Explaining Egalitarian Attitudes: The Role of Interests and Exposure

  • Lindsay J. Benstead
Part of the Comparative Feminist Studies book series (CFS)


Public opinion is patriarchal in the MENA, leading to low women’s workforce participation and political and economic problems. Efforts to explain attitudes focus on Islam and modernization, but miss employment-based mechanisms. Interest- and exposure-based employment theories, drawn from US sociological studies, argue that employed women and their husbands develop feminist views through redefinition of interests and exposure to women’s capabilities. Using data from six Arab countries, I find support for employment-based theories. Husbands of employed wives exhibit greater egalitarianism than single men and husbands of nonworking wives. Female supporters of Shari’a are less accepting of inequality than religious men, suggesting gendered interpretations of Islam. The results complement research on women, Islam, and oil and underscore the importance of supporting women’s employment.


Women and politics Women and work Public opinion Patriarchal attitudes Islam and gender equality Arab world 



The author thanks Marwa Shalaby, an anonymous reviewer, and attendees at the “First International Conference on Gender and Human Rights in the Middle East,” Women’s Rights in the Middle East Program, James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, Rice University, April 24, 2014, for helpful comments. Thanks to Allison Bainter, Kaylee Brink, Emily Kuenzi, Brandon Narramore, and Anna Murphy for research assistance.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lindsay J. Benstead
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Portland State UniversityPortlandUSA
  2. 2.Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences PoParisFrance

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