The Arab Spring for Women? Representations of Women in Middle East Politics in 2011

Laura Sjoberg, Jonathon Whooley

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This article explores the complex, liminal, and difficult space in which stories of women in “the Arab Spring” were wielded as parts of political narratives of gender, race, class, religion, democracy, and Westernization in Western media as the Arab Spring unfolded. It examines those stories by using the tools of postcolonial feminism. After briefly describing what is meant by (gender and) the Arab Spring, the article outlines a method for evaluating the significations of the media narratives surrounding it. We find two dissonant narratives (of gender as emancipatory and of gender as problematic) and ask what assumptions about gender (and sex and race and culture) have to be made to produce these particular representations. We argue that the dissonant narratives have in common using the situation of women as a barometer for the success of Westernization, liberalization, and democratization. The article concludes by exploring the implications of these findings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-284
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Women, Politics, and Policy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2015


  • gender
  • agency
  • violence
  • democracy
  • Arab Spring
  • feminist IR
  • security
  • media

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