Breaking Stereotypes-Faculty & Staff News - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Breaking Stereotypes

Professor's Book Focuses on Arab Women in Arab Media

Being a Qatari professor at an American university in Doha, Amal Al Malki is used to breaking stereotypes.

"People tend to see me as the representative of the culture, especially the female culture in Qatar, which could be misleading," said Al Malki, an assistant teaching professor of liberal and social sciences at Carnegie Mellon Qatar. "There is a constant fight against people's stereotypes of the others, and I hope that each time I prove myself worthy of my position, I break a stereotype."

With that in mind, Al Malki was the lead author on a new book, "Arab Women and Arab News: Old Stereotypes and New Media," jointly published by Bloomsbury Academic Press in London and Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing in Doha. Al Malki said the book is a personal and academic attempt to offer a new interpretation of who Arab and Muslim women are without being defensive or emotional.

Al Malki"As an academic, I feel that it is my duty as someone who belongs to different cultures to work on bridging the gaps between our part of the world and the West," she said. "There is a long history of cross-cultural and linguistic adaptation, the Islamic civilization has helped Europe in setting the grounds in different fields, and now we have adopted the English language as a medium of education and communication.

"As a woman who lives amid these misunderstandings, I'm constantly misrepresented in the Western media and under-represented in the Arab media, so I felt something had to be done."

Al Malki and David Kaufer, a professor of English, were granted a priority fund in 2008 by the Qatar National Research Fund to investigate Arab women representation in Arab media. Suguru Ishizaki, an associate professor of English who also has a courtesy appointment in the School of Design, created a system for the quantitative base for the study, and Kira Dreher, a visiting instructor at Carnegie Mellon Qatar, assisted with the research. Dreher received her master's degree in literary and cultural studies from CMU in 2007.

The study looked at more than 2,300 articles and 100 Arab media sources from a 22-month time period. Kaufer said 44 percent of the mentions for women came from four liberal and transnational Arab presses based in London.

Al Malki said that Arab women voices have been an integral part of the construction of the news, whether in traditional media or through new methods such as social media.

"Compared to social science studies of the portrayal of Arab women in Western news conducted during the 1980s and 1990s, Arab women have come a long way as a unified force and a powerful voice in hard news in the Arab press," Al Malki said. "Arab women are indeed represented with a greater balance of positive and negative images than have been found in older Western studies of Arab women in Western media, especially in the liberal pan-Arab newspapers."

While focusing on the Arab media for the study, Al Malki and the other authors said the research is important to share with Western audiences.

"I would be more than happy if after reading the book a stereotype is broken about Arab and Muslim women," Al Malki said. "We believe our book will be of interest to women around the world invested in enforcing human rights for women. We have written this book for the women of Qatar but also for this wider population of women who are seeking ways of taking the next steps in an active, productive life."

Kaufer said that Arab women have made the same kinds of gains and experience the same kinds of challenges that women in every region of the world face, including the United States.

"Women in both America and Arab regions want education and advancement, rewarding careers, and happy and healthy families," he said. "It sounds trivial when you put it this way, yet it's surprising how many Western belief systems think Arab women (and families) are fundamentally different than American women and families in these respects."

Assistant Teaching Professor Amal Al Malki was the lead author of "Arab Women and Arab News: Old Stereotypes and New Media."

By: Heidi Opdyke, opdyke@andrew.cmu.edu