Middle East Studies

The New Arab Man: Emergent Masculinities, Reproductive Technologies, and Islam in the Middle East

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

5:00pm – 7:00pm

McKinney Conference Room, Watson Institute 

Marcia C. Inhorn, PhD, MPH, William K. Lanman, Jr. Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs. Former Chair, Council on Middle East Studies, MacMillan Center and Editor, Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies (JMEWS)

Since September 11th, 2001, Arab men have been particularly vilified as terrorists, religious zealots, and brutal oppressors of women. Against this backdrop of neo-Orientalist representation, this paper presents a humanizing portrayal of ordinary Middle Eastern men as they struggle to overcome their infertility and childlessness. Contrary to popular expectations, male infertility is more common than female infertility in the Middle East, and many Middle Eastern men are engaged in high-tech forms of assisted reproduction. Through in-depth ethnography undertaken in assisted reproductive technology (ART) clinics in four countries, the paper captures the marital, moral, and material commitments of infertile Middle Eastern couples as they engage with ARTs. Emerging technologies–particularly intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) to overcome male infertility and egg donation to overcome age-related female infertility–are changing Middle Eastern couples’ lives and religious moralities. Although Islamic authorities have condoned assisted reproduction as a solution to human suffering, third-party reproductive assistance (sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, surrogacy) is still widely banned across the Sunni Muslim world from Morocco to Malaysia. However, recent Shia Muslim fatwas have challenged this ban, leading to a thriving donor technology industry in both Iran and Lebanon. In today’s Middle East, men are rethinking their “Islamic masculinities” as they undertake transnational quests for conception out of devotion to the infertile wives they love. In forwarding the trope of “the new Arab man,” this paper questions taken-for-granted assumptions about Middle Eastern men as men in an era of emerging science and technology.