Archive for the ‘Stereotypes’ Category

Everyone has stereotypes about people, places and things.  I know this because when friends post on my Facebook wall, they now greet me with “Be safe” and “Stay safe out there.”

To them, Middle East = Unsafe.

I know they also have stereotypes about the people of this region.

Men = Empowered.  Women = Oppressed.

Since I’ve only been here for three months, I can’t claim to have a ready-made-take-home box for male/female relations.  Nor can I say that I’m oppressed or that the women around me are oppressed, but I do have this small interaction with a friend of mine as an example of gender roles and expectations.

But first, my disclaimer. I am in no way a feminist in the American tradition of the word.  At home, I neither rallied nor protested nor fought.  I never attended a Women’s Lib meeting nor was I indoctrinated, brainwashed or inculcated.  I was simply a normal citizen, whose parents taught her to work hard for everything she got and to never make excuses for not receiving something because of race, gender or creed.

That being said, I recently read a blog post from a friend of mine here in Lebanon.  I think it’s quite commendable that he set-up a blog.  With a twinkle in his eye, he told me to check it out.  I read it with the understanding that it would be controversial, as he described it.

To understand my post, you’ll need to check out his.

I must respond, because this argument has been hashed, rehashed and done over easy in the States.

My take:  Woman receiving rights, or places of equality, and men being chivalrous are not mutually exclusive.  A man can be both polite and allow a woman to have a place of equality in society.  Just as a woman can be respectful and maintain a place of equality.  I believe in gender roles in an egalitarian society.

If my friend’s argument were true that there should be an inverse relationship between women’s rights and men’s chivalry or in other words that a society where women have less rights, men can be expected to be more chivalrous, I should have observed an abundance of gentlemanly behavior here relative to the States.  However, I haven’t found that to be the case.  (This is not to say that we have achieved perfect equality in the States; this is just to show that this argument does not hold to be true.)

Men in the Southern states of the US are notoriously polite relative to the North, even earning the title of “Southern Gentlemen.”  At least this was my experience from living there for 4 years during college.  Many are accustomed to opening car doors for ladies, helping them down the stairs, assisting them with heavy loads, giving up their seats should a woman be standing and many other gentlemanly traits.  Even up North, men still showed signs of acquiescence: allowing women to exit elevators first, in the company of a large group of men (this is awesome and I always appreciated this!), permitting women to enter revolving doors after a man, so that he may bear the brunt of pushing the door, and simply opening doors for women.

A man can still be a gentleman, while allowing a woman to have rights.

I am very live and let live.  You live in the context of your culture, and I’ll live in the context of mine.  It is not my goal to impose my culture upon others when traveling but to observe and take part in it.  Otherwise, I could have just stayed at home if it were my goal to experience my culture in another country.  It is not my goal to change this culture.  But what I see as being at the heart of the matter is the question of gender roles in a society.  The answer varies among cultures, and this is where worlds begin to collide.

I fumbled clumsily to place my suitcases on the conveyor belt, as I went through the routine customs inspection in the Lebanese airport.  Though on the outside I tried to put up the front of a seasoned traveler, who regularly frequents Lebanon, on the inside, I was shaking nervously, like a leaf in the middle of a storm, not because I was carrying contraband, but because this is Lebanon.

The single conveyor belt was more than adequately staffed, with its three smartly attired military officers.  I later found out that they were more effective at being wingmen than anything else.

My suitcases slid through the scanner with ease, and then they posed the inevitable question, “What’s your nationality.”  “American,” I responded casually.  To which the customs officer responded assuredly, “But you’re African, right?”  A small confusion passed over my face.  “No, no.  I’m American,” I said.  Once again showing them my passport for proof.

They exchanged a few words amongst themselves, in Arabic, which furthered my desire to learn the language.  Then, by committee, they came to the conclusion that they were right and I was wrong.  We continued the discussion, with me gesticulating and them insisting.  Finally, after our exchange, when I felt as though I had explained it sufficiently, I walked away with my luggage in tow, proud of my ability to communicate my message, only to hear, “Bye Africano.”  I shook my head to myself and chuckled on the inside.

The lesson I learned: To Lebanese customs guys Black = African

Maybe they didn’t get the memo about the diaspora over here…

This got me thinking about stereotypes; honestly, my hands aren’t clean either.

Before I left home two close friends recommended that I listen to Chimamanda Adichie’s speech entitled The Danger of a Single Story.  I’d highly recommend it to you as well.  I put off listening to it until my final moments at home, when I needed company while I packed my suitcase.  As I listened, I realized it really was the message I needed to hear as I made my way over to Lebanon.

Here are a few of the things that were totally different than I expected (or different than what other people expected):

There’s a lot of diversity at my school, from Egyptians to Brazilians to Serbians to Hungarians to Sudanese to Americans (like me):

There are beaches in Lebanon and girls wear bikinis (even the big girls)

The hijab is not worn by all the women in Lebanon, as this is a Christian and Muslim country, and even all of the Muslim women don’t wear them.

Most of the stuff I can find at home, I can find here

While I won’t blend in, I also won’t be the oddity I thought I would be