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Maria Charles, UC Santa Barbara

Complicating Patriarchy: Gender Beliefs of Muslim Facebook Users in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia

Western stereotypes depict gender attitudes in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia in undifferentiated terms – as uniformly traditional and rooted in patriarchal religious culture. Little is known about the region’s actual gender beliefs, how they vary, and how they are influenced by Islam. Based on a new survey of Muslim Facebook users, this study explores variability across and within six countries with respect to female chastity and marital patriarchy, two underresearched gender principles that are highly salient in the region. Rather than moving along a single traditional-to-egalitarian continuum, results show that MENASA gender attitudes are characterized by a multidimensional structure, with different combinations of female chastity and marital patriarchy beliefs forming distinct cultural groups. Effects of religion and gender vary across the two attitudinal dimensions. Piety is associated with stronger support for women’s chastity but not patriarchal control within marriage. Religious absolutism is associated with stronger support for both principles. And while men are more likely than women to favor marital patriarchy, beliefs about chastity do not differ by gender. Results complicate broad-brush depictions of patriarchy in the region and corroborate previous research on the multidimensionality of gender beliefs and the multifaceted influences of Muslim faith.

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