Arab women in written media : Newspapers

Arab women in written media : Newspapers

3.1 Arab women in written media

When talking about media, there are things to be considered like for example which kind of media is referred to. Katz has explained it in her book The Media Handbook saying that aThe world of media can be very broadly divided into two types- print and electronic.

Print media include magazines and newspapers, whereas electronic media cover radio, television and the interneta (Katz, 2008, p.2). In other words, media can be categorized into two categories; the written media which has to do with published text that she referred to as aprint mediaa and the visual one that has to do with visual images including television and the internet referred to by Katz as aelectronic mediaa.

The relation of Arab women to the Arab media has been under study for many years as a result of mostly its negativity and its power to affect them in real life. Although the situation is positively changing, the movement in this direction is still quite slow.

Media can be a tool of empowerment for women in a global scale, in the same way that it can disempower them; furthermore, it can be discriminatory against them which is the case in most areas and this is going to be much more illustrated in what follows.

Before tackling Arab women in the written media let us first have a word about Arab women-media interaction. According to Rassem Mohamed Aljamal in his book Communication and Media in the Arab World (1998) Arab women have been always visible in the Arab media for a century or so.

The fact that women had their own journals in the last century explains that and shows their ability to contribute in the social as well as the political struggle. He stated that although Arab critics doubt when the time for the launching of the first women journal was, it is believed that Hind Nawfal issued her first women journal aAl Fatata in Alexandria in 1892 (Aljamal, 1998).

Moreover, it should be noted that despite the fact that Arab women have reached academia and have accomplished respectful carriers, still they suffer from patriarchy, also known as the father rule in some Arab countries where entering the field of media is not that much desirable.

This has worked as one of the main obstacles to these women to be fully operating and acknowledged in such a domain. Additionally, it is still believed that the social life of the Arab woman as a wife and a mother should be given priority instead of working outside that is why aSome people believe that the majority of Arab women who work in media do not continue their work, and the percentage of those of them who continue is less than 30

There are also other factors to be considered like for example the fact that the nature of media needs a lot of movements from one place to another to pursue the latest news especially when it comes to journalism.

This field needs a lot of work, staying up late at night, traveling and mingling with people, in addition that there is no law that protects journalists from violence exercised on them by the institutions in which they work (Aljamal, 1998). This is not desirable in most Arab cultures that are still patriarchal which is the main reason behind womenas invisibility in the field of media. Women are less in number than men in this field.

The difficulties encountered as well as the pleasure of journalism have been mentioned by Richard Keeble in his book The Newspapers Handbook. For him, this held is quite difficult and challenging and it needs a lot of skills.

To relate this to the Arab woman who is still impeded by different impediments like for instance illiteracy, poverty, tradition and norms, one could understand why Arab women are the minority in this area. Keblee puts forward his idea as follows:

It requires a formidable range of knowledge and skills. Reporters must both be literate and numerate. They need to master the lows as it affects newspapers and the social skills to develop contacts and interview different kind of people. (Keeble, 1994, P-6)

From the above statements, it is obvious that Arab media is very much misogynist, built on the patriarchal institution. Women are not given a full access to this held which contributed to the way they are portrayed whether in newspapers or in magazines.

One of the rights that Arab women working in media have asked for is the amendments of their images in the media saying that these images are negative, stereotyped, and subjected to different cultural and social obstacles which do not respect them as human beings. Thus what they have asked for is procedures to ameliorate these images. (Cawtar, 1998)

According to the United Nation Development Programme repot (UNDP) on the rise of women in the Arab world, the ownership of the Arab media in general, both written and visual ones, are still well dominated by men. Women have no role in the policy making process or high positions in the hierarchal structure which can be explained by saying that media in the Arab world transforms the ideas and stereotypes from a male perspective.

The report asks whether more efforts to boost Arab women in media will help or not aThe report questions the extent to which the increased number of Arab women in the media positively influences the general orientation of programming and the popular image of womena (UNDP, 2005, p.14).

Naomi Saker explains her own view concerning women-media interaction in the Middle East, including the Arab countries, in her book Women and Media in the Middle East. She admits that even though the voices of women in this region have been heard thanks to womenas movements, still media is not working in the way it is supposed to do, for it has failed to empower them.

She, like many writers and researches in the held of media, has made it clear that women in the Middle East in general and Arab women in particular are muted, discriminated against by their male counterparts. In her words:

The Middle East media have changed dramatically since the early 1990s and womenas voices have grown in audibility over the same period. Yet it is rare to see the altered landscape for public communication analyzed in terms of how it relates to the changing climate for empowerment of women. (Saker, 2004, p.4)

According to CAWTAR, which is an independent institution for promoting gender equality through training and research, the woman in the Arab media is always the host of light programmes which have no importance compared to those of men that are always about politics and economy.

This shows that womenas ability here is questioned; they are not believed to be intelligent enough to handle such important issues. They are always given TV programmes that deal with family and social issues, the type of programmes where they are believed to excel because they are a continuation of what they perform in the private sphere. That is why the Arab woman has to improve herself to be taken seriously in the held of media (CAWTAR, 1998),

In her article aCountering the Negative Image of Arab Women in the Arab mediaa, Rasha Allam, a professor of journalism and a specialist in media management believed that the Arab media in general, be it written or visual, has worsened the situation of Arab women by gathering the numerous problems they are suffering from all together, like for example illiteracy, poverty and even the complicated norms of the Arab society. She has put this idea as follows:

There are many obstacles that affect the Arab womenas statuses in society, such as the high percentage of illiteracy, lower socioeconomic standing, and the grip of customs and traditions which cause financial strain, such as high dowries and costly weddings.

Regrettably, however, Arab media tended to portray women in a manner that agreeably has done more to compound than to alleviate these problems. (Allam, 2008, P.l)

However and despite the complicated relation of Arab women and media, still media is sometimes profitable for them especially satellites that allowed them to access information and knowledge through their broadcasting.

Reem Obeidat explains it saying: a As women access international channels for news and information, women are ever more able to discuss topics that were previously considered tabooa (Obeidat, 2002, p.2). This shows that media is sometimes a means of womenas empowerment through freedom of speech, exchange of thoughts and ideas, and even education.

In the age of the new information technologies ICT, media has not only a global role to play, but also an international one. It has been viewed as a part of peopleas lives where they get entertained or have an idea about the world they are living in; it has also brought all people together under the same image.

Space has been invaded by media as well the same way tradition and values have been replaced by new ones imported from other cultures thanks to media, thus the global media has widened borders. Women in general and Arab women in particular have not been taken seriously by the mass media as a result of the way they are viewed socially and culturally speaking.

Media plays a crucial role in the popular beliefs and attitudes most of people have including Arab womenas perception by the others. It is the most powerful tool in transforming the image of the Arab woman and the Arab Islamic society as a whole.

If it transforms the positive image, it has done what it is supposed to do, and if it does the opposite, then Arab women will lose a lot and the Arab media will not be valued in terms of credibility at least by Arabs and those who know about them in the real life.

Negative images of Arab women are growing nowadays in the Arab society thanks to its media, whether written or visual. It has worked as a real agent in perpetuating these clichA©s and stereotypes as is stated clearly by Rasha Allam: aStereotypical images of women as docile and subservient persist throughout the Arab world.

The Arab media have tended to validate these misrepresentations in various ways, and therefore have helped to perpetuate thema (Allam, 2008, p.l). This means that the mass media has worsened the lives of women in the Arab context.

Arab media is a space where there is a prevalence of negative stereotyping of the Arab woman. It is built on the vulgarization of the female body and it has focused greatly on the mental and psychological sides as well. Allam expresses herself in terms of the negative portrayal of Arab women in media as a whole saying:

The usage of the womenas bodies as sexual commodities or a vehicle of sexual arousal has been found to be the main negative image used in the Arab media, followed by an image of women who are in some way amoral. Other negative images included the portrayal of women as being illiterate, of limited intellectual capability, inexperienced, materialistic, opportunistic, weak or dependent. (Allam, 2008, p.3)

According to Kramarae and Spender in Routledge International Encyclopaedia of Women, the current images of Arab women are no more than a continuation of the same images produced by Westerners in the previous centuries.

They state aContemporary representation of Middle Eastern, Muslim, Arab, or aOrientala women are still influences by eighteenth- and ninetieth- century Western literature, travelogues, and commercial visual sourcesa(kramarae Spender, 2000, p.1118). This means that Eastern mediaas representation of Arab women is very highly influenced by the Western views about them.

To link it to the written media, it is believed to be the source of empowerment for women since it provides them with a space to tackle their issues and call for their emancipation. This has been explained by Obeidat; she says: aPrint media can also be seen as a means to achieve empowerment of women.

A major suggestion was to focus upon the specialized womenas publications, which provide alternatives and far more empowering coverage of womenas issuesa (Obeidat, 2002, p.3). Even the fact that women are the authors whose voices are heard is very much empowering for them; they can take the opportunity and transmit clearly their ideas. However, Obeidat seems to ignore the fact that this idea is very elitist, not all women can write articles or read them and not all women can even buy newspapers or magazines.

In fact, the written media in the Arab world has witnessed recently a great focus on womenas bodies which has resulted in a negative image of the Arab woman aCritics in some Arab countries are confronting the focus on womenas bodies prevalent in the print mediaa (Obeidat, 2002, p.l). This needs a counter attack where the Arab woman would be shown as a modern, intellectual and an active individual of her society; in other words what is needed is a positive role model in this area.

Rasha Allam believes that the Egyptian print media is generally speaking following the same path concerning womenas negative portrayal. It perpetuates the same stereotypes about them by showing them sometimes relegated to the private sphere which is a place of their seclusion. She explains this idea saying: aAlthough Egyptian print media outlets vary between national, oppositional and other political parties most portray women in a traditional, cultivated rolea (Obeidat, 2008, p.3).

It should be noted, however, that in spite of its negativity towards women, media, especially the written one, has a great role to play in promoting womenas rights like for instance violence against women, gender equality and womenas empacipation.

The emergence of anti-violence advertisements is a striking example where media is used positively for the benefit of women in the Arab world. Another example is the caricatures that appeared in newspapers with the advent of the Moroccan family law; they first show women empowered and then contribute in the public awareness in terms of the importance of womenas integration into the society.

Written media is perhaps the appropriate way to combat the negative images of women since they are directed to a group of individuals who are supposed to be the brain of their societies who have the capacity to cure the social ills. Normally the change does not come from lay people; they lack the critical eye and they do not have the intellectual abilities to handle it.

Hence, the best way is to raise awareness through newspapers and magazines, and, then try to settle the problem down by the educated elite. Print media then can bring a positive social change in terms of womenas issues.


One of the most important media tools nowadays are the newspapers that are written by and for intellectuals in order to give an idea about the society and what is going on in it. It used to be so till recently where things have changed to go in other directions.

In his book Pulling Newspapers Apart: Analyzing print journalism, Bob Franklin believes that there are new characteristics of newspapers that he explains in relation to the Guardian newspaper aPerhaps the most obvious difference is the absence of any news on the front page.

Instead, 42 small adverts and public announcements filled the six vertical columns spread across the pagea (Franklin, 2008, p. 2). This is in fact the case with most of Arab newspapers like for example, Es-Sabah, Akhbar Nouakchott and others that focus on advertisements a lot and neglect news. This shows that this type of media has been influenced and has changed as well.

It has been argued that, like all types of media, journalism in particular does not necessarily convey the social reality, but just a version of it, which means that there is a kind of social construction of reality when it comes to newspapers as well.

They construct the world for us in terms of a binary opposition, in other words they teach us what is normal and what is deviant, what is positive and what is negetive, what is true and what a lie, to name but just a few. Our world is then shaped by what we see in the mass media. This has been claimed by Brain Mcnair in his book News and Journalism in the UK when he paraphrased Stuart Hall saying:

An important sociological study informed by this perspective is Hall et Policing the Crisis (1978) which argues that news organization do not merely report events, but are active agents in constructing the socio-political environment which frames those events in the public imagination. (Mcnair, 1994, p.21)

It is widely held as well that newspapers are biased and that they lack objectivity; aMedia sociologists have argued that journalism is not, and never can be, neutral and objective, but is fundamentally interpretive, embodying the dominant values and explanatory frameworks of the society which it is produceda (Mcnair, 1994, p.43).

This can be explained in terms of sponsorship and ownership. Some newspapers are sponsored by the government, so they are going to transmit what the government wants which creates a kind of subjectivity and bias. Likewise, there are those who are owned by powerful elite to serve them at the expense of lay people.

There is a newspaper market where profits as well as competition are very much taken into consideration. The competition here is explained in terms of which newspaper attracts more readers who are going to be consumers in the end in the sense of buying the newspaper. Richard Keblee has his own word regarding newspapers and business relation. He believes that there is a strong tie between the two, as he states clearly in his book The Newspaper Handbook:

Newspapers are first and foremost businesses. They do not exist to report the news, to act as watch dogs for the public, to be a check on the doings of government, to defend the ordinary citizen against abuse of power, to unearth scandals or to do any of the other fine and noble things that are sometimes claimed for the press. They exist to make money just as any other business. (Keblee, 1994, p.2)

Brain Mcnair agrees with Keblee about the nature of journalism as a business institution, a whole industry and a private owned business enterprise. According to him aThe supply of information (whether as journalism or as rawer forms of data) occupies an industry of major economic importance, employing huge human and financial sources, and enjoying high statusa (Mcnair, 1994, p.3). So journalism can be seen as an expending business.

In fact, money is the first target of this type of media rather than other targets. Even some online newspapers are using advertisements as a way of marketing. An example is the Mauritanian online newspaper entitled Alakhbar where there is a huge space occupied by advertisements of different products in numerous markets.

In this respect, newspapers can be seen as a combination of form and content. The first one in terms of news, fashion, lifestyle articles and advertisements whereas the second has to do with the way these items are arranged although much focus in being given to the form for commercial purposes. The form of the newspaper may include the use of advertisement along with the look to yield more profit.

Following Allam, the new trend in the Egyptian newspapers nowadays is the portrayal of women as criminals. Normally these women are from lower classes and this give rise to another problem which is the bias according to her. She writes concerning this issue aMost of these women in criminal news are from the lower class, which is considered a bias in news reporting, and which in turn perpetuates a negative stereotype about the lower classa (Allam, 2008, p.4). This is then a new dimension of the negative portrayal of women in the newspapers built on the social class as well as gender.

The online newspaper Magharebia has tackled the issue of the images of Moroccan women in media, quoting the minister for social development, family and solidarity Nezha Skili saying that Moroccan newspapers focus on men more than women, and if talking about women, they portray them as weak and victims of domestic violence and rape (Touahri, 2008).

This shows that the Moroccan newspapers are no exception, women are either overlooked or when tackled they are given images that undermine their dignity; they are, in other words, victimized.

Despite the fact that the majority of Egyptian newspapers nowadays depict women negatively, still there are few which are considered as a source of empowerment for women since they portray them positively as workers and active citizens. Rasha Allam talked about two Egyptian newspapers that give women positive images.

She argues aTwo recently recent launched independent newspapers -Al Masry al Youm (The Egyptian Today) and Nehdat Misr (The Egyptian Renaissance) a are considered an exception; both publications have consistently depicted women outside of their conventional societal roles (Allam, 2008, p.4). This can be explained by the fact that these publications are recent and also because they came in a time where womenas empowerment and negative images through media are widely discussed.

Allam believes that these newspapers tackle gender issues and even women absence in media and precisely journalism. They call for more women workers as reporters and for the removal of impediments and inequalities: aThese newspapers also discussed the discrimination of women in the held of journalism, stating that women should have a large presence in the press syndicated (Allam, 2008, p.4).

This can be considered as promising since a kind of change is taking place and a move toward a more positive direction is happening. That is eventually going to grant women more positive representation in the newspapers.

However, still these journals lack the coverage of other things like for example womenas presence in the economic spectrum which is crucial in changing their negative portrayal (Allam, 2008). In order to have a positive image of an Arab woman who was able to trespass numerous hindrances in the economic arena, different issues need to be discussed such as womenas exclusion from the decision making process, low wages and the poor working conditions.

Generally speaking, print media has cast women in a negative light through their portrayal, for they are given either the image of an ignorant traditional housewife or a criminal. Newspapers in the Arab world are fitting the tabloidization newspapers since they focus more on advertisements and light issues such as models, fashion and cosmetics and less on the calamities that are happening next door. They have remained then a part of the problem instead of being the solution.

The advertisements that are being popular in the newspapers are the exact place where women are shown as bodies. They display the female body in order to attract the attention of the majority of readers.

Women are given a distorted image in newspapers as it is the case with the Egyptian newspapers, and even Marrocan and Mauritanian ones, but then again it should be noted that there are those, even though a minority, that are going in the direction if womenas empowerment thanks to feminism and womenas movements.

The question to be asked now after the above statement is whether journalism in the Arab world is gender biased or not? It can be stated with some confidence that since women are portrayed negatively; Arab journalism can be seen as such. There is also a kind bias against poor women from lower classes which reveals another fact, that the situation is more complicated; women are discriminated against because of their gender first, and because of their social class as well.

The problem of journalism in the Arab world is first the poor economic base, the high rate of illiteracy among population, and the dictatorship of governments. These factors have played a role as the impediments of a flourishing journalism in the Arab world. The majority of the Arab newspapers are going in the direction of tabloid newspapers where the image is taking much space and where the female body is widely used. Assabah (The Morning), the Moroccan newspaper, is an example where there is much focus on breaking news and where models are always shown.

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Image of Arab women in The Eastern print And Visual media
Université 🏫: Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University - Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences Dhar Mehraz-Fez
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Dr. Lalla Aicha Sidi Hamou

Dr. Lalla Aicha Sidi Hamou
Année de soutenance 📅: Department of English - Master program - 2008-2014
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