Women -- Modernizing Women: Gender and Social Change in the Middle East by Valentine M. Moghadam

Article excerpt

Modernizing Women: Gender and Social Change in the Middle East, by Valentine M. Moghadam. Boulder, CO and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1993. xvi + 256 pages. Notes to p. 290. Bibl. to p. 297. Index to p. 309. $40 cloth; $17.95 paper.

Reviewed by Nesta Ramazani

In this study of women of the Middle East, North Africa, and Afghanistan, Valentine Moghadam has two main objectives. As a Marxist, she rejects religion as the principal determinant of women's social position and emphasizes, instead, social and economic change. In this regard, she focuses on patriarchy, tribalism, economic development, class, the state, the regional context, and the larger world system. As a feminist, she focuses on women as vital actors, as shapers of social change and not merely as passive victims of warped development.

Examining the impact on women of economic development, state policy, and employment opportunities, the author concludes that the region's political economy largely shapes women's constrained employment patterns and perpetuates their low social position. Ultimately, Moghadam concludes, education has been more important than employment in changing women's positions and self-perceptions.

In the Middle East, concepts of the emancipation of women were forged in the context of national liberation, nation-building, and the struggle to achieve modernity. Moghadam looks at several historic revolutions to explain why such upheavals do not necessarily have favorable outcomes for the status of women, even when women actively support them. Instead, revolutions often give rise to "neopatriarchy," characterized by state legislation, such as that passed in Iran, controlling women's dress and behavior. The author contends, however, that such control has been mitigated by the education of women and by the passage of legal reforms that modify some of the more conservative legislation.

Moghadam examines the rise of Islamism in the context of the weakening of the patriarchal family following industrialization, urbanization, and proletarianization. …