Monthly Archives: March 2015

Gender Differences Teen Brains

A neuroscientist, Frances Jensen explained that teenage girls’ brains are more connected across hemispheres, they have superior language abilities compared to boys—about a year and a half ahead in their development, they may be ahead in the connections between the emotional and intellectual parts of the brain, they do as well as boys on math tests and have higher average SAT scores.[1]

[1] Frances Jensen with Amy Ellis Nutt. The Teenage Brain. HarperCollins, 2015, p. 228.


What determines student activism?

What determines university students’ political mobilization in an era when about a quarter of young people of their age group are university students? Editors of a book on Student Activism in Asia (2012), researching student social movements post-war to the early 21st century, found university student activism is inconsistent with periods of activity and inactivity. Most are liberal, aiming for democracy, but some movements are right wing or religious. Even in peak periods, most students are not involved although they are often gathered together on urban campuses, they’re taught to think critically, they don’t have families to support, and they’re usually allowed some form of student government organization. Student power is based on self-identity as an activist, influenced by the university system, the government, other social movements and allies, and the national economic development.[1] As democracy spreads, universities expand, and international models fade, these forces oppose massive student movements. Like other scholars, they didn’t predict the youth-led uprisings of 2011.

The post-colonial expansion of access to universities replacing a few elite universities led to a decrease in activism as students no longer felt privileged by their special status to monitor their governments. Also, more graduates are associated with more competition for jobs and more unemployment, and therefore more caution about challenging the status quo. Some movements encouraged students in other countries and participated in international student organizations, but their activism was mainly localized. The waves identified by Weiss and Aspinall are a leftist egalitarian wave during the Cold War from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, a New Left wave protesting government emphasis on economic development starting in the late 1960s to the 1980s, and a wave for democracy in opposition to authoritarian regimes beginning in the 1980s in a period of massification of the university system. Transnationalism was made more difficult by censorship of student media. Weiss and Aspinall reported a decline in the power of student protests in the last two decades.[2] Student movements are most likely to arise when other political forces are repressed: “Authoritarian regimes and student protest are often entwined in a fateful embrace.”[3] Their research would explain student activism of 2011 and beyond as enabled by spread of social media that exposed the corruption of ruling regimes and enabled protesters to learn from their peers around the world.

[1] Weiss and Aspinall, p. 28.

[2] Weiss and Aspinall, p. 281.

[3] Weiss and Aspinall, p. 282.

Young Urban Saudi Women’s Subculture

A French postcolonial and poststructural feminist ethnographer, Amélie Le Renard interviewed over 100 young Saudi women in Riyadh from 2005 to 2013. This methodology reacts against belief in universal systems such as an essential patriarchy. The urban women viewed themselves as modern and different from the backward village woman, as they move in their “parallel city” of females with its own amusement parks, schools, and mall floors. These spaces without male supervision give women a certain freedom to show off their styles. Le Renard found their acts of rebellion against the morality police and strict segregation of the sexes was for the most part minor and expressed in their appearance such as short colored hair, make-up, allowing some hair to show, wearing jeans under their abayas. Some wore T-shirts with English language slogans like “Anything boys can do, girls can do better” and “Peace and love and freedom.”[i] Some wore shoulder abayas not attached to the head, embroidered with sequins. Consumerism is valued, such as carrying a Gucci handbag. Some non-conformists secretly communicate with young men on the telephone or social media. Books by American psychologists are best-sellers.[ii]

As is true of other highly sex-segregated spaces, such as British boarding schools or Afghanistan, some young people engage in homosexuality until marriage. Even married couples can’t do much more than go to the mall for fun and many marriages (nearly a fifth) quickly end in divorce[iii], so the focus is on “homosociality” for recreation. Girls on campus walk holding hands. As in Afghanistan, some young women dress like boys under their abayas. These tomboys are called buyat, frequently seen on university campuses in what can be considered a youth subculture, and some are lesbians in buya-cute (feminine) couples.[iv]

Most of the young women Renard interviewed didn’t protest having to veil, thinking of it as showing respect to the holy shrines in their country, such as Mecca. Some did enjoy foiling the morality police (CPVPV), running away from them, ignoring their commands, or giving them a false name if stopped. One of the CPVPV police told a student, “You have pretty eyes, cover them,” she relied, “You are so rude! It’s up to you to look away!”[v] Only a minority of the younger generation of women were Islamists and she heard frequent criticism of Islamic rules in private conversations.[vi] However, women are reluctant to claim rights seen as Western and liberal. A 28-year-old journalist said, “For liberals, there are no limits. I think we need to keep our identify.” But she criticized the “rigorists” as “closed in on themselves, whereas the world is open.”[vii] They regarded King Abdullah as a reformer who encouraged women’s employment in opposition to ”rigorist” Islamists. Contraceptives are available to married women, enabling them to pursue education and careers.

The government Council of Senior ‘Ulama issues fatwas governing daily lives with an emphasis on covering their bodies—including the face, and avowing contact with men outside of family life. These policies developed from the Islamic Awakening of the 1960s, enforced by the religious police. Some young women protested their lack of freedom, such as a 28-year-old mall employee who told her, “There is no freedom here, everything is forbidden. . . you cannot even express your opinion.”[viii] Females must have their male guardian’s permission to go to school and work and are expected to accept their parent’s choice of a husband, although Renard interviewed women who had refused proposals.

The most radical rebels are the few women who lead the driving campaign since 1990, leading to the Women2Drive campaign organized in 2011. The majority of the activists are from wealthy families and lived abroad, criticized as tools of dangerous Westernization. Some other rebellions occurred, such as female students protested their university conditions in Abha in 2012, resulting in injuries to 53 of them, inflected by CPVPV, police, and campus guards.

[i] Amélie Le Renard. A Society of Young Women: Opportunities of Place, Power and Reform in Saudi Arabia. Stanford University Press, 2014, p. 109.

[ii] Le Renard, p. 161.

[iii] Nadim Kawach, “In Saudi Who is to Blame for High Divorce Rates,” Emirates 24 News, March 20, 2012.

[iv] Le Renard, p. 152.

[v] Le Renard, p. 119.

[vi] Le Renard, p. 40. P. 117.

[vii] Le Renard, p. 122.

[viii] Le Renard, p. 48.