapes and mothering on the go. Furthermore, I examine the status of migrant domestic workers in Lebanese households, cognizant that I am of the social stratum whose power structure has perpetuated their subordinate status. I analyse how to mitigate my position whilst acknowledging how this reveals middle-class women’s status and rights. I am part of the social stratum of the Lebanese madame, subordinate in her own right within this larger Lebanese social stratum. The short drama Mali (2011) revolves around a Sri Lankan domestic worker, locked within the household of her employer in Lebanon, who decides to escape one afternoon. From there, I consider where we come together in the power dynamics and where we diverge and converge. Lebanese Pantries asks if filmmaking can examine the lives of middle-class women in Lebanon and capture the struggles and challenges they face. It offers a new way of examining the path of middle-class Lebanese women across three generations.

Actions (Repository Editors)

Item Control Page Item Control Page