A video dialogue program for young women in the USA and Muslim countries
December 15th, 2006 at 10:17 am
Posted by Zia in Planning

We’re on hiatus until January - our next videoconference will be on Thursday, January 18th (next up on our list of topics: social interactions and dating). In the meantime, please feel free to check out the other sections of our site. Any questions, drop an e-mail to zia at 12hours.org

December 10th, 2006 at 9:56 pm
Posted by Zia in Sessions

Our fifth session addressed clothing, fashion and body image. Here in New York, everyone was extremely impressed by depth and insight of the questions coming from the participants in Gabes. From questions about inner vs. outer beauty to the objectification of women, our counterparts brought up a number of thought-provoking issues.  

Regional fashion. The US participants said fashion was regional in the US: a participant from Philadelphia explained that the clothing people wore there was very different than in New York, even though it was just a couple of hours to the south. Other participants in the US group said it was true there was more pressure to look good and dress fashionably in New York than in most other cities. The participants in Gabes indicated it was the opposite there. When they’d go to Tunis, for example, there was certain anonymity factor: fashion and attire were less important since no one knew them there. In Gabes, by contrast, the participants know a number of people around the city, so they are always expected to look pulled-together.   

Influences on fashion and body image. In Gabes, the participants said their ideas of fashion had been largely influenced by the West. For example, Tunisian women like to wear the same type of clothing worn in France. However, the participants in Gabes indicated their religious background dictated that they dress modestly, and to wear revealing clothing was considered highly inappropriate. The Tunisian participants also mentioned that some trends were unlikely to catch on there: for example, tattoos are forbidden in Islam, as is body piercing other than the ears, so such things are rarely done in Tunisia. In the US, there was considerable discussion of the fact that fashion was presented by tall, thin models who did not represent the vast majority of American women – one participant cited the example of Katie Couric’s promotional photo being digitally altered to make her appear 20 pounds thinner. This led to a discussion of the unattainable beauty used in advertising, and how it often leads women to negative self-images. 

Appearance and identity. Both the US and Tunisia participants indicated that women were used extensively to sell products. In Tunisia, they said women’s images were used to sell everything from chocolate bars to dog food. One participant from Gabes who had worked as a model in the capital said she finally left the industry after feeling objectified by the experience. We discussed how much value our societies place on being beautiful – in both countries, there was consensus that being an attractive woman helped in securing a good job, for example. Overall, participants in Gabes and New York felt that we’d all be better off if people were not judged on their appearances, but this was unlikely given how much importance both societies gave to physical beauty. Still, both groups said confidence and projecting an air of happiness was more important – and would win you more friends – than simply being attractive on the “outside”.  

December 8th, 2006 at 12:34 pm
Posted by Zia in Sessions, Tunisia

A great conversation, including discussion about what statement women make with their clothing, how society values inner vs. outer beauty and how advertising affects women’s self-image. A full summary soon. For now, a picture sent from Hajer from last week’s session in Gabes.

December 5th, 2006 at 8:34 pm
Posted by Zia in Sessions

Our session in Gabes this past week centered on food and cooking.
Eating and learning to cook. The conversation started with a discussion of where participants eat their meals. Some of the women in Gabes go home for every meal; others stay closer to campus during lunchtime. In regards to cooking, one participant explained that in Tunisia, as a woman you are expected to learn to cook once you get engaged – it becomes your future mother-in-law’s responsibility to ensure that you feed her son well (even if a woman works, she’ll be expected to do all the cooking). Others in Gabes mentioned that this situation is changing, and one woman said she’s lucky because her fiancé is a good cook so she doesn’t have to worry. The US participants indicated that in most relationships, both the men and women cook (or share cooking-related chores), especially if both work. One of the American women pointed out, however, that her boyfriend does very little around the house, so she ends up responsible for most domestic tasks. 
Typical foods. When asked what foods were typical, Americans replied that bagels were the probably the most typical New York food, but things like spaghetti, pizza and barbecue were popular, too. One participant said she came from the south so she liked soul food: “It’s awful for you but it tastes so good!” In Tunisia, there was much discussion of couscous as a national dish, as well as typical vegetable salads. One participant also talked about how it was traditional to slaughter and roast a sheep for Eid al-Adha (the Muslim feast to celebrate the end of the Haj). In her family, her father was in charge and would perform the sacrifice every year.
Food and body image. The last part of the discussion was about how food impacts body image. The participants in Gabes said weight is indeed an issue in Tunisia, particularly as women get older. They mentioned that if you are considered overweight, it affects your self-image since you are more limited in what clothing you can wear, and men may be less interested in you. They indicated there is increasing awareness of health and weight issues in Tunisia, so fitness centers are becoming more popular and women are becoming more interested in sports. The US participants said for them, too, weight is an issue – most said they do indeed think a lot about weight. The Tunisian participants asked about Americans being the heaviest people in the world - US participants explained it was generally due to lifestyle and lack of access to healthy foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables. If fast food is much cheaper and easier, people will gravitate to that option rather than cooking healthy meals from scratch.
We’ll be continuing this theme on Thursday when we’ll be discussion clothing, appearance and body image.

December 3rd, 2006 at 8:27 pm
Posted by Zia in Tunisia

Arrived back in New York last night after a great (if too short) trip to Tunis and Gabes. The trip included several meetings in Tunis, an interview on the English-language hour of Radio Tunis and a couple of days with our program coodinators and participants in Gabes.

An enormous thanks to everyone in Tunisia - especially Karim, Laura, Hajer and Fethia - for making it such a wonderful experience.

Street scene in Tunis in between meetings

Together with Hajer and Fethia at the market in Gabes