“Women are taught to apologize for their strengths, men for their weaknesses.”
Meet Mr. X. He seemed as close to perfect as a man could ever be; the kind of man whom your genes would beg you to have a daughter with: educated, accomplished, smart, funny and handsome, which doesn’t ruin anything. He was self-confident, didn’t have an Oedipus complex (most Lebanese mothers are factories for “Mama’s boys”) and wasn’t frantically possessive. Moreover, he seemed more blown away by my achievements than my looks and supportive of even my most unrealistic ambitions. He had “the full package” written all over him.
I had been dating him for three weeks when the news of a horrific crime shook the country. The corpse of a 19-year-old girl had been found in a secluded forest. She had been kidnapped, raped, then beaten to death as she was driving back home from a night out with her friends. The news naturally came up in our conversation that day. Mr. X commented: “That's what happens when parents let their daughters go out at night.”
That’s it. Not one word about the rapist. Not one comment about the failure of our security system. To him, the culprit was obvious: the victim herself. Because she “dared” to go have fun with her friends, like any normal youngster is supposed to do. That fact alone had put her in the category of “girls with loose ethics,” and a “girl with loose ethics” is, after all, a rape case fully justified. I can’t but be outraged by the number of women who are sexually harassed and assaulted every day everywhere, and how it always seems adequate (for the police, the media, the public, etc.) to discuss what the victim drank, what she was wearing, how she behaved and how many sexual partners she’d had—how she, in short, “brought it on herself,” hence becoming the accused, not the casualty. If that isn’t a patriarchal verdict, then what is?
Needless to say, my genes were horrified and sickened by the man’s attitude, and immediately retracted the reproduction offer. And that was the end of Mr. X. So much for “the full package.”
Now meet Mr. Y. I had come across him during a colloquium organized by an Arab cultural foundation in Vienna. I found myself seated next to him during one of the dinners and he caught my attention right away. How could he not, when he was talking vibrantly about women’s rights and the vital need to restore their equality with men in the Arab world, as well as the urgency of establishing secular systems freed from the pressures of religion? One factor is not to be overlooked in the story: the guy in question was Saudi. He was quite an orator, and that night I went to bed more optimistic and hopeful of change than I had ever been my whole life.
But then the next morning came and it was time to leave. As we all gathered in the lobby area of our hotel, waiting to be picked up and taken to the airport, I saw the “Saudi Voltaire” getting out of the elevator with a black, shapeless form walking next to him. After some inspection, I realized it was a woman in a burqa. A fellow participant in the conference told me that she was the guy’s wife. Apparently he had kept her in their room for three full days, not allowing her to even come down and have dinner with us.
If Mr. Y was Voltaire, then I was indeed his Candide.
Last but not least, meet Mr. Z. He is the husband of a colleague of mine and is affiliated with one of God’s parties in the “Land of the Cedars.” Mr. Z’s greatest ambition in life, according to his wife, is to become a “martyr” one day. His boss was proud to have lost a son in a suicide attack and didn’t miss an occasion to rave about how heroic it was to blow yourself up for a cause and take other people along with you. So Mr. Z has been fed since his early childhood the sick logic of, “If my invisible man is different from your invisible man then that’s a good enough reason for me to hate you, exclude you, and kill you.”
The cult of martyrdom in the Arab world is a flourishing industry of machismo: puppets who think of themselves as champions. We have all heard of drug mobs, gambling mobs and money-laundering mobs, but the worst of them all are undoubtedly the Allah mobs.
I remember the day I ran into Mr. Z at one of the beaches in South Lebanon. I had seen him arriving with his wife (my colleague) and kids (two boys). During that entire day, my coworker sat under the blazing sun in her headscarf, long-sleeved blouse and jeans, while her “loving” husband was sun tanning in his bathing suit, and her sons were swimming in the pool. You see, virtuous men “should not be tempted by the sight of female flesh.” That is why their wives, sisters and daughters need to sweat, asphyxiate and burn in order to protect men from their appeal. But doesn’t that mean that men are animals who cannot control their impulses? And if they are indeed animals who cannot control their impulses, wouldn’t it make more sense to put them on a leash, instead of suffocating their women under a cloth?
I was looking at my friend, fuming with rage and thinking: How could this be fair? And yet it seemed perfectly right to her husband (and even to her, which is worse). For what do women represent for these holy gangsters? A nation of servants and bereaved human beings, projects of widowhood at best, females who should be happy to wait on their husbands—providing them with food, sex and clean laundry—then send them to the shahadawhen the appropriate time comes, because that’s the ultimate meaning of dignity for a man: performing jihad in the name of divine righteousness and truth, and being prepared to die for God’s sake.
Yet martyrdom and sacrifice are not strictly Muslim customs or even Muslim inventions. Their origins go back to Genesis, when God put Abraham to the test and commanded him to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to prove his loyalty. Then came Jesus, and the way his “Father” sacrificed him on the cross to absolve humanity and save the world from the weight of sin. The history of monotheism is soaked with blood, violence and cruel, vain immolations. Mr. Z is merely a dupe of that millenary education.
How many times have we heard, or even used the expression “boys will be boys”? From infancy, boys are encouraged to take part in rough games, are discouraged from being gentle and caring, and are made fun of and bullied if they are by other children and even by their own parents. Add to this the castration imposed by dictatorships and poverty, and Arab men are bound to need scapegoats to avenge their stolen balls: women.
Unfortunately, many women support such negative notions of masculinity, mainly by celebrating (and raising) the bad boys and the alpha males around them. Also, many men blame women for “bringing it on” (harassment, assault, etc.). And how do women bring it on? Mostly by being members of the female gender. You see, we are all “guilty” of having tits and a vagina—it’s a manufacturing defect.
But the defense of women’s issues should not be an exclusively female slogan. Men are necessary and basic partners in the struggle against the injustice women suffer, which emanates from various backward political, military and religious systems—systems that, just like the mythical hydra, grow new heads whenever old ones are cut off.
For this reason, we need a new kind of man: the kind that doesn’t require the subjugation of women, the hijacking of their rights and the degradation of their feelings in order to feel “manly.” We also need a new kind of woman: the kind of strugglers who fight tooth and nail for their rights without needing to blackmail or cancel out men; women who don’t want to replace patriarchy with matriarchy, but strive for a real partnership with the male gender.
Balls come with a price, indeed. Yet many men don’t know what that price is. They don’t know that it is about resisting the easy temptation of being machos, and promoting instead a decent, noble and just interpretation of their powers, as well as a liberating and cathartic recognition of their weaknesses.
What is required now, alongside the female revolution, is no less than a male revolution: a radical, structural, non-violent, non-sloganistic revolution, which can promote a more mature and fulfilling relationship between the two sexes.
And while doing so, gentlemen, simply remember this: Machismo is not about men against women. It is about boys against men.
Joumana Haddad is the author of many books, among which “I killed Scheherazade.” Her latest work, “Superman is an Arab – On God, marriage, macho men and other disastrous inventions” (Westbourne Press, London, 2012) is now available in Lebanese bookshops and on Amazon.