New Discourse, Old Orientalism: A Critical Evaluation of the “Arab Spring for Women”?

Laura Sjoberg, Jonathon Whooley

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Gender equality has been a significant political issue in the social movements of, and reactions to, the “Arab Spring.” As women took to the streets to demonstrate, many news reports, pundits, politicians, and even scholars have declared the “Arab Spring” as an "Arab Spring for Women" – suggesting that gender equality is one of many positive political developments suddenly gripping the “Arab world.” Many of these accounts suggest that we are witnessing the modernization of the “Arab world” in the lives of its women. This chapter critically engages with that thesis, using feminist analysis. First, it looks for women in the “Arab Spring,” taking account of their multiple roles for multiple personal and political ends. In so doing, it finds two very different accounts of what happened to women (and what women did) during the “Arab Spring,” one which characterizes the “Arab Spring” as a time of gender emancipation, and another which casts it as a time of gender oppression. To understand this dissonance, the remainder of the paper looks at the Arab Spring through gendered lenses – asking what questions about gender (and sex and race and culture) are necessary to particular scholarly, media, and pop culture representations of the events of the Spring of 2011, both projected outwards from the “Arab world” and projected onto it, and how that gender can be read into women’s experiences of the “Arab Spring.”
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Arab Spring and Arab Thaw
Subtitle of host publicationUnfinished Revolutions and the Quest for Democracy
EditorsJohn Davis
Place of PublicationBurlington, VT
PublisherAshgate Publishing Ltd
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)9781315612485
ISBN (Print)9781409468752
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • gender
  • Orientalism
  • Arab Spring
  • media

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