Behind the Gate: Syrian Women in Soap Operas - Perception vs. Reality
MFA in Design
Syria has witnessed what is known as Al-Fawra Al-Drameya, an outburst of dramatic TV shows since 2000. Every year, especially during Ramadan, dozens of Syrian soap operas like Bab Al-Hara (lit. “Behind the Gate”) are aired across the Arab World and beyond, depicting Syrians' historical struggles as they fought for liberation from the French mandate at the beginning of the 20th century. Although women of the day were a vital part of that liberation movement and had prominent societal roles, these historical fiction soap operas misrepresent them as submissive housewives. Such a portrayal reinforces the stereotypical image of the weak and subservient Arab woman.
Based on research and interviews conducted among real Syrian women across generations, this thesis challenges these erroneous TV stereotypes. Inspired by these real-life counter-narratives, my work takes the form of three dowry chests, wooden boxes that usually contain a collection of preparatory gifts given to a bride before her wedding. Instead, each chest is engraved with Arabic adjectives such as “strong” and “able,” which are typically seen as positive traits in Arab men but not women. Thus, I reclaim these qualities as symbols of female empowerment while challenging media-propagated gender-biased falsehoods.