The Battle of the Sexes

As children, our sense of fairness and equity is relatively simple and straightforward. When a child is given less jellybeans than his playmate, the child’s immediate response is “That’s not fair!” To him, justice demands equal treatment for like individuals, and he is entitled to justice. Social status be damned – he deserves and expects the same amount of jellybeans as the kid sitting next to him and will settle for nothing less!

 

Although equipped with the same lessons on fairness and equality, things were somewhat different for me as a child when I tried to employ those same instructions. When it came to curfews, after-school activities, choosing a college – basically anything that involved any semblance of independence – impartiality was unheard of. Disparate treatment between me and my brothers wasn’t only apparent, it was celebrated. Even in adulthood, the phrase “Because he’s a boy” continues to goad and haunt me to my very core.

 

Perhaps it’s ridiculous naiveté, but I’m still perplexed as to where this sense of male entitlement and superiority spawns: Tradition? Religion? Culture? Whatever the justification might be – reason, logic and a basic grasp of common sense cannot possibly support the depredation of women’s rights. In actuality, the “Because he’s a boy” sentiment is another way of saying “Because I said so”, and even the most conservative parenting guide explains the negative consequences of applying such methodology when rearing children. So why should we accept it as adults?

 

When examining Arab culture in particular, the disparate treatment between the sexes is glaringly palpable – in practically all spectra of society. And what is even more maddening than the blatant discrimination against women, is the fact that all but those in charge acknowledge that this shameless treatment of women is partly the reason the Arab world is in its current state. From the 2005 Arab Human Development Report to countless essays and texts (for instance, Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Citizenship and Justice, edited by Sameena Nazir and Leigh Tomppert), the evidence and analysis is unequivocal – the Arab world cannot prosper and grow until the status and rights of Arab women improve.

 

Interestingly enough, the topic of empowering Arab women seems to spark heated conversation and debate at times. At the heart of those who aren’t completely sold on the notion that women’s rights is a topic worthy of being at the forefront of discussion, is the thought that activists are trying to adopt “Western” views and mores onto a more traditional society (the Arab world), and therein lies the disparity. On the surface, such an argument might actually make sense, especially when dealing with a culture that’s embedded in custom and tradition. But the Arab world has adopted “Western” thought and application in various other arenas – technology, fashion, education, even government and politics. Why is it that only when it comes to the treatment of women is modernity decried and traditionalism embraced?

 

Regardless of which side of the battle one tends to support, I think we all can agree that there are certain irrefutable rights that all individuals – despite their gender – are entitled to. For instance: the right to not be physically and emotionally abused by a significant other; or the right to not be internally mutilated for the sake of custom; or the right to not die at the hands of supposed loved ones when your honor is called into question. Again, it might be that ridiculous naiveté, but I’m assuming that activists and traditionalists can all agree that these rights are undeniable and worth fighting for, regardless of gender.

And so fight we must! Although countless individuals in the past have been leading the crusade to improve women’s rights, the supposed battle between the sexes continues today. However, only when we realize that the fight for the empowerment of Arab women is not one that is fought against Arab men, but one that should be made with the aide of Arab men, will we truly succeed. For now, we are a few scattered voices murmuring “It’s not fair!” to a seemingly deaf crowd. But with our Arab brothers by our side, those whispers will turn into nerve-shattering screams. The days of “Because he’s a boy” will be a thing of the past and the unadulterated notions of fairness and equality taught at childhood will forever reign, simply “Because we said so”.

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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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