In honor of Oswego State’s annual Quest academic symposium, student researcher Ryan Peters, a junior studying history and global and international studies, analyzed the public sphere in the Middle East and women’s role throughout history.
A public sphere is a social setting where people can express their ideas and opinions. Peters concentrated his research studying Middle Eastern women in three public spheres throughout modern history: social protests, the media and the Internet.
“There are limits to women in the Middle East,” Peters said. “They are very involved in shaping and defining the public sphere, but there are limits to that as well.”
Peters’ research looked at social protests, such as the 2009 Green Protest in Iran, where people protested against the presidential election. He studied the impact information and communication technology had on such social protests. They have created a phase in “feminist strategic action,” according to Peters. Women use this to draw supporters and international attention to their protests and cause. During the Green Protest, women uploaded pictures of social activists and the brutality they encountered to the Internet to demonstrate the injustices faced during their movement.
After examining the media and how women are portrayed through photography, Peters said Middle Eastern women are represented as subordinate to men or they are viewed as “invisible.”
“Women’s bodies are used as sexual commodities or as vehicles for sexual arousal,” Peters said. “The photographs portray women as illiterate, of limited intellectual capability, materialistic, opportunistic, weak or dependent.”
One media platform Peters looked at throughout his research was BBC Arabic. He noticed the platform gave women a negative connotation in story coverages.
Rochel DeSilva, a junior peer educator at the Lifestyles Center, attended Peters’s presentation.
“I don’t think this is just an issue in the Middle East,” DeSilva said. “Women are portrayed like that in media throughout the world.”
Peters’ last component of his research discussed the relevance of Internet on gender in the Middle East.
He said the Internet is useful technology as it encourages women and allows them to “grow and think.”
“We are technologically driven and I consider it a tool in today’s society,” Peters said.
He believes the Internet and other forms of technology can be beneficial for Middle Eastern women as it will allow them to express themselves in a public sphere.
Women use technology through the media and the Internet to increase their involvement in public spheres.
Facebook is a platform that Middle Eastern women now use to be self-reflective, according to Peters’ research.
“[I think Facebook] can be self reflective because you can see the most important parts of your life,” DeSilva said. “I had never thought of Facebook as self-reflective, but I can see how it can be for people in the Middle East. I think we, as Americans, have more rights and we just don’t realize how much freedom we have in this country.”
Peters will continue to look into Middle Eastern history to examine gender in the media and the Internet. He seeks to find whether or not new public spheres have been created in the Middle East for women.