Student Research Explores Emirati Men's Gendered Experiences of State-Promoted Women's Work in the UAE

Lauren Clingan, social science major, spent four months tracking down two dozen Emirati men to ask about their gendered experiences of state-promoted women's employment in the UAE.

The results of her Capstone research highlight the dynamism of Emirati masculinity and suggest that notions of modernity feature into respondents' gendered identities; she also finds that Emirati men may aspire to and practice shared breadwinning in the household.

What motivated you to pursue this research topic?

I was motivated to study Emirati men's negotiations of masculinity in relation to UAE state-promoted women's work for several reasons. Prior to this project, I studied labor and gender issues either through human rights or feminist lenses. However, I believe that the pursuit of gender equality cannot be realized without considering masculinity alongside femininity, or men's changing experiences and understandings of gender amid projects that intend to expand women's opportunities.

Given the relative dearth of research on masculinity in the region, especially which takes into account other identities like citizenship and class, it was particularly interesting to study. Having lived in Abu Dhabi for almost four years now, I saw this as an opportunity to pursue my research interests — gender, labor, and citizenship — and to engage with issues of contemporary relevance in the UAE.

I saw this as an opportunity to pursue my research interests — gender, labor, and citizenship — and to engage with issues of contemporary relevance in the UAE.

Lauren Clingan, Class of 2017, social science major
How did you collect your data?

This project is based on qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews with 22 Emirati men from five emirates, between 18 and 60 years of age, related to working women such as mothers, aunts, sisters, or wives. I connected with respondents through friends, family, and university staff, and conducted interviews between October 2016 and January 2017. We discussed topics like household tasks and childcare in their families; gender roles in their families; women's employment in their families; their  impressions of the historical, religious, and social context of women's employment in the UAE; state policy promotion of women's work; and their beliefs about gender.

What did you find out?

I analyzed those semi-structured interview sessions using qualitative coding methods, employing grounded theory — drawing theory from data, not the other way around. I used a social identity framework, to understand the intersectionality of Emirati male identity — the ways in which respondents' identities are constituted along lines of citizenship, class, and other differences beside gender — and a gender constructivist approach, to focus on how institutional factors like state-promoted women's work and Emirati men's gender negotiations come together to challenge gender norms.

Lauren Clingan, Class of 2017, social science major
Why is this research important?

The project's findings suggest that while a codified ideal Emirati masculinity may be based on breadwinning, many men aspire to and enact shared breadwinning, while childcare practices remain largely feminized. Furthermore, while Emirati men may feel concern over their changing and uncertain status related to their own gendered challenges in education and job-seeking, and the status threat of women-centered state policy, they derive pride and a sense of modernity through support for women's work.

UAE state-promoted women's employment appears to encourage renegotiations of Emirati masculinity and familial gender roles; amid constraining forces, new ideals and patterns of masculinity emerge. As the UAE continues to support women's work and rights in a variety of ways, it becomes increasingly important to understand the ways in which the state project affects Emirati men's understandings and negotiations of gender. My findings hint at the possibility of less gendered, more balanced norms.