Gender And Sexuality Essay, Research Paper
Gender and Sexuality in Arab and Western Society
Ramzi M. Bibi
8 December 2000
Gender & sexuality is an important issue that differs from one country to another, two regions that are very distinct and general are the Arab world and the Western World. Both these regions are heavily populated and both these areas have totally different views concerning gender & sexuality. The Western view towards sexuality is normally considered a more liberal approach, where as the Arab world?s view in most of its related states is a conservative approach that is often implemented by force. The Arab & Western cultures are extremely diverse in their methods and their religious beliefs. Therefore sexuality is viewed differently in both regions and that?s why these two regions should be discussed and compared in a sociological study. Sex that refers to the biological differences between men & women is different than gender, which is the psychological difference between males & females therefore referring to the extremes of Arab & Western society.
Sexual relations in Middle Eastern societies have historically articulated dominant and subordinate social positions, adult men on the higher social status, women, boys, and slaves on lower social positions. The distinction made by modern western sexuality between sexual and gender identity, between kinds of sexual degrees of masculinity and family, have until now had little affect on the Middle East. The Middle East as a whole doesn?t recognize the complex realities of multiple and changing positions of sexuality and identity.
A recent study of family politics in Cairo says that sound taboos and the silent neglection to sexual behavior show some space for discussion. People keep incidents of homosexuality and premarital sex or adultery hidden away from society in order to protect their social backgrounds and to sustain their so-called family values in addition they indulge in episodes of sexual violence such as honor crimes and ?gay bashing?. These crimes and perspectives don?t exist in westernized society where a person almost has their free will to practice their sexuality according to his own personal preference without being abused, but generally all sexual outcasts in the world are criticized negatively to some extent.
Islamic societies have tolerated prostitution and consider it regulated, as do their Christian counterparts, and have recently been more tolerant to same sex sexual practices. The Western view towards sexual behavior has been Christian, which has been prevalent for nearly 2000 years. The Christian church look to sex as a need for reproduction and everything else is suspect. In the 19th Century, religious assumptions about sex became medieval ones as the people presumed that sex unconnected to reproduction could be harmful. As time moved on so did the western world and its communications to medical studies which evolved into the most liberal and open-minded view towards sex and homosexuality alike. The western expressions of their sexuality through entertainment (pornographic movies, plays and sexual expression) show their tolerant attitude within the past 30 years.
Islam is the general Arab religion which recognizes both men and women as both having sexual drives and rights to sexual fulfillment and heterosexual relations within marriage. All other sexual behavior is considered unacceptable. Like the Greeks and Romans before them the Arabs have ?a general importance of male dominance the centrality of penetration to conception of sex and the radical disjunction of active and passive roles in male homosexuality?. Everett Rowson has found this sexual viewpoint ?broadly representative of Middle Eastern societies from the 9th Century to the present?. This is not necessarily saying that the Arab Muslim world have not witnessed an unchanging historical experience but more to show the continuity of these ideas.
Whether the 7th Century message of the Qur?an undermined or improved the position of women is debatable. It is more logical to agree that in past centuries Muslim males adopted the cultural practices of Byzantines and Sasanians, it gives out a message that the seclusion of women to reserve public and political life for men. This distinguishes the two sexes as opposites: Men as rational and capable, women as emotional and lacking, specifically of their sexual drives. Female sexuality when uncontrolled could result in a social problem (Fitna) and therefore reward males control of women?s bodies.
Rowson explains relation between gender roles and sexual roles in medieval societies by locating them in public and private areas. Adult men dominated their women and slaves in private contrast to the larger public. Men who publicly act as women gave up their right to male dominance. ?They lost their respectability as men but could be tolerated and even valued as entertainers (poets, musicians dancers and singers)?. A modern and Lebanese example is ?Mosbah?, who is a frequent dancer at ?Amori Libertad, he is very well valued as an entertainer and has been for the past couple of years. In the Western world we can see a huge number of homosexual creativity within a certain city spectrum. New types of explicit sexuality seem to always blossom from Western countries. Sydney, Australia, which was the gay capital of the world, experienced serious competition from a vast group of homosexuals in San Francisco, therefore here we find the new gay capital of the world, with the emergence of gimps, which are often homosexual sex slaves with no purpose. San Francisco is now the proud innovator of the most recent creative homosexual expressions.
Children learn at a very early age what it means to be a boy or a girl in our society. With all the gender stereotypes and biases, it is no wonder how sex segregation exists. During childhood, children are exposed to many factors, which influence their attitudes and behaviors regarding gender roles. These attitudes are learned in the home, in the school, and even in the playground where children play among their peers. From the time they are born, children have already been assigned a gender. Blue blankets are used for baby boys, and pink ones for girls. It is difficult for a child to grow up without experiencing some form of gender bias or stereotype. When children play, they avoid playing with the opposite sex, because they prefer the company of there “own kind”. The result is self-imposed segregation between boys and girls. Research has been done on this phenomenon, some sociologists say sex differences are biologically determined and some believe they are socially constructive. Children behave accordingly to their gender roles as early as two years old. From pre-school to middle school it is obvious that children live in two separate worlds that are Girls and Boys.
From the beginning of time we have all been different, but men and women alike are joined by a biological attraction that eventually results in sex. Yes, sex is often the word of the day in most parts of the world. In the 20th Century we related sex to love, if this is right or wrong it is up to every individual but societies and cultures have tried to involve themselves in the sexual behavior and religious perception of sex. This raised many eyebrows for people that wish to venture outside of their culture in some areas to see other people?s different views. The huge difference in cultural diversity between Arab societies and Western communities are vast and extreme at times and places alike. Men who are physically stronger and more capable than women often played the hunting or providing role in the old days and the women would do the household chores. These days there is a difference but we still can see history repeating itself in modern civilization. The man goes to work and the woman takes care of the house and the children. All these aspects of gender and sexuality have a reason for them being this way, the world is a big place therefore peoples many differences have to be respected and viewed from a sociological perspective.
?Everyone does gender without thinking about it? (Judith Lorber, Paradoxes of Gender, pp 13). The differences in gender are something we live with every day, we all at one point or another ?do gender?. When a female in a respectable community in western society is asked to act as a lady, she is expected to act accordingly with good manners as a woman. The same is expected for an Arab female but it differs on a conservative level, and she is typically expected to be in a state of domination by her husband.
Women who step out of their Muslim Arab background face such sociological problems as mentioned in Janan Ghazal Read?s article, ?To veil or not to veil?. Reed explains that the expanded social opportunities for women in Western industrialized countries, scholars have turned their attention to the status of women in other parts of the world. This has given rise to a debate concerning the social standing of Muslim women in the Middle East. Many researchers have noted that the traditional and gendered customs presented by Islam, can be harmful for women?s status in the workplace predominantly because of their veiling. This controversial study compared the general attitudes of veiled and unveiled women. The study was largely based on survey data collected from women living in the Middle East. This demonstrates that while veiled women are conservative they seem to support women?s rights in public life and most of them strive for marital equality. Although populations of Muslim Americans vary (ranging from 5 to 8 million) it is one of the fastest growing religions that can mix these different cultures in relation to gender and sexuality.
In many parts of the world women represent nearly half of the labor market; despite this more haven?t experienced a rise in social status. Women have made little progress in being recognized for their contributions to society. This is because of the strong hold of male dominance almost everywhere in the world. Researchers have tried to see the relationship between status and economic behavior and it seems that nothing concrete is showing the grounds for improving female status.
In conclusion, men and women are of opposing sexes but their differences have been made this way to homogeneously complete each other. Obviously no area has a perfectly constructed social system that treats genders exactly the same. Of course there are areas that are better than others but none are perfect. The two different regions that have been discussed in this paper are both unique in their own way. The Arab world is a heavily cultured society that has historically always had a huge effect on science, understanding and religion. The firm Islamic base that the Arabs have maintained affects their sexual preferences and ideologies therefore causing a somewhat conservative environment. The western world flourishes with its multi-dimensional approach to sexual practices that opens up a liberal door to their people. Freedom of expression is a norm in most westernized societies; some Arab countries have sought to become more westernized and some are being heavily influenced by the West. Despite the differences and recent conflicts between the Arabs and the West, men and women from both regions should feed off each other in order to be more productive in the big picture. Simply because we, ?live in one sweet world and around the stars we are spinning? (Dave Matthews, One Sweet World).
1) Giddens, Anthony ?Sociology?
2) Library; Browne, Katherine E. ?work style and gender? Ghazal Read, Jannan ?To veil or not to veil? Texas, U.S.A p.395 Gender and society
3) Arab studies journal ?A note of the study of homosexuality? Cairo, Egypt p.32-34
4) Everett K. Rowson ? The categorization of gender and sexual irregularity in medieval ? The cultural politics of ambiguity p.73 New York, New York
5) Religious, Ethnic, and Gender factors effecting sexuality www.rki.de/Gesund/Archiv/USA05.HTM