Many Westerners consider Middle Eastern women to be oppressed and confined to the home. Hollywood and the mass media outlets alike portray women in this region to be overly pious possessions of men, forced to cover their bodies and remain unseen by outside eyes. This paper seeks to disprove this erroneous notion by reviewing the anthropological research of Kimberly Hart and Anne Meneley, in their studies of Turkish and Yemeni women, respectively. The physical whereabouts of women, their roles within society, and their opportunities for experiences outside of the domestic sphere will all be examined within the scope of their agency and cultures.
To directly address the argument at hand, it is of value to examine the actual physical movements of Turkish and Yemeni women outside of the domestic sphere. In both cultures, there appears to be a degree of guarded (in varying degrees) openness. For example, Hart describes a typical afternoon of a Turkish woman to include assisting with the family’s livestock, as well as tending to the home. While this task may still be read as domestic, there is a degree of physicality associated with farming work that deviates from the cultural stereotype of a homebound woman left stirring the pot on the stove all day. There seems to be a consensus across all of these studied villages that women are able to travel outside of the home, as long as they do not do so alone. Both Hart and Meneley experienced some confusion from their subjects regarding their independence and presence within the village, inquiring about their fathers and/or husbands and if their male relatives knew of their whereabouts, for “an unmarried woman could never leave her house, never mind her country, wit...
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...ination of factors, contrary to Western popular belief, allow for Middle Eastern women, at least in Turkey and Yemen, to exercise an amount of personal agency which allows them to pursue their desires and take an active role in “the public sphere,” rather than being confined to merely the domestic realm. While there are elements of expression, such as dress and amount of education considered appropriate and/or achievable, that vary between these two cultures, women is both nations are able to play a significant part in the public life. From the school teachers and economically-minded visits of Yemeni women in Zabid, to the free-roaming coffeehouse-goers in Turkey, Middle Eastern women break the Western mold of domesticity everyday. The West just needs to cease pointing its lenses so selectively and be open to depicting a well-rounded presentation of these cultures.
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