Growing up Arab (Part II) – Some of the Pitfalls of Being an Arab-American Male

The Pitfalls of Being an Arab-American Male

 

As an Arab-American woman fighting to find a suitable balance between two cultures that inevitably clash, it’s difficult to lend an empathetic ear to my male counterparts. In fact, it’s easier at times to fixate and (perhaps) exaggerate the role they play in making that quest nearly impossible. But the truth is that Arab-American males also face difficulties in finding a balance between the Arab and American cultures. Although in my opinion, the situation isn’t necessarily comparable to the experiences of Arab-American women, these men also experience opposing pressures that make finding a proper balance quite challenging.

 

Being a part of a patriarchal cultural translates into a lot of responsibility for the Arab male. He is raised to believe and expected to not only be Bread-Winner and Wage-Earner, but Provider of a Home and Decision-Maker as well. He’s expected to get a great education (and thus, a prestigious job), as well as earn and save enough money to be able to house him and his wife – all before the age of thirty! With the cost of higher education being astronomically high (even more so as you go up the chain of degrees), and the cost of living in the US being equally exorbitant, solely meeting those expectations could prove to be a daunting task.

 

On its own, the expectations placed by our culture could be overwhelming for any individual. However, coupled with the pressures and influences of an occasionally conflicting American culture, the Arab-American male has a lot more weight placed on his shoulder than one would suspect. With the acceptability of co-habitation in American culture and a universally understood high divorce rate, marriage is not a top priority for the twenty-something American male. It’s all over the place – televisions shows, movies, articles and blogs about relationships – being single is in! And with a high education and prestigious job, the Arab-American male can really celebrate his singlehood! But instead of reveling in his status within the single playing field, he’s being pressured to get married from family and friends. Although the pressure is arguably not as fierce as the pressure placed on an Arab-American female to get married (and I challenge anyone to prove that argument wrong) – it’s still a force to be reckoned with.

 

Plus, there’s an underlying stressor that the Arab-American male faces that might be even less apparent to the naked eye. With the changing of the times comes a changing of attitude and perception, especially when discussing gender roles. For instance, when my parents immigrated thirty years ago, they brought with them the expectations the society around them had for males and females. It was relatively simple: the male is the “head of the household” in every aspect and the female was the caretaker of the home. If the wife/mother worked, it was to supplement the household income. Things have changed since then. Not only are women receiving the same education and degrees as men, they are obtaining the same (and in some cases, higher) incomes. Not only does the Arab-American male need to compete professionally with his Arab brothers, but he now faces steep competition from his Arab sisters as well.

 

And as if that wasn’t enough, with this increase in income and social status amongst the women comes an increasing sense of independence. Arab women are fully capable of taking care of themselves and many of them are, in fact, doing so. Finding a mate to financially and physically support her isn’t as much of a necessity today for the Arab-American female as it was for her mother. And thus, being Bread-Winner and Wage-Earner is simply not enough for the Arab-American male. He has to bring more to the marriage table than simply having a good job. Those already high expectations placed by our culture are inadvertently being raised as competition between the sexes escalates.

 

Admittedly, it ain’t easy being an Arab-American male. Beyond the pressure to get married by his culture, and the increased pressure to compete in the workplace (and even the future home with his wife) with the Arab-American female, there is also pressure from American society to dismiss thoughts of marriage during what is considered the “young” age of twenty-something and enjoy singlehood (and all the pleasures that come with that). The question then remains which path should he follow? Does he rise to level of competition? Choose the side that relieves a lot of that pressure and dismisses the responsibility? Or try to find a path somewhere in between? I guess growing up Arab isn’t as easy for the men as one could quite decidedly believe…

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About Eman Ahmed

Born and raised in New York, Eman Ahmed is an Egyptian-American attorney specializing in employment discrimination. She received her B.A. from St. John’s University, Suma Cum Laude, and her J.D. from New York Law School where she also served as an editor at the New York University Law Review. Eman is an active member of the Network of Arab-American Professionals and is a member of the NYSBA Committee on Women in the Law. She appeared in the 2003 edition of Who’s Who Among American Law Students and currently appears in the Madison Who’s Who.

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