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Women in the Arab Media

Table of contents:
1. Introduction
2. The historical background of the position of women in the Middle East
3. The positive effects of the representation of women in the Arab media
4. The negative effects of the representation of women in the Arab media
5. Conclusion
6. Works cited

Introduction
Traditionally, the position of women in the Middle East was oppressed and they played a secondary role in the social life entirely focusing on chores and household. However, the socioeconomic progress and the growing feminist movement, which is spread worldwide, could not fail to affect Arab women in the Middle East. In spite of the conservatism of the local society, Arab women had started to change their position and role in the society. In such a situation, the mass media accelerated consistently the change in the position of women since, on the one hand, the access of the population of the Middle East to western media and the progress of the local media contributed to the change in the public perception of the traditional Arab lifestyle, including the view on the position and role of women. On the other hand, women, being encouraged by the success of the feminist movement in other countries and being acquainted with culture and traditions of other countries, have started to take an active position and, today, many Arab women attempt to succeed in their professional career and the mass media are often viewed as an excellent opportunity for Arab women to realize their full potential and achieve success and respect in the society.
However, it is obvious that such a change is quite radical for a conservative, patriarchic society of the Middle East. As a result, Arab women often face miscomprehension, discrimination and opposition to their efforts to make a successful career either in the mass media, or in politics, or in any other field. In such a context, the mass media become the major tool with the help of which Arab women can change the public opinion and the perception of a woman in the Arab society. Therefore, the representation of women in the Arab media becomes a crucial factor of their professional success and the change of the public opinion concerning the position of women in the Arab society.
In such a situation, it is important to analyze in details basic positive and negative trends and changes that have taken place recently in the Middle East in relation to the representation of women in the Arab media and the position of women at large.
The historical background of the position of women in the Middle East
Historically, the Middle East was characterized by the domination of the patriarchic principles and the entire society was basically dominated by men, while the position of women was traditionally inferior. In this respect, it is necessary to point out that the position of women in the Middle East was not totally oppressed. In fact, they had and still have larger rights, but the major problem is that they social roles are limited by their families and households, while social life was practically under the total control of men. It was men who defined the political and economic development of the society, while women had little access to the politics, they could hardly make a successful professional career or succeed in business, while in social relations women did not play an active part.
In actuality, the position of women in the Middle East was determined not only by the inequality in socioeconomic position of men and women but also by cultural traditions and norms that dominated in the Arab society. In this respect, it should be said that the institution of the motherhood was traditionally extremely important in the Arab world. This is why Arab women were viewed as mothers and wives above all and not as political leaders, for instance. In such a situation, it is quite natural that women played a secondary role in the socioeconomic and political life of the society and they were simply forced to focus entirely on their families, raising their children and their households. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that an average Jordanian family consists of 6 members (Moghadam, 251). Naturally, in such a situation, a Jordanian woman, who is supposed to be focused on household and family, could hardly make a professional career or develop her business, or succeed in some social activities without abandoning her duties as a mother and without abandoning her household duties.
However, by the end of the 20th century, the situation has started to change since the Middle East grew more and more involved in the international economic relations, which were accompanied by the growing cultural exchanges and which led to certain political changes in many Arab countries. In the result of the integration of the Middle East in the world economy, which actually brought many Arab countries huge profits from sales of natural resources, especially oil, the region became more and more susceptible to external influences in different spheres of life. Many local specialists and leaders get their education in Western countries, learning their culture and traditions and partially accepting them as a norm.
At the same time, the impact of media became particularly significant, especially with the development of the satellite television, which opened new opportunities for the audience of the Middle East since people could get acquainted with cultures of other countries and they could acquire new norms and traditions. In addition, the emergence of the local media also stimulated consistent changes in the Arab society, especially in relation to women, who, under the impact of profound socioeconomic and cultural changes, were willing to play a more important social role, enter politics and make a successful professional career.
The positive effects of the representation of women in the Arab media
The development of the media in the Middle East contributed consistently to the improvement of the position of women in the Arab world. In fact, the media produced a multiple effect on the audience in regard to the change of the traditional perception of women in the Arab society. In this respect, it is important to underline that, on the one hand, the Arab media have started to represent women more objectively and women have got larger opportunities to convey their message and state their position to the mass audience via the media, while, on the other hand, the Arab media have become a good opportunity for Arab women to make a career within the media. The latter is particularly important because the employment of women in various media, from printed media to visual media becomes more and more widely spread. This means that Arab women get larger opportunities to make a successful professional career since they have access to the job in the media and, therefore, they have opportunities for the professional growth.
At the same time, Arab women could use the media not only as their workplace or as a basis for their professional development and growth, but also as a tool by means of which they could convey their position to the mass audience. To put it more precisely, the only presence of women in the Arab media could be viewed as challenge to the traditional norms and views of the Arab society because, in such a way, Arab women show their active social position and demonstrate their desire and ability to work in the media being equal to men. In such a situation, the media becomes a powerful tool that contributes to the elimination of the discrimination of women in the Arab society and stimulates women to take a more active position in society, while the audience can perceive women in a different way. In fact, the presence of women in the media and their work as journalists stimulate the change of the biased attitude to women as secondary or inferior compared to men.
In addition, women can convince their ideas to the audience as well as they may raise problems which are currently very important for the Middle East. For instance, as journalists, they can raise the problem of the discrimination of women and their unequal representation in the politics or the lack of opportunities for Arab women to launch their own business simply because they are women, etc.
Moreover, some women use the media as a means of representation of certain groups of women in the Arab world. For instance, Muna Abusulayman is one of the four anchorwomen on the Saudi popular show “Speaking Softly” which deals with various issues in a talk format. Of the four women working on the show, Muna Abusulayman is the only one who wears a hidjab, or headscarf (Esposito and Haddad, 167). In such a way, she represents a large part of the Saudi women who also wear a hidjab, which is actually an essential element of their clothing which they had to wear in accordance with their religious beliefs and the existing socio-cultural norms. On wearing a hidjab, Muna Abusulayman apparently wants to show other women that being a woman or being a muslim, or both, does not necessarily meant that they cannot be a journalist, or that they cannot take an active social position. In stark contrast, she attempts to show other women that they can lead an active life, they can work and, what is more, they can be successful, regardless of the existing prejudices and stereotypes as well as socio-cultural norms, which used to deprive them of these opportunities and restricted their life consistently. Moreover, Muna Abusulayman is divorced and lives alone with her child in Saudi Arabia, which is atypical for the local society and cultural norms. At the same time, she proves the fact that a Saudi woman can live independently with her child and she does not need the support of men. In such a way, Muna Abusulayman attempts to convince the audience that a Saudi woman can be equal to a Saudi man and that she does not need the assistance of a man to lead a normal and even successful life.
Obviously, the example of Muna Abusulayman is quite challenging to the conserviative part of the Arab society, but still her example is very important for those Arab women who still cannot take a decision concerning their future and who cannot make a professional career just because of the existing stereotypes and the possibility of social condemn. In fact, it is possible to estimate that Muna Abusulayman creates a totally new image of an Arab woman.
However, her example is rather exceptional than typical. Nevertheless, it is important to underline that women have started to use the media more effectively in the Middle East. In this respect, it should be said that women have started to enter politics and the media became a powerful tool for the promotion of their ideas and gaining the public support. In fact, as women have got access to the media they could compete with men and, hence, they could make a successful political career if they managed to create a positive public image with the help of the media. Obviously, promotional campaigns involving the mass media are very effective before the elections and the access of women to the media and the use of the media in the promotional campaigns increase their chances to the success during the elections, while getting legislative or executive power women can influence decisions taken on the top political level in the Arab world that creates favorable conditions for the democratization of the Arab society and the improvement of the position of women in the Arab world.
The negative effects of the representation of women in the Arab media
However, the growing representation of women in the Arab media does not always lead to positive outcomes. To put it more precisely, the presence of women in the Arab women is not always perceived positively by the audience. Moreover, under the impact of the existing stereotypes and biases even Arab women do not always perceive adequately the representation of women in the Arab media. What is meant here is the fact that women represented in the Arab media are often perceived negatively because they do not meet the cultural and moral standards of the Arab society. The problem is that it is not only Arab men but also many Arab women that cannot accept the idea that a woman can make a successful political career, for instance. Many people, including women, believe that women are unable to be as successful as men or, what is more, often the qualification of women represented in the media, either politicians or journalists, or other professionals, is put under a question. In such a context, the successful work of women in the media, especially on television, as well as in politics is particularly important because their successes will change the existing stereotypes and the extremely biased attitude to women and their professionalism.
In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that women’s employment in Arab countries’ radio and television or print media was the crowning achievement of their educational qualification, since 60 to 70 % of information and communication Institutes’ students are women (Moghadam, 207). However, it is important to underline the fact that they have been unable to access high-level positions that allow them to influence media strategies in a way that changes traditions’ negative view on women or how women are presented. Consequently, the successes of female journalists are rather an exception a norm.
Moreover, it may be very dangerous for women in the Middle East to work in the mass media. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the example of May Chidiac, who is the host of a Lebanese TV program called “With Audacity”. In her program, May Chidiac covers tough stories and raises very important problems, which often do not meet the cultural norm and local tradition. In fact, she is well-known in the Arab world for her tenacious journalism. However, it was because of her professional work she became a victim of an assassination attempt by suspected Syrian agent, and she lost a hand and a leg in a car bombing in September, 2005. Nevertheless, after numerous surgeries she went straight back to work (Zuhur, 122). This example shows that women in the Arab media may face serious threats to their life, but their boldness and persistence can change the public view of women in the Arab world.
Conclusion
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the position of Arab women is changing and the Arab media produce a significant impact on this process. In fact, the media provide larger opportunities for women to present their position to the mass audience and show the positive example of an Arab woman who has achieved a tremendous success. Moreover, the media are used by Arab women not only as a tool for making professional journalist career, but they are used by female politicians to promote their ideas and position to the electorate. Nevertheless, Arab women still have to overcome biases and prejudiced attitude to them and the wider representation of women in the Arab media can solve this problem.

Works cited:
Ahmed, Leila Women and Gender in Islam: Historical roots of a modern debate, Yale University Press, 1992.
Armstrong, Karen The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, London, HarperCollins/Routledge, 2001.
Bernadette Andrea, Women and Islam in Early Modern English Literature, Cambridge University Press, 2008
Esposito, John and Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad. Islam, Gender, and Social Change, Oxford University Press, 1997.
Moghadam, Valentine (ed), Gender and National Identity. Oxford University Press, 2005.
Nadje Al-Ali and Nicola Pratt, Women in Iraq: Beyond the Rhetoric, Middle East Report, No. 239, Summer 2006.
Suad Joseph, ed. Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures. Leiden: Brill, Vol 1-4, 2003-2007.
Saddeka Arebi, Women and Words in Saudi Arabia: The Politics of Literary Discourse, Columbia University Press, 1994.
Zuhur, S. “Women and Empowerment in the Arab World.” Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Vol. 25, 2003.


 
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