Feminism via soap opera?

A show starring a loving and supportive husband is taking the Arab world by storm.

Published August 2, 2008 7:30AM (EDT)

The Turkish soap opera "Noor" has proven a huge hit in the Arab world -- except among Muslim clerics -- thanks to the dreamy "Mohannad," husband of the show's namesake. It's also reportedly shaking up marriages from Saudi Arabia to Syria. NBC reports that a "recent divorcee allegedly told her husband 'I want to sleep with Mohannad one night and then die.'" Women's breathless devotion to the star has even inspired a Mohannad joke that's making the rounds: "A Saudi woman was touring Turkey with her husband and son when her husband went missing. As she described him to the police, her son shouted, 'But that's not what Daddy looks like.' 'Be quiet,' she whispers, 'They might just give me Mohannad.'"

Mohannad is a hunk, but, more important, he is a loving and supportive husband who allows his wife to pursue her passions and a career outside of the home. In an interview with NBC, women's activist Dr. Fawzaya Abu Khalid explained: "[Saudi women] haven't seen such a sensitive, passionate, giving personality. It is the first time women have a role model for male beauty and passion and can compare him with their husbands. It is the first time they found out their husbands are not nice, that they are not being treated the way they should be, and that there is an option outside." Indeed, 24-year-old Heba Hamdan, a housewife in Amman, Jordan, told the Associated Press that she lectured her husband: "Learn from him [Mohannad] how he treats her, how he loves her, how he cares about her." Hamdan was also inspired by the show to pursue her own career.

In case you think the reportage overstates the impact of the show, consider a fascinating study that found that access in rural India to soap operas with independent female characters brought about feminist thinking and measurable improvement in women's status. Maybe the revolution will be televised ... in the form of a soap opera.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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