Since Edward Said's Orientalism (Vintage Books, 1978), critiques of Western representations of "the East" have abounded. Special attention has been devoted to Western media portrayals of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) women—depicted as silent, submissive, veiled, and suffering under male domination. Arab Women in Arab News: Old Stereotypes and New Media offers a counterpoint to such studies by assessing the prevalence of "passive" Arab female stereotypes in Arab media sources themselves. Presenting detailed analysis characteristic of communication studies and rhetoric, the book raises crucial questions about the politics of media representations of Arab women; at the same time, it could benefit from broader social science perspectives, including attention to the social construction of identity and privilege, and theories of postmodernity and power.
Amal Al-Malki, David Kaufer, Sufuru Ishizaki, and Kira Dreher provide painstaking detail regarding their evolving research processes. [End Page 145] From their original research question—"Would Arab women take on a different appearance in home-grown news outside a Western cultural bias?" (xiv)—they decide, due to limited resources and software, to analyze Arab news in English translation, as offered through the news outlet Mideastwire.com. This constitutes a conceptual shift insofar as the imputed reader of such translations is not Arab but a "cosmopolitan reader of foreign news" (9), a paid subscriber, and a "Westerner." The researchers also laud the post-September 11 Arab news boom as a part of a trend toward less nationalistic reporting. But, as the authors winnow more than 2,300 briefs down to a sample set of 237, they use what they learn about the erasure of women from most Arab text media to justify focusing on the four pan-Arab sources that feed their data set. (They also omit beauty and gossip magazines.) Despite the researchers' transparency in discussing how they arrived at a workable dataset, their results hardly seem representative of trends in Arab news on the whole, as suggested in the book's title. Nonetheless, their candidness about the research process makes this book a valuable resource for students and faculty exploring the vagaries of quantitative and qualitative text-based research design and methodologies.
The book is organized into two parts. Part I, titled "Coding Arab Females in Arab News," details the development of the research team's dataset and coding scheme, which revolves around the binary of women's "active" and "passive" behaviors. Statistical analysis of these codes leads to the conclusion that depictions of Arab women in this dataset are significantly balanced, and more so than has been found for Western publications. While passive representations are present, so are active ones, and Arab women in these news stories are frequently positioned as the sources and drivers of action.
In Part II, titled "Canvassing Arab Females in Arab News," the authors use grounded theory to cull salient themes from close readings of a further subset of news briefs. Using the analogy of door-to-door census takers "canvassing" the realities of Arab women appearing in the news, the researchers aim to highlight and contextualize these experiences as varied and subject to constraints equal to those affecting women worldwide. Here, they examine the active/passive binary in chapters focusing on categories including "anger and resistance," "aspiration and drive," "education," "passivity," and "fear and threat in war zones." Each chapter [End Page 146] recounts the relevant content of selected news briefs and draws out "the woman's angle" when a woman appears as a secondary or tertiary figure in a news brief.
The strength of this approach lies in its encyclopedic appraisal of women's experiences across the Arab world: from students to wives and daughters, politicians, grieving mothers, suicide bombers, activists, bloggers, and war victims. From a theoretical perspective, however, what the authors offer in breadth they tend to sacrifice in depth. Rather than using their layered analysis to interrogate and subvert persistent notions of East and West—notions they describe as analytically weak (xvii)—they use...