Palestinian girls, dating, and the mobile phone

Last fall, Hiyam Hijazi-Omari and Rivka Ribak presented a paper called “Playing With Fire: On the domestication of the mobile phone among Palestinian teenage girls in Israel” at AOIR. They studied teen girls who received their mobile phones from their boyfriends and hid them from everyone else. Through this lens, they examine how the mobile phone alters social dynamics, relationships, and the construction of gender in Palestine. In short, they document how culturally specific gendered practices (not technological features) frame the meaning and value of technology.

All too often, we think of technology as empowering or restricting. We focus on the technology and its features rather than the ways in which it gets embedded in the lives of people. The phone has always been a gendered technology. (If you have any doubts, read Claude Fischer’s “America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940.”) While the story of the mobile is quite different, even the tensions between its use as a business tool and its use as a tool for family communications have been narrated through the lens of gender.

Palestinian boys give their girlfriends phones for the express purpose of being able to communicate with them in a semi-private manner without the physical proximity that would be frowned on. At the same time, girls know that parents do not approve of them having access to such private encounters with boys – they go to great lengths to hide their mobiles and suffer consequences when they are found out. While the boys offered these phones as a tool of freedom, they often came with a price. Girls were expected to only communicate with the boy and never use the phone for any other purpose. In the article, Hijazi-Omari and Ribak quote one girl as expressing frustration over this and saying “I did not escape prison only to find myself another prison.” These girls develop fascinating practices around using the phone, hiding from people, and acquiring calling cards.

For teens, the mobile phone is a key device for negotiating intimate relations throughout the world. Studies done in the U.S., Jamaica, Japan, the U.K. and elsewhere all point to the ways in which teens negotiate private relationships using their mobiles. Mobiles are a critical tool for being in a relationship. Yet, most of our studies focus on the ways in which offline intimacies are extended across space and time through the mobile. What Hijazi-Omari and Ribak are finding with Palestinian girls is that the mobile is allowing them to have private encounters and relationships when these would be otherwise impossible.

This article helps elucidate the ways in which youth from different cultures are navigating social relations through the mobile. It is well-written and filled to the brim with fascinating data that tickles the brain. A must read for anyone interested in cultural difference involving the mobile!

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12 thoughts on “Palestinian girls, dating, and the mobile phone

  1. Lachlan Hardy

    I’ll be reading this with interest, thanks!

    @silkcharm told me an interesting story about some of the mobile use anecdotes she heard about on her recent visit to Saudi Arabia:

    apparently, the boys will drive past a group of girls and drop their mobile number on pieces of paper. The girls pick them up and contact the boys.

    Neither knows anything about their correspondent – not even what they look like!

  2. Jill Walker Rettberg

    That’s really interesting. Larissa Hjorth had a fascinating paper presented at PerthDAC last September about how mobile phones are used in Korea – another kind of culturally specific setting, that. Apparently when a girl and boy start dating, the boy’s phone becomes a symbol of their relationship and of his being “taken”. The girl is entitled to decorate it, put photos of herself on it as the screensaver, etc etc etc.

    I think this is a published paper that includes the Seoul findings. Or you can read Axel Bruns’ notes from the presentation at DAC.

  3. Branedy

    This article reminded me of my time in Saudi Arabia, I had managed to take a scanner into the country which could monitor their cellular traffic. Mind you, I couldn’t understand what they were saying to each other, but the male/female emotional content was vividly clear.

  4. ailsa

    Thanks for the link. A fascinating take on cultural practices undergoing challenges brought on by new technologies. I am studying use of txt as a preferred choice by young people in counselling. The covert use is one aspect, but the young people i interview are also saying that they can txt things that they wouldnt dream of saying…. some similarities.

  5. Manjunath

    The article is remniscent of the socio-economic culture in my country(India). With the advent of technology and the rapid strides made in the Software industry, Indians are still very conservative by nature. They are still chained by old beliefs and tenets. Even in Bangalore( suppossedly the most open society) the IT capital of India parents still worry and fret about the excessive use of mobile phones by their offsprings. The situation is quite similar to your article.

  6. john paul

    This story is really great and nice, i find really interesting. NICE qoute ” i didn’t escape prison only to know i’m inside another prison”. i believe that this will really increase the population of bisexuals ans heterosexuals or maybe falling in love with the same sex. i do beleive that if they havent embraced the culture of the west and kept everything as it is 70 years ago, everything will be the same with no doubt. shopping malls, branded stuffs, precious cars and a lot more things were introduced. what else can i say “IF YOU GIVE SOMEONE A HAND, TIME WILL COME THAT PERSON WILL ASK YOU FOR YOUR ARM. IF YOUR KIND ENOUGH TO GIVE YOUR ARM, TIME WILL COME THAT HE WILL ASK YOU FOR YOUR HEAD.” SAME RULES APPLY.


  7. Giddy

    i feel alot of pity for our bros and sisters in this piece of the world. If you are from Gaza/palestine kindly contact me as we share the grief..
    southern africa

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