From a young age, in many Arab families, boys are taught that they have a certain dominance over women, while simultaneously being socialised into the mindset that they must be tough and manly or they aren’t “proper men”. In addition to this socialisation, the conjugal roles are extremely segregated between the sexes, considering; while girls have the cleaning and domestic roles instilled into them, boys have heavy work and the breadwinner roles instilled instead. So, it’s evident that the primary socialisation that occurs in most Arab families plays a big part in perpetuating a cycle of toxic masculinity within boys, but this particular toxic masculinity is damaging, as it leads to bigger and viler issues within the Arab community.
Now, one of these issues that root from toxic masculinity includes the hypersexualisation of young girls. This problem is extremely detrimental to the young girls being sexualised, but it’s even worse, considering it’s not just random boys on the street catcalling and objectifying her but also her own family. In order to understand why this happens so frequently, you must first understand the nature of Arab families and one of the most important aspects of these families is reputation. Reputation is one of the main reasons (apart from the fear of sleazy Arab men) for this internalised hypersexualisation within the family because Arab mothers and fathers are constantly worrying about how other Arab families perceive them and this leads to them always meticulously attempting to form this image of a ‘perfect’ family with ‘perfect’, ‘respectful’ daughters and ‘strong’, ‘bold’ sons. As a result, in the process of formulating this practically impossible image to uphold their reputation, the family becomes the daughter’s biggest critic. Initially, it begins with small things, like making their young daughters wear tights if her dress is above a ‘respectful’ length and eventually becomes this huge burden, wherein their matured daughters will not even be allowed to leave the house if what they’re wearing doesn’t fit their ‘perfect family’ image.
Now, toxic masculinity plays into this, because Arab men are sleazy. Their hyper-masculinised mindset often leads them to overtly objectify and catcall women, no matter their age, constantly on the streets. I witnessed this first hand, as we were in Libya recently, when my younger sister and I were walking in broad daylight through busy streets wearing jeans and a normal long-sleeved shirt, yet despite all of this, we were still catcalled and the men -who were significantly older- were making obscene jokes about “English girls” after hearing us speak English. Although this is to a significantly smaller scale than other’s experiences, my own family members became much more critical than usual about my outfits and often didn’t even let me leave the car in fear that one of these men might do something worse than just objectify me. Let me just say that if you’re viewing your 15-year-old daughter as a sexual object and sexualising her before other grown men do, then there’s a real problem in your country regarding men and how they’re raised. It’s completely fine for these boys to catcall and treat girls as objects, but it’s disgusting to you if your daughter is the one being catcalled and objectified. Their obsession with reputation and complete adoration for the male gender allows this to only becomes an issue to you when your daughter is the one being viewed as a ‘slut’, and the most disturbing thing is the issue isn’t with the boys calling her that, no, the issue, for you, is with your “slut” daughter. We shouldn’t be teaching girls not to dress a certain way just to avoid the catcalling and objectification, instead, we should be teaching boys not to objectify and treat women as a sexual entity that only exists for them to decide if she’s a ‘slut’ or not.
Moreover, another prevalent issue this toxic masculinity causes is that while men are being taught that they are significantly greater than women in every respect, women are taught to accept that notion and to accept that they are men’s inferiors. Almost 40% of Arab women have experienced some form of violence at least once in their life and that’s just the women who have reported it, which indicates -unfortunately- that that number is much higher. In addition, often this submissiveness of women begins at a very young age, due to the physical or emotional abuse from the father or brother, who will receive absolutely no consequence for hurting her. Eventually, this abuse becomes so much of a norm to the young girl that it will form a notion in her mind that this is the treatment she deserves from men (considering it’s the only treatment she’s received) and this notion will consequently make her more susceptible to an abusive relationship later on in life, thus allowing this disgusting cycle to thrive. Furthermore, this assumption that men are superior to women also allows the segregation of men and women in Arab countries thrive. In countries like Saudi, men are women are forced to remain in separate sections in shopping centres or even places as trivial as Starbucks, and, although, many argue that this is just our “culture”, the real reason for this separation is to avoid subjecting women to the hypermasculinised Arab men who, apparently must be treated like children, so in order for them to not objectify and harass women, they must be placed in separate areas.
Finally, this toxic masculinity doesn’t just affect women but also affects the products of this hypermasuclinisation; the men. Now, this isn’t me sympathising with the oppressor, instead, I’m attempting to broadcast the effects this hypermasculinity has on both sides of the spectrum. Men have issues with toxic masculinity as well and it’s time we discussed it. Carrying on, the expectations of men and how they are meant to act is damaging to quite a few boys, as it bars them from doing natural human things just because they are boys. For example, Arab boys are constantly shamed and bullied for crying or showcasing any sort of a vulnerable side to their tough exterior, as it doesn’t fit their masculine narrative, but what many people don’t know is that suicide is the biggest killer of men aged 35 and under. In most countries, men have significantly higher suicide rates than women, yet men are shamed and ridiculed for being emotional and not a “man”. This stigma paired with the instilling of hypermasculinity into young boys stops men from going to therapists or even talking about their troubles, therefore this could lead to even higher male suicide rates in the future and even more regretful, mourning families.
In conclusion, this article just scratched the surface with the damning effects of toxic masculinity of Arab men in Arab families, there are still so many topics to discuss but hopefully, this can help open the eyes and minds of many Arabs and help kickstart a conversation in our communities about how we raise our sons and how it affects our daughters. Toxic masculinity is an issue worldwide, but it is extremely prevalent in Arab countries and it’s time we addressed that. As a result, we can start by asking ourselves why must woman constantly live their lives accommodating to the male gender and to their desires?