Western Perceptions of Arab Women & Their Lived Identities as Women Open Access

Elmongy, Sarah (Spring 2019)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/5h73px01n?locale=en


The current circulation of knowledge that Western audiences are exposed to leaves much to the imagination and little to be understood of the everyday realities of individuals of the MENA region and specifically its women. Western media and news often present Arab women as a homogenous group of silent women. Others, such as Arab women activists and scholars present Arab women as active, involved, dynamic and heterogeneous. The simplification that exists in the media was the motivation behind prioritizing the voices of Arab women as they speak for themselves. Rather than solely observing behaviors and trends among the featured population, I chose to interview Arab women in depth to more faithfully capture their voices.

This research brings to light the diversity among Arab women’s lived experiences as they navigate womanhood both in the Middle East and in the Western world. Specifically, I explore the range of experiences around Arab women’s religious and female identity through their experiences as youth and as adults. Their distinct experiences demonstrate the diversity of the Arab world: if the variance in opinions and attitudes among the small sample of women I interviewed is any indication, then we can presume that the variance among their respective societies must be much greater. Rather than make sweeping claims of generalization about women’s life in the Middle East, the research explores the diversity that exists in Arab women’s ideas, attitudes, and opinions about religious and female identify, in the hope of deconstructing a common one-dimensional narrative that exists about Arab women in Western consciousness and rendering it more complex. 

Table of Contents

Introduction                                                                                                                            8

Chapter One: Situating and Framing                                                                                 9

Defining the Middle East and Arab World                                                                 

Defining the Western World                                                                                       11

Western Perceptions of Arab Women                                                                         12

Chapter Two: Methodology                                                                                                23

           Research Purposes and Questions                                                                             


           Sampling and Participants                                                                                       25

Chapter Three: Themes in Literature and Reality                                                          27

Islam: Dominating Media Coverage on MENA or Muslim Women?             29

Education’s Significant Role in Arab Women’s Lives                                                43

Belonging in Family and Nation                                                                                 50

Womanhood as Part of Identity for Arab Women                                                       55

Chapter Four: Conclusions                                                                                                 67

Limitations and Reflections on Positionality                                                               70

Appendix                                                                                                                                73

           Interview Guide

References                                                                                                                             76

About this Honors Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files