How The Middle Eastern Culture Can Be Toxic

By: Rhonda Nemri

Now I know some people will take this to offense, and say “how could you say this?” Or that I am not prideful of my culture. If that’s your first instinct about this, then you’ve already proven my title. However, there are many ways in the Arab culture that people depend on because it is “safe”, and a better excuse for getting away with their hostile behavior. I will explain what “culture” does to people, and how it affects our society; mainly the Arab community. The list will predominately focus on the Arab/Middle Eastern Culture, but can relate to the general idea of culture.

1. Culture is established by a group of people’s norms, and their own perceptions of life, and something that usually sticks with them for a lifetime.
2. Culture brings people together, and creates traditions that can be passed on to generations.
3. Culture allows you to identify with a group/race.
4. Culture is something good, but when taken too far, it can actually create toxicity among family, friends, co-workers, etc.
5. Saying “this is how it is supposed to be” is based off of what someone created to be the norm. Therefore basing everything you do in your life a norm that you only live by because someone else told you this is how it is supposed to be.
6. Culture makes people become hostile towards those who do not fully abide or engage in cultural norms.
7. Culture puts a timeframe for when to be married, when to have children, and requirements on whom you should be with/shouldn’t be with.
8. Culture creates an identity crisis. Arab/Middle Eastern culture versus other cultures can cause one to conflict between being authentic versus being what someone else wants.
9. Culture creates a sense of fear for living authentically. The constant thought that people are monitoring your behavior, and being worried of what other people think of you.
10. Culture makes people believe that because specific norms have been around for so long, that they are correct or acceptable.
11. Culture has created strict tendencies and traditions that have been the cause for separating family units, or has hindered the quality of life.
12. Culture has repeatedly made women to be the lesser equal. Invoking certain lifestyles, do this and don’t do that, limiting career opportunities, etc. As well as creating standards for men to be and act a certain way to appear masculine.
13. Culture for Middle Easterners has been a reciprocated understanding between several religious faiths. (Examples: Christians/Catholics and Muslims). Thus prohibiting many ideas, and new values from different men and women.
14. Culture does not allow mistakes, because your reputation is a representation of your family, and is always accounted for. If you make mistakes, then the people in your family also live through repercussions. People then bad mouth, or speak badly about each other.
15. Culture makes religious people focus more on cultural values, than religious values. This can be detrimental for those who try to live through their religion as Godly-like beings.
16. Lastly, Culture would be something great if people allowed each other to live freely, and not have to live for other people.

Final thoughts:

If we would see the negativity of our culture and become more positive we would be happy individuals. Stop paying attention to other people, and grow as an individual. Making someone suffer because of what you think is right, does not make you right. It’s bad enough we have to live to see the Middle East falling apart because of control, power, and greed. So why do this to the people who you call your family, friend, acquaintance, or someone you vaguely know. Give each other a chance to live life, and a chance to know them before you let culture dictate your every move in your life. Culture is important to have, but not to make you hostile towards humans.

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Communication Strategies for Equality: A Discussion on Middle Eastern Women Lacking Education and Career Paths

By: Rhonda Nemri

When it comes to education, some of us are sure with what we want to do after receiving a college degree; others are left wondering what the future holds. Even though most of our destiny is not fully understood, we still have some sort of direction of where we would like to be. However, some women are put in a place where education comes easy to them, but the aftermath of receiving the degree becomes a complicating matter. In many parts of the world, many people lack educational backgrounds due to societal roles, or not having the ability to afford such opportunities.

Women who hold some type of familial values tend to cater to the needs of their conditioned beliefs, and expected destiny. The women I speak of are Middle Eastern women, who tend to include themselves in educational experiences, yet find it hard to include themselves in a career path based off of many cultural norms that do not allow them to explore, and work in such industries such as math, science, medical, communication, and other fields. While being an educator and a Middle Eastern woman, I too found it hard to choose a career path, based off of family, and cultural expectations for me. I will discuss (1) The issues Middle Eastern women experience when it comes to education, and career paths, (2) my experiences highlighted through my lens as a Middle Eastern woman, (3) strategies for women to take part in education, and careers, and finally (4) offer some conclusions about this topic.

The Issues Middle Eastern Women Experience with Education and Career Paths

The question that I tend to ask myself is why are there many Middle Eastern women in the classrooms at universities, yet not many in the field they choose to study? There are many reasoning’s behind why a person chooses certain things for their lives. However, the main answer I can accumulate for this specific question is the cultural influence, and strict traditions the Middle Eastern culture tends to have on women versus men. The idea of women in this culture comes down to specific roles that she must acquire throughout her life. The main ones are marriage, children, and house duties. Her duties as a young lady are to learn these basic norms, and use it as a reminder of how to be successful as a woman. Even though there are many women who choose to have careers over this type of lifestyle, they are still eventually expected to fulfill these main roles as a woman in their life.

Women’s status in the Middle East has been one of those controversial matters that one cannot seem to understand what is essential to fix. In the Middle East there are different laws that are posed that show more leniency for men to do whatever they want. Nevertheless, for women this does not come easy for them, because she is to maintain a flawless image. Very few Middle Eastern Women get jobs once they receive their cap and gown. “In Lebanon 54 percent of university students are women, but only 26 percent of the labor force and 8 percent of legislators, senior officials, and managers are female” (Baker, 2012). “Sixty-three percent of Qatar’s university population is comprised of women, but ladies make up just 12 percent of the labor force and only 17 percent of legislators, senior officials and managers” (Baker, 2012). “But in Jordan, enrolment is excellent at 86 percent – however, girls drop out in secondary school because of early marriage” (Faisal, 2003).

Women in the United States who come from different countries become International Students, and have similar ways from the Middle East. Most of them come to the United States to receive a different atmosphere of education, however these women move back to their country, and get married once receiving their degree. Some women are already married, and attend a university with their spouse, and are expected to have a similar major as their spouse; taking similar classes together. Once their degree is received she is more socialized in the home, than in a career path.

As the influence of culture begins to rein on options, women in different parts of the Middle East have been given privileges to work in specific fields, or take part in political action. “Egypt has recently granted women the right to divorce their husband, in Tunisia abortion is legal, and polygamy is prohibited” (bakerl, 2012). “Women have served as ministers in the Syrian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and Tunisian governments and as Vice President in Iran” (Baker, 2012). With all of these different opportunities given to women in the Middle East, there are still conservative, and extremist interpretations of religious laws, that have kept women from even stepping foot into the workforce (AbuKhalil, 2005). These laws and prohibitions on women, have led women to believe there is no purpose for her to fight for her right to achieve such goals and aspirations, because religious laws, and governmental laws perpetuates the stereotypical notion that women stay home, and men are the breadwinners of the family. “While women do have a luxury of attending college, men who are traditionally expected to be family breadwinners can’t afford to devote time to their studies” (Jezebel, 2012).

The problem arising in these situations, are that women are negating their true identities, and becoming the stereotypical weak-minded individual that is expected from them. They fear exploring their own lives and finding different paths that will benefit their social skills, and opportunities to be in the workforce. Philip Rushworth (2013) states:

Feminist activism in the Middle East is prey to two shared ideological discourses. On the one hand, scholars in the West have in the past denied the possibility of an indigenous feminism in the Middle East. At the same time, conservatives and others in the Middle East argue that feminism is anathema to the region, considering it an importation of Western and colonial ideas. These two discourses feed on another, denying women in the Middle East their agency while simultaneously asserting that feminism belongs solely to the West. (p. 8)

According to the Population Reference Bureau (2000) 42 percent of women in the Middle East and North Africa are illiterate, compared to 22 percent of men who are illiterate. About 73 percent of men enter the labor force, and 20 percent of women who are in the labor force (Population Reference Bureau, 2000). As we can see there are women who are educated, but the idea of working is a problem for women. There is gender discrimination that comes into place against women. Family laws, or civil codes usually requires women to get “permission from their male relatives, usually a husband or father, before seeking employment, requesting loans, starting a business, or traveling” (Population Reference Bureau, 2000).

“Even in the 1990s there was a big gender gap in education. However there’s a paradox that we have a lot of women getting higher education and they are still too absent from the workforce and politics” (as stated in Davies, 2012). So why do women go to school, and do not work afterwards? As education is an important factor for growth, it has becomes a reason for socialization, and friendships to be made. They meet their girlfriends there, or future husband. It allows them to explore opportunities, but at a minimum.

In Iraq, women have been forced to leave their jobs, and dismiss ever being involved in academics, or careers. “Women have also been prohibited by Shia militias from teaching other women. The threat has become real after two teachers – one in the mostly Shia Sadr City district and one in Kadhmiyah neighborhood – were killed after giving lessons to illiterate women near their homes” (Humanitarian News and Analysis, 2007). Khalid Hassan (2007), a Mahdi Army officer in Muthana Governorate quoted, “girls and women don’t need to read. They should be good mothers and housewives. The schools are just imbuing them with new and modern ideas that are inconsistent with Muslim women’s duties”. There are pressures that Jordanian women go through that keep them in a small social environment. “While growing number of Jordanian families—even low income ones—are buying cars, usually it’s the husbands who takes the car to work, leaving women stranded at home. When a woman dares to take a bus, she faces sexual harassment…which then restricts her movement” (Guarnieri, 2013, p. 3). So the thought of being educated, or career oriented for these women begin to be questioned, and becomes impossible in their mind. “Family matters in countries as diverse as Iran, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia are governed by religion-based personal status codes. Many of these laws treat women essentially as legal minors under the eternal guardianship of their male family members” (ListVerse, 2008). Family and citizenship laws throughout the region demote women to an inferior rank paralleled to their male counterparts. This is something that is apparent overseas, and currently in the U.S. Middle Eastern families. “This legal discrimination undermines women’s full personhood and equal participation in society and puts women at an increased risk for violence” (ListVerse, 2008).

Middle Eastern women create these boundaries for themselves as well. They do not engage in dialogue with other cultures, do not speak up in the classrooms, and are not aggressive in social situations with their peers, or professors when it comes to academic and career opportunities. These reasoning’s are quite understandable, given the idea that they have been conditioned to feel, and act this way. Then there are young women, who are born and raised in the United States, which really are different than women from the country side. Women in the U.S. are free to choose what they want; however, there are still restrictions and expectations from them.

A lot more young Arab women are expected to be in various fields which predominately deal with the medical field, or mathematics fields. It is hardly perceived that young Middle Eastern women engage themselves in a college career dealing with communication or creative arts. Perhaps the reasoning behind this is the idea that women are taught to not be very expressive, or speak up. This brings me to discuss my own experiences in the classroom, and as an educator in the communication field.

Experiences Highlighted as a Student and Educator in the Communication Field.

Being in a field that allows one to explore new ideas and enhance my social skills, has been one of the most pleasant experiences. However, before becoming an educator, I had my previous perceptions of how to act in the classroom as a young Middle Eastern woman. A few years ago in 2004, when I first entered a college classroom, I still had my notions that I should not really speak up during class discussions, or be the social type. This is mainly due to the way I was brought up, and how a young lady should carry herself in public. I definitely had to hold my comments, and bite my tongue, because I was trying to avoid saying something inappropriate. This method of social skills still stood with me through most of my college experience.

Firstly, being in the communication field was questioned by others. They had no idea what field that was, and they didn’t know what kind of job I would be working in. Most of the time fields such as biology, math, or medical fields were accepted among Arabs. I chose a different route, and engaged more and more in the communication field. I was able to understand how much more interaction I needed to have, in order to succeed. What the communication field did for me is something I probably wouldn’t have learned in any other field. It taught me to speak up, and to rationalize my thoughts, and voice my opinions the way I wanted. This is something that many young women like me do not experience, because they are afraid of reaching out, and learning something such as communication studies. It isn’t that they can’t do it; it is because they are afraid to do it.

Speaking in front of large crowds, or even small crowds becomes a hassle, because women like me should be more reserved in my language choices, and seem more passive aggressive in situations. I have learned to still be reserved in certain situations, and I have not let loose completely. However, indulging into rhetorical theories, and interpersonal theories, has taught me how to be ambitious, and speak up in times I wouldn’t have spoken up.

Being an educator in this field is a bit different than being a student. I am a different person when I stand in front of the classroom, compared to family, and certain friends. I feel this sense of empowerment, and allowing my students to see who I have longed to be. However, I have experienced some Middle Eastern women in the classroom, who are very compassionate, and reserved. It has been apparent to me that these Middle Eastern women come from the Middle East, and are extremely timid in the classroom, but have very good writing skills. Their ability to express themselves is more on paper, rather than in person. They are reserved because of cultural reasoning’s, which really limits their interaction with people they do not know, or male counterparts.

Taking an introductory level speech course, and being new to the United States is a challenging experience for many international students. However, when women are in these groups, they are usually distant, and when they speak it is hard to hear them because they are afraid of saying something wrong. This method of communication that these women use remove them from decision making methods during group projects, deny authoritative roles, or do not give any input or suggestions to others. This will then affect their behavior in the work industry, if they do not allow themselves to integrate in a working environment. I have never dealt with an Arab woman who wasn’t international, however, I am sure that more (not all) do not like to be engaged in more communication, and creative arts sects. The Arab men that I have dealt with are opposite, and become more dominant with education, and sharing comments. However, this isn’t always the case given the fact that having English as a second language is a barrier for some. But there is definitely a difference between the way men socialize, and the way women socialize.

Experiencing the communication and creative arts department more in-depth has helped in many aspects. It has helped me tremendously when interviewing others, job interviews, professional portfolios that highlight my work experience such as, teaching, public relations, writing and editing, and public speaking. Being an Arab woman, has been a struggle to try to be all this because there are set traditions I must fulfill such as marriage, and family. However, I have been able to move past that to make me a better person. So since I have done this, and have gained success, I will now offer some strategies and solutions to how women like me, whether from the Middle East or from the United States.

Strategies to Help Middle Eastern Women Progress in Education and Career

The point of these strategies is not for women to rebel their culture, but to slowly integrate themselves in courses that will allow them to have a different perspective on education and careers. There are many Middle Eastern feminist groups that fight for these women’s rights; however the conspiracy of silence has left women in a position to not speak up when they see something wrong. Middle East versus the U.S. should be given different strategies, because the Middle East population has stricter policies, and prohibit womenfeminism_definition from engaging in social settings, even if it is education. The improvement of certain areas in the Middle East that deal with women and education has changed. But there are still women who are left alone, and not given any attention. Women first need to accept the fact that they are useful in academia, and labor force.

If women continue to believe they are useless in these types of situations, then they will have their mind set on the stereotypical ways women should be treated. Middle Eastern women’s liberation is quite harder than most liberation movements, because the government holds these strict laws and codes that prohibit women from working, and being more socialized in the labor force. This should not just be a Middle East problem. Feminist Movements and Human Rights Organizations need to consider this specific issue as a human issue, rather than a cultural issue. As an Arab American feminist I find it difficult to reach out to certain Arab women, who deny or resist taking action to become educated because they are afraid of the consequences of speaking up. From a financial standpoint, women who are educated and work, allow for a second income in the household, which could be a benefit for them.

Women who reside in the United States find it a bit easier to take on different roles, and become independent. However, their voice is not fully heard. These young Arab women need to include themselves in more communication, and creative arts. This will enhance their social skills, become more determined to be successful, engage in public speaking with confidence, and articulate better in more oral and written situations. This is not to say they are not intelligent, it is to allow them to be more open-minded about making a difference in their lives, and to help other Arab women, who find it a struggle to be educated.

I am beginning to notice a lot of women who participate in social movements, such as protesting for their right to achieve and be successful, similarly to a man. These ways will help women become more liberated. The following strategies listed are suggestions women can take, in order to find better ways to be successful, rather than see success as just marriage and family.

Strategies

1. Women need to start a dialogue with other women in their position, to begin to feel more comfortable stating their issues, so that they can hear it at loud, instead of holding it in. They need to come to terms with their issues such as gender inequalities, and not deny that there is a problem.

2. Arab families need to be exposed to more educational and career opportunities for women. They need to understand that these opportunities create a quality of life for women, and not the exaggerated assumption, that they will be more Westernized, and lose their values in the process of educating themselves.

3. Women need to get more involved in politics, whether local or national. The more they understand what is happening in their country and other countries, the more they will communicate to others about the issues happening. This opens a lot of doors for them to be educated in various issues that matter to them.

4. If women are in educational settings, they need to take more communication, history, and cultural courses that help them become more diverse in their thinking skills. They shouldn’t drop their field of choice, but to explore different departments, and have a broad perception of different studies.

5. If women are in educational settings, they need to join or attend university meetings for various organizations. This could be their student government organization, women organizations, religious organizations, or department organizations. This will help them network better with people similar to them, and allows them to have a broader perspective on communication. Along with university meetings, they can attend community meetings about the economic and political standings of their community. They can be more active, and approach situations differently.

6. Young Arab women, who do engage themselves in the communication and creative arts programs at their universities, need to pave the way, and inform women in their family, friends, and other peers about the benefits of these programs to their lives. We need to be able to make an awareness of the different opportunities for success, rather than hold it in to ourselves.

7. Married individuals who are having trouble accepting new traditions need to begin to dialogue about different needs, and wants. If couples are able to discuss future plans dealing with education, and careers, this will open the door for them to understand what needs to be done. Women need to talk to their husbands about their future in education, and have a set plan about what they want to gain from being educated. If women continue to see themselves as weak, and uneducated, then they will not have any confidence in speaking up.

8. Women should remove themselves from any situation that brings their value down. They need to surround themselves around positive people, who do not consistently tell them how to act and who to be. The more they are around successful women, the more they will want to strive to be successful.

9. If women find it hard to find ways to do all of these, perhaps using technology such as computers, smartphones, or local newspapers to find out more about current issues. If having technology is accessible, then they can allow themselves to read, and write more frequently. This will also help them become more open-minded to being successful the right way.

10. If women are having trouble finding ways to explore, then Feminist movements, and educators from all over the world need to see this as a problem that needs to be taken care of step by step. Using educational tools and techniques can help these women better themselves. Women like me should teach them, and get more involved, by exposing them to a better lifestyle, rather than see themselves as invaluable.

11. Middle Eastern men need to understand the value of women in this culture. There also needs to be educational tools to help men accept the idea of women becoming educated, and working in a field of their choice. Men need to learn to dismiss the idea, that women are inferior to them. Even though not all men behave this way, they can be the ones who support women rights movements, and create a positive outcome for women in education, and the labor force. They too, are part of the issue, and can be part of the solution as well.

Conclusions

This discussion on the issues of women who are from the Middle East, or are Middle Eastern is an issue that needs to be solved. There are many different social movements who bring up the question of women who are not educated. Even though many countries, including the United States deal with gender discrimination within universities, and workplace, there are women who are not given the same opportunity at all to even become educated or work. This does not mean their issues are more prominent, but it does mean that we cannot ignore the rights of these human beings, who deserve a chance at success. There is also the issue that people think because it is “cultural” norms, that we as Americans do not have the right to help alter the perceptions of these individuals, because it is none of our business. However, these should be natural human rights that women should attain. Let us not look at this issue, and count it off as an irrelevance to us. There are many global issues that arise in many different parts of the world; however, I find education to be something very valuable, that it would be a shame to dismiss it as important.

I have met many women in my life, who tell me they can’t because they have kids, or they can’t because they have marriage duties, or they can’t because their father does not accept it. I have come across many instances in my life where I was told I could not do something because I am a woman. As a Master’s degree recipient from the communication and creative department, I realized that it is definitely not impossible to achieve, because I have built a plan for myself, and did not allow others to intrude on my educational background, and work experience. It was hard for me at first to accept diversity, because I always assumed my culture is the only thing I can go by. Meeting people and networking with others who are different than me, has taught me a great value. It has also allowed me to articulate, and write well about subjects that I am interested in. It allowed me to be a more socialized person in different settings.

Being an Arab feminist is also not an easy thing for people to see. Conversely, because of education, and working with others, it has allowed me to verify myself as a feminist with no doubts. Being a feminist, has also allowed me to venture out, and find ways to give the voiceless a voice. I am glad to say that my academic ventures and career choices have influences my younger sisters, and various female cousins to want to be successful in either academia, or career wise. I hope to make a difference in something so dear to me, by allowing myself to engage with other women, and become an advocate for their well-being. This is something I have been working on, and doing for the past year, and will continue.

References

AbuKhalil, A. (2005). Women in the Middle East. Retrieved fromhttp://www.fpif.org/reports/women_in_the_middle_east

Baker, K. (2012). Why aren’t educated Middle Eastern women joining the workforce? JEZEBEL. Retrieved from http://jezebel.com/5914988/why-arent-educated-middle-eastern-women-joining-the-workforce

Davies, C. (2012). Mideast women beat men in education, lose out at work. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/01/world/meast/middle-east-women-education

Faisal, S. (2003). Muslim girls struggle for education. BBC News. Retrieved from

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3130234.stm

Guarneieri, M. (2013). Women and the Middle East part II: Jordan- on gender education and the limits of the western imagination. Retrieved from http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php?id=1329&fulltext=1

Hassan, K. (2007). Iraq: Women forced to give up their jobs, marriages.Retrieved from http://www.irinnews.org/Report/72451/IRAQ-Women-forced-to-give-up-their-jobs-marriages

Humanitarian News and Analysis. (2007). Iraq: Women forced to give up their jobs, marriages. Retrieved from http://www.irinnews.org/Report/72451/IRAQ-Women-forced-to-give-up-their-jobs-marriages

ListVerse. (2008). 10 extreme examples of gender inequality. Retrieved fromhttp://listverse.com/2008/11/20/10-extreme-examples-of-gender-inequality/

Population Reference Bureau. (2003). Empowering women, developing society: Female education in the Middle East and North Africa. Retrieved from

http://www.prb.org/Publications/PolicyBriefs/EmpoweringWomenDevelopingSocietyFemaleEducationintheMiddleEastandNorthAfrica.aspx

Rushworth, P. (2013). Women in the Middle East. Retrieved from http://www.al-bab.com/arab/articles/text/women_studies.htm

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I Didn’t Ask For It: A Look At Sexual Harrassment and Rape Culture

By: Rhonda Nemri

Whistling, blowing kisses, grabbing, touching, cat-calling, these are a few of the things that most people don’t realize that it is the same as sexual harassment, or sexual assault. Women from all over the world experience some of these forms of assaults.

This usually isn't the case for a woman's response. But this surely does exists in today's society.

This usually isn’t the case for a woman’s response. But this surely does exists in today’s society.

If not, then the worst case scenario is rape.  As I look at all the possible ways that women have been assaulted, it is apparent that society doesn’t do much about the safety of women. It is always easy to just tell a young girl, or a woman to be careful when she leaves the house, or walking to her car because a man might assault her. You hardly ever hear anyone tell a young boy or a man to not assault or rape women or young girls. Growing up, I always noticed this coming from the opposite sex, and it is something that always gave me anxiety going to public places where men are gathered, and standing together. Even though those men may not have an agenda to harass me, unfortunately it is something that gives me anxiety because it occurs so many times. Being afraid that when I walk passed them they will grab me, speak to me with disrespect, or just keep staring at me as if they were going to do something to me, is not something I want to put on my list of things to do during my day. It doesn’t only happen when women are alone, it happens when there are groups of girls/women as well. I am very sure that I am not the first woman to speak about such topics, but lately I have been noticing a lot more harassment and discussions about rape that lead me to write about this. Hence the current gang rape of a young lady in India. Which sadly enough to say, is not the first time something like this happens. The neglect and abuse these women go through is nothing new, and government officials are not doing much to help women in these countries who suffer from rape, domestic abuse, and honor killings.

It was a few years back when I was first indulged in literature dealing with sexual harassment. As I was reading I came across many instances that I can and cannot relate to, however it did remind me of my own experiences of harassment’s. I do not know anyone that has been raped, but I sure do know a lot of women who fear going into public places because of the potential of being assaulted. There is a possibility that I know someone who has been raped, but that person may have not spoken up about it. Most women who get assaulted in settings such as school, work, or in public hardly ever speak up about such matters.  There is this shame, or disgust feeling that’s left with her, because social norms has taught her to believe that she is disgusting, or she asked for it because of where she was at, or how she was dressed. If she were to get assaulted by her male boss, she may not speak up about it due to the possibility she may be terminated, or not given the opportunities to excel in her career. Therefor if she keeps quiet then she won’t lose her job, and she can get promoted rather than demoted.

Back in 1991 a woman by the name of Anita Hill, went public in the courtrooms describing her experience of sexual harassment.  In 1980 Anita Hill received her Law degree from Yale. “She began her career in private practice in Washington, D.C. Before becoming a law professor, she worked at the U. S. Education Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 1989, Hill became the first African-American to be tenured at the University of Oklahoma, College of Law, where she taught contracts and commercial law. She has made presentations to hundreds of business, professional, academic and civic organizations in the United States and abroad” (The Leigh Bureau).

Anita F. Hill

Anita F. Hill

Her story sparked controversy, especially attention from feminist groups who supported Anita’s claims of sexual harassment in the office.  She testified her story in front of an all-male senate regarding her assault from Clarence Thomas. She was working for Thomas, who touched her, and had sexual vulgar language. Anita was questioning her ability to speak up about such issues because not many people would believe her story, and believed she had some agenda to gain something.  Statements from Senator Heflin such as, “do you see, coming out of this, that you can be a hero in the civil rights movement?” At this point they believed that her idea of testifying was going to make her a prestigious woman in the African-American community. Their responses to her statement were creating a much more defensive climate than a supportive one, and made Anita Hill look delusional.

“In 1991, 6,883 people were willing to file claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In 1998, the number was 15,618” (Doyle, 2011). At this point women in society began to feel a lot more comfortable speaking up about any sexual harassment.  This story of Anita Hill is very much looked back at today as a reminder that we are still in the same rut that we were in 20 plus years ago. Even though women all around the world have the courage to speak up now, there are still many who are left unspoken of these issues. Women shouldn’t have to be constantly told to be careful from people in public places because “they might rape you”, but rather men should be taught not thave predator-like characteristics towards women. A lot of today’s entertainment and musical industries promote objectification of women.  This helps perpetuate the idea of harassment, and becomes accepted by both men and women. I do not want to constantly walk in public thinking someone is going to follow me, or say something inappropriate. I shouldn’t have to walk fast trying to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks, or sit privately at a restaurant where no man will come by me and pressure me to talk to him as if I owe him this. A lot of women should speak up about such matters, and it is a lot harder for women in other cultures to speak up because being raped or sexually assaulted is a bigger controversy for her. Women who get raped in cultures such as the Middle East often get blamed for their rape incidents, or even tortured for not being “pure” anymore. This will leave her silent, and not speak up because she has more of a consequence to deal with, and that is whether she will be seen as human again or not. She will then live in a society that will often see her as trashy, a whore, or useless.

It is not always the case of what you wear that leaves men to think “she asked for it”. Women who are covered up from head to toe, or are dressed very decent get raped each day. It isn’t how she portrayed herself; it is how a man thinks it is his “nature” to take the opportunity to assault her. I am pretty sure there are men out there who do not have the “rapist” qualities, and that they respect women. This is great! But those are not the ones that we worry about. Rape occurs in many different ways, it happens when you are married, engaged, dating, not dating someone, strangers, friends, relatives, etc. People who often state “well they are men, they are supposed to act this way”, does not see the mockery in that statement. It leaves women in a place where she has to often secure herself, because of the possibility that she will be assaulted.

I’ve seen and heard stories about women who get followed into public places such as school, work, shopping malls, banks, etc. There are many issues that shadow the subject of rape. We need to answer the questions: What steps should we take when we hear someone has been raped? What views do we have of her after she has been harassed, or taken advantage of?  What kind of society do we live in that allows such statements as “she asked for it”? These are the question that we must find answers to, because if we continue to leave these questions unanswered, then we will always live in a society that constructs these gender roles of what makes a man a man, and what makes a woman a woman. A man shouldn’t have to feel masculine because of how tough he is, how many women he can sleep with, and how his nature is sexually aggressive because he is a man. Women should not be viewed as weak, frustrated, irrational, victims of sexual abuse, because “she deserved it”. No one deserves to be raped, abused, or assaulted, not man not woman. We need to remove phrases such as “Legitimate Rape”, and not create reasons that validate her rape experience as something “she wanted”. Let’s teach our young boys to not whistle at a girl as she walks, not to touch her if she doesn’t want to be touched, not to shout at her to come by him, and not to treat her as always a victim.  I often believe that even if we do not change these ways 100 percent right away, we can make progress each second, day, week, month, and year by changing the statistics of rape victims. If they are increasing as I speak, then we will live in a society whether American, overseas, or anywhere that will constantly allow rape culture.

References

Doyle, S. (2011). Twenty years ago, today. In These Time. Retrieved from http://inthesetimes.com/article/12136/twenty_year_ago_today/

The Leigh Bureau. (n.d). Anita F. Hill biography. Retrieved from http://www.leighbureau.com/speaker.asp?id=537

“Hey You Guys”: A Discussion on Gender-Neutral Terms and Language

A lot of things that I see in my life intrigue me. However, it all depends whether or not it struck my attention or left some sort of curiosity. As a teacher in the communication and creative arts department, I find myself becoming intrigued by a lot of what my students say or write. The content in the course I teach deals a lot with self-reflection and personal experiences. I am able to incorporate material dealing with technology, interpersonal relationships, media, marketing, and of course feminism. As a communication instructor, I know very well, that I want to create a learning environment, and allow students to speak their mind, and allow others to become engaged in what they say in class. Teaching an introductory college course can be frustrating at times, especially when I teach a required course (meaning all majors must take it). Therefore, students don’t want to be there because they were placed in there, or students don’t like the course because they hate communication in front of an audience. Sure, I can see the irony in that, however, I believe students realize different approaches to communication, and understand their self a lot more, compared to their outlook of the class during the first week of the semester. This discussion will focus on teaching; however, it will focus on my students and their outlook on gender-neutral terms used in today’s society. Just recently I lectured on verbal communication, and how language creates power or powerlessness. Since I teach three classes in the fall 2012 semester, it was interesting to hear the different perspectives from student regarding language. It is safe to say that not all courses I teach this semester are the same. Each class has a different and unique personality. Which works well, however, it can be frustrating when students are quiet, or are too shy to respond to a simple question such as how are you? First I want to discuss how students transition from high school to college, then I will briefly touch on verbal language, and finally I will discuss the use of the word “you guys” in our everyday language using the “you guys” article by Audry Bilger from Bitchfest. You Guys Article

Transition From High School To College

Students always have a sense of purpose when entering college. They want to be successful, and someday become an asset to a company in their choice of field, because that’s what they believe is necessary. Most of all students are put in many situations of different learning environments, and take courses that range from many departments such as the math and science department, or the liberal arts and social science department. Students that come straight from high school, are students who mostly leave some sort of reminder in my head that I was once them; sitting in a classroom and very scared of just being there, and most definitely unsure of why I am even there to begin with. Those students however, have a difficult time coping with the college atmosphere. They are so used to high school, yet left alone in college and ready to adapt to new situations. I tend to believe that most freshmen students are not quite ready to adapt to the college setting. Most are afraid of speaking up because they are very much used to raising their hands, or being called on. Some students ask to go to the washroom, or to get a drink of water. Their mind-set is still on the high school mode, and to still find the need to ask permission to do something. I find that okay, however, what I tend to cringe on is the fact that high schools do not very much prepare students when it comes to articulation and writing. I know I wasn’t, and I am very sure a lot of other people I went to high school with weren’t prepared for college as much as we liked. This then allows me to reflect on the many instances that occur in my classroom. Students are not sure what to do when asked to critically think, and some even have the greatest answers but still want to answer vaguely.  Surely those who do speak their mind always do, which is much appreciated in the classroom, but those who barely speak up or hate speaking up always find a reason to appear nonchalant during discussions. They are already afraid of being a college student, so I have now pressured them to speak up and possibly feel embarrassed. I sure did feel this way, and I always had anxiety when I was called on. I find that students need to find our place in the classroom, and definitely should speak up if they really have something to add to the discussion. I tend to get blank stares, or disinterest in the course, but that is because I believe they don’t believe communication courses are important.

Verbal Language

As the weeks move along during the semester, the material begins to become more intense, and thought-provoking. Unless, they still don’t care about communication. However, these students at this time begin to see the relevance of the material to their own personal lives. I do discuss verbal communication, and how it very much relates to our powerful messages, and relation to persuasion techniques. I also believe that verbal communication is a wonderful aspect in our lives. Language is constantly changing, people are changing, and overall society is changing. The connotations of many words are shifting to newer and newer connotations. Our society is making up words like “cray” (crazy), and passing it along, and soon enough it will end up in the dictionary. Language is so powerful it can make someone feel a certain way to push them to change their behaviors, or attitude about something. During my lecture I ask students to define the terms ghetto, feminism, home, love, and baby. These are words we constantly hear whether in our relationships, or in the media. Most students defined these words differently depending on how they view the word, or where they came from that allowed them to define those specific words. I really enjoyed the definitions of the word feminism, because the word feminism sounds like feminine. This automatically triggers them to believe that feminism means feminine or femininity. Their connotation of feminism was soft, weak, equality, women superiority, activism, pushy, man haters, etc. I expected these definitions because as a feminist I hear those definitions all the time. As we move on in our society, words made up become part of our everyday usage, and we begin to not really realize the etymology of the word. When we define words like “ghetto” some of my students begin to chuckle, or some get offended. I ask them what does the word “ghetto” mean to you? For some it is hard to define it without seeming too offensive. Some relate it to the upbringing of someone who lives in a community that is filled with poverty, or some simply say the word is whatever they want it to mean. For example, a student stated if someone were to use duck-tape to hang a mirror, then that is considered ghetto. The word ghetto comes from more of the urban life, and living conditions of those who do not have the abilities to live the life of the first or middle class. However, some African-American students may get offended because the word ghetto is often associated with African-Americans. I believe that each person has their own frame of reference and perception of what words mean to them. They have their own connotation because this is how they see the word whether offensive or not. They have adjusted to the word, use it in a sentence frequently, and find it impossible to back away from using words that may or may not be offensive to others.

 I find it interesting when students tell me about the different slangs they have created. I feel that something goes wrong when we begin to latch on to slang, and start using it frequently. Those who frequently use slang to communicate have diminished the proper way to communicate, using the new words, abbreviations, and acronyms as their only way to communicate.  I can understand why this is happening, however, what I don’t understand is how some believe these behaviors are acceptable, just because they believe it is acceptable. Technology has played a huge role in the creation of slang, acronyms and abbreviations, because it has allowed those who do use text messaging or chat to speak in a quick way, and to shorthand everything, causing this to be their verbal language as well. Informal communication has become formal for the current young generation, and the thought of changing something they have adapted to is like telling them to stop listening to Justin Bieber; it just won’t happen. Language is a beautiful thing, but when tampered with, it becomes confusing, and a barrier for those who have English as a second language. Those coming from different countries and live in the United States are left confused and not sure what has happened to the English language. Of course those who do come to the United States begin to adjust to slang, and improper pronunciations of words. However, this is what continues the use of improper words, and words that have negative connotations to them.

Using the Words “You Guys”

This brings me to my discussion of the phrase “you guys”. During my lecture on verbal communication I discussed generic language. When we think of generic language, we think of words that have generalized both sexes using words that speak to both genders, but are more specific to one sex. Sayings such as “you guys’ was the main discussion in my class. I had them

Picture Credit to Bowmanitis.com

read an article called On Language: You Guys, by Audry Bilger (2002). To sum up this article it basically gives the idea that using the phrase “you guys” when speaking to a group of both genders, has become an informal way of greeting people regardless if both sexes are present in the conversation or group setting. When we think about the problems in language we can say that the words “you guys” has been looked at, as a gender neutral word when greeting people, even if it is just a group of women and no men.  It also makes the claims that even as feminists we tend to use the words “you guys” even though we strongly believe in changing words such as fireman into firefighter, police man into police officer, and chairman into chairperson. Bilger (2002) stated that “during the same decades in which feminist critiques of generic uses of “man” and “he” led to widespread changes in usage-no mean feat- “you guys” became even more widely accepted as an informal and allegedly gender-free phrase (77).

I asked my students to read this article and answer some questions along with the reading before we met again. Of course some read, and some didn’t. I put my students in individual groups of 5-6 to talk it out. They were able to discuss it, while others surely didn’t see the relevance of this article to the course. Some of my students felt that I put them in groups so that they could agree on the questions and come to a consensus, so that they don’t have to critically think this out. Others actually discussed it and had debates back and forth about the usage of “you guys”. When it was time to debrief the article, some students were afraid to speak up. However, once the ball started rolling, it was hard to stop them from talking. What really brought me to discuss this was the fact that the majority of my male students still didn’t see why it would be a problem. Since I teach three courses, I would say overall out of the 70 plus students that I have, 50 of them are males. This semester is interesting because I am used to women being the majority in my class, and men the minority. Regardless of the amount of men versus women in the class, men will always try to dominate discussion in the classroom. Some men made some valid points however, they believed that because the term “you guys” is used frequently and in the dictionary, it makes it okay to use it. I agree that it will be hard to remove this type of language, but it isn’t impossible. Women in the class barely wanted to speak up because they felt vulnerable in this situation. They do not want to say anything that would harm their image, or make them look stupid or wrong. When they did, some of them were agreeing with the men, and other women were actually upset that they were referred to as a guy. One female student said something that stuck in my head. “Everyone is so sensitive about things like this, so I do not see it as a problem”. I believe that when we define the term feminism, we are often associated as sensitive, pushy, and emotional about wanting to be equal to man, or society thinking women want to be just like man.

My whole point of this discussion was not to force her to feel she needed to be persuaded to change by me, but to critically think about the language usage of “you guys”. I felt attacked by some male students when I stated “what if I called all of you girls and this was the way we communicated to both sexes, and it ends up in the dictionary?” Immediately some men said, in a high-pitched voice, “Well it’s not in there!” They were upset that I could consider calling them a girl, and not a guy. However, soon after, I stated that even though it may not happen, those who are called guys but are women and do not like it feel the same way as a male who is called a girl. I do not believe it is about sensitivity. I believe it is about proper language, and referring to both genders properly. The fact that it is used constantly doesn’t make it acceptable. I had a male student speak up, he was raged that I even assigned this reading, and thought that this article was a waste of his time to begin with. He really thought I would be offended. I wasn’t offended, however, I was offended that he didn’t take the time to understand my view-point, given the fact we have discussed frame of reference and perception in the course. He completely dismissed the point of the article just because he wanted to continue saying “you guys”. But in honesty, I would like to believe that when he does say the words “you guys”, he will refer back to what I stated in  the discussion, and think twice about the discussion we had as a class. I felt as if I were shut out by the majority of my male students, only because they felt I was trying to push them to think just like me. I am all for persuasion, however, I am more pushy for critical thinking than to think I just want to persuade them to change their language. Some even stated that calling someone “people” or using the term “you all” was weird for them. In each class, the discussions were different. Some had some great points, and others weren’t sure what they were trying to articulate. I believe articles like these highlight the fact that women are always looked at as the other. If both sexes are looking at the words “you guys” as not a problem, then our society is making clear way for other terms to be used to refer to women such as bitch, slut, whore, etc. The students that took the time to respond made interesting points about language, and how as a society we cling on to words, and continue using them, and soon passing them along. They were right on these points. But what I saw as a problem is that some students stated that using the words “you guys” should only be used in informal settings, and not formal. Saying this is like saying a four-year old can say the word bitch in front of family, but can’t say the word bitch in public in front of strangers. Whether informal or formal, saying “you guys” should not be used at all when referring to both sexes in a group setting.

If we keep convincing ourselves that it is okay, then we will continue to accept other objectification for women. I can admit I have used the words “you guys”, however when I do I am immediately conscious to what I just did, and I am not proud of it. What I surely hope to accomplish is that even when people use it, they still are reminded that they used it improperly, and that they will try to lessen the usage of those words.  I actually trained myself not to use “you guys”. When I do hear it frequently, I get irritated, even if it were women saying it. As a feminist, I am not trying to be so pushy about my ideas and thoughts about specific inequalities. My whole philosophy on life is to try to be as fair as possible. 

Conclusions

I wrote this not to vent, I wrote this to point out that we use a lot of words in the English language without really realizing the meanings, and whether or not it offends someone. What I wanted my students to get from reading this piece is that language is powerful. Language can hurt, it can satisfy, and it can intrigue. Being an educator is one thing that may sound easy, but it can be difficult. It can be difficult in the sense that not all students will understand, and not all students will like what you say to them. However, the whole point in education is not to push a student to think like the professor or instructor, it is to push the student to just think. Students and even teachers should think rationally, critically, and explore all meanings before making decisions. When words like “you guys” are used in the classroom or outside of the classroom, whether formal or informal, we create an invisibility of women, and make the usage of he, man, or guys as the norm, and only the norm. It is not to dismiss the male sex; it is to enhance the visibility of the female sex, and to let people see that women are people too. I know that may sound so sensitive, and peaceful, but it is what needs to happen in order to continue to become equal, or to become considered normal. After all, women have been fighting for hundreds of year for equality, why should we let the usage of the words “you guys” keep women from seeing that they are separate, and not a guy. If my students left class that day thinking about the words that debase women, and words that make women feel inferior to men, then I have done my job by enlightening them enough to think about the topic. We have the ability to stop obscuring women’s importance. Those who do not understand the word feminism or feminist will always have a negative connotation of what feminist want to reform, especially when reforming our language usage. As stated before language is powerful, and words in the English language seem to support male dominance, and is used to heighten male supremacy.

The thought that words like “you guys” doesn’t seem like a problem to some, is because this type of language has been accepted, and not seen as a change needed. Gender-neutral words have become part of our reality, and it needs to be reformed in order to create a new and supportive reality for women. A lot of people believe that if they support this type of reform, then they support feminism and become feminists, when they don’t want to be considered a feminist. To be considered feminists, one does not have to have any specific personality, physical characteristics, or hidden agenda. To be a feminist or pro-feminist, one has to accept that society creates unjust situations for women, equality has not been accomplished in all aspects, and that women or men believe that women should be able to have a voice and speak up, and to not be shunned by the world because she is a woman. I understand that my students are young, but that is no excuse to allow them to accept words that offend or insult. Even if people do not get insulted by the words “you guys”, it is still a negative way to address an audience full of women and men. These so-called “gender-neutral” terms are sexist, and are not just something to hide under the rug, and pile the mess.  I disagree with the fact that if women accept it, it is okay. The women that accept sexist language are the same women who accept objectification from men or society in general. There should be no difference between language and action. Our language is so important, because it is how we view society, how we share our thoughts, how we offend someone, and how we compliment someone. Language is action because it allows us to provide words that allow people to take an action, to change improper behavior, and to provide a better outlook, and opportunity for others.  Bilger (2002) stated that “feminist reform is an ongoing process that required a supportive community of speakers. The more we raise our voices, the less likely it is that women and girls will be erased from speech” (80). I am glad that some of my colleagues pointed out this article to me, so that I could engage my students enough to discuss their feelings and thoughts.

References

Bilger, Audry. (2002). On Language: You Guys. Bitchfest. p 76-80.