Feminine strength: Reflections on power and gender in Israeli-Palestinian culture

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This article explores a particular discourse on women's power among Palestinians inside Israel. I present ethnographic documentation of resourceful women who are commonly referred to as qawiyyi (strong), and offer the term "feminine strength" to talk about what I see as a normative script for "proper" handling of femininity and power. I argue that feminine strength encourages women to channel their achievements back to the home, and discourages them from vying with men over public status and official prestige. Personal strength that is amenable to transformation into public, political status is primarily a male prerogative and I therefore call this type "masculine power." However, dwelling on the gap between official and embodied representations reveals a range of creative negotiations that make the local articulations of gender and power more complex than they may seem. Looking at the broader context in which femininities and masculinities are produced, I show that "feminine strength" vividly echoes some of the major concerns of Israeli Palestinians generally, notably their preoccupation with modernity, cultural morality, and collective identity. By walking a fine line between conflicting demands and possibilities, women who are called qawiyyi embody the ongoing attempts of their community to uphold a moral existence, while balancing formi dable constraints and new opportunities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-430
Number of pages34
JournalAnthropological Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2006


  • Feminine strength
  • Israeli Palestinian culture
  • Masculine power
  • Women's power

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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