Home > Democracy, Media, Women's Rights > Arab world needs a Rosie the Riveter

Arab world needs a Rosie the Riveter

July 11, 2011

A new book on how Arab media portrays women is coming out at the right time as Arab nations undergo political change that should make governments more responsible to people and, hopefully, give women a stronger and more equal voice in the national dialogue.

Social media has helped give Arab women a voice they never had before. While picketing is visible to any passerby and therefore easily discouraged by Arab men who view the home as the woman’s role in society, social media protesting occurred secretly.

But visibility is arguably the single greatest chance for changing society. If women want a greater role in Arab society, they will have to be treated as equal in the media. Media represents a society’s shared community of ideas, and those ideas are disseminated throughout the day through media. Women in the workplace and, in general, as men’s equals, need to become part of that message.

The book, based on empirical research, looks at how international readers think Arab media portrays media. The idea is that historically, Arab media has treated women as passive, veiled observers. They have been reactionary commentators on policies designed by patriarchal and religious rulers.

But how can this be changed? The first step, in my opinion, should be through giving women a greater presence in media depictions of the workplace.

A 2002 UN report showed that women were receiving better, yet still stereotypical portrayal in Arab media:

Advertisements featuring women in the Arab world nowadays are often showing women as
submissive wives happily using the products being sold.  So the camera focus has turned toward
a different, but still stereotypical direction.  As noted by media specialist researchers, there is too
much focus on housewives and too little attention given to working women.

Arab media should take the Rosie the Riveter approach if it is to push the idea of women being equal to men in the workplace. Of course, that iconic image was US propaganda designed to draw women to the workplace while men served overseas in World War II. That image attracted many women to work side by side with men in factories and jump started the role of women in the workplace. Obviously that battle continues in the US, with women earning 77 cents for every dollar men receive. But Arab countries need to start somewhere, and lending a more positive image to women — putting them in more advertisements depicting working people is a good idea — in advertising is step one.

The Arab world needs a Rosie the Riveter

I don’t believe most Arab states are ready to push such an image, and given rampant unemployment in the Arab world I don’t believe they are in the position to do so. The US had an employment problem of the best kind — it had to fill positions — but Arab nations are having a difficult time creating jobs for thousands of young university graduates.

It certainly wasn’t American society that was ready for women in the workplace — the economy demanded it. With women receiving the vote just 20 years before, I have a hard time believing the US push for women in the workplace would have organically proceeded at such a pace without WWII.

That’s the conundrum in the Arab world. A good portion of the Arab world from the government down to the street may not be ready for Rosie the Riveter. Many Arab nations are based on “traditional roles,” many of which are (mis)guided by a fundamentalist capitulation of the Qur’an, making portraying women in the workplace not only difficult but ideologically impossible.

The Arab world needs its own Rosie the Riveter, regardless of the economic and employment conditions. If governments want to micromanage, they could offer tax credits to companies that advertise with women in the workplace — or give tax credits simply for hiring women.

It may take a paradigm shift for such initiatives to get started. The Arab Spring is that paradigm shift. If patriarchal, fundamentalist-leaning governments fall, there’s a greater chance for them to be democratically replaced by pragmatic politicians who understand women need a greater role in society.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: