Ameena Almeer, edited by E.
As women, how likely is it that we are ever taken seriously when we talk about the sexism we experience? The odds are that we’ll be dismissed, made fun of, and even threatened when we have the audacity to stand up for ourselves and demand better treatment. That’s why I believe it’s so important for men to realize the burden they also share in the struggle for women’s rights and empowerment; in a society where we need to be heard but often are too disenfranchised to get our point across, it’s essential that men recognize their privilege and use that as a platform to incite positive change. So, here are some simple ways for Arab men to become actively involved in feminism:
1. Educate yourself on sexism, patriarchy, misogyny and make an active effort to learn about the ways in which Arab society is inherently discriminatory towards women. Many of these things are intuitive to women because we live through them on a daily basis, but men may not even realize how prevalent sexism is in the Middle East. As such, the first step is for men to commit themselves to learning about sexism in all its forms. Read books written by Arab women such as Girls of Riyadh (Rajaa Al-Sanea) and Headscraves and Hymens (Mona El Tahawy) or read stories about issues such as sexual harassment during Hajj to understand what Arab women experience on a regular basis.
2. Learn to recognize your privilege as a man and how society unfairly advantages your needs and rights over women. While it’s uncomfortable to think about, men have to realize that sexism is a systemic problem, not a personal one. This means that all men still internalize sexist behavior and are complicit in a wider problem which permeates all parts of Arab societies, from day-to-day settings to government institutions, ultimately creating a world in which men are unfairly privileged over women. It’s crucial that men recognize this and realize how their actions fit into the context of a larger social problem. Think over the ideas you’ve grown up with and re-examine the roots of your beliefs through a lens of greater scrutiny to help you take an honest look at your place in Arab society as a man.
3. Hold other men accountable for their sexist and discriminatory behavior. Don’t buy into the idea that “boys will be boys” and that men should be able to get away with behavior that is actually more harmful than we usually realize. Stop your friends from harassing and catcalling women, don’t let them make sexist jokes about how much of a “hoe” someone is, and don’t be afraid to interrupt the other men in your life when you know what they’re doing is sexist and dangerous. Recognizing the impact you can have on other men is one of the most powerful ways to become a better ally to women and in turn help their voices be recognized.
4. Listen to and believe women in your life when they talk about their experiences with sexism, harassment, and other forms of oppression. Too often, women are mocked, not believed, blamed, and even physically threatened for being open about the discrimination they face, and it’s important that men do their part in solving this problem by treating women seriously and helping them feel less afraid to talk about these things. Do your part by reassuring survivors that they do not need to front the blame for the sexist actions and prejudices of men.
5. Consider how Islam is used as a tool to oppress women in Arab societies because many men don’t make a distinction between Arab culture and Islamic traditions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Islam hates women. What I am saying is that men in Arab societies often use Islam as a justification for their sexist behavior. Even worse is that many “religious” men tend to forget that the rules and restrictions they place on women only result from their poor understanding of the Quran, taking hadeeth out of context, and supporting fatwas which have no real basis in Islamic teachings, all of which then create a wider effect on Arab society as a whole.
6. Encourage the women you know to pursue their ambitions and do what they want despite social barriers. Let your sisters and wives wear a hijab when they feel ready for it, despite expectations that men are responsible for their women’s modesty. Encourage your daughters to pursue careers and hobbies which are considered “unladylike.” Think more about the happiness of the women in your life more than artificial standards of what is 3eib (shameful). And stop standing in women’s ways and start helping to enable them in achieving more.
Ameena is a junior at Georgetown studying International Politics.