What’s keeping women down in the Middle East? It’s not Islam but oil, according to UCLA political science professor Michael Ross. Women tend not to work in the oil industry because of physical and social barriers, in turn reducing their political influence and leaving oil-producing nations with “atypically strong patriarchal cultures and political institutions,” Ross writes in American Political Science Review (Feb. 2008).
Ross backs his provocative argument—that Big Oil subjugates women—with a litany of research. He studied all the countries in world—Islamic and non-Islamic, oil-producing and non-oil-producing—and ran statistical models that linked high oil production to fewer women in the workforce, fewer female legislators, and fewer female cabinet members. At the same time, he found that Islam has no statistically significant effect on these same measures of female empowerment. His conclusion boils down to a neatly alliterative maxim: “Petroleum perpetuates patriarchy.”