Patriarchy present in all societies
The revolutions sweeping the Middle East have brought many novel images to the American public. One image in particular shocked the media talking heads: the Arab woman, taking an equal role in her country’s revolution.
Who knew that the Middle Eastern woman was so capable?
For example, in Egypt, a woman named Asmaa Mahfouz, founder of the “April 6th” movement, is responsible for a number of the protests that have been credited for the mass mobilizations of citizens that eventually led to their liberation.
And Gigi Ibrahim, a political activist, captivated the world with her reports from Tahrir Square.
Women were present at all stages of the Egyptian revolution and took equal responsibility, something Western media was definitely not expecting.
Libyan women are protesting alongside the men in support of democracy. Pictures from Benghazi, Libya, show women (veiled and unveiled) actively participating in the rebel headquarters, talking to media and formulating strategy.
In Bahrain, Yemen, Tunisia and Algeria, women from all walks of life are protesting with men about the same issues: neoliberal economic policies, oppression and inequality.
The reason our media finds this so surprising is because they were caught off guard by their own stereotypes. The Arab women weren’t conforming to media perceptions!
With great fascination, the fate of these female protestors became a popular topic on the evening news. Pundits formulated theories that the Islamic nature of these societies would marginalize women eventually.
What these ethnocentric analysts seem to have forgotten is that the marginalization of women has never been a solely Muslim problem.
Women everywhere face sexism, objectification and unequal treatment. After all, a women’s right to an abortion is still contested in this country, as is her right to equal pay. The women of the Middle East in particular have been just as marginalized by secular, nationalist and communist movements in the past.
Female participation in these uprisings has certainly had a positive effect on gender relations, but, of course, a revolution is not a magic pill.
Women in the Middle East, like women all over the world, face many obstacles on their road to emancipation.
Nevertheless, female involvement in the Arab uprisings has shown that the revolutions can — and will — help pave the way to greater gender equality in the future.