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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sex: Don't let words deceive you

Sex: Don't let words deceive you

Gaza, December, I am not known for choosing controversial headlines to spark traffic or discussions, not that is a bad thing. But perhaps I needed to start this post by a reminder to myself and to you all: Don’t be deceived by headlines, words, covers and\or preconceived notions.

It’s always better to dig a little deeper. I know that sometimes we end up discovering a rock after digging up hard, but sometimes we come across a diamond while excavating. I don’t know about you, but personally I think that risk is worth the effort. You will either find a diamond or find the truth. Arent they both worth the digging?

By sex here I mean gender. Males and Females, and everything that falls in between. I am not here to lecture you in science or repeat historical theories and findings about males and females and the endless yet limited differences between them. I am here to talk about a whole different dimension.

I wish it stops at education and science, when it comes to learning about males and females, but it doesn’t. Everywhere around the world, whatever the diverse culture is, we are all raised on pre-defined notions and definitions. Whether its related to morals, or religion, or traditions, or terms or even the simple meaning of things. We are grown to absorb everything as it was decided by others. And we are told that asking questions is bad, it might even label you as an outcast or a rebel.

We become adults based on very old stereotypical definitions that were passed through generations without any effort of thinking things over or adding value to those terms. I am not talking about “modernizing things”, I am just saying that we were given a brain for a reason. Therefore, we should use it and learn that it is ok to challenge old or new meanings. We will either be convinced that they are right\enough, or maybe add to them or change them.

Nobody can define love in a specific way, or success. Love is said to be so many things. Some say it’s a feeling, others say it’s a state while its also said to be a chemical or scientific process. Success too. How can you define it? Is it having allot of money? Or being happy at what you do? Or is it being famous? Or have allot of following? Or maybe all the above? Who knows. And why should we know? Why do we have a hunger to define things and pass them on as the “right definition”?

In different cultures around the world, including the Arab world, we are brought up to believe that men don’t cry, men are indestructible and super strong. Males are raised to become emotionless Hercules who will be judged upon and measured by how much money they make and how many girls they toy with.

Yet, men are expected to be religious and well mannered. Exceptional husbands, amazing fathers, great brothers, obedient sons and good friends. They are expected to remember birthdays and show emotions and really care. But how? And what emotions? If they are raised to be heartless and strong?

Females are raised up to be weak and soft. “The weaker you are, the more men you attract”, and then she falls in love with someone who tells her she is too weak and breaks her heart. Women are told to be stupid, because if they are smarter and more successful  (and they usually are) then men will feel threatened and run away. Women are expected to be a superwoman who happens to be a great wife, marvelous mother, tender sister, obedient daughter and a true friend. She is asked to “find a balance” and “juggle everything at the same time”. She is expected to be the first in her class, yet act dumb. She is expected to soar for success yet let the man feel like he has the superior upper hand. She is expected to be amazing at work and home. She should raise kids, cook, clean, be the perfect maid and yet take care of herself for her husband while she studies and works and does a million thing at once.

But how? And why do you expect her to be strong when she is raised to be weak? How will she believe in herself when she is told she is dumb and must always submit to men? How can she be confident when she is degraded to feel like a maid in her own house?

Men are not brought up to respect the sacredness of marriage. In most cultures, men aren’t shamed for infidelity. And women are raised up to be in competition with each other, not in work or education, but in getting men. So its ok for men to dive into betrayal and infidelity yet they are grilled for it. What do you expect from them when they are raised to fall into such patterns?

Women are raised to be emotional yet oppress their feelings. “Don’t challenge your man, don’t speak about your feelings, don’t complain …..etc” and the list of “Don’ts” continues. Women are told that divorce is shameful and a disaster and that they are too weak to handle it. Yet, they are blamed for staying with abusive or womanizing men. And women are asked to never discuss sex with their own husbands, its an indicator of bad upbringing yet its ok to talk about it with her mother and girlfriends. How do you expect women to be strong and stand up for themselves if they are raised to be mute obedient maids?

And let’s not forget the old tale of all times: “Men are breadwinners, their duty as fathers and husbands is to put food on the table”. Then we blame men for being unfit fathers who don’t help their wives with anything. 

“Women are the center of the house, you are expected to do anything and everything and never ever complain or ask for help”. Then we blame women for being too weak and handling too much and neglecting themselves and not caring for their husbands.

Gladly, we reached an era where we are aware and educated enough to use the unlimited resources we have to questions things and redefine concepts that perhaps we feel like we need to make better. We are no angels and I know no matter how hard we try not to judge, we end up judging. Fine, judge people and things but do go a step further to explore whether your judgment is right or wrong. At the end of the day, you are not god and you are not always right.

We always try to grow as humans, which is necessary and good. But we should also care about the growth of the surrounding environment and the society you live in. Otherwise, your growth will feel minimal. Yes, you need to start within but do aspire to external and widespread change after you start with yourself. And think, by questioning and challenging preconceived constants, you might be paving the way for a healthier better generation.

Writing and reading are therapeutic. I hope you don’t consider my writing as lecturing or telling you what to do. It’s more like sharing my personal intimate thoughts so I could grow with you. We all have our trials and tribulations. Instead of judging each other and growing apart, I believe we should help each other and grow closer. Our time has many advantages but also one of the downfalls is that we are becoming lonely by isolating ourselves by relying too much on technology.

Life is tough, and a constant learning experience. But its limitless too so never stop using your brain or advancing because nothing is impossible and trust me, you are definitely not alone, even though it feels like it most of the time. So let’s get it together.

From Gaza with love,

Omar Ghraieb

Monday, December 15, 2014

Gaza: Dont hit her

Gaza: Don’t hit her

Gaza, December, We grow up being lectured about courage and taking risks and how exhilarating it is. They make it sound like the right thing to do. Until we become adults and we start getting lectured about not taking risks and hearing pro-cowardice sayings like this Arabic one that says: “Cowardice makes two thirds of manhood”, meaning: “When shit hits the fan, RUN”.

“Manhood” and many other terms are being deformed recently in the Arabic region and also the world, but I will come to that later on in future posts.

I saw a man in the street, exiting his house, arguing with his wife then BAM. He smacked her across the face. It was like a scene from a movie. She held her face and started crying, he had visible signs of anguish on his face, they both saw me standing there, and I myself was frozen. Stunned, perplexed, speechless and thinking.

Gaza is like most Arab countries\cities. A little society that is conservative and mainly fueled by traditions. Old, very old ones, that are usually confused with religious rituals. Long story short, if you are a smart person and you saw what I saw, DO NOT INTERFERE between a wife and her man. Just walk away. Unfortunately, I am not smart enough when it comes to domestic violence or violence against women. I was never beaten up as a child and never saw my family or friends use violence against women or each other so I refuse all kinds of violence.

I thought to myself: “So whats the worst case scenario Omar “The Hero of Stupidity”? You say something to the man and you end up getting into a fight which might turn ugly since he can call on his sons and neighborhood backup males. I would appear wrong for interfering and get beaten up. Or he would be a gentleman and just give me a black eye. Or he might listen to me (Ha Yeah right)”. So I decided whatever the outcome is, I am going for it. I would rather get beaten up than feel bad about not saying anything. (Don’t judge, I said I am not smart enough)

I found myself uttering: DO NOT HIT HER, AGAIN”. And hell opened. I distracted him from her but now he got all angry, red faced, cursing me loudly and heading towards me. “Don’t flinch or move a muscle, treat him like you learned how to act around a deadly snake”, I said to myself.
He came and stood right in my face, screaming and spitting. I acted cold and calm as quiet ice (quiet ice? Whatever). 

“Uncle, I am not trying to interfere. You are a respectable man and your wife is a good woman, you don’t want people to misjudge you. Consider me your son”, I said impressing myself but he wasn’t impressed. “You are not my fucking son”, he spat. I knew this means trouble.
I saw his wife making signs to me from behind telling me to stop this and just leave. He saw her. She then told me she doesn’t need my help, she loves her husband, its ok if he hits her and begged me to leave.

The man started going back and forth. Furious. Brushing his hair. I think he was considering his next move. So I jumped in quickly telling him I don’t judge him and I will not tell anyone but its obvious how much he loves his wife and that hitting women isn’t cool. Then I regretted saying “cool”. Like he would care about what’s cool and what isn’t.

To my surprise, he invited me to his house. I thought of politely declining. I knew it has to mean that I am either gonna get killed or kidnapped or beaten. But then he looked into my eyes and suddenly I trusted him. (Again, I am sometimes idiotic, don’t judge). Besides, we live in the same neighborhood, its not like my family wont figure it out and claim my body. (I hope they do)

He asked me all the formal questions, told me he knew my dad (Phew maybe a good sign) and begged me not to call the police or report him to anyone. I said I wouldn’t. But I got scared because it felt like I will end up sympathizing with him and that’s bad. Then I will start finding excuses for him and for every other man who lays a hand on a female.

We started discussing the environment the person grows up in, how he is raised, what he witnesses and ofcourse how occupation ruins everything. I usually get irritated of how much we try to blame occupation sometimes for things that we should blame upon ourselves. But this time he was right. As a dad of 7 children, he witnessed all Intifadas and wars. He is trying hard to make a living, fighting Gaza’s impossible living conditions and yet didnt lose his mind.

He is double my age now, 54, he was my age when the first Intifada happened. He was happily married with one child. He had so many dreams and ambitions then it got all screwed and ruined. Since then, his life has been one big ugly rollercoaster and his main goal is to constantly have food on the table to feed his kids. And education, it’s a very important thing for him to educate his chilldren since he holds a Bachelor’s degree. He worked pretty much in everything. He is responsible for a number of families including his own, his married son, his dead brother’s family and his dad. His brother was shot during the first Intifada. Too much mouths to feed, as he said it.

His wife loves him to death. So on the day this incident happened, the man was sick and his wife was trying to bring him back inside telling him he should rest and she will go out try to make a living. She admits: “He smacks me sometimes, but out of love”. He looked like a tortured soul, a man who endured hell and yet still tries to keep standing and make a living. Still, I reminded myself, whatever the situation is: IT IS WRONG TO HIT A WOMAN.

He told me that his grandson was sick and he couldn’t skip work. He needed to work so he could afford taking him to the doctor. And he wouldn’t let his wife work. “My son graduated a few years ago, he is my eldest, he tries to work, but as you see Gaza is the spring of unemployment”, he said while his eyes turned red. “Do you believe that I hold a Bachelor’s degree? Yes. Me. Yet, I have to work in anything I can find just to keep everyone going. Its exhausting and humiliating but its worth it. And I will never humiliate my wife or let her go and beg for work”, he chocked as tears rolled slowly down his eyes. I couldn’t help but shed a tear as well. But his wife broke down and hugged him. I felt weird. I looked like a foreign journalist who is there to interview them or write their story. 

Weird enough, he asked me if I was a journalist or foreign. I said I am Palestinian and I haven’t written in a while and I don’t use people for stories unless they let me or ask me to share.

They insisted I stay for lunch but it was too awkward so I made up an excuse and left. But before that, I talked to him about domestic violence and hitting women. I tried not to sound like a lecturer but I did. “You need to understand uncle, hitting women isn’t right no matter what excuse you tell yourself. I will not ask you to go the gym to release negative energy, just walk it out or read Quran if you are too tired to walk or just sleep it off. Anything but hitting women. I know it anguishes you and it hurts your wife so why not just stop it?”, I said embarrassingly.

“I never laid a hand on my daughters. But sometimes I get angry, I don’t do drugs like other men here, I have a family to feed, I need to be sober and save money. I need a release or I will die. My wife is a good woman, she tolerates me and I swear I don’t smack her hard. I suspect my son is doing the same with his wife and I feel guilty.”, he said while looking down. I was saddened but understanding. He clearly appears like he wouldn’t do anything to his sons in law if they hit his daughters, he will feel like a hypocrite. That’s just wrong.

Before I could respond, his wife hurried to chip in. “Yes, it hurts more mentally than physically, I feel humiliated but at the same time I feel like as a good wife I need to help him get a release. Or he will die. So I let him hit me and promise myself to stop him next time. I never did. I love him too much. I overcome my shame and pain and anger for him. But inside, we both know its wrong. Atleast he never hit me infront of the children, right?”, she asked me. I didn’t answer because she knew the answer and wasn’t herself convinced that it was “right”.

He promised me never to hit her again. He realized its wrong. But I didn’t believe him, he knew it was wrong all along but did it anyway. She promised me she will stop him if he did it again, but we both knew it will never happen. 

I left feeling overwhelmed, thinking about children who see their dads hit their moms and how they follow the same pattern. Wondering why women are considered second class citizens in their own home? Why do we tolerate that? Why do we shove it under the rug and act like our societies are strong and religious?

I still see him around sometimes. He waves his hand to me and all I can think of is the memory of waving his hand to land on his wife's face. He smiles, but I cant smile back.

I faced the sad truth. Arab women are oppressed, degraded, abused and underestimated.

Ofcourse, many Arab women broke the cycle and soared to success. They fought against all odds, although it shouldn’t be so hard for them to become achievers. In Gaza too, many women revolted against traditions and violence and oppression. They became a beckon of inspiration, hope and success. Yet, many others are still suffering, still being hit, still being degraded and still being forced to shut up about it or lose their house, family, kids or even life.

Unlike the western world thinks, Islam honored women and actually emphasized on their rights more than men’s rights. Women should enjoy equality and all kinds of freedoms, including the freedom of choice. 

Women aren’t only our moms, sisters, wives and daughters. They are our friends, colleagues and peers too. I see men here go from opening the car door for their wives to being there for them and helping them succeed. Some men here even stay with the kids or work under their wives to make sure their business grow. And so many other sweet stuff. Unfortunately, those are the exception to the rule, and not the rule itself.

Its nearly 2015, and you still hear about so many cases of honor killing and beating up women in the Arab region and the world. Its not acceptable one bit. And this global new trend of promoting sexual violence claiming women love that, its beyond disgusting and sick.

If you think hitting women makes you a better man, you are wrong. Manhood is about respecting women and treating them right, not the opposite. Don’t make excuses up.

Your action shouldn’t just stop at not hitting women. It should extend to reach much higher actions like standing against domestic violence and violence against women. Your duty is not only to stop yourself from laying a hand on a woman, but stopping from doing it too.

Be strong by protecting women, not hitting them.

From Gaza with love,
Omar Ghraieb