MSNBC: Oil Wealth To Blame For Sexism in Middle East

Norah O'Donnell, MSNBC During the 3:00PM EST hour of MSNBC news coverage, anchor Norah O’Donnell discovered the source of sexism in the Middle East was not Islamic fundamentalism, but rather, capitalism: "And to another big story, is oil behind sexism in the Middle East? It's a provocative new theory out there today, suggesting the real culprit of the lower status of women in the Middle East is because of the region's oil wealth."

O’Donnell then turned to Sally Quinn of the Washington, who wrote about the theory on the newspaper’s On Faith blog: "This is a hot topic, Sally. Do you believe that oil is behind sexism in the Middle East?" Quinn replied: "Well, I do think that it has a lot to do with it...when you have an oil-rich country, there's much less manufacturing, so that there are fewer jobs for women. But also because the country is so rich that women don't need to work and therefore they're comfortable and they stay home."

Later, O’Donnell concluded: "But it's a very interesting question, it's not necessarily Islam, it may be more, and you would know this better than I, as -- because of what you're doing -- it may more be the wealth of that country." Quinn replied: "Well, it is the wealth. The -- part of it, too, has to do with culture. I mean, that they come from a culture where women don't work. And so, because the oil-rich countries, all of the jobs that are involved around oil are much more male-oriented jobs."

Quinn also suggested that the oil-wealth of Middle Eastern countries made people so financially "comfortable" that women can afford to stay at home and therefore have become complacent to sexist treatment:

...it obviously follows that here you have these oil-rich countries and women are sort of cosseted and it's a double-edged sword. Because on the one hand, they're much more comfortable, they don't have to work, they can shop, they can gossip, they can go to lunch. On the other hand, they're held back and living in a totally male dominated society...I think most of them are bored out of their minds, the rich ones...I think a lot of women, and this certainly goes for women in this country too, would probably rather spend more time at home when they have little children and not have to work full time. But I think that, in general, most women would prefer a full -- a more fulfilling life than just sitting around and eating bonbons all day.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

3:26PM SEGMENT:

NORAH O'DONNELL: And to another big story, is oil behind sexism in the Middle East? It's a provocative new theory out there today, suggesting the real culprit of the lower status of women in the Middle East is because of the region's oil wealth. According to a World Bank report, women make up less than a third of the work force in the Middle East. Let's bring in Sally Quinn on the Washington Post and co-founder of On Faith. Sally, I just want to read from your blog post about the theory posed by Michael Ross. Quote, 'the concentration of the production of oil eliminates manufacturing, where women have the best chance for jobs. But more interestingly, because the average woman living in an oil-rich country does not need the extra income she stays home. Therefore the culture and society are dominated by men and women have much less political influence.' This is a hot topic, Sally. Do you believe that oil is behind sexism in the Middle East?

SALLY QUINN: Well, I do think that it has a lot to do with it. And I -- this was a whole new idea for me. I just came back from Doha, from a Brookings conference on Islam. And I was stunned and as you can imagine, this was very controversial in the panel where this paper was introduced. But what he did say was, first of all, that when you have an oil-rich country, there's much less manufacturing, so that there are fewer jobs for women. But also because the country is so rich that women don't need to work and therefore they're comfortable and they stay home. So my question is, do you -- do women really want to work-

O'DONNELL: Right.

QUINN: -or do they work because they have to? I mean, when you look at the most oil-rich countries in the United -- I mean in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman, those countries have the fewer women vote -- they don't -- they have the fewest women in parliament. They have much more reluctance to grant women the vote. Fewer women in the work force and fewer women's rights.

O'DONNELL: Yeah.

QUINN: And -- and so, it obviously follows that here you have these oil-rich countries and women are sort of cosseted and it's a double-edged sword. Because on the one hand, they're much more comfortable, they don't have to work, they can shop, they can gossip, they can go to lunch. On the other hand, they're held back and living in a totally male dominated society.

O'DONNELL: In Saudi Arabia, women make up 5% of the work force. Women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive, although the King may reconsider that this year because one of his family members is pushing for him to change that, that could be a real change. But it's a very interesting question, it's not necessarily Islam, it may be more, and you would know this better than I, as -- because of what you're doing -- it may more be the wealth of that country.

QUINN: Well, it is the wealth. The -- part of it, too, has to do with culture. I mean, that they come from a culture where women don't work. And so, because the oil-rich countries, all of the jobs that are involved around oil are much more male-oriented jobs. There aren't that many jobs for women anyway. And yet, these women are very well educated. A lot of them go to school in the United States or England. They come back, they're well educated. I think most of them are bored out of their minds, the rich ones.

O'DONNELL: Yeah.

QUINN: I think a lot of women, and this certainly goes for women in this country too, would probably rather spend more time at home when they have little children and not have to work full time. But I think that, in general, most women would prefer a full -- a more fulfilling life than just sitting around and eating bonbons all day.

O'DONNELL: It's a provocative theory and it's great. Sally Quinn, great blog, really interesting. Thanks so much. We appreciate it.

QUINN: Thanks.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC