A video dialogue program for young women in the USA and Muslim countries

We just held our final two sessions of this year’s program.

New techology. Last week’s session dealt with issues of technology: how new technologies were changing our lives. We talked about the technologies that were most important to us: the Internet, cell phones and cars were all mentioned as technologies that had changed our life. Our participants also mentioned that these technologies would vary by generation: our parents’ generation, for example, was more influenced by the arrival of new appliances for the home, whereas we took these things for granted. We also discussed the impact new technologies had on small children, and how important it was for parents to ensure their children were not influenced in a bad way by all that the new technologies enable.

Globalization. Our final session was on the impact of globalization. There was much discussion of what globalization means: for us in the US, it conjures images of companies in Asia becoming more competitive than their American counterparts. In Tunisia, there was concern about protecting local customs in the face of global, often American-influenced culture. One participant asked the US group what we’d think of globalization if global culture was dominated more by Eastern thinking and customs rather than typically Western ones. Overall, there was consensus that our increasingly global world could be good in many ways, but that you had to also ensure that many different cultures could thrive rather than being eradicated by a single global identity. 

It was sad to finish up our program after so many sessions, but our participants promised to e-mail each other and to keep in touch. With any luck, this will be the start rather than the end of our interactions!

Our latest discussion was shortened due to the fact that our normal 6-hour time difference was off, but we had a good conversation on the topic of legal protection for women. Our participants in Tunisia started the conversation by discussing the extensive rights that women in Tunisia enjoy: most women go to university and women are free to select a career of their choice.  They said in Tunisia, women are considered “half of society”.

In US, one of our participants mentioned the “glass ceiling” that exists in spite of equality between men and women. The Tunisian participants asked the Americans what they considered the most important woman’s right to be. The response by one participant was the right of choice: that women can choose what career to have, whether to have children etc.

We later discussed the International Day of Women, a holiday that is celebrated in Tunisia, but not widely in the US. A participant in the US said this year was considered particularly important for women here, however, because there’s a strong woman presidential candidate

After months of technical glitches, we are finally back up and running. We held our most recent session on the topic of the media. A summary below:

Preferred news sources. Our participants Gabes said they got their news from different TV channels; they try to listen to multiple channels and listen carefully. They know that most news comes with a certain bias, so they try to be critical of whatever news source it is. The Internet also plays a critical role for them in getting their news, and some people use only the Internet for their research needs.  The Americans cited CNN and the BBC most frequently as their preferred news sources; some also cited The NY Times and NPR. The NY Times and BBC were cited as having strong international coverage; CNN was criticized as being too US-centric.

Truth and the media. One of the participants said that freedom should relate to ethical behavior, and wanted to discuss how it related to the media. One American said she thought that news organizations should write what they want, incorporating different views, but without lying. Another said news organizations should be able to write things people don’t like as long as they’re true. In Gabes, truth in news reporting was very important: one participant felt many global news organizations were more focused on promoting one view or opinion rather than reporting on the truth.

Children and the media. We also had a conversation on children and the media, and the degree to which media should be censored or filtered for the young audience. The Americans tended to believe that it was the parents’ responsibility to make the decisions about what their children should and shouldn’t watch or read. The Tunisians were stronger proponents of some degree of control over the content available to children.

Reality TV. The conversation later turned to reality TV, and if it was a good or bad thing. One of the Tunisian participants felt it didn’t really teach anything positive; it simply provided a look a certain types of behavior which weren’t always positive. One of the American participants said it made her not want to be like certain people on the show. Participants in both locations felt the idea that reality TV showed a glimpse of people’s real lives - without any superficialities – could be good, but that the shows often brought out the worst in people’s behavior.

The paparazzi and media intrusion into personal lives. Part of our conversation focused on the paparazzi and the media’s role in celebrity lives. One of the Tunisian participants asked how we felt about the fact that American celebrities were pursued relentlessly by the media. The American participants felt many celebrities enjoyed the attention, and that they had a degree of control since some celebrities courted the media much more than others. The Tunisian participants asked what options celebrities had to combat false rumors written about them; the Americans explained that people here did have some legal recourse here if the media reported inaccurate, damaging details about their lives.

Personal websites and social media. The final discussion revolved around use of the Internet for personal promotion. Although none of the participants in Gabes had personal pages, one had a friend with a personal website to show her pictures. None of the Americans had personal web pages, although all used either Facebook or MySpace. The Tunisian participants didn’t use these sites; they said, however, there were some collaborative sites that people used in an academic context.

With the winter vacation coming up in New York and Gabes, we’ve got three back-to-back Monday sessions on November 26th, December 3rd and December 10th. As a result, I’m scrambling to keep up with session summaries and videos! Videos will likely come the last week of December when I have a break from my day job, so stay tuned for new additions to the website in that timeframe.

As for our conversations, our discussion of food and cooking on 11/26 was followed by one on clothing, appearances and body image this past Monday. Videoconference connectivity issues plagued us for more than half the session, but once we finally connected it was a great conversation. We started out discussing where women bought their clothes, how often they shopped and if they spent lots of money on clothes. We also talked about influences of other cultures on our clothing choices, and whether people strove for a certain look or for individuality (the answer on both sides: definitely individuality over a certain acheived look). We discussed how much clothing shaped our views of other people, and the role parents played in what their children wore.

Our topic this coming Monday: the media.


Our third session dealt with issues of food and cooking. In addition to talking about typical dishes, we discussed where people ate their meals (at home or at school) and what their role was in food preparation. We also discussed restaurant life, and the types of restaurants participants went to in both locations.

More details and videos of the session to come - in the meantime check out a preliminary clip on the videos section of the site.

With fewer technical issues this time around, we had more time for conversation. Our second session focused on family life; much of the conversation focused on living situations with family and the role of a woman in marriage. While some of the US participants lived at home (or had lived at home at some point after college), most of them now lived independently while most of the Tunisian participants lived with family.

There was discussion of which living situation the participants liked better - the women on both sides had a preference for their own situations, but also a certain longing for what the other had. The US participants who were far from home missed parents; the Tunisian participants enjoyed living at home but also liked the idea of having freedom from their parents’ control.

We also discussed which participants were married and found that none of the participants in Gabes are, but one of the US participants is. The US participant who’s married discussed the fact that she and her husband would make a decision on who would stay home with kids based on who had the better job at the time; the Tunisian participants said that in their country the woman played the primary caregiving role regardless of the couple’s careers.

Next up as a topic: food and cooking.

After a half hour or so of battling with technology (we had a few initial connectivity and audio issues), we finally made contact between New York and Gabes. There was a strong turnout in Gabes, and despite a last-minute session time change in New York, the majority of the US participants also made it to the session.

The topic of our first conversation was student life. Questions revolved around living situations, campus life and extracurricular activities. Take a look at the video clips for a sense of the conversation.

More on extracurricular activities at our next session on November 12th.