What does the expression push and pull mean in the following article from The New York Times?

The Push and Pull of Gender for Muslims at the Hajj

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    May I ask that you restore the context you have deleted? Context is a vital part of any question here, critical to determining meaning; and in this case, you have received two answers which are incomprehensible without that context. Sep 15, 2016 at 22:24

1 Answer 1


This is not a phrase which bears a clear meaning on its face. 'Push' and 'pull' are often employed to express repulsion and attraction, and 'gender' seems to be exerting such repulsion and attraction; but beyond that you have to read the article to find out exactly what is meant. That in fact is the purpose of a headline: to intrigue you, to make you want to read more.

Eventually you will find the phrase fairly explicitly explained:

Each day in Mecca provided powerful reminders of a religion that seems to simultaneously embrace women and push them away.

There's a lesson in this for learners (and indeed for students of any topic): don't be in too big a hurry to achieve complete understanding on your first reading. Often you learn more by running quickly through an article or story, to get a rough sense of the overall content, and then re-reading to fill in the fine details. If you practise reading inferentially—if you fill in the gaps of your understanding as much as possible by figuring out what a given word or expression has to mean for the passage to make sense, without immediately rushing to a dictionary or to ELU—you will eventually find reading English much easier and more natural, and a lot more pleasurable.

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    Though I agree with your comment about "running through the article to get a rough sense of the overall content", it must be noted that the expression, in the behavioural sense, is not present in dictionaries, and that may reasonably cause NNLs to look for help.
    – user5267
    Sep 15, 2016 at 22:11
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    @xxxxxx Quite so; but if OP had RTFA they might not need the dictionary! -- and they'd be welcome to ask here if they were puzzled or wanted confirmation of their guess. Sep 15, 2016 at 22:13
  • @StoneyB The second paragraph here is eminently pasteable. (Also, dictionaries may not address the idiom, but a well-formed Google search is instructive.) Sep 15, 2016 at 22:27
  • @P.E.Dant - I think this is an interesting and pertinent question for a NNL, btw have you ever been a NNL of the English language before?
    – user5267
    Sep 15, 2016 at 22:34
  • @xxxxxx I agree that this is an interesting question. Assuming that NNL means "non-native learner," no. I am and will always be an NNL of other languages, though, and only through being encouraged (sometimes against my will) to research on my own have I been able to make even the meagre progress I can claim. Sep 15, 2016 at 22:41

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