Case Studies of Women and Facebook from Abroad in Amman, Jordan:
In a Cross-cultural and Ethnographic Comparative Analysis
There is a symbiotic relationship between women and social media—how women are depicted by others and how women depict themselves in social media. Instead of looking at the context of women in social media from strictly a U.S. perspective, I examine the relationship cross-culturally and ethnographically. Thus, I examine, compare, and contrast the American and Jordanian women’s movements. Multicultural crossovers and ethnography are rethinking, redefining, and transgressing the conventional boundaries of what we do in our respective academic disciplines. Through my field research of women in Amman, Jordan in spring 2014 I argue that Jordanian women do not share the same profound social and economic impacts as American women. Through the context of Facebook, the present day status of Jordanian women could be compared to that of American women in the 1940s. The difference in the narrowing of the gender gap in this time period of the 1940s is the information and communication technology. Increased internet and smartphone social media usage among Jordanian women in the next 10 to 15 years could lead to the narrowing of the gender gap, increasing women’s participation in the work force, and amplifying opinion of women using social media.
In this examination I intend to look at Jordanian women through the lens of Facebook, as more Jordanians use Facebook than Twitter or any other social network. As of June 2014, The Jordan Times, an independent English-Arabic newspaper, reported that there are 3 million Facebook users out of 7.9 million Jordanians. Jordan is fourth compared to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and United Arab Emirates in number of Facebook users. In comparison to the western world where the ratio of women to men on Facebook is two to one, Jordan experiences the opposite where 59 percent of Facebook users are men. The newspaper reports that Arabs see Facebook as a one-way flow of information to the majority and not as a place for civil discourse. The Jordan Times was one of many local Jordanian news outlets that was studied by The Jordan Media Institute’s Gender in the Media Research for the examination of social and cultural issues of the gender gap.
“Now if you watch Mad Men like I do, it’s a popular TV show in the states. Dr. Fey Miller does something called psycho-graphics which first came about in the 1960s where you create these complex psychological profiles of consumers, the psycho-graphics really haven’t had a huge impact on the media environment it is really just the basic demographics.”
Blakely addresses traditional marketing demographics: age, gender, ethnicity, income, occupation, education, etc. Mad Men represents an old demographic where marketers and ad men would create advertisements that targeted specific audiences based on this demographic; for example, a lipstick commercial for young women between the ages of 18 to 30. Essentially assuming that all women between the ages of 18 and 30 want to listen to an advertisement that promotes them to wear a particular brand of lipstick, but what about women who are 31 plus? Blakely offers the alternative to these traditional demographics which are called ‘like’ communities on Facebook. She discusses the power of Facebook to aggregate people around these communities. ‘Like’ communities are generated by a feature on Facebook that allows users to comment on other users’ posts and statuses and also concedes commonalities between users. According to one study, 83 percent of users’ participation on Facebook is expressed via the ‘like’ function. Blakley argues that due to more women than men on Facebook, women have a larger impact on ‘like’ communities. In Blakley’s speech she suggests from a marketing and advertising perspective that because more women than men participate in social media, the mainstream media will be impacted. In her loose argument, she suggests that women will have a larger say in the content of the marketing and commercial media world. Blakely also says that gender and their stereotypes will not make a difference online or in media. Therefore, Blakely concludes that gender will become obsolete in the media. I ardently disagree with Blakely’s argument from a cross-cultural perspective on the notion that societies’ interests, identities, gender, and culture cannot be erased through increased social media usage nor can gender. Instead, I propose that Facebook and other social media sites in the next 10 to 15 years will intervene in the lives of Jordanian women and the Jordanian culture to move it beyond its 1940s-like social constructs. Therefore, narrowing of the gender gap, and providing women with a platform for their own voice in economic, social, and political spheres.
Through case studies of Jordanian women in Amman, I will deduce that women are quickly picking up these information technology tools and learning to communicate their opinions. There is small growth to the way in which Jordanian women use Facebook. In some cases, women are using it to connect for causes and concerns facing them such as sexual harassment, refugee crises, and initiating social dialogue. In other cases, Jordanian women are using Facebook as a means to communicate with each other and male friends while the patriarchal society has placed social restrictions them. This patriarchal society believes in the notion that due to high unemployment, women should allow men to take the few jobs available in the work force. I suggest that these notions and others are being challenged everyday by women in Jordan and in the future may become more socially and politically acceptable.
In regards to Blakely’s reference about Mad Men and traditional demographics, the TV show tackles issues with women in a time period of change in the United States, 1950s and 60s. This was a transitional period after the 1940s where women were coming out of their ridge social roles of homemaker. The sharp contrast between these two periods show great change in the roles women were playing in media and society. This American comparison of the women’s movement is to show the status and anticipated progress of Jordanian women. When referring to a women’s movement I define it is women concerned for their civil rights in all spheres of society: economy, education, and overall health. Also women’s movement refers to the process women have under gone in history of both the U.S. and Jordan for suffrage and other political activities.
During the post-suffrage period for women in the United States, a large gender gap continued. In 1941, Women were held more strictly accountable to traditional standards of morality than me. At the same time they were urged by forces of temptation—usually by men—to give up their standards of morality. Socially, women were a commodity. Advertisers focused on a male audience by using women to advertise cigars, cars, etc. As mentioned previously, in advertisements women were also categorized and compartmentalized into age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic class. These tactics were directly related to the notion of a man’s world. Those making the decisions in advertisement agencies were predominantly men and advertisements were geared towards the audience by rigid demographic structures.
There were sharp distinctions and stereotypes between the sexes; separate but not equal. Separation of sexes strengthened in this time period with soldiers going off to war while young wives went to work. Females only made up about 25 percent of the work force. However, that number changed during World War II, about 75 percent of wartime-employment was women. In post-World War II society, the popular myth was women ‘happily’ leaving the work force to return to domesticity. In actuality, they expected to be laid off with the intention of being rehired to work at postwar production plants. In fact, 86 percent of women wanted their postwar jobs in the same industrial group as their wartime employment. Women were kicked out of these positions to make way for the soldiers coming back from war. In other words, there was a strong desire to overcome the obstacles that pushed women out of the work force, but it was difficult in the patriarchal society where men dominated in positions at powerful companies.
Polarization of the sexes in the 1940s also had great effects in educational systems. Although women outnumbered men in completion of high school, many women did not attend college. In post-war time, society became overwhelmed with the importance of marriage for women and sexual segregation in the labor force. Moreover marriages following WWII in 1945 led to the Baby Boomer generation of the 1950s with marriage and domestic life held in high regard. Lynn White Jr., President of Mills College, in 1947 gave a speech reinforcing sexual division between men and women in higher education. He distinguished between their biological and social roles saying that woman’s curricula at university was to enable them to “foster the intellectual and emotional life of her family and community,” and to infuse the home with beauty, culture, and cooking. Indeed, there were a few critiques of White, yet women graduates were marrying at higher rates than ever before. Those women who received beyond a high-school education tended to work outside the home, while those who received a high school diploma tended to stay in the home. Regardless, women constituted less than 50 percent of college enrollments in 1944.
Brief History and Status of Jordanian Women
Today the statistics of women in the Jordanian workforce and receiving college education mirror that of American women in the 1940s. American women in the 1940s and Jordanian women today have a similar trajectory: similar suffrage movements and restrictions of a patriarchal culture. If Jordan women continue on a similar path as the United States than it is possible that more women will become involved in the workforce and receive higher levels of education.
In the early 1900s during British and French occupation in most of the Middle East, the Arab women’s movement started as a patriotic movement to achieve freedom for their countries. According to Salwa Zayadeen, a founder and witness of the Palestinian and Jordanian women’s movement, even by the end of the 1940s and beginning of the 1950s women were still under control of tribal and societal norms. Most of the concerns were geared towards helping the newly inquired refugees from Palestine. By 1955 under the Communist Party in Jordan, the women’s movement petitioned for the right to vote in parliamentary elections if she completed her primary level education. In the same year the women’s movement asked for complete political rights. Meaning, like their male counterparts, they would be able to run in elections and vote even if they are illiterate. It wasn’t until 1982—30 years later—these rights were finally approved.
Today, women much like those in the U.S. in 1940s U.S. are still politically and socially unequal to men. According to Jaber, 15 percent of Jordanian women participate in the workforce; ironically, more women than men have bachelor’s degrees or higher. Yet, men make up the majority of the workforce. Unemployment stands at 46 percent for women and 23 percent for men. Another surprising statistic is that Jordanian’s women literacy rate is the highest in the Middle East—97.3 percent. “Jordan may have achieved gender parity in education, but equal opportunities for girls in education are not translated into equal opportunities in the economy.” This gender gap not only impedes women from valuable opportunities in education and the workforce, but also impedes Jordan’s economic growth. Secondary education is not obligatory in Jordan and by age 16 many girls from rural areas of Jordan such as Mafraq, Ma’an, Abu Sayyah, and Zarqa choose to drop out of school. The decision to drop out comes from multiple factors. The girls themselves reason that school is far away and boring, they want to help their mothers, or their fathers motivated them to drop out. In other cases it is the father that either forces girls to drop out of school or they do not have enough money to send their girl to school. Finally, much of the curriculum taught in school fosters gender inequality, where its content is based on dividing gender.
Another factor towards gender inequality in Jordan is within the Jordanian Parliament. Out of the 150 seats in the hereditary parliamentary monarchy, women only make up 15 seats—10 percent. According to the United Nation’s Convention to End Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW] worldwide, the quota was set at 30 percent of total seats in parliament. Abeer Dababneh Ph.D., Director of the Women’s Studies Department at the University of Jordan, criticizes CEDAW saying that this affirmative action discriminates against both genders. For women the quota guarantees them a spot in parliament even if they are not qualified. For men it takes a spot away from them and gives it to a woman regardless of qualifications. Overall, there is a lack of women’s civic participation partially due to lack of diversity in parliament.
Although the Arab Spring seemed to pass over Jordan, there was still some debate and tension in the government. Jordanians were in solidarity with their neighboring countries they Facebooked, Tweeted, and took to the streets hoping that these issues would be resolved. Of those that planned and protested at these events, many of them were women. However, at the time of these revolutions these women did not know if new steps would actual bring about civil rights amendments for them. The Arab Spring also brought to light the power social media played in the process of collective action: sharing grievances against the political authority, organizing online to protest, and demonstrating in the streets. Jordanian women and women around the Arab world are finding a voice in these revolutions.
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