Lecture One: Introduction [September 3, 2013]
Why study family and gender in the modern Middle East?
- Cultural and political significance of the Middle East. Political and cultural significance
rests on several factors.
o Middle east is the birthplace of the three Abrahamic religions: Christianity,
Judaism and Islam. Cultural importance for people worldwide regardless if they
have links to the region.
o Middle East is also at the crossroad of Europe, Asia and Africa. This geographic
location gave it a great deal of significance especially in the colonial era when
transportation was limited and waterways were very important. Middle East
became an essential passageway for travellers by boat and by foot.
o ME oil wells. Not all countries of ME have an abundance of oil reserves. Majority
of it is concentrated in 5-6 regions, 22 countries. These countries have upwards
of 50% of world’s reserves, thus much wealth. Oil found in 1930s. Since then it
has gained more importance (i.e. oil crises of 1970s – Arab holding their supplies
from global market, raising prices), giving these places more significance through
- Intervention in the region has often been justified by pointing to the status of women. ME
have seen great political turmoil in modern era. Symbolic importance because of the
above reasons has seen many parties try to gain control of the area. Military and political
interventions have been justified by pointing to status of women in these regions. 2007,
aftermath of US invasion of Afghanistan, a speech given two months after the attack,
Laura Bush described the war in Afghanistan as a gender war rather than a strategic
domination of a region. It became a fight for female rights, simultaneous with a fight
against terrorism. It portrayed women as hopeless victims of male dominance, who need
white men to save them. Colonial writings by Europeans who sought to dominate parts of
the 3 world describe oppression of brown women as a pretext of dominance. It
condoned their dominance of these societies by pointing to themselves as protectors of
brown women. American administration and British colonial intervention was not
emancipation of women of color but their nation’s advantage.
- Societal gender norms cannot be extricated from the institution of the family. ME women
exercise a great deal of agency, but constrained by the patriarchal society in which they
live. Argument: Though patriarchy exists, agency still exists among women in the ME, as
with initiative, action-oriented behavior. This agency is within societal constraints imposed
through embedded structures and societal formations.
Key Concepts in the Sociology of Families
- Family refers to an intimate domestic group made up of people related to one another by
bonds of blood, sexual mating or legal ties.
- George Murdoch: family as defined by function/duties. Three duties of families in pre-
o Family and reproduction. In every society/point in time, there have been
restrictions placed on sexual behavior. This function has diminished with birth
control, and by removing fertility from sexuality. o Socialization of children. Train them for adult roles, norms and technology, etc.
This function also has diminished as mass education assumed some of these
o Providing for the youngest and oldest members of the society. This has shifted
some to the welfare state
- Household refers to one or more individuals who occupy the same dwelling. A group of
people bound by residence. This can consist of one or more family, or a group of
- Nuclear / conjugal family refers to a group consisting of sexual partners and their
- Extended family refers to a family system in which one or more nuclear families and their
relatives live in one household.
- Joint extended family: Multiple generations live together
- Stem extended family: Siblings and their nuclear families live together
- Patrilineal kinship refers to the tracing of kinship through the male line.
- Patrilocal residence: practice of establishing residence in the household of the husband’s
father upon marriage.
Key Concepts in the Sociology of Gender
- Sex refers to biological differences between males and females and external differences
rooting from those differences.
- Sex role refers to the behavior, attitudes, and motivations that a particular culture
considers appropriate for males or females.
- Gender refers to the complex of social meanings/norms that is attached to biological sex.
- Sex cannot be observed externally like gender. Biological markings can be masked or
Patriarchy: Defining the Concept
- Societal: Male domination
o System that operates in society as a whole, domination of men over women
- Familial: Paternal domination
o System that operates in the home that dominates over all members of the family
A Working Definition of Patriarchy
- Characterized by relations of power and authority of males over females which are:
o Learned through gender socialization within the family
o Expressed in inter- and intra-gender interactions o Legitimized by ideologies of inherent male superiority
o Institutionalized on many levels
The Region: Overlapping Terms
– Rooted in
powers of 19 th