Images of Arab women in magazines
The secret of the popularity of womenas magazines lay in their coverage of news as well as entertainment. They are normally directed to women since they call themselves womenas magazines; thus they define their readers as women.
In most cases these magazines concentrate on issues such as femininity, beauty, family and children. This focus on femininity has made womenas magazines different from other magazines and thus unique in their nature.
Different scholars in the field of media have wondered what the appropriate way of studying women magazines is. Is it to consider them as texts? Many have focused on womenas magazines at a textual levela (Yeats, 2003, p.6), or in relation to the readers?
Others have argued that womenas magazines can be understood by exploring the ways in which their readers consume thema (Yeats, 2003, p.6), or in relation to their production which is the minority aA few studies have maintained that womenas magazines are best approached through an analysis of their conditions of production (Yeats, 2003, p.6). All of these approaches have been interested in studying this type of media which are magazines.
Postmodern and poststructuralist theorists look at women’s magazines as a sort of popular culture and a kind of discourse as well which is very much complicated. This has influenced feminists who agree with them and believe that newspapers need to be analyzed as a result of their complexity. About this Yeats writes:
Feminist researches informed by postmodern and poststructuralist theorists (especially the French intellectual Michel Foucault (1997a, 1997b) argued that the meanings of womenas magazines- or indeed any other form of culture- were not pre-existent messages waiting to be discovered by the researcher. Indeed, they employed the concept of discourse, and began to consider the meanings of women’s magazines as dialogical. (Yeats, 2003, p.ll)
The study of womenas magazines has been the focus of feminists for many years. They consider them to be problematic, and the mass media to perpetuate gender difference; furthermore, they contribute in the construction of the oppressive feminine identities which can be considered as manipulative. In addition, media is a place where bias and inequalities in the contemporary societies exist.
The problem of magazines as Gauntlett states in his book Media, Gender and Identity, is that the majority of the staff are men who think they know what women want The senior stuff on womenas magazines are mostly men- but these men had a clear idea of what women wanteda ( Gauntlett, 2002, p. 51).
If this to be explained, one could say that women are still considered as not competitive enough to handle their own issues in media as well as in real life which is very much derogatory for them; thus they need men who will rescue them through showing the right thing to do.
Magazines can be a tool for the perpetuating of gender difference that is exactly why feminists have addressed them to expose the patriarchal ideology lying beneath. They ways in which women are represented in these magazines whether in their texts or images send negative images about womenas place, role and lives. Massoni has been paraphrased in Women and Media: A critical introduction commenting on the negativity of magazines:
Kelley Massoni (2004) argues that the broad social landscape mapped in the magazine promotes a highly gender stratified world in which men are routinely assigned the role of aworkera and wield all the power, whereas women, when that are given licence to work, are encouraged to consider the entertainment industry as a good place to be. (Byerly Ross, 2006)
The situation of Arab magazines is the same; they focus on subjects such as beauty and fashion as it is the case in the Egyptian magazines. There have been different studies conducted to see to what extent these magazines cover womenas issues and the results were as follows: aThe studies showed that magazines have generally focused on the traditional preoccupation of women, such as fashion, cooking, cosmetics and home affairsa (Allam, 2008, p.3).
This reveals the fact that Arab women are still treated as housewives who are given what they are associated with in reality, where they are believed to excel which can be considered as a negative image of the woman of today who has penetrated the world of men.
Following the same article, social issues such as child rearing and parentsa children relation was devoted whole sections. This means that women development was regarded in relation to her family and not for her own character, liberty and independence.
This is all clearly shown in the following statement aThese studies showed that little attention is given to rural women and that women social development is regarded as important for the family and not for the womanas attainment of independencea ( Allam, 2008, p.3). These magazines still lack the coverage of womenas political and social development nowadays, which gives a positive image about them.
All of this shows that the positive portrayal of the contemporary woman who is professional, educated and free is not yet obvious in the Arab magazines. Still they perpetuate the same patriarchal ideology where the woman is shut in her house doing the housework.
Another aspect to be added is the focus of advertisement where the female body is exposed which does not lead to a positive image of women in magazines in the Arab world. In her article aGender, Space and identification in Femmes du Maroc and Citadinea, Korzeniowska states concerning advertisements and the use of the female body in two Moroccan magazines: aMoroccan women are bombarded with images of weak and overtly seductive womena (Korzenioweska, 2005, p.13).
In fact the Arab womenas magazines imitate those of westerners, in the way they handle their issues and in the layout as well. Korzeniowska believed that the two Moroccan womenas magazines entitled Femmes du Maroc and Citadine are no more than imitation of French magazines.
She writes aFemmes du Maroc and Citadine at first sight resemble major French glossies such as Elie and Marie Clairea (Korzenioweska, 2005, p.4). She goes on describing the common point between them saying:
They even have a similar layout, beginning with a number of articles and interviews interspersed with advertisements, and locating fashion shoots and advice about beauty products to the second half of the magazine. Finally, they also incorporate what David Machin and Theo Van Leuwen have identified as athe key genresa in Cosmopolitan. (Korzenioweska, 2005, p.4).
This means that Arabs have failed to have their own magazines that should be different from those of westerners as results of some specificities such as religion, tradition and norms because what it means to be an Arab Moroccan women is not the same as what it means to be a French woman.
If some Arab women enjoy these issues, they are a minority whereas the majority would not identify with them: aThese magazines are aimed at educated, professional francophone elite with significant amounts of both leisure time and spending powera (Korzenioweska, 2005, p.9). To avoid elitism, these magazines should address other women such as rural women.
Like the Egyptian magazines, these two Moroccan magazines are giving much attention to beauty and home rather than other things. According to a table in the article aGender, space and identification in Femmes du Maroc and Citadinea, womenas main interests are their physical appearance and fourniture, whereas politics, education and economy are given a narrow space. (Korzenioweska, 2005)
In the majority of Moroccan magazines, women are depicted in the private sphere taking care of their homes that are given the priority and then to their appearance since much advertisement is about cosmetics and beauty products.
In other words, women are shown as mothers, housewives, and females, who should maintain their beauty and elegance; they are relegated to the private sphere which is very much gendered. Another subject that is given importance is the fashion of traditional and modern cloth that is taking a large space in the magazinesa pages. This is going to be much more detailed in the last chapter.
On the other hand, both magazines are believed to be feminist, contributing to womenas emancipation. Citadine encourages women perhaps more than Femmes du Maroc since it runs a competition annually to reward women who have achieved something in their society.
This is clearly shown in the following citation aCitadine seeks to promote recognition of Moroccan womenas activities and runs an annual competition entitled, aKhmissaa which awards prizes to Moroccan women who have made a major contribution to different areas of Moroccan societya (Korzenioweska, 2005, p.5).
The fact that these magazines are feminists can be easily refuted, for there is a gap between what these magazines advocate and their content as it has been already stated above.
This emphasis on womenas emancipation might be explained by the fact that these two magazines are following the latest news, and the family code that calls for womenas emancipation is a part of this news which made them somehow politicized. Feminism of these magazines seems to be misleading since there are no clear images of the new women, that who is liberated and free from the chains of the private sphere, but rather a perpetuation of the traditional mother and wife.
The conclusion that can be drawn from the above analysis is the fact that Arab written media has not helped women in their cause even though it could have done so. Neither newspapers nor magazines are reporting or commenting on working women who work outside and who have their own carriers and independent lives, who are liberated and free.
Print media in the Arab world is still caught in the traditional image of the women, however, it should be admitted that some changes are taking place in this direction. Newspapers such as -Al Masry al Youm (The Egyptian Today) and Nehdat Misr (The Egyptian Renaissance) are giving positive image of the Egyptian women and Moroccan magazines such as Femmes du Maroc and Citadine are going hopefully in the same direction, but surely there is a very long way to go.
Among the most used types of media nowadays are both television and the internet that have become necessity this age, the age of technology. They are examples of the visual media that focus on the power of the image which is perhaps more effecting than the text. Visual media, such as written media, is a tool by which people are manipulated and sent very glamorous and subtle messages that are not absolutely innocent. Visual media is a place where women are given stereotypical images.
Anthony Friedmann states in his book Writing for Visual Media that writing for the visual media is quite different from the print media since the former is written to be performed, not to be read. He writes aThe fundamental premise of scriptwriting is that you are writing not to be read, but to be madea (Friedmann, 2006, p.3). Furthermore, the visual media is not only the image, but also the dialogue which made it a high culture that only few people can analyse.
This emphasises the fact that this type of media is perhaps much more complicated than the other types, even sometimes the image speaks itself without being accompanied by any kind of dialogue. Visual media means, images, signs, verbal and nonverbal communication.
The broadcast media has its own share of maintaining the negative image of women since it is directed to all individuals, the educated and the uneducated, unlike the print media that is normally directed to the elite which made the former much more dangerous on women.
According to the article aCountering the Negative Image of Arab women in the Arab mediaa, the Egyptian radio is a tool of transforming bad portrayal about women since aln the studies conducted on the image of women in the Egyptian radio, results showed that positive images of women were displayed 22 times, whereas the negative images were displayed 41 timesa (Allam, 2008, p.5). The article continues:
The positive points were discussed in five main themes, represented as follows: the ability of women to overcome difficulties; to be independent and make decisions; to offer help to friends and relatives; and to control and counteract their husbandas greed. Yet, the negative points were discussed in 12 main themes, all of which reflect the passivity of a woman who is unable to feel secure, think independently, and cope without a man by her side. (Allam, 2008, p.5)
In fact there is no positive image in womenas passivity which means that all the above mentioned images are negative. In fact, the ability of media, be it written or visual, to stereotype women and underestimate them is a reality as the Nigerian feminist Molara Ogundipe- Leslie put it aThe power of media to make and unmake the image of woman, to hasten or retard the progress of women in society, cannot be denied or underestimated;! (Allam, 2008, p.l).
Eastern Media in general and the broadcasted one in particular, have played a vital role in casting a great influence on women and girls in the Arab society. Reem Obeidat says that different studies have come to the conclusion that the majority of Arab female teenagers are associated with the western values as a result of the impact of media satellite on them.
In her words aThey have found that high school girls in the Arab world who are exposed to satellite channels, especially Americans, look forward to travel in the western worlda (Obeidat, 2002, p.2). This can create problems for these girls in real life as they are living in a society that is still patriarchal, where the woman is expected to associate with her role as a woman and to adhere to the Arab norms and values.
The Arab Islamic society is still very conservative and very close to its tradition and cultural values. In some areas the mass mediated messages are seen as a form of cultural imperialism or invasion that corrupts deeply societies as Obeidat says. This has resulted in a kind of refusal to this visual culture in these very places. A striking example is given by aContent and Representation of Women in the Arab Mediaa where the writer argues:
Some even equate satellite channels with pornography, which has led some families in the UAE to prohibit women in general and young girls in particular to view satellite television programs, to the extent that promises are taken that even newly wedded daughters will not be allowed to view them in their new homes. (Obeidat, 2002, p.2)
Hussein Amin, the Chair for the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication in the American University in Cairo, Egypt admits in his article aArab Women and Satellite Broadcastinga that broadcasted media has a great impact on the Arab culture as well as their norms and values and thus agrees with Obeidat upon what she says.
He paraphrases two scholars, Schleifer and Harbi saying aSchleifer (1995) posits that satellite broadcasting that has content that offends Islam or includes negative statements about religions or beliefs will create rejection and antagonism of Arab au- diencesa(Amin, 2000, Pl). In this regard, satellitesa effect creates a kind of attitudes that are not similar to that of Arabs.