The Women's Awakening in Egypt

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Culture, Society, and the Press

Beth Baron

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Between 1892 and 1920 nearly thirty Arabic periodicals by, for, and about women were produced in Egypt for circulation throughout the Arab world. This flourishing women's press provided a forum for debating such topics as the rights of woman, marriage and divorce, and veiling and seclusion, and also offered a mechanism for disseminating new ideologies and domestic instruction. In this book, Beth Baron presents the first sustained study of this remarkable material, exploring the connections between literary culture and social transformation.

Starting with profiles of the female intellectuals who pioneered the women's press in Egypt—the first generation of Arab women to write and publish extensively—Baron traces the women's literary output from production to consumption. She draws on new approaches in cultural history to examine the making of periodicals and to reconstruct their audience, and she suggests that it is impossible to assess the influence of the Arabic press without comprehending the circumstances under which it operated.

Turning to specific issues argued in the pages of the women's press, Baron finds that women's views ranged across a wide spectrum. The debates are set in historical context, with elaborations on the conditions of women's education and work. Together with other sources, the journals show significant changes in the activities of urban middle- and upper-class Egyptian women in the decades before the 1919 revolution and underscore the sense that real improvement in women's lives—the women's awakening—was at hand. Baron's discussion of this extraordinary trove of materials highlights the voices of the female intellectuals who championed this awakening and broadens our understanding of the social and cultural history of the period.

Beth Baron is assistant professor of history, City College, City University of New York.

"Beth Baron thoroughly examines the women's press in late 19th- and early 20th-century Egypt. No other sources on women in Egypt during this time period cover the women's press. She introduces the text with biographical accounts of the major journalists and descriptions of the magazines they published. . . . Recommended for women's studies and Middle Eastern collections."—Library Journal

"Baron's work celebrates the creativity of women writers and succeeds impressively in recovering their voices. Her diligence in reading hitherto unknown journals and bringing to light obscure writers offers a new, feminine vantage point on the rising Egyptian middle class, and for this achievement she deserves full praise. . . . [An] engagingly written work."—Robert L. Tignor, New York Times Book Review

"The Women's Awakening in Egypt . . . has the makings of a minor classic: previously unknown material and convincing interpretations, an uncluttered style, clear organization, cautious argumentation, careful delimitation of the subject matter, and just enough background and information to allow non-specialists to follow the argument."—Lila Abu-Lughod, The Women's Review of Books

"Baron offers, in this most interesting book, not only an account of the origins of women's writing and public activism, but historical insight into the new middle class and its ideologies."—Arlene Elowe MacLeod, Middle East Journal

"A well-researched, well-thought out, well-written, and original study of the women's awakening in Egypt."—Houri Berberian, UCLA Journal of Middle Eastern Studies

"Baron's book adds considerably to our understanding of Egyptian life at the turn of the century. . . . A well-documented and very readable book."—Marjorie Wall Bingham, International Journal of Middle East Studies

"Baron's well-written, extensively researched work examines in depth a fascinating and previously little-utilized source central to the awakening, almost thirty Arabic women's periodicals edited in the period before the revolution of 1919. . . . Will be of value to scholars and contemporary political thinkers."—Janice Gordon-Keller, The Annals of the American Academy

"Beth Baron's fine and elegant study of the Arabic women's press traces the elaboration of a new female literary culture in Egypt. . . . Baron's work represents a considerable achievement. by recovering the texts, voices, and lives of these pioneers of the women's press, she has conferred historical agency upon them. By carefully listening to what they said, by thoughtfully considering why they wrote and how their writings were received, she has indeed laid to rest 'the myth that women yielded the struggle for women's rights, or the thinking about that struggle, to men'."—Julia Clancy-Smith, Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt

"Professor Baron should be congratulated for breaking new grounds in the study of the Arabic press as well as in the study of Middle Eastern women."—Ami Ayalon, Middle Eastern Studies

ISBN: 9780300072716
Publication Date: August 25, 1997
270 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
Women in Middle Eastern History

Shifting Boundaries in Sex and Gender

Edited by Nikki R. Keddie and Beth Baron

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