I have been working for quite some time in the Arab world, between Lebanon, Syria (before the war) and the United Arab Emirates. Different companies, different bosses and colleagues, different settings and corporate cultures. After 20 years of hardship, I can honestly say the common reality/experience was the male fear when a woman has everything needed to be successful. Don’t get me wrong, I am not using generalizations and I am certainly not dismissing the fact that men fear other men and women fear other women. However, my question for tonight is specific.
We do live in patriarchal societies, where men are perceived the masters of our families and societies. With all this power and advantages, it seems ‘normal’ to many that women are (or should be) excluded from the game. If a woman dares to speak up, be competent in what she does – other than cooking and raising the kids -, she is considered a threat to the social balance, the social norm, the power game.
I had nice bosses and colleagues who could appreciate a woman’s input and encourage her in the path of creativity and leadership, but others – the majority – did everything to sabotage my work and that of other women colleagues. As long as you are ‘inferior’ in status, you do not constitute a threat. But if you start questioning certain policies with good arguments or propose alternatives, God forbid, you are immediately seen as a trouble-maker – that is certainly not the case of my male colleagues who argue and innovate.
Our environment is highly conservative and oppressive. Oppression is in the domestic sphere but also in the public sphere, including the workplace. As a woman, I have to give 100 times more than a man to be taken seriously, and it’s never enough. I am pretty sure other women feel the same.
I strongly believe that men – most of them -, not only feared and still fear women’s sexuality, menstrual cycles (regarded as filthy and dangerous) and creativity, they also measure their power in terms of how effectively they can suppress the rights of women on a variety of fronts. I heard it once from a colleague: “Where women are taking over, the apocalypse reigns”. Witches were hunted down and killed in Medieval Europe – they were thought to neuter men -, but the witch-hunting is still taking place in many companies.
As I see it, we – women (most of us) – can start by letting the truth be known, so that others can benefit from what we each already know. It’s a first step to bridge the rift between the sexes. Women (most of them) are afraid of men too. Instead of fear, between men and women, or blind trust, we must learn to cultivate a better mutual understanding and compassion, if any of us is going to survive.