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Appendages of Gold or the Culture of Male Worship in Middle Eastern Societies

black and white illustration of woman's face revealing cage inside

A few months ago, a friend and I were taking a walk and she started telling me of a recent telephone conversation she had with her mother in which they were discussing the family property and how to equitably divide it among herself and 2 siblings (an elder brother and sister). The discussion somehow derailed into the mother singing her eldest son's praises or excusing yet another one of his infractions or some such nonsense (I'm not sure, I wasn't privy to the conversation). However, my friend understandably lost her @"*!. She said to me, "What is it with these mothers, Asil? They think their sons' appendages are made of gold." (She used another colorful term, but for the sake of decency I won't repeat it - even though, there is nothing decent about this issue). Of course, I laughed and applauded her and promptly told her that she should trademark that phrase, for she hit the nail right on the head. No pun intended.

I laughed but I also felt a familiar anger welling up inside of me. As far back as I can remember, I have seen seemingly rational, strong minded, accomplished women lose all sense of reality when in the grips of this cancer I like to call "male worship". The long and short of it is that boys, especially in Arab, Middle Eastern societies, are deified: their flaws swept under the rug, the smallest of their accomplishments heralded as the answer to humanity's problems, their laziness excused, and their almost mind bogglingly stupid mistakes, justified. The hubris that they develop as a result of this toxic coddling, is staggering. Girls, on the other hand, are taught from a young age to aspire to little more in their lives than to serve such hubris: whether it be their brothers', fathers', sons' and most assuredly, future husbands'.

Our society's particular brand of cultural conditioning starts at an early age. Shortly after girls are born, mothers start buying household items and storing them away in preparation for their daughters' wedding. As these girls grow up, they are instilled with subliminal and not so subliminal messages that because they are girls they are not allowed to have extra marital relations, they cannot go out on their own, or travel on their own etc while their male siblings are allowed to have and do it all. Yes, education for women is encouraged, but I have heard it said many times that a woman should not be too educated or hold too many degrees for fear that she would scare away potential suitors. Even I have been advised on more than one occasion not to talk about politics or sound too intelligent so as not to intimidate a suitor. Women are conditioned from an early age to understand that they have no real freedom, as they go from living under their father's roof to living under their husband's. Control over their autonomy is simply transferred from one male figure to another. They have no real freedom or control except what is afforded to them by the magnanimity of whatever patriarchal figure has legal guardianship over them at any given time. They are led to believe that they need protection from a man, that only a man can give them the life they desire. I bought into this whole bullshit construct myself. I thought a man would give me my dreams on a silver platter, I gave up trying to go for them on my own. I even bought into the whole lie that a woman keeps the household together, keeps a man, that if a man strays it is the woman's fault. But I'm done. This way of thinking has reached criminal heights. At a friend's house party the other day, I overheard a Jordanian man explaining to an American woman how in certain tribal communities in Jordan, a woman who was raped would have to marry her rapist so as not to dishonor her family. Is it any wonder that so many women I know have the urge to scream and howl like banshees? Is it any wonder that mental health issues are on the rise among Middle Eastern women? We are indeed a few more rape-related marriages and perhaps one more abortion-banning law away from Margaret Atwood's "Gilead" of the The Handmaid's Tale. (Perhaps we are there already. As a character in the novel says, "Gilead is within you.") But I think it is unfair to assign all the blame to men. A cursory analysis of these cultural norms would suggest that such a poisonous world is held together not only by men, but also by the complicity of women. Old crones, I like to call them. The ones who pull the strings. The ones who raise a generation of men to believe that they are Gods and beyond reproach and women exist only for their pleasure.

On a personal level, a female relative once commented that my experience of an abusive marriage is not as earth shattering or traumatic as a man's experience of a divorce from who he refers to as the love of his life, amicable as the divorce may have been. Why, pray tell? Because my husband and I didn't necessarily love each other so much. This callous dismissal of my experience disregarded the fact that I put everything I had into this marriage, whether it was a fairy tale, legendary love affair or not, that I'm still in the grips of a protracted and complicated divorce, that I still have no means of moving on, financially or otherwise, and I am still holding it together while taking care of my child. But this is a glaring example of how mothers can make almost unreasonable allowances for their son's experiences and yet make light of their daughters' traumas.

In this world, the scales are already tipped in favor of men. I will not get into the glaring inequalities between men and women in the workplace, the family and social construct. The workplace itself, in terms of the average working week, is designed to keep women out, especially women who choose to have families. In many countries, domestic help (which, again is mostly represented by women), is quite cost ineffective, which leaves working mothers shouldering most of the burden of housework.

However, after witnessing this phenomenon for years, I've come to the conclusion that women are infinitely stronger than men. They are just as rational and intelligent, they are born multi-taskers, and more capable of coasting through life's difficult seasons. Men have the physical advantage, perhaps. But even that is debatable. I am not trying to put men down here, just trying to level the playing field. But maybe that is why our mothers make much of men, because they know deep down inside that women are emotionally tougher than men. Women have their tears to fall back on, but that is not a sign of weakness. Indeed, crying is a sign of strength. A woman may cry, and break down emotionally. But she has the mettle to build herself back up again, rather than cave in on herself. She has to, I suppose, for she has a family to take care of, a home, people depending on her. That is why I believe women in my culture are starting to negotiate, indeed take back their autonomy by questioning cultural values, raising their voices and raising their own offspring to believe something different.

I will write more on this issue as it deserves more than one blog post. But for now, I would like to say that I am proud of these women and I claim my place among them. The past few years have made me look at our culture with a new perspective. Of course, I've always found this male worship trend sickening, but of late I have found it unbearable. Especially after the birth of my daughter. I vow that it will end with me, that I will not pass down to her the poisonous, limiting beliefs that I have inherited from generations before me. I will teach her that she can be, do and have whatever she wants. Her gender is not a barrier and a man will not be able to give her something that she can't get for herself. I will tell her the world is yours for the taking. So go take it. Slowly and collectively, generation by generation, old belief systems will be buried and consigned to dust. I, for one, will not mourn them.

Note: Image found on

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