Culture

We all live in glass houses

How many times have you picked your nose? Would you pick someone else’s nose? Although we pick our noses while no one is watching, we feel disgusted if we see someone doing it. This is how I feel people look at each others’ culture setbacks. There is absolutely no culture that has it all.

Every culture has its setbacks. People who belong to the same culture usually acknowledge their problems, but get offended when someone from a different culture points out these setbacks. An Egyptian friend got offended when a Facebook friend, an American woman, mentioned in her comment on my Facebook status the sexual harassment incidents that happen in the streets of Egypt. He told me to inform her about the many sexual harassment incidents that happen on American campuses before she blames Egyptian men and to mind her own business.

Sexual harassment in some Arab countries is a big problem. Arabs are both aware and sick of it. But it seems most Arab men feel defensive when someone brings the issue up. I don’t know why, maybe because they feel shameful and helpless to change such epidemic.

I want to state here that sexual harassment in the Arab streets is mainly verbal and involve lots and lots of ogling. The reason I want to state this here is that many young Arab men consider these catcalling as flirtation. No doubt any behavior that makes women feel uncomfortable walking on the street is wrong. It is a real cultural problem in the Arab world that we yet to get rid of.

But is it only an Arab thing?

Once every week or two, we receive an email from the campus police about a sexual assault incident that took place on our campus. Time magazine calls it ‘Rape Culture.’ The latest Time magazine cover made me ponder how we spot other’s setbacks easier than we acknowledge ours.

timemagazinerape“Rape-the crisis in higher education” is the latest cover issue of Time magazine. The article is an eye opening to a real crisis on American campuses. If you live in the United States you should read it.

“The truth is, for young women, America’s campuses are hazardous places. Recent research shows that 1 in 5 women is the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault during college.”

With all the advanced and sophisticated laws and policies the USA has, it is only in 2012 that it had to redefine rape. “The FBI now defines rape as ‘penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.’ Earlier language referred to sex inflicted ‘forcibly and against her will.’ The newer ‘without the consent’ language is meant to include victims who are incapacitated by alcohol or cannot otherwise give consent.”

The good news is Americans are acknowledging they have a problem. The bad news any suggestion to solve the problem is taken as negative solutions. Therefore, the only measures taken so far to limit such incidents are harsher punishment.

Most of the sexual harassment incidents that occur on American campuses happen during a party that involves the consumption of alcohol. Being foreign to the culture of alcohol consumption I would say alcohol is the problem. But then Europeans drink more alcohol than Americans at a younger age. I am not sure if their campuses suffer from sexual assaults like in the USA though.  Is there any European reader here?

“But these women chose to work in a strip club” was what an American woman told me when I mentioned that American women working in strip clubs is one way to look at it as oppressing women. The discussion was over ‘hijab.’ She felt working in a strip club is a choice but considers women choosing to cover their body a type of oppression.

westvseast

Every sports team in the USA has a mascot and a cheerleading team. I get the mascot, but fail to understand how women dancing and wearing skimpy skirts is not a sexual objectification of women. But then people from outside my circle fail to understand how women covering their bodies are not oppressed.

Culture is complicated. Even things that are considered normal in one culture are looked at as unimaginable in another culture. Try to convince a Yemeni that Khat or Qat is bad. Try to convince a Saudi man that there is nothing wrong with women driving cars. The biggest porn industry in the world is in the USA yet prostitution is illegal. Hollywood undermines Bollywood movies and consider these movies’ silly and with no valuable content. This is the same industry that made its money from superheroes and aliens attacking the earth movies.

I know many things I don’t like about the American culture the same as an American will find many things that he or she will not like about my culture. But also we both can find more things to love about other’s culture. Have you ever traveled to a different country and not felt happy? You know why? Because you broke the culture barrier. The more cultures you interact with the happier you will be.

I still remember when my mom’s friend advised her not to go to Turkey because she heard that thieves there will cut a woman’s hand to steal her ring or bracelet. This was back in the 80s and this woman had never been to Turkey when she said that.

There is no culture you will like and get used to more than the one you were raised by, but your culture becomes boring sometimes and for this you need to explore a different culture. We are so different and this is the beauty of life. When I was in Malaysia I lived one year with a Hindu Indian family and another with a Chinese family. It was a life time experience. I was planning to do the same when I come to the USA. I wanted to live with an American family. But then four months before my arrival to the USA, in September 2001, a group of people in my circle hated everything about the American culture.

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17 thoughts on “We all live in glass houses

  1. This is a very good post Malik, I thank you! (which is not uncommon surely)

    I can state that u were objective in presenting this issue. I had no idea about (the numbers) in US uni campuses, it is shocking indeed. It is all over the world, I can understand that. In the university I am in now we do not have such a term/unit called campus police and in my 18 months here I heard only of one instance and we were warned about it via emails and a follow up emails came to clarify/update on the issue. I am not “promoting” the uni. I am in 🙂 but my point is that the campus here is on the top 5 international campuses in UK (at least it was in 2012 when I joined! :D) – so much diversity is evident here and I guess it has something to do with appreciating THE other.
    Culture is a tricky thing, u cannot know if u r OK with the differences u encounter with some1 else unless u ,, well encounter them! It is -in a way- more like a practice.

    ** Did u end the post deliberately with the “a group of people in my circle hated everything about the American culture” line or u were meaning to add something? I just felt u either did not want to go more into the Sep. 2001 attacks “just because it is known and the link is clear” or u had something more to add but published it by mistake or something. Hence me asking 🙂

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    1. Thank you Haitham!
      Good to hear this about your university and thanks for sharing.
      Sorry for not being clear about the last paragraph. I wanted to say that because of what happened I couldn’t knock on an American family’s door and ask them to rent me a room.
      Americans were in shock that time it would have been impossible for any family to rent a room for an Arab student.

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  2. Really great post, and very true. I don’t think I realized your friend was Egyptian. I can’t remember now what your status was about, but I do remember your friend who was offended by my mentioning the groping problem in parts of Egypt. I’ve never traveled there, but it just seems to be mentioned by most every lady who has traveled to that country. And I’m not talking just about being looked at or catcalls, but men touching women which, IMO, takes it to a whole different level. My thinking sometimes is that women are supposedly more protected when they cover up, but I hear tales of even hijabis and niqabis being messed with. Maybe my comment back then was about that. Who knows? Can’t remember any more!

    Yes, I hear quite a bit about a rape culture. Sad! And I hope people will just learn to leave others alone. Keep your hands to yourself. Amen.

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    1. Susanne – I didn’t expect you will remember this. You are right. The Facebook American woman was you 🙂 I don’t remember what was the topic about either. But this conversation with the the Egyptian friend was at my house when were talking about the increasing number of Clery Act emails we started receiving. I also told him that we should not feel offended when someone mentions a problem that exist.
      Couple of years ago Egyptians made a movie about streets sexual harassment. I don’t watch Arabic movies but I was told it was very powerful movie.

      I think in Egypt the problem is not just ogling and catcalling it extends to groping as well which I think it becomes a problem about women’s safety. Bodies touching is a real problem in crowded cities. I read somewhere that Mexico (or maybe some cities in Mexico) started operating public transportation for women only.

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      1. Ha…of course, I knew it was me. 🙂 It’s fine. I don’t think I said anything false, but I do understand not wanting to hear the truth from outsiders. I can be the same way about things although I’m *trying* to be less sensitive about this, and realize, “yes, there is a problem here, and others see it, too.”

        Still, we can’t always help how we feel – just how we react and our attitudes towards others. I am a work in progress….

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  3. You did not mention India. There have been very bad cases of gang rape that were deadly in the news recently

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      1. Joe- Yes, these gang rape incidents are very awful. I am sure it affected their tourism industry.
        Susanne- This is a very powerful Ad. I liked it. Thanks for sharing. Why do you think men from certain countries ogle women more than other countries?

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      2. That’s a good question, and I have some ideas. First I want to ask you a question: were you taught that it’s impolite to stare? I’m curious if that is universally taught or if it’s just something taught here. What are your cultural norms as far as staring and even making eye contact with others? Is it different here than where you grew up, or is it similar?

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      3. So, you are answering my question with questions 🙂
        I think there are two issues here. 1) Staring out of curiosity and this is very common anywhere in the world in places with Monoculturalism. It exists in the USA as well. I experience it when I visit small all-white towns. I was stared at a lot when I was in Malaysia. Back in the 90s, there weren’t many Arab Students there. This of course happen also to Western tourists visiting the Middle East.
        I think although this type of staring might be annoying it is not harmful. People are curious about this new species visiting their land. Visitors should receive it with a smile.
        2) Sexual staring (ogling with no physical contact) is bad and I can understand why women hate it. I need to mention here that, by nature, all men stare at women. Some of us learned to control it more than others. Some cultures receive it different than others. In an episode of the American sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Debra was catcalled by a couple of Italian men, while the family was vacationing there. She thought it was a compliment of her look while her husband didn’t like it at all. This subject is very complicated because we can’t talk about it without talking about objectifying women bodies. For example, in car conventions beside every car there usually two women dressed provocatively. I think this culture, which is universal, of using women to sell things needs to stop.
        I am not blaming women. I am blaming both men and women. My decision to buy a hamburger or a car has nothing to do with seeing a woman in a bikini. What I mean is men are using women and some women are okay with it for an easy money. In such universal culture some men will grow up thinking that women can be bought by money.
        Now, why ogling is more common in India and the Middle East (I don’t know about Africa and South America) than in Europe and USA? I am not very sure. One reason I can think of is sexual frustration. In some poor and conservative countries the age of marriage became very high while dating is still a taboo.

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      4. I enjoyed reading your reply here. Lots of good stuff to consider.

        Yes, I tend to stare at different people, but I try to curb my zeal when I realize I may be annoying the object of my curiosity. It’s just sometimes I am truly happy to see people different from the norm, and want to talk to them if they will agree (I would find you rather fascinating, I’m sure….not that you aren’t normal..haha. I hope you understand me here. 🙂 )

        I think there is staring – or maybe looking – and then there is STARING that gets uncomfortable. Sometimes staring is a way of trying to get someone’s attention – to see if they are interested in talking. And that can be OK to a point. But if you are clearly getting ‘uninterested’ signals, frowns, the cold shoulder, etc., you should stop looking. I guess I’m one for reading body language.

        I know some women do want the attention, they want the stares. I can think of someone in particular whom I met a few years back. She seemed to thrive on turning heads and giving flirtatious looks, and even talking a little dirty with guys. It…wasn’t for me at all. And even she would tell you you can look, but don’t touch me unless I let you. I can see how it could be hard for some people…especially perhaps those who don’t read “back off” signals as well as they read other signals.

        I am not really sure why I shared that or what it brings to the conversation if anything (maybe more confusion), but this is an interesting topic, and I appreciate your post as usual.

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      5. Susanne, Malik,

        I’d like to say that I am thoroughly reaping a lot of benefits from this thread between you two, many, many, thanks.

        I have linked this to a couple of friends and a lot of them are enjoying + learning a lot of info.

        Thanks again.

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      6. Haitham – Thank you very much for reading, sharing your thoughts and the shout out. I can never know if what I write is good or bad without these comments.
        A blog without discussion is boring so thank you and everybody who shared his or her opinion about the subject.

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      7. Thank you, Haitham! I’m glad it’s helpful. And I really hope I wasn’t confusing too much. Ask me if there is anything I can clarify.

        Malik, I appreciate that you are willing to bring up these issues so we can talk about them. I love that about your blog!

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  4. You don’t have to look very hard to see that there is something very wrong with the way a lot of cultures see and treat women. It’s not limited to any one culture though it’s always more popular to point to another culture (Egypt, since that’s what started this conversation) and complain about all the harassment there while ignoring the harassment that goes on in our own. It’s not even as though we can say that ‘they’ are violent where we are not. Certainly not after the stabbing death of a high school girl in April and the shooting in California. We look at these and call the men ‘disturbed’ or ‘crazy’ but that doesn’t change the fact that they’ve gotten these ideas somewhere. They’ve got the idea that women ‘owe’ them something. Whether it’s just the right to look at them or dictate how they act or dress or even owe them physical contact.

    I think we don’t notice the problem in our society as easily not only because we don’t want to see our own flaws but because we’re so immersed in it we have trouble seeing it at all.

    I know it’s nearly impossible to explain to men why certain situations make me, or another woman, uncomfortable. For example, when we work the night shift here (until 1 am or later sometimes) we park in the ‘visitor’ parking rather than way out in the employee parking. Because the visitor parking is right up against the building and has lights at night. The employee parking is dark and near the wooded areas around our building. Our boss, a man, doesn’t understand why any of this makes a woman uncomfortable. He doesn’t understand why, when a homeless man decided to sleep in our parking lot at night, we complained.

    Men don’t seem to get why following a woman to her car in an empty parking lot to chat her up is creepy.

    They don’t seem to get that when a woman says ‘no’, she’s really not interested in taking home this man that she just met for dinner. Having to *lie* and invent a boyfriend in order to get a man to back off is not something that should have to happen. But men don’t seem to respect a woman’s wishes. They respect (sometimes) being ‘taken’.

    They don’t seem to get why eyeing teenage girls as they walk by is inappropriate. Especially when they’re old enough to be the girls grandfather.

    All you have to do is look around online to see all sorts of lists of things that women do to try and avoid being harassed by men. Because men routinely treat women in ways that make them uncomfortable to say the least. And it’s not far from that kind of behavior to the kind that has a man crying ‘she didn’t say no!’ because the women he chose to victimize was drunk (or roofed). Because they feel owed.

    Because no matter what we say, as a culture or a country, some men still feel as though women exist solely for their use or entertainment.

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    1. Amber – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject. I hate when sometimes I end up walking behind a woman when no one else is around. I mostly try to speed up to walk on front of her or if she is faster than me I slow down to keep a distance. Even as a man I hate when someone walks behind me at the same pace.
      If the USA the most powerful and developed country is still debating wage inequality in 2014 (and other women related issues), you can sense how bad the situation is in the least developed countries.

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      1. Malik, I’ve actually had such good experiences with Muslim men (not that I’ve known a ton, but the few that I’ve been around in Syria, for instance) that I am actually often appalled when I read accounts such as those I referenced in Egypt. I think, “WHO are these guys doing this? No one that I know would do such a thing!”

        And then I read here that you hate when you sometimes end up walking behind a woman when no one is around because I think you realize that could make her uncomfortable. I hate the world is such that it is…where people who are so kind and considerate are suspect because of the (hopefully) FEW awful people out there.

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