Challenging Gender Norms

By: Kenza Oumlil   Leslie Jacobson  

This paper examines the intersection of communication, gender, and performance, as demonstrated through a creative project involving students at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco (AUI). Drawing from theater for social change theory and from literature on performing gender, this paper examines the impact of using theater to effect societal change. In four AUI Media and Gender classes (fall 2015, spring 2016, fall 2016, and fall 2017), students formulated a series of questions designed to elicit responses from other AUI students, creating compelling narratives focusing on gender equality and sexual violence. The transcripts of these interviews were edited into four scripts, performed as staged readings. The methodology for this paper relies on data from surveys collected after the four performances, as well as interviews and discussions conducted with the classes and the four audiences. Analysis reveals that attendance at the play increased over the two-year period, and survey participants responded that seeing a theatrical performance helped them understand issues differently. The audiences were motivated to take concrete action to promote gender equality in society in direct proportion to the power and specificity of the stories shared onstage, demonstrating the potential of theater to inspire the audience to make positive societal change.

"Audience", " Power", " Identities", " Arts-based Media*"
Media Cultures
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Kenza Oumlil

Kenza Oumlil is Assistant Professor in Communication and Gender at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane (AUI), Morocco. She presently acts as the communication studies program coordinator at AUI. She holds a Ph.D. in Communication from Concordia University in Montréal, Canada. Her most recent scholarly publications include “Women in Contemporary Moroccan Cinema,” Journal of Middle East Media, 2016; "Alternative Media, Self-Representation, and Arab-American Women," Journal of Alternative and Community Media, 2016; and “The Representation of Women in Moroccan Television Talk Shows,” Journal of North African Studies, 2017. Oumlil recently received the excellence in research award – first place for her paper presented at the 20th Annual AUSACE Conference annual convention of the Arab-U.S. Association for Communication Educators (AUSACE) in Doha, Qatar in October 2015. She is also a contributor to Al Jazeera English opinion page. E-mail:

Leslie Jacobson

-, -, George Washington University, United States
District of Columbia, United States

Leslie Jacobson is a theater director, playwright, and teacher who has spent the past 40 years focusing on using theater to effect societal change, in the US and elsewhere in the world. She is professor of theatre and director of graduate studies for the MFA in classical acting at George Washington University. For 30 years, she was founding artistic director of Horizons Theater producing plays by women playwrights. Since 2003, she has developed a cultural exchange program with an impoverished community in South Africa, using theater to address issues in this community. Jacobson has won awards for her theater work, and was a Fulbright senior research fellow to Australia in 2008, with a focus on creating exchange with the work of Australian women playwrights. That fellowship resulted in Jacobson’s stage adaptation of Vanishing Point, a verse novel by Australian author Jeri Kroll.