Peaceful resistance in the form of drawings and writings from Gaza, Palestine

An Essay on Which Matters More in the Shaping of One’s life: Social Class or Gender?

The influential criteria of occupational stratifications differ from one society to another depending on its culture. If we ask two people, one living in America and the other in Palestine, whether their genders or their social classes have a deeper impact on their lives, their answers will conflict. The social class that an individual belongs to unquestionably affects the shaping of her or his life. Social class is associated with economic status. The higher a person’s social class is, the more potentials and education and work opportunities are available for that person, regardless of gender. However, I think in an eastern society like Palestine, gender has a greater influence on one’s life than social class.

In previous centuries, almost all societies were patriarchal ones in which men were the dominant power and women were seen as “insignificant other”. The stereotype was that men were to work outside, while women were to be housewives and work at home. They played almost no role in the labor force. Women suffered from a degrading view everywhere, so that many of them believed they were inferior to men. They had little or no voice in their political, economic, and social issues of their societies. Women had difficulty even expressing their voices. Female writers had to use masculine pen names to express themselves and to have their voices heard, such as Mary Anne Evans, who wrote as George Eliot.

However, times have changed. In World War I, women filled men’s roles in society. The hardships which forced them to depend on themselves to earn incomes for their families made them realize their inner strengths and abilities. In advanced western societies like America, gender matters less than social class does nowadays. Men and women are almost equal in rights. Thanks to the feminist movement, the woman’s status has been upgraded. She has become an affective member of society, not an inferior to the man as previously depicted. But still, even in modern societies, women are found in the upper occupational stratifications much less than men.

Therefore, I personally think the gap between classes in modern societies is greater. There have been more advances made in terms of gender equality than class equality. A poor man faces the same obstacles that a poor woman faces due to the social class that they were born into. When I was in America, I saw female taxi drivers as well as male taxi ones. I saw policewomen just like I saw policemen. But I also saw women in very high positions in the university and the State Department. The only thing that a woman has not become in America is a president of the United States. But when I think about what made one woman a taxi driver and what made the other a minister, I find one reason: their social classes. The female minister must have been raised in a higher social class that could afford to educate her to the highest levels, which contributed to making her qualified enough to be a minister. But the female taxi driver was not as lucky when she was born into a lower social class that suffered economical problems.

It is important to remember that there is still some discrimination against women, even in “advanced” societies like America. There is a lot of social pressure on women to meet an ideal model, that is impossible to meet, in terms of appearance. When it comes to men, they face none of this social pressure. For example, the woman’s appearance is considered as one of her qualifications. The prettier woman has more potential to be considered for a job opportunity than a woman who is less attractive but has more occupational qualifications. Moreover, a man is paid more than a woman in the same job. Apart from that, women’s bodies are used as a commodity and sex object to sell products, ignoring their intelligence.

In eastern societies, women are becoming more aware of their rights and their abilities to be as effective members of society as men. However, in many ways, women are still seen as extensions of men or inferiors due to cultural reasons, not to religious ones as claimed by many people. The rate of working women is notably less than that of working men. Moreover, men usually occupy the highest occupational stratifications. Few women are ministers, managers, or even doctors.

Many Palestinian men think that they are superior and would feel ashamed if their wives were more educated or had higher positions. For this reason, researchers report many cases of oppression and violence committed by men.

In Palestine, women tend to stay at home regardless of the social class to which they belong. In the rich families in Palestine, educated women tend to be dependent on men and enjoy lavish lives without having to work and earn their own incomes. However, in the poor families, women suffer hard conditions with fewer opportunities for education. And if they want to work, they seek crafts like being either hairdressers or seamstresses.

The types of work that is available for women are more limited as well as the places of occupation. When a young women graduates from her high school and decides to attend university, she usually encounters many obstacles. Her father might not allow her to go to university for financial reasons. Even if her father can afford to pay her university expenses, he will influence her decision of what specialization to undertake. My mother studied nursing. But she always describes how society considers nursing as an inappropriate specialization for women to study for cultural reasons. Female secretaries and doctors suffer the same degrading view of the society. It is not as bad as it was couple of decades ago though.

In our societies, in many families where women can continue their university studies, they tend to become only teachers. When my elder sister graduated from school, she wanted to become a journalist. However, my father recommended that she study mathematics. He did not force her, but he insisted, thinking so much of the social acceptance of women as teachers rather than journalists, that she eventually agreed. But she wanted so badly to study journalism. After studying one year of mathematics, she realized that she could not see herself in that position, where she could never be as creative as she wished. Thus she changed her specialization. Thankfully, we have an open-minded father who has respected her wish. What happened with my sister repeats itself thousands of times in our society but fathers who respect their daughters’ decisions are rare.

Many men still think that women have been created to be merely wives. Their understanding of a wife is someone whose responsibility is to satisfy their husbands’ sexual desire, deliver and bring up children, and do the housework. “Your certificate will eventually hang on your kitchen’s wall” is a sentence that I often hear people address to women. Palestinian fathers tend to be more willing to pay for their sons to further their studies, as their sons can eventually work and contribute to making money for their families. Contrastingly, they believe that it is pointless to pay for their daughters to study, as they will eventually marry and leave the house.

Over recent years in Palestine, the way society looks upon working women has differed from the times of economic difficulty to the times of relief. When Palestinians were allowed to work in Israel, it was socially acceptable for women to join the labor force in Israel during times of economic difficulty. My grandmother worked in an Israeli hospital at that time. However, in better economic conditions, the same behavior was considered as “shameful”. My grandmother said that she retired because of social pressure. However, it’s obvious that the status of women in our societies is getting better. More women are pursuing education, and working women have become more respected.

The role that women and men play in each society depends on the social, cultural, political, economical, and religious factors surrounding them. Those factors differ from one society to another and sometimes from one area to another in the same country. Therefore, it is hard to make a generalization about whether social class or gender matters more in the shaping of one’s life. But hopefully, in today’s world, all societies will move towards increasing equality in both spheres.
P.S: This is an assignment I did for my Literary Criticism class at university. That’s why it is very formal.


20 responses

  1. You are obviously a student and well read. I commend you for this. Into this end, ultimately ALL of us as human beings can set our goals and directions as to what our minds and hearts want and guide us to… Let no obstacles dictate your desires and seams regardless of your gender and social standing. Only YOU have the power and perseverance to decide what life has in store for you. There are millions women and men and especially poor who face the highest mountains but let no one tell you you are inferior or incapable regardless. I wish you the best and peace be with you :)

    Like

    June 2, 2012 at 4:13 am

    • Much appreciated Bill for reading this and leaving me this positive feedback! Don’t worry dear though. I am a Palestinian woman. When I tell you so, I mean that I am strong enough to keep myself concentrated on accomplishing my goals. I am strong enough to not let any thing dictate my dreams and ambitions. Thanks again <3

      Like

      June 2, 2012 at 4:27 am

  2. Very nice article, Shahd. I usually do best when I write my comments in points:

    1- I like how you created a distinction between socio-economic status on one hand versus gender on the other. Your assertions regarding socioeconomic statuses in the west (or at least, the US) are consistent with data I have seen; people of higher status to tend to get better educations and also land more prestigious jobs than those who did not make it out of poverty. I will say that in the US, it is more likely for somebody born into one status to make it to a higher status during life compared to Palestine, but it’s actually getting worse in America compared to, say, Europe. In the middle east, though, the UNDP reports clearly suggest that social and economic repression of women is a critical factor in lack of advancement. So your column is consistent with data !! (and I’m a scientist, I like data).

    2- The women who made it into top positions as CEOs or ministers (referred to as cabinet secretaries in the US, e.g. Secretary of State) do indeed tend to come from high-profile background. I wouldn’t say that they were necessarily born into rich families (Condoleezza Rice, for example, was born to a black family in highly segregated Birmingham Alabama) but they did achieve good educations before they were able to propel themselves into the high-profile positions. Both Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright, in another example, are among many famous women who attended Wellesley College – a highly prestigious women-only college – in Massachusetts. So again, what you wrote makes perfect sense. Pay inequality is still a problem in the US, only 3 years ago did the new president sign a law to promote equal pay between men and women (the Lilly Ledbetter Act), and it’s still not fully implemented yet.

    3- When it comes to Palestine, I think you are right that the situation is much more tilted towards gender imbalance. The disempowerment of women (for whatever group of reasons, most of which are intertwined) is a major factor in poverty, economic decline, and technological mediocrity. Think about it, women are 50% of society, so effectively half of society is prevented from reaching its full potential, or sometimes any potential, by the other half. That’s a huge handicap.

    4- The “staying at home” phenomenon for women is a bit different in a place like Ramallah, where now it’s almost become fashionable for women to have a job and many times frowned upon if she doesn’t. This, I think, is almost certainly due to Ramallah being a relatively expensive place to live, and families who want to be better off (or just show-off, which is a new problem in Ramallah imported from foreign countries like Jordan, Lebanon, and the UAE) need two incomes to be able to afford a good life. I am not familiar with the Strip, of course, like you are. But just thought I’d throw that in there. You are absolutely right, again, that there is a difference when it comes to working women in times of economic difficulty versus times of relief; what I described about Ramallah’s cost of living is probably an example of your statement, that when the money is needed, it becomes more acceptable for women to work, other social restrictions notwithstanding.

    5- Lastly, I admire the courage of your article. It’s hard to write that many men see the wife as somebody to satisfy their sexual desires (and nobody seems to care about the women’s sexual desires). You touch on deeply sensitive subjects that nevertheless MUST be addressed if our society is to be free, modern, and progressive. Again, our society cannot achieve anything when half of it is disempowered (intellectually, economically, and indeed sexually – they all go together). What is certain is that no oppressed party will ever get freedom through the generosity of the oppressor; that is true for Palestinians getting rid of Israeli occupation or for Palestinian women getting rid of oppression by men. It will have to be a fight by women from within; women will not achieve full rights from men by asking for it and will certainly never, ever, achieve it though religion. In the history of all human religions (and there have been hundreds), the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) have been particularly oppressive to females. So it’s an incredibly difficult thing to overcome. I really liked your article; it made me think of things I didn’t think of before. So thank you for pointing it out to me since I hadn’t visited in a few days :)

    Like

    June 2, 2012 at 5:55 am

    • I thank YOU for exerting this effort to write me this informative and profound comment! Amazing! This shows your critical and impressive way of thinking. I’m glad we share similar ideas :) This can actually be a great post for your blog! I was feeling quite hesitant to put this essay on my blog but you made me more confident and happy that I eventually did! Proud we have an educated and open-minded Palestinian like you in the USA. Thanks my friend! :)

      Like

      June 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm

  3. nice work squire!

    Like

    June 2, 2012 at 7:33 am

  4. BDR AL BODOOR

    Amazing. I’m just so proud that we have a great writer like shahd.
    Thanks for the tag
    :)

    Like

    June 2, 2012 at 7:35 am

    • Sweetheart Bodoor! Thanks a lot! You have that soul of a writer yourself! Best of luck for you!

      Like

      June 2, 2012 at 11:34 am

  5. Yahya

    Good job!

    Like

    June 2, 2012 at 9:08 am

    • Thanks Yahya! Actually you’re the one that broke my fear to start writing. You were one of the people who helped my ideas to flow. :) Thanks!

      Like

      June 2, 2012 at 11:37 am

      • Yahya

        nothing :)

        Like

        June 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm

  6. My cousin was put under pressure similar to your sister’s, But I only hope her father is later as forgiving.

    She used to be an excellent student and wanted to study pharmacy. Her father told her that no daughter of his will ever be a pharmacist and that she’ll need to choose a different path. This year, she is in tawjihi in a Nuseirat camp school. Even as a student in tawjihi, she rarely studies. Her explanation is, “if I have no choice than to be a teacher, why should I waste my energy getting 90s when I can do the same thing with 70s?”

    I’m sure you agree that this stifled human potential is shameful, wasteful, and disheartening, but I’m just as sure it happens quite frequently in our society.

    Best of luck to your sister in her studies and thank you for highlighting this important topic.

    Like

    June 2, 2012 at 9:22 am

    • oh wow! Thanks for sharing this story dear! It’s a pity that men here don’t understand how much pressure they put on women, I’m sorry for your cousin! Why doesn’t think this way? If she makes a challenge and studies so hard to get a scholarship, her father can never interfere in making her decision! There are many stories I could relate to this essay why I’m writing it from our society. If I wrote them all, the essay will never have a conclusion lol!

      Like

      June 2, 2012 at 11:52 am

  7. Dr Jamal

    Very nice and well-organised essay. Next semester we will do a lot of debates in sociolinguistics since this topic is the core of our course

    Like

    June 2, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    • Thanks a lot for this motivating feedback! I can’t wait for taking this course with you! Every course what we’ll take with you is going to be the best just because you are the one who’s teaching it :) Much appreciated!

      Like

      June 2, 2012 at 9:24 pm

  8. Mustafa Khalid

    That is a very nice essay you have written. Very eloquent and have given me (and the other readers) some things to ponder on.

    As a Muslim, I feel that it is necessary that both men and women should be given equal opportunities in whatever field they desire. However, there are some parts in the world in which the patriarchal mindset is still prevalent – and this is true for some Muslims and non-Muslims. That needs to change somehow.

    However, I personally feel that those individuals have to look back at history to see the long list of women who have either contributed much to society or made some sort of impact.

    For the Muslim men who have the patriarchal mindset who seem to hold women back, it seems that they are forgetting the various women who made contributions to the Muslims back in the past. These men should remember that Khadija was a well-known and wealthy businesswoman and that she is just as capable as the other men are. Another woman to remember would be Khawla bint Al-Azwar, a well-known female warrior who fought alongside Khalid bin Walid. And the list goes on.

    Keep up the good work! And cheers to you!!!

    Like

    June 2, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    • Thanks Mustafa for this thoughtful comment! I know.. It’s actually disappointing when you compare the just message that Islam came with and how “muslim” men treat women these days. So contradicting! I wish they can just learn from these examples that you mentioned. But sadly, despite that we all studied this Islamic history at school, few men seem to learn from it! Thanks again! Cheers :)

      Like

      June 2, 2012 at 9:37 pm

  9. Sanam Abbas

    A very thought provoking and nicely written essay Shahd! I have always admired ur clarity of thought and one thing that most pleases me is to see a young talented female writer, artist and a social worker like u, emerging in a some what conservative and patriarchal society of Palestine for which all credit goes to her remarkably cool headed and broadminded father…. Keep it up Shahd :)

    Like

    June 2, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    • Thanks dear Sanam :) That’s very nice of you! I’m sure dad will be so proud to hear your comment :)

      Like

      June 3, 2012 at 12:33 am

  10. cul man mk

    good readings, good knowledge to get from your study

    Like

    May 16, 2013 at 9:56 am

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