Arab Americans and Gender
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Biopsychosocial Perspectives on Arab Americans
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Gender roles and expectations in which the behaviors of women hold substantially more meaning than those of men have enormous importance for Arab Americans. Gender ideas inform a multiplicity of matters of appropriateness, including public behavior, social relationships, education, occupation, health, marriage, and divorce. Nonetheless, as predicted by segmented assimilation theory, not all families are the same and gendered norms may be treated more flexibly in some families and more strictly in others depending on family resources (social class), the social capital (relationships and community) they build in the United States, and their interpretations and management of interactions with the host society. At the same time, assumptions commonly held in American society—such as that wearing hijab (modest clothing, headscarf) symbolizes submission to men or lack of education—ignore the complexities of social belonging and women’s agency that exist around veiling. Gender notions also have a range of implications for the health care status of Arab Americans, while discrimination and prejudice common to the post-9/11 era have exacerbated feelings of marginalization and disempowerment for some Arab Americans. Nonetheless, Arab American men and women surpass the overall American population on a range of measures of success, including educational attainment, median incomes, and occupational prestige, revealing some of the positive impacts of strong family and selective acculturation. Practitioners will be well served by adopting an informed and nuanced approach to Arab American clients.