Friday, December 2, 2011

Differences in cultural sexism

In Qatar, the locals can be categorized in practicing a recognized common ethnicity: for example, they share similar religious beliefs, the Arabic language, the style of clothing among many other things. In the Middle East some aspects of this ethnicity are shared, especially the language and religious beliefs. Many of the similarities between Qatar and other Middle Eastern countries are dissolving and forgotten as Qatar becomes more open to Western countries. Assimilation happens in Qatar because of this openness to the Western world, which involves exchanging cultures, beliefs and blending, thus forming the new Qatar into a new cultural system.

Rights of the genders are a debatable issue. In the earlier days, men and women were having different rights in the Gulf region, which resulted in the segregation of the sexes. In the 20th century, with modernization, Qatar witnessed a social mobility, which enabled both the genders to begin to have similar rights and were considered equal. Women in Qatar now have the same rights as men, in relation to work, vote, study, and drive. However, there are still some inequalities between male and female in the Arab world. In Qatari culture the men are responsible and are the ones who take control in hard situations. Also, men having more freedom: go out and stay up late without having to give excuses; while, women having less freedom, have to ask permission if they would do anything.

Clothing is another area that is more controversial for women than for men. Actually, the Qur’an (the Holy book of the Muslims) says the genders are equal and does not require women to cover their faces. Islam does not promote sexism (Parker, par.2). However, interpretations of Islam differ on the clothing of women, especially concerning the hijab. For example, when I went to Saudi Arabia four years ago, I went to some shopping mall, and I was shocked that everyone was looking at me. Finally, one woman came to me and said, “Cover your face!” I was wearing an Abaya and head covering (Shela) because in my Qatari culture it is optional if you wear face covering (Niqab) or not, but I was crossing their cultural boundaries by not wearing the Niqab, so I felt awkward and suspicious. As a result, I began to overgeneralize, and to assume that all of the Saudi society was like that. I became prejudiced. On the other hand, they considered me deviant because I was violating their cultural expectations.

Here’s one of my personal experiences of the deviation of the ethnicity among the various countries in the Gulf region itself. My relatives who live in Saudi Arabia were wearing the black cloves; head Abaya (a one-piece Abaya that covers the head), and Niqab. They are different, and their culture and gender expectations are different as well. There are huge differences between our freedom and theirs. Saudi girls are supposed to cover their hair and face in early age, where as in Qatar it is optional if you cover them or not. When my relatives came to visit me in Qatar, despite being knowledgeable that women here were allowed to drive, they were shocked because they didn’t realize that many women actually drive. Also, they were impressed by seeing my colored designed Abayas. In their point of view, it is against their culture to wear designed Abayas. One of them told me that it is not good to wear them, because they will be considered attractive to men, but mine was loose and it covered my body, and I didn’t see anything wrong with my Abaya. They also go to single-sex schools and gender-segregated work places. Their culture segregates the sexes, and women don’t have a chance or choice for driving because it is against their government law.

I think the change there will be really hard because people are entrenched in their culture, religious interpretations, and gender expectations. Women there bound themselves from the fear of the society and its pressures. Here are some of the instances where cultural sexism is witnessed. Although the influence of social mobility is embraced in some countries, with time, there are many windows that still need to be created and opened in the more conservative countries, especially in the Gulf.

Works Cited:
Parker, Kim. “Women, Islam, and hijab: Emory university. Fall 1996. Web 30 Nov. 2011.

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