Joanne Klein

Women in Middle Eastern History

American culture often stereotypes Middle Eastern women either as oppressed, anonymous veiled figures or as the scantily clad harem dancers made popular by Hollywood. Both of these images are based on fundamental misunderstandings of Middle Eastern and Islamic history. The harem made popular in movies never existed, and women often have used the veil as a sign of strength. Middle Eastern women were and are actively engaged in many dimensions of life. From the time of the prophet Muhammad, Middle Eastern women have successfully fought in battles, led religious movements, and resisted colonial powers. Rather than being meek figures, women strode confidently through the streets, managed large estates, and practiced law. Ironically, contact with western political ideology and western popular culture in many cases limited options for Middle Eastern women rather than expanded them. This lecture will help people recognize western stereotypes, many dating back centuries, and reveal Middle Eastern women on their own terms.