The two women Nobel Prize winners Rigoberta Menchú and Malala Yousafzai and their “bestselling” books have stirred numerous controversies over the past few years. The credibility of both writers is questioned and their books have not achieved much fame in their own countries (Guatemala and Pakistan, respectively) compared to Western countries. Rigoberta is blamed for representing “all” indigenous people, and Malala is accused of misrepresenting Islam and enhancing the West’s stereotypical assumptions about Muslim women as oppressed. While Rigoberta is accused of attacking the Guatemalan government, Malala is accused of inviting the “Western saviors” to come to post-9/11 Pakistan and spare the world from the “evil” of Taliban. Although the accusations raised against the works of these writers are very similar, there is no cross-cultural study done on the controversial reception of these works and the implications surrounding this reception—including but not limited to the question of authorship, Western hegemony, and the complexities of testimonios and memoirs as genres. This paper aims at unveiling the controversy over I, Rigoberta Menchú, stirred by David Stoll, as well as the controversy over I Am Malala, perpetuated by Mirza Kashif Ali. In so doing, I take a cross-cultural, feminist approach to respond to these controversies and shed light on the implications of these controversies. Despite the different historical moment and the geopolitical context in which these two books were written and received, despite all the complexities and questions surrounding the genre (memoir and testimonios) and the co-authorship of these books, and despite questions about the Western appropriation of these two women, I argue that I, Rigoberta Menchú and I Am Malala are two books by women political activists who paid the price dearly for challenging patriarchy and dictatorship and helped shape the historical consciousness, and the renewed relevance of history writing for emerging nations and gender and political conflicts.
Moving Beyond Controversy: A Cross-Cultural Genre and Gender Study of Rigoberta’s Testimonio I, Rigoberta Menchú and Malala’s Memoir I Am Malala.
Journal of International Women's Studies, 22(5), 461-473.
Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol22/iss5/29