Middle Eastern Culture & Feminist Views(April 18 Article)

By: Rhonda Nemri

We hold on to things that are valuable to us. The means of those things can stick with us forever, or they can be reconstructed into things we don’t want to be a part of. Our identity is shaped throughout our lives. Identity is everything to us. However, what happens when you want to reject the identity that has been ascribed to you since you were born? Culture plays a huge role in our lives, whether we like it or not, it is and always will be around us. As Simone de Beauvoir stated:

“One is not born, but rather becomes a woman. No biological psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine” (The Second Sex 267).

Biologically women are seen as the child bearers, but socially, we our females, wives, mothers, and the other. Culture is not only based on whether you belong to an ethnic background, culture is the definition of your life through social, morals, values, norms, etc. We all have some sort of norms that we go by, whether it is norms we learn from family, friends, our careers,or societal norms. I will discuss the double-standard in general and then apply it to the Middle Eastern culture, how the double standard affects women today, and what it’s like being a Middle Eastern feminist in a male dominated culture.

One might think, “well the double standard occurs in all different kinds of cultures, including the American culture.” Yes, this is very true and sadly it does exist everywhere. As much as we can say women are equal to men; they work, go to school, they get to vote, etc. However, there are still societal issues that deal with a women that stops her from really indulging in the things she wants to do in her life and not what society wants her to do. The double-standard, is a standard that when comparing a man and woman, there are things that women can’t do, or get judged on because they are a woman, while the man is free to do whatever he likes without society pressuring him or judging him on his actions. We live in a socially constructed society, where men make the money, run the household, pay the bills, and there is no real biological factor for him other than procreating with a woman.

One of my favorite quotes by Simone de Beauvoir has a similar approach to the double-standard. “Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female-whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male” (Brainy Quotes, 2012). In other words, anytime a woman wants to step outside the box, in a socially-disruptive society, then she is acting like a man and not ladylike. In my personal experience, whenever I had an opinion of some sort or show any anger, I was told “all of a sudden you want to speak up and act like a man.”  In this patriarchal society that has been constructed on the bases that men are in control, it is hard for women to match up to a man. Women don’t want to be men; we just want to be recognized as equals to men. When growing up girls have always been told to act nice, sweet, pretty, play with dolls and act ladylike, while the boy is a rough, dirty, acts out, and should like cars and play with firetrucks. Anytime this girl acts like a boy she is considered what society calls a “tomboy.” If I were to ever play sports or act rough, then I was automatically considered a tomboy, but could never be androgynous, because girls should always act feminine and not both feminine and masculine.

A woman is to be looked at as honorable and no flaws or faults, where a man can have as many faults as he can and not be ridiculed the same way a woman has. Men having hectic sexual relations with many women make a man to be honored and accepted within the society. However if a woman were to do the same thing, then she is dirty, used, and will never be an honorable woman. Hardly ever men’s irresponsible actions destroy his social image: he is forgiven easily. A woman’s image at the same time is fragile and can easily get destroyed. This is painfully true, especially in my culture. 

Metaphorically speaking, in the Middle Eastern culture, a women is very fragile and if she breaks she cannot be fixed.She is just like a glass fixture. Therefore, if she does anything wrong she is doomed. In the Middle East, honor is on a high pedestal. This does go for both men and women, however if a man and a woman were to do the same exact mistake, the woman will be scrutinized and is dishonorable because she is a woman. Just recently, I read in an article about a woman in Morocco, who was raped by a man, despite the fact she was sexually abused, her family forcefully pushed her to marry the man who raped her. She had no choice, but because she dishonored her family the only thing left to do was marry him or be killed. Unfortunately, she committed suicide because of the fact that she was about to have a forced marriage. The problem with this is, the man would be let free if he were to marry her, while the woman is forced in a marriage because of something she had no control over. The word honor has been misused. It has become something where if a woman does anything to dishonor her family, she is then the shame of the family. While the man is allowed to be aggressive or sexually aggressive because it is the “man’s nature” to be this way.

The Middle Eastern culture has a set of norms, values and morals. A lot of Middle Eastern countries encompass Islamic doctrines. Christian Arabs have used this religion as their foundations for cultural norms.  From my personal experience, not all are this way, however most Arab families have strict tendencies and close knit traditions.  Religious and cultural values have a big impact on the Middle Eastern heritage.

A woman in this culture has a set of duties that she must fulfill in her life. This in-tales marriage and having children. She is also expected to be married by the ages of 18-24. If she is not married by this time, then something must be wrong with her. It is easy for her to be judged because she is not married. Often you may hear “No man will want her if she is old”, “She will not be able to have kids if she marries old”. But because it has been socially constructed that women must marry and bear children, then she must follow this. If these norms are not met then something is wrong with her. When I reflect on my life, I know that being married at a young age does not make me a woman. Because women in my family married before 25, this means I should too. I know that what I have chosen is not based off of my inabilities to be married or find someone. It is because I know that I want to fulfill my destiny by accomplishing my wants and not everyone else’s wants.

Men have their moments of being pushed to marriage, however not for the same reasons. When a man gets married it is so that he can come home to house that is clean with his wife standing there waiting to greet him at the door with dinner ready on the table. This doesn’t mean I have to do this, however, these are the reasons why many men are pushed to get married, so that their mothers can stop taking care of them, and their wife can. A man can get married at 35 and this is normal, while a woman who gets married at 35 is not accepted.

Even though this is occurring in other cultures including the American culture, in the Middle Eastern culture, marriage for a woman, is the definition of being a “real” woman. It is not until marriage that she is able to be rationale, make decisions, and go out when she wants to. Even though this type of freedom is given to her, she is still under the patriarchy when she marries her husband. Once she leaves her parents home, her parents are no longer responsible for her, and the decisions that she makes. It is now the husbands duty to take “care” of her. When we look back at the marriage process, for hundreds of years it is always respectful to ask for the woman’s hand in marriage. The groom to be must go to the father, and then when the wedding day comes it is the father who is giving his daughter away (hardly the mother). She goes from one patriarchy to the other.

There is this community of women who are married, who feel that they have something in common with each other. Whereas the single woman in the background has no idea how to wash dishes, make dinner, or make decisions of their own because she is not married. The sad part about all of this is that these are woman who think this way, because they have internalize the patriarchal ways of knowing as their own ways of knowing, and have rejected their own view of the world. These women only add to the double-standard that society already creates. 

The double-standard affects women because society has created this standard for how woman should act and be. If we continue to perpetuate these standards, then how is it that women are gaining rights and freedom? Why must a women be dishonorable if she is at fault? She is not allowed to make mistakes, while the man is able to make mistakes and it’s okay. We should be allowed to both be able to make mistakes and learn from them, and not be tormented and scrutinized for our mistakes. Yes woman can be doctors, lawyers, professors, etc. However, these women in these jobs are still discriminated against and still are in this box where they should act a certain way. Even though we are in these prestigious jobs, these jobs STILL pays us (women) less than a man.

Me being a Middle Eastern feminist has created issues for some. Because I do not follow the socially constructed ways a woman should be, then I am wrong. A lot of times I would be talking to people from my culture and the moment they find out I am a feminist, they have their opinions (which is fine) however they try to warn me to be careful when I speak up because if I do it the wrong way then I am acting masculine. This is the problem, and not only is this coming from men it comes from women also. I need to act feminine, so that I can find a man and get married. Because since I am a feminist, then it is going to be harder for me to be accepted. But why wouldn’t a man want a women who thinks, is intellectual, and wants to be free from anything that oppresses her? It is the fact of being empowered, and strong to face those who have little to no confidence in you.Yes, it is hard for my family to understand my motives, but it is only hard for them because they are only used to what they know, and what they want to know. Don’t get me wrong, I am respectful, open-minded to other views, caring, and loving. But, being a feminist shouldn’t be an issue, being a feminist made me a better, open-minded, accepting of others views, and empowered person. One needs to be open minded and not controlling of others lives. If women do not speak up whether they are middle eastern or any other culture, then they will always be stuck in what society wants them to do, rather than women deciding what they want to do. Since the Middle Eastern culture is rather dominated by men, it is always harder for me to reach those men to understand what I believe in. Since I am a woman, then I do not know what I am talking about. I believe that I have not rejected my culture completely, however I have rejected the ways that this culture thinks what is best for me. I do enjoy the music, poets, family gathering, food, etc., however this is not whats making me reject the culture, it is the socially constructed norms that I reject.

*Note: Anything italicized in this blog is taken from an article I wrote that is published in the  Communication journal called Pastels (Purdue University Calumet). I will give you the website of the Pastels to read the full article on the double-standard and also other articles written in this journal. http://pastelsjournal.org/third-volume/

Please take a look at these websites that offer many author’s on Feminism in the Middle East.

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/jor.html  Feminism in Jordan

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/egy.html Feminism in Egypt

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/pal.html Feminism in Palestine

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/ira.html Feminism in Iran

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/isr.html Feminism in Israel

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/sau.html Feminism in Saudi Arabia

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/leb.html Feminism in Lebanon


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Clovis says:

    Enjoyed your article very much. I come from Ireland, a country that does not have a great record regarding women’s rights. While much progress has been made there is still work to do. The freedoms enjoyed now by my generation of women, I’m 27, that I have always taken for granted were hard won over decades by women both here and in neighbouring countries. Women like you.

  2. Uzma says:

    Loved this article. Coming from a middle eastern women, it comes as a relief when we see other women who see the difference in other countries and how religion is sometimes contradicting to culture or vice versa.

    1. feministtalk says:

      Thank you I am glad you enjoyed this. Hope you continue to visit this page. 🙂

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