Ambivalence and Acquiescence: Gender and the Cosmopolitan Class in Cairo
Citation:NAGI, MARIAM HESHAM, Ambivalence and Acquiescence: Gender and the Cosmopolitan Class in Cairo, Trinity College Dublin.School of Social Sciences & Philosophy, 2019
Nagi_Revised full dissertation.pdf (PhD Thesis) 1.176Mb
Socioeconomic and demographic transformations have led to the decreased occurrence of marriage, chipped at the link between sexuality and marriage, and increased the liminal period of ‘waithood’ in Egypt. However, there is a dearth of studies examining women and men’s experiences in and around these phenomena. My research fills this empirical gap by adding to existing knowledge on masculinities and femininities in Egypt, especially in and around premarital relationships an area that is difficult to study due to its sensitive and socially taboo nature. The aim of the dissertation is to examine what tensions are produced by the clash between class preservation strategies grounded in specific gender dynamics and greater desire for autonomy and expectations for equality held by women and men of the cosmopolitan class, and how these tensions are managed. Previous research has largely focused on low-income communities and women’s gender strategies. This dissertation adds to the body of literature by gaining a better understanding of women and men’s changing gender construction and roles, particularly in premarital and marital relationships in upper class communities, specifically the cosmopolitan elite in Cairo. Moreover, my findings contribute to understanding the intersection of class and gender and the role appearances and consumption have in reproducing existing gender hierarchies. My theoretical framework consists of a synthesis of Bourdieu’s theory of practice with feminist discussions on agency, reflexivity, and social change to gain a better understanding of men and women’s experiences of the intersection of class and gender and the impact on gender roles in premarital and marital relationships in this segment of the Egyptian population. I utilize a case study research design to move beyond the essentialized and ahistorical notions of ‘Arab women’ and ‘the Arab family’ based on general theories presented in development reports and to conduct an in-depth study that offers insight into the diversity and complexity of social life. In order to capture women and men’s experiences I conducted 40 semi-structured interviews among educated Cairene men and women between the ages of 20 and 35. To elucidate the contradictions between what was articulated during the interviews and actual behavior and feelings, I conducted participant observation of weddings, engagements, dinner parties, social outings, and family gatherings. Interview transcriptions and ethnographic notes were then analyzed using a grounded theory approach. My results illuminate the different ways in which class interacts with these ideological terrains through concrete day-to-day behavior within relationships before and after marriage. Global economic and cultural flows and women’s increased education and labor force participation has resulted in increased autonomy and questioning of traditional gender expectations prior to marriage, however after marriage a preoccupation with status leads to a reinforcement of the traditional gender regime. Women’s increasing bargaining power and men’s decreasing financial power has led to a proliferation of symbolic processes that trivialize and misrecognize women’s financial contributions. While circulating images of masculinities and femininities are associated with assumptions about progress, modernity, and development; I posit the struggle for authenticity in which gender roles and beliefs play a large role is not simply a struggle between modernity often interpreted as anything associated with ‘the West’ and a sense of Arab-ness and/or Egyptian-ness. While internal dilemmas may exist regarding issues of identity and selfhood, I found men and women in the study community continuously negotiated different masculinities and femininities depending on the context; different gender strategies were utilized in different contexts to ensure their place in Cairo’s socialscape in terms of class hierarchies. In practice, these men and women did not fully reject gender strategies indexical of contexts outside of Egypt but rather carefully mediated or ‘brokered’ gender practices to ensure seamless local translation. The interviews suggest that this ‘brokering’ was commonly conducted with the aim of ensuring positions in local class hierarchies, indicative of a preoccupation with status and distinction rather than one with religion or nationality.
Author: NAGI, MARIAM HESHAM
Publisher:Trinity College Dublin. School of Social Sciences & Philosophy. Discipline of Sociology
Type of material:Thesis
Availability:Full text available