Depictions of Middle Eastern women frequently present them as voiceless, oppressed, and disadvantaged, and often cite “Islam” as the cause. This course explores the many complexities of gender and the position of women in the predominantly Islamic Middle East, surveying the major developments, themes, and problems in women's history from the medieval era to the contemporary period. Special emphasis will be placed on the role of women in foundational Islamic texts and the many interpretations of those texts regarding questions of gender. The course will also challenge the idea that gender divisions and the role assigned to women have been static throughout history, by tracing women's legal status, sexual morality, family life, and economic and political participation over time. Themes discussed include the importance of the harem and the influence of women in political life, the challenges posed by the impact of the West, women’s reactions to these challenges, the “return” of Islam and Islamism, and the repercussions for women in dress, employment, and morality. The course will also consider gender norms and homoerotic relations. In addition, the course will also look at Western representations of the “Oriental woman,” the effects of colonialism and nationalism on Middle Eastern women, and the rise of Muslim women activist movements. We will also address the highly contested subject of veiling and consider the effects of modern US wars on Middle Eastern women. Seeking to go beyond just scholarly studies, this course will make use of art, documentaries, and literature in order to demonstrate how, in the modern period, women have defined themselves amid great political, social and economic turmoil.
*Academic credit is defined by the University of Pennsylvania as a course unit (c.u.). A course unit (c.u.) is a general measure of academic work over a period of time, typically a term (semester or summer). A c.u. (or a fraction of a c.u.) represents different types of academic work across different types of academic programs and is the basic unit of progress toward a degree. One c.u. is usually converted to a four-semester-hour course.
- Instructor, Penn LPS Online
Prior to coming to Penn, Gwendolyn has taught at the university level for departments of art history and general education, including courses in Islamic art, myth, and writing and rhetoric. She is completing her PhD in the joint program in History of Art and Architecture and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the… Read more