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Introduction WOMEN’S unequal access to the media is a universal concern, because negative stereotyping of women and lack of promotion for female editorial staff not only reflect wider disadvantages facing women but also help to sustain and reproduce them. This dynamic led to the inclusion of representation in and through the media and new communication technologies as one of 12 “critical areas of concern” in the Beijing Platform for Action, the agenda for women’s empowerment drawn up at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. As the media component of that agenda has been pursued since then, changes in the global media landscape have also proceeded apace. Transnational media corporations from developing countries have deployed satellite and cable networks to turn what was once a one-way traffic of “NorthSouth ” communication flows into a multidirectional phenomenon connecting dispersed linguistic communities all over the globe. In both developed and developing countries, some of the novelty of what were once “new” technologies of communication has worn off. What have these developments meant for media representation of women? For example, in cases where discrimination against women is embedded in legal systems and social customs, have tangible benefits resulted from activism aimed at SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 69, No. 3 (Fall 2002) Seen and Starting to Be Heard: Women and the Arab Media in a Decade of Change BY NAOMI SAKR the media at a time when aspects of media production, distribution , and reception are all undergoing perceptible change? The Arab world suggests itself as a suitable focus of research into this question. Women in this region experience what Deniz Kandiyoti (2000: xiv) has called a “double jeopardy.” They are not only subject to the widespread restrictions on civic and political participation affecting both sexes, but are further denied autonomy by discriminatory “personal status laws.” Under variants of these laws, it is not women but their male guardians who have the authority to decide issues such as whether they may work or travel, or whom they may marry. History shows that structures of patriarchy were not uniform across the region before colonialism. Yet the Western model of the nation-state, complete with its gendered concepts of citizenship, became the compulsory model for Middle Eastern states emerging from colonialism, where it was imposed on already gendered systems of social stratification. The resulting “intersection” of patriarchies (Joseph and Slyomovics, 2001: 9) created a historically specific momentum of increasing control exercised over women by men, families, communities, and the state. It is beyond the scope of this paper to consider whether changes at the local and national level are combining with novel forms of transnational interconnectedness to slow or alter that momentum. Instead, the paper has a more modest but related aim. It examines developments in the Arab media and in the activism of Middle Eastern women as they relate to women’s representation in terms both of media portrayal and access to media decision making. In general there is nothing intrinsic to “new” or cross-border media that makes them more or less likely to benefit disadvantaged groups. Technology is neutral and its deployment is subject to existing structures of power. Indeed, the history of communications technology suggests that, since new technologies are introduced in response to certain social relations, we should not be surprised if their use reflects the comparative stasis of those relations (Winston, 1989: 71). Digitalization is a case in point. An 822 SOCIAL RESEARCH abundant literature points up the opportunities created for women’s advancement by new information and communication technologies (ICTs). Women at the center of experiments in networking for advocacy purposes report that the Internet can facilitate mobilization in times of crisis, along with active participation in policy debates and articulation of new perspectives. They also point out, however, that there is nothing automatic about such potential being realized. The Internet can equally be used to do the same things in the same way, “perpetuating the inequality, squelching diversity or fostering exclusivity” (Gittler, 1999: 100). Where women have used the Internet to create alternative media—in the form of e-zines, for example—they have been criticized for restricting their activism to an already committed audience (Gallagher, 2001...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 821-850
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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