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Egyptian women (in Cairo), struggles for identity and citizenship

by Belcher El-Nahhas, Susan Margaret

Abstract (Summary)
Fifty-one Egyptian women, fiom al1 social groups and classes, living in the greater Cako region d u ~ 1993-94 g were intensively and extensivelyinte~ewed to ascefin conceptuaiization of female identity ( " femhhity " ) as well as the status, rights, and roles of women in Egyptiansociety. Photographs ofbillboards depicting imagesof women were used as a projective device research instrument to elicit respondents' views about women. Contradictions between conceptualization and operationof gender by respondents were also investigated. In addition, implications for the socio-economic development of Egyptian society were also explored. Seeking both emic and etic knowledge, the study utilized many research paradigms and methodologies, including participant observation, syrnbolic interactionism,naturalisticinqujl, case studies, and hermeneutics cornmon in ethnography; but it is also informed by feminist scholarship and critical modemism, reflecting the critical realist position of the author. Categories of gender conceptualization as well as themes emerged From the data and reflect those used by respondents. AIthough not in the original research design, respondents intertwined ethnic, racial and national identity with that of female identity ("femininity). Respondenrsidentified gender identity not only as a normative concept, but also as an evaluative concept. The images of women found on billboards in the pater Cairnregion duringthis penod were overwhelrninglynegative. Respondentsnot only complained about the demonization of women in the billboards, but dso about the foreign (Western) identity of most of the women depicted and the vimial absence of ordinary, Egyptian women. Respondents linked this phenomenon to the current power struggle between the secularized, Westernized ruling comprador elites and many disenchanted and marginalized people fiom the lower-middle and rniddle classes who have tumed to Islamic fiindamentalism for saivation in this Me. Violation of cultural taboos in the mass media as well as by ordinary people in everyday life was met with mixed reaction amongst respondents, as was the projection of Western images and nom. Several competing conceptualizations of the ideal beauty and of Egyptian femininity were found to be related to class, region of origin, and interpretation of religion. Age, ethnicity, nurnber and sex of siblings,education, marital status, and parental status were found to have secondary,indirect influence.
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Source Type:Master's Thesis

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Date of Publication:01/01/1999

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