Middle East Gender Roles

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Who is She? Gender Roles in the ‘Arab World’
The Middle East. A region regularly considered as stagnant, uniform, and backwards, seems to be cemented between modernity and tradition, concepts commonly used as polar opposites in the linear theory of social change. Modernity, associated with concepts as change, progression, and growth, seems to be in contrast with tradition, comprising the static, the old and the authentic. As philosopher Marshall Berman states “To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world – and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.” (1982, 16). Interesting in the dichotomy
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Before examining the development of gender roles in the Middle East, it should be taken into account that ‘the Middle East’ is a region hard to define, and likewise ‘Arab society’. Only two countries of the Middle East will actually be represented, since Qasim Amin is an Egyptian, and the hip hop group DAM is from Palestine. Therefore, the conclusion will be feeble, however, it is interesting to have a certain insight in the world of gender studies in the Middle East.
To have an understanding of contemporary criticism on gender roles in the Middle East, it is important to examine some of its history. The definition of gender, “the cultural assumptions and practices that govern the social construction of men, women and their social relations” (Barker 2012, 502), makes it plausible to believe that social change and thus change in gender roles is possible, since gender is something constructed. Transforming gender roles and family structures is linked to economic development and political change, both influenced by regional and global developments. The Middle East in general has a history of patriarchal societies, due to its origin as a highly Islamic region. During the period 622-1750 Muslim governments were characterized by various forms of tribal feudalism, resulting in mainly patriarchal
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This famous phrase by Marx, suggests that modernity involves change, uncertainty and risk (Berman 1982, 15). Both men and women are the subjects as well as the objects of modernization and have the power to change the world, and to define this world but also their own identities. Although the identity of the Middle East is often associated with tradition and stagnation, views on topics such as gender roles and the patriarchal society are evolving, creating space for social groups to criticize traditional views on those topics. Debates about gender, sexuality, and feminism are controversial in an area that is known for its patriarchal and male-dominant society. However, over the past few decades critical voices have designated these topics and opinions have changed over time, implying that the Middle East is in a shift towards the will of the people. The song and videoclip ‘Who You Are’ by the Palestinian hip hop group DAM is a modern example of criticizing current patriarchal society in the Middle East, both in terms of content and form, implying that a modern ‘Arab society’ has evolved since Qasim Amin’s time. Striking differences are found between the Arab’s world first feminist Qasim Amin and the contemporary hip hop group DAM, both in form and content of their artworks. Nowadays, women are actually represented in criticizing the patriarchal society, whereas Amin solely used his male

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