Why am I still Reading Fairy Tales to my Daughter?

Reading Fairy Tales to my DaughterI thought of it a while ago while reading fairy tales to my five year old daughter. Wolves, witches, monsters, princes and princesses living happily ever after, having 10 kids and more… I found myself twisting theses stories in order to be closer to our reality and context: 21st century C.E., Lebanon (Western Asia). Old stories with themes and images like child abuse in Hansel and Gretel, horror in little red riding hood and sexist as the villains are usually females in Cinderella, Snow White, etc… These tales encourage passivity in young women and make them more likely to fall in love with the wrong guys, endure mistreatment, abuse, etc.

These tales were not originally meant for children at all. They used to be entertainment for peasants, often at evening gatherings. They were the television and pornography of the day, the life-lightening trash of preliterate peoples. Of course, in those days, little distinction was made between adults and children. There was no notion of child innocence or the need to keep certain things away from young ears. Even when the French instilled morals in newly conceived nursery tots, the dark roots of the tales were never entirely expunged. What about the 1001 Arabian Nights?

Fairy tales share a common logic: a hero’s journey in quest for a treasure – often a woman. We all have the same characters crop up in our dreams and stories (the hero, the old sage, the damsel, the trickster…) – refer to Jung’s theory of archetypes and global unconsciousness – because we all face the same issues and have the same urges and desires. The hero’s journey then comes from a universal truth and reflects the story that we all go through. In theory then these fairy tales which stick so closely to the hero’s journey should be a healthy thing to expose children to – a universal metaphor for the way their life is going to turn out and for the journey that they should feel a pull to embark on. It should encourage them to dream of leaving home and having grand adventures and of growing and meeting new friends. However these stories are also very old, so now less relevant and even damaging. “Fairy tales are important historically because they provide children with information about a certain period. What they don’t do is provide positive images about groups who are not white, middle-class or heterosexual”.

I am particularly concerned with the bad influence on women, whose roles are less liberated in most fairy tales, and who always seem to wait for their saviors – prince charming or a knight in shining armor. Today though things are different – even in Lebanon where you may find families expecting women to have the same hero’s journey as men, to live life as they choose and pursue a career and go traveling and do all the other things that men do -, out-dated views should be deconstructed. For example, the conventional image of the princess – of being slim and beautiful and attracting men from around the world – like sleeping beauty, Belle, Helen of Troy…and cartoon versions of these princesses. Looks aren’t the most important feature. Also, what about that fairy tales are often far removed from reality? Many women end up waiting out for their man that fits the image of Prince Charming and who will rescue them, whereas the reality is often a beer/arak/narguile-guzzling sports fan. Furthermore, what happens after the ‘hero’ and the ‘princess’ ride off into the horizon??? And, let us not forget about nightmares…

According to Liz Grauerholz , associate professor of sociology at Western Illinois University:

[quote style=”boxed”]”Hearing these messages that were created by an old, patriarchal society may cause women, especially young girls, to withdraw from activities or careers, such as competitive sports or hard labor, because it is not part of being feminine. This continued emphasis on beauty is a way society controls girls and women. Women adopt behaviors that reflect and reinforce their relative powerlessness, which can lead to limiting a woman’s personal freedom, power and control.”[/quote]

The point of this post is not to conclude that fairy tales are ‘bad’ for children, but to point out few negative impacts. Being aware of our kids’ sensitivities is a good thing; exposing them to the realities of the world through reading constructive stories is better than keeping them in a padded cell until they are teenagers. Fairy tales encourage imagination and creative thinking. They are a form of escapism and they are part of popular culture and literature. Just make sure you expose them to other ideas too. I know i am trying to do it… The objective is not to be overprotective, nor to say that romance is bad, as long as expectations do not exceed common sense. Still, what is common sense?

Image: Oil on canvas, by Dr. Pamela Chrabieh (2001), Montreal, Canada, Private collection


Women Living and Doing Dialogue

Women living and doing dialogueDefining Dialogue:

The word Dialogue or Dialog comes from a Greek word: ‘dhialogos’ = dhia (through) and logos (word, speech): flowing-through meaning (not a monologue), or the word that is ‘heard’ (respected, taken into consideration, and leading to change/transformation).

[quote style=”boxed”]“In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change.”[/quote]

Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese Monk, Activist and Writer.)

The aim is not to change the other partner in the dialogue, but to risk being changed oneself through the process of mutual change that can be the result of a dialogue.

Living and doing dialogue began since my childhood in Lebanon, during the horrible physical combats’ period (late seventies – eighties). Extreme violence coexisted with a convivial reality, whether in our family, among friends, with our neighbors in the multi-religious villages where we used to take refuge, at school despite the decreasing number of students of different backgrounds and beliefs , etc. These layers of good memories and experiences have kept me and so many others hoping for a better future, refusing to let go of diversity and its richness. Layers that helped me commit more than ever to openness, respect, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Multileveled and Interrelated Commitment to Dialogue and Peace:

  1. Everyday Dialogue (friends, colleagues, neighbors)
  2. ARTS (Painting : Spiritual/Iconographic Art)
  3. Academic Path (Studying, Teaching, Researching, Writing and Publishing – Books, Articles, Blogs or Personal Web Sites)
  4. Sciences of Religions, Cultures and Societies in the Middle East, Interfaith/Intercultural Dialogue, War and Peace, Youth, Women, Human Rights…
  5. Activism in national/international NGOs and other organizations-groups including Interfaith groups (e.g. Interreligious Dialogue Group in Montreal-Canada, Spiritual Commission of Jamhour’s College and the Arab Group for Muslim-Christian Dialogue in Lebanon)

Food for Thought:

The development of women’s involvement in dialogue (especially Interfaith Dialogue) and peace has been gradual yet significant. Especially in Western countries and in the South and East Asia regions. Middle-Eastern women have the capacities to follow this movement/trend, while developing discourses and practices adapted to their environments.

Unfortunately, we have to overcome many social and political pressures to be able to play a more effective and active role in our societies. These pressures are sometimes in compliance with religious traditions, but it does not mean that a solution would be to deny all the enriching religious values and heritage. When women from different traditions and religions meet, they can share their own experiences about being a woman inside their tradition, both the difficult and the empowering parts. The next step is that we go back to our own religious communities and address the challenges there.

There is an urgent need to stand together for women’s participation on issues of national, regional, continental and international importance. Through our multileveled dialogues (Interfaith, Intercultural, Intergenerational, Inter-social classes,…), we can seek to establish a common agenda for the development of women and to ensure that women’s views are taken into consideration whenever decisions are taken on all issues that impact on our lives. And even if we cannot establish this common agenda on a short term period, the process of dialogue is an aim in itself, where the participants should learn to respect and enrich each other in spite of, and because of the differences. Even if we have the same aim of making women visible and empowered inside the religious traditions, understanding the role and reason of being a woman may in practice take different ways. Even if we do not have the same concept of what it means to be a woman, we can challenge, enrich and empower each other. It can become an educational process in living in a plural society.

Last but not least, women living and doing dialogue is a must, but we should never forget that we are and we should seek to be partners with men, in order not to be considered as voiceless victims or enemies and continue on being marginalized, and because the well being of Humanity and the advancement of our societies are partly based on a productive cooperation/partnership/relation between genders.

Etre Académicienne en Sciences Humaines au Liban: un Défi en Soi

Pamela Chrabieh academicienne au LibanDans un pays – alias le Liban – où l’être humain est dispensable, où la compétence, le sens critique et la créativité sont remplacés par la ‘poche pleine’ et les services rendus aux ‘zaims’ (pseudo-leaders)  ou par les zaims, que dire du regard posé sur les académiciens, notamment en sciences humaines et domaines afférents? Croyez-moi, celui-ci est marqué par le mépris, puisque l’ignorance de l’humain est ‘à la mode’, accompagnée de la possession à outrance de biens matériels. En fait, plus on en possède et on cherche à en posséder, moins on fait travailler la cervelle, et donc plus est-on ‘apte’ à la soumission ou la dictature.

Dans un contexte à la fois menaçant et porteur de nouveaux défis, face au caractère inédit de son impact sur le fonctionnement de la société libanaise, l’apport des sciences humaines dans l’éducation – scolaire et universitaire – ainsi que dans les institutions publiques et privées est précieux. Elles sont l’outil de connaissance des évolutions et des mécanismes qui marquent les sociétés.   L’enjeu est d’intégrer dans les visions stratégiques des éléments trop souvent négligés ou considérés comme périphériques. Ils sont pourtant une des clefs de réussite des actions à engager, au même titre que les facteurs d’ordre technologique ou économique.
[quote style=”boxed”]“Nous vivons à une époque complexe et remplie de défis. Les questions les plus pressantes de l’heure – qu’elles soient d’ordre économique, politique, technologique ou social – comportent une dimension humaine fondamentale qu’il faut bien comprendre si nous voulons y répondre de façon efficace. Les sciences humaines génèrent une base de connaissances issues de la recherche axée sur l’être humain : ce qui le motive, comment il vit et comment il interagit. Elles éclairent notre façon de comprendre le monde dans lequel nous vivons et la place que nous y occupons”.[/quote]
(Chad Gaffield, président du CRSH, 2008)

Le Liban a sans nul doute besoin de science, et notamment de sciences humaines. Ce pays meurtri par des décennies de guerre a besoin de relever le niveau scientifique général de sa société. C’est une nécessité économique : la science est porteuse de progrès technologique, de développement et de compétitivité. Mais au-delà de ces impératifs strictement économiques, la science est porteuse de valeurs. Elle est l’expression d’une curiosité de l’esprit humain.

Dans l’esprit de nos contemporains, cette idée est acceptable pour ce qu’il est convenu d’appeler les sciences dures et les sciences du vivant, et encore… Toutefois, on aurait tort de ne pas inclure les sciences humaines dans cet ensemble. En effet, les sciences humaines relèvent elles aussi de la volonté de comprendre et de développer les connaissances. Elles sont porteuses de progrès technologiques et de savoir-faire, qui se développent à partir de la connaissance.

Que dire des sciences sociales? Celles-ci trouvent ‘un sujet de prédilection dans l’entreprise et au sein de l’Etat, ce rassemblement d’individus tendus vers un objectif et dont les relations sont déterminantes du projet commun. L’entreprise et l’Etat peuvent mieux se comprendre et progresser grâce au regard du sociologue’. Il en est de même pour l’histoire. ‘Combien d’entreprises et d’institutions étatiques ont trouvé avantage à faire travailler des historiens pour retracer leur propre histoire, montrer la spécificité de leur culture et renforcer leurs valeurs ? Pour l’historien, c’est un réel élargissement du champ de son champ de recherche’.

قدسية الجسد

Sacred Bodyيمكن تحديد عدة محاور للدراسة والمناقشة:

  1.  وجود تنوع هائل في تحديد مصطلحات الجسد والقدسية في العالم وفي لبنان.
  2.  تعدد مواقع السلطة في كيفية إستخدام الجسد في لبنان،
  3. وجود سلوكيات ومفاهيم وممارسات رائجة أصبحت طبيعية: الجسد مسودة ومشروع لمدى الحياة (مفهوم فرداني/ مفهوم قبلي)؛ الجراحة التجميلية/ الحمية الغذائية والأعراض النفسية والجسدية
  4.  تناقض في الرسائل الإجتماعية الذي يؤدي إلى تناقض في تركيبة ألهوية الفردية والجماعية.
  5. همية الحوار والتعاون بين السلطات المعنية لإعتماد قواعد مشتركة وإدارة حسنة للتنوع

أنه على الرغم من وجود, دون أي شك, الكثير من الميزات النفسية والبدنية الجامعة للمخلوق البشري, هناك أختلاف في الزمان وعِـبر الثقافات في طريقة فهـم, مُعالجة, تعريف وأستخدام الجسم البشري. سوف أركز فيما يلي على ثلاثة محاور أو قضايا أساسية.

1-  قدسية الجسد: الفردانية, ألـوعي القَـبلي والكيـان

بوجه خاص في نطاق الثقافة الاستهلاكية والأهمية المُعطاة للمظهر, الموجودة في الشرق كما في الغرب, يَستحوذ المظهر المَرئي للجسم وطريقة عرضه على الإهتمام الرئيسي ويُصبح, إراديا أم لا, علامة فارقة للمركزألاجتماعي. التعبير عن أهمية المظهر الخارجي يَنَبلور من خلال كثرة التقنيات المُتَبعة  لتحقيق الرفاهية والجمال. نحن نعيش في عصر يُعبِـر فيه الجمال والمركز الأجتماعي والطبقة عن الأصل العِرقي والأنتماء الجنسي. ألاهمية التي يَتسم بها ألمظهر ألخارجي تبرز أيضا من خلال القيام بتنفيذ تِـقنيات تنجح في تعديل الجسم وبدرجة فعّـالية مثل رياضة كمال الأجسام. يَعتبر البعض أن من يّمارس رياضة كمال الأجسام يُمثل بجسمه ألمفاهيم ألفردانية (مفاهيم ما بعد الحداثة) “conceptions postmodernes du corps”..الصعود ألمتنامي أذاً لممارسة رياضة كمال الأجسام هو من أعراض سلوك الفردانية الغربية للجسم الذي لم يَعُد يخضع للمراقبة وفق معايير تتجانس مع العمر, المركز الأجتماعي, الجنس وغير ذلك, بل أصبح مُصَمم كأداة مُـنتقاة بحرية و”كمشروع” لِمدى الحياة.

في مقابل ذلك, يرى Michel Maffesoli  أن الولع بالجسم يدل على قبلية في تحقيق ألمُتعة « hédonisme tribal ». برأيه, هذا الولع يمثل تعبيراً إيحائيا جماهيريا « dionysiaque » وليس, كما يجدر الظن، تعبيراً عن الفردانية: أنها العودة الى التدين البِدائي. هو يؤكد أن الأفراد يبنون, يُجمّلون ويعتنون بأجسامهم “جزئياً بسبب تَـقيُـِدهم القسري بنظرة الآخر وبنسبة ثانية من أجل أن يراهم الآخر”. لقد استُـبدِلت الديانات المُعترف بها بالقبلية الجمالية حيث الصور تجمع الأفراد تحت شعار قبلي.  كما يشير إلى أنه “يوجد تعصُب في الجو” قد يَـتَـبلور من خلال الوَلع بالجسم. يُلاحَظ هذا التعصب من خلال أساليب الحياة والتقنيات المُـتبعة في العناية بالجسم وبغية الأشراق في عالمنا هذا. يبدو أن الجسم آخِـذٌ بالتديُـن وأن الأديان تجد لها جسماً. يُلمِح Philip A. Mellor   و    Chris Shilling إلى نفس الظاهرة عندما يُصرحان عن: “إنبعاث المقدّس على شكل إختبار للحواس, وعن ظاهرة محض إجتماعية” بسبب هبوط البروتستنتية.
مع أنه من السهل الأنتقال من قبلية جمالية ألى أخرى, كما يُلاحظ Maffesoli , يبقى أن إنتقاء أسلوبٍ ما يمكن أن يكون قاعدة لبناء كيان يَشعُر الأفراد من خلاله بالإنتماء الثابت. بالنسبة لأنصار هذه الحالة من التكريس للجسم, ألمهم هو الكيان, أي الجواب على السؤال “من أنا ؟” أذا ما قاربنا الاشياء من وجهة نظر ثقافية-معرفية, الديانات هي أنظمة شعائرية تسمح للأفراد بأن تحدد موقعها في المكان والمزمان. يتجه الأفراد نحو ميدانِ مُعيَن ويُقيمون حدوداً بين العالَـمين الدُنيوي والمقدس. الميدان العصري هو إلى حَدٍ كبير فسحة أجتماعية أكثر منها جغرافية ملموسة. تحديد “المشهد الداخلي” يقتضي تكوين الكيان, أي تكريس شيئاً ما أو التصرف “دينياً”. يُمكن أذاً إعتبار الجسم كمركز لتَطوير عَملية تكريس الكيان. هو أذاً المركز الرمزي الذي يسمح بوضع حدود بين الدُنيوي والمُقدس.

2-   حـدود قدسية الجسد

لكن, النقاش حول حدود هذا التكريس لا يَـنتهي هنا. عندما نجد أن مراهِقـة فاقِـدة للشيهة Anorexique مُستعدة أن تموت جوعاً خوفاً من أن يزيد وزنها مائة غرام وأن تخسر معركتها في التمتُع بجسم يُقال عنه بنظرها إنه “كاملٌ/ نقيٌ/ مُكرَسٌ”, يجدر بنا في هذه الحالة أن نتحدث عن حدود تكريس الجسم. عندما يتعاطى من يُمارس رياضة كمال الاجسام وباستمرار مواد مُنشِظة, وعندما يُخضِع النساء والرجال أجسامهم للمِبضَع بُغية الوصول إلى الكمال من خلال جراحة التجميل, ألخ , يُخشى أن تكون النتائج التي تترتب من جراء تكريس ألجسم سلبية.

3-   وظيفة الجسم واتخاذ القرار

تكريس الجسم يُثير أيضاً مسألة وظيفة الجسم. هل جسمنا مِلكٌ لنا ؟ سؤال تقليدي بالنسبة لرجل القانون, سؤال يَنطوي على وجود مشاكل مُخيفة. أن نَملك جسماً يعني ضمناً أن نملك الحق بالتصرف به كما نشاء. أن أضع أمكانات جسمي بتصرف رب العمل, موهبتي الرياضية في خدمة نادي, أو جمالي بين أيدي مُصور في مجال الموضة, بمثل هذه الأمور يُمكنني أن أتصرف بجسمي, وبما يستطيع تأديته. وهذا أيضاً يَقتضي أن لا يتصرف الغير بجسمي دون موافقتي. ألاستعباد أذاً غير وارد, وكذلك رأي القانون الروماني القائل أن الجسم يُمثل الكفيل للديون والضمانة للدائنين. بالمقابل, أذا لا نريد أن نرضخ لعملية سحب دم أو لقياس نسبة الكحول, فعلينا أن نواجه عاقبة تصرفنا.
كما نرى, من الواضح وجود علاقات بين القانون والجسم. علاقات تزداد في عصرنا تعقيداً. في الحقيقة لم يعد الجسم مصدراً للمداخيل فقط بما يستطيع تأديته. هو أيضا  في ذاته مصدر للمداخيل: أظهر تقدم عِلم الحياة والطب أن الجسم البشري اصبح مصدراً للكسب لما يختزنه من موارد.  من هنا، هل يمكن أن يقوم الفرد “بإدارة” جسمه بنفسه بهدف الربح المادي بما يختزنه من موارد, حتى لو عرّضَ نفسه للأنحطاط أنسانياً ؟ أو عليه أن يَرضخ لمبادِئ أخلاقية وأسـس قانونية تُـقيّـده في حقه في التمتع, حتى لو أدى ذلك إلى فتح المجال للآخر أن يغتني باستغلال الموارد البيولوجية التي يملك ؟ نجد أنفسنا هنا أمام مشاكل تتعدى التقنية التي ترفعنا إلى السلوك الأخلاقي وإلى قِـيَم في المجتمع.

أخيراً, عن موضوع إتخاذ القرار. من يقرر الحدود ؟ الجهة القضائية ؟ عالَـم الطب ؟ الأكادِميون ؟ الباحثون في أخلاقيات الطب البيولوجي ؟ ألمؤسسات الدينية ؟ في بلد مثل لبنان, حيث الأجهزة العامة كما الخاصة مَعنية. المهم وجود الحوار, وضرورة التعاون والوصول إلى التراضِ. من غير المُجدي أن تقوم في المجتمع أللبناني منافسة صِراعية بين المؤتَمنين على القيَـم والمعرفة ، بين الذين يضعون حدود لحرية التصرف بالجسم البشري والذين، بعكس ذلك ، يريدون للفرد أن يَتمكن من المبالغة في التصرف به ؛ بين حُـماة كرامة الأنسان على حساب الحرية الشخصية, ومناصري الحرية الشخصية إلى أبعد الحدود, ولكن بمفهوم مختلف لكرامة الأنسان ؛ بين الذين يعتبرون أن الجسم هو ذاته الشخص والذين يعتقدون أن الجسم يختلف عن الشخص، لِـدرجة أننا، وأذا تجرأنا, نكاد نصف المذكورين أولاً بذوي الطبيعة الواحدة (المونوفستس)  (monophysites)وثانياً بذوي الطبيعة النسطورية (nestoriens) كان المونوفستس يؤكدون وحدة الطبيعتين الإلهية والبشرية في يسوع المسيح بينما كان النسطوريون يرون فيه, من جهة كلمة الله ومن جهة أخرى الطبيعة البشرية. آن الأوان لأن تقترب مواقف الطرفين من بعضها, مع إعطاء أهمية خاصة لمجموعة الوسائل المختلفة الصادرة عن إتفاقية حماية حقوق الإنسان وكرامته (إتفاقية أوفييدو, الإعلان العالمي لأخلاقيات الطب الحيوي وحقوق الإنسان للأونسكو – (Convention d’Oviedo. Déclaration universelle sur la bioéthique et les droits de l’homme de l’UNESCO)

De la Télévision et du Sexisme : le Cas de la Série Made in Lebanon ‘Ruby’

Télévision et Sexisme au Liban série RubyUne majorité de femmes libanaises a suivi religieusement pendant plusieurs semaines cette année la série télévisée ‘Ruby’ ou l’histoire d’une jeune femme issue d’un milieu défavorisé qui use de ses charmes et mensonges pour fuir la précarité.  Voulant comprendre l’étrange attirance qu’exerce ce feuilleton Made in Lebanon, je me suis penchée sur quelques épisodes et en ai analysé le fond. Je livre donc ici les prémices d’une réflexion.

La première fois que j’ai regardé ‘Ruby, l’univers des intrigues amoureuses apparaissait amusant et à la rigueur, offrait l’image d’une féminité assumée, indépendante et ambitieuse. Toutefois, à mesure que l’histoire se compliquait, quelque chose gênait la féministe au fond de moi. Comment accepter de voir des femmes aussi mal traitées, battues et réduites à des femmes au foyer catatoniques ou à des objets sexuels, et toujours comparées à des petites filles inférieures aux hommes dont l’ultime rêve devrait être d’épouser le prince charmant? Comment faire fi des blagues et commentaires condescendants, du machisme érigé en mode de vie et de l’entretien des stéréotypes sexistes? A l’inverse, les hommes dans ‘Ruby’ ont une liberté totale. Ils peuvent mentir, tricher, tromper, traiter les femmes comme ils le souhaitent. Ils ne semblent pratiquement jamais subir les conséquences de leurs actions, même lorsqu’ils violentent leurs conjointes psychologiquement ou physiquement. Que dire également de la hiérarchisation des classes sociales ? Si certaines formes d’oppressions peuvent être vécues par toutes les femmes dans ‘Ruby’, comme la violence conjugale, les ressources dont elles disposent pour y faire face ne sont pas les mêmes : la pauvre et la bourgeoise n’ont pas la même marge de manœuvre au plan économique.

Jouant l’avocate du diable, je me fis croire que cette série décrit la misogynie ambiante du Liban contemporain non pour l’ériger en modèle mais pour mieux la dénoncer. A l’instar de la série américaine ‘Mad Men’. Néanmoins, le rôle des femmes dans ‘Mad Men’ évolue au fur et à  mesure des saisons ; celles-ci naviguent entre le sexisme des hommes qu’elles ont été programmées à intérioriser, et leurs propres pulsions féministes, naissantes ou refoulées. Ces femmes s’affirment comme leaders dans le milieu du travail à la fin de la saison 4. Et si l’ajustement est parfois difficile pour elles, c’est que la société américaine des années 60 ne peut pas changer en un jour mais leur exemple est bien là et leur réussite est un modèle de l’évolution de cette société. Dans ‘Ruby’, plus de 90 épisodes  nous balancent dans un univers d’hommes qui maintiennent leur égo et leur amour-propre, et de femmes lorsqu’insoumises ou souffrant d’une instabilité émotionnelle sont punies (l’exclusion, l’oubli), et vertueuses/soumises sont récompensées (le mariage réussi). De plus, cette série renforce les stéréotypes de l’idéal féminin : la beauté, le dévouement, la tendresse, la douceur, l’attention et le soin à autrui, la disponibilité sexuelle.

La série est définitivement sexiste, mais si le regard qui y est posé est critique, il permet de mettre en perspective la question de la place des femmes dans la société libanaise d’aujourd’hui puisqu’il révèle l’étendue des discriminations toujours bien vivantes et, de ce fait, les luttes à entreprendre. ‘Ruby’ et bien d’autres séries locales ou importées, appellent au débat sur les formes que prend le sexisme médiatique, et à la nécessité de s’opposer au sexisme des médias et dans les médias. Des médias antisexistes peuvent-ils émerger et trouver une audience de masse dans l’état actuel d’un monde médiatique largement soumis aux exigences de profitabilité?

Family Honor and Women: an Unfinished Business

Family honor and women in the Middle EastBy Dr. PAMELA CHRABIEH and MARIANNE BADINE

In many societies, family honor related to virginity became an outdated issue. However, in most Western Asian and North African cultures for example, horrific realities prevail. “Honor murders” occur in cities and villages, in poor neighborhoods and upper social classes. These murders are based on the belief that a woman is the property of her family – in patriarchal societies, men are considered to be the leaders of the family and women are to be obedient.  Should the woman’s virtue come into question, for whatever reason, or if she refuses to obey her father, husband or brother, her family’s “honor” is thought to be disgraced and the woman must be killed by a male relative to restore the family’s good name in the community.  Often, women are killed because of mere suspicion that they have engaged in illicit sexual activity, or in cases of love affairs, rape and sexual abuse, even by a family member.

A woman’s virtue or purity is often related to her physical virginity. This has traditionally been tested by the presence of an intact hymen, which was verified by either a physical examination (usually by a physician, who would provide a certificate of virginity) or by a “proof of blood,” which refers to vaginal bleeding that results from the tearing of the hymen. The physical examination would normally be undertaken before the marriage ceremony, while the “proof by blood” involves an inspection for signs of bleeding as part of the consummation of marriage, after the ceremony.

In some countries like Morocco, the value of virgins manifests through the bride wealth. Virgins traditionally command a higher bride wealth value than their divorced or widowed counterparts. The bride wealth locks the productive and reproductive services of the woman to her husband and his agnates. The higher bride wealth of virgins not only commends the effort of the bride’s family but also provides the woman with more means to secure her role as a wife and later as a mother. Thus, a marriage of convenience prolongs the bride’s virginal status and enables her to transfer this status to the next marriage. Any breach upon this status endangers the transference. A verification of a nonsexual breach may ensure the woman’s reproductive value and her family’s honor.

The unmarried females of the family also run the risk of becoming undesirable as prospective brides. If one girl in the family is not a virgin that stigma transfers to her sisters and close female cousins. Although virginity vicariously affects female marriageability, it directly affects family honor. Virginity has a direct link to the honor system. For a group wanting to exchange its women, the wife-givers, in forming alliances, the purity of a woman represents the care, the value, and the trustworthiness of the group from which she originates. It may also ensure that the offspring from the untainted woman clearly belong to the receiving group, the wife-takers. The solidifying of alliances in an environment in which the government cannot be trusted is imperative for survival.

Even in seemingly liberated countries such as the Lebanese, although female attractiveness may be emphasized as being important in terms of pleasing a man, men are accorded more sexual freedom than women, which results in a double standard. The emphasis on protecting women’s virginity in order to ensure their desirability as marriage partners (women’s main social role), and the emphasis on preserving family honor, contribute to this value.

Virginity, as indicated in its need for verification and certification, is a product of a social act. When linked to honor and marriage, the virginity of a woman no longer belongs solely to her. The protection of her body as a commodity becomes the responsibility of the group, particularly the head of the family and other male members assigned to protect her. Her virginity is a crucial unifying element in maintaining the cohesiveness of group. Since the premature loss of virginity affects the entire group’s reputation, a responsible woman guards her chastity or hides any evidence of its damage, using Hymenoplasty procedure and other non surgical artificial hymen products – refer to the following paper for further information: “Artificial Virginity Products: A subversive Reading” [1] -, or simply ancient practices such as spilling vials of animal blood on sheets and panties to replace the virginal stains.

What about legal sanctions of honor crimes? In some countries such as Jordan, Morocco and Syria, although “honor crimes” are legally sanctioned, defense of the family honor is considered a mitigating factor.  Article 340 of the Penal Code of Jordan, for example, provides for an exemption from penalty if a man kills his wife or female relative after finding her “committing adultery with another man.”  Similarly, Article 548 of the Penal Code of Syria provides an exemption from penalty if a man kills or injures his wife after finding her committing adultery or other “illegitimate sexual acts with another man”.  The law also provides for a reduction in penalty for a man who kills or injures his female relative after catching her in a “suspicious state with another.”

In conclusion, even if the Arab ‘Spring’ seemed to herald at first a new era of emancipation for women in Western Asia and North Africa, we fear a rollback of what rights women had before, especially with the rise of fundamentalist movements, new forms of dictatorships and slow reform processes of family status laws. The issue of family honor is one of many crucial ones to be tackled in order to improve the conditions of women. New laws do not change social attitudes instantaneously; indeed, in some cases they make the conservative elements more combative, but in the long run they help combat injustices and create more opportunities for women.

MARIANNE BADINE is a Lebanese student and blogger. Visit her blog: THE APPRENTICE


About the Current Situations of Women in the Middle East

About the Current Situations of Women in the Middle EastI have been following closely the “Uprising of Women in the Arab World” Facebook Campaign. Somehow, most testimonies reflect my concerns. As a Western Asian woman, but also as a university professor, researcher, author, artist and activist, in one of the most Patriarchal institutions i.e. the Religious circle of knowledge production, I can assure my readers that our Lebanese society, as well as most Western Asian societies are struggling not only with social, political and economic crisis, but they also suffer from diverse forms of discrimination based partly on highly selective memories serving particular interests and ideological positions.

Still, there are spaces of dialogue and conviviality, and gender equality cases. Just as memory and identity support one another, they also sustain certain subjective positions, social boundaries, and, of course, power. Every identity implies and at the same time masks a particular relationship. When one speaks of Western Asian women for example, one automatically refers to some never changing objective entity, but in fact one is participating in the process by which certain relationships among women called Western Asian and between them and others one calls the Europeans, Eastern Asian, African and Americans are constructed and sustained. One speaks as if deprived of motherhood for example, or of their housekeeper status, or even of their ‘oppressed situation’, Western Asian women would cease to be Western Asian.

While writing my last book to be soon published, on Womanhood in Western Asia, my journey to the past, investigating ancient religions and cultures, made me realize that womanhood cannot be summarized in ‘clichés’. It is a complex undergoing construction going back to thousands of years of a multiplicity of roles, situations, status, characteristics, values, visions and practices. Even what is called ‘patriarchal system’ or ‘patriarchal conditions’ vary. Some societies, religions and communities gave women a certain importance by tracing descendants from mothers rather than fathers (matrilineal societies). Others viewed and treated women as inferior and partly ornamental. Within ancient societies in Western Asia, patriarchal frameworks were usually the norms, still, examples of gender equality existed. In several ancient societies, many women could gain some relief through religious functions, which could provide a chance to operate independent of family structures. Still, other women internalized the culture of patriarchy, holding that it was their job to obey and to serve men and accepting arguments that their aptitudes were inferior to those of men. Patriarchal laws defined some rights for women even within marriage, protecting them in theory from the worst abuses, but the application of laws depended on many factors: social, political, economic, religious, tribal, etc.

In nowadays Western Asian societies, there are women suffering from deficits in human rights. Societal norms that relegate women to subordinate status continue to impede progress. Governments remain resistant to addressing inequalities for women through progressive policy or legislation and often actively pursue policies of repression. Laws against marital rape and spousal abuse are largely absent in the region, so-called “honor” killings persist, and segregation and discrimination remain par for the course in educational and political institutions.

Local and international NGOs should continue the good work they have done to support civil society activities in the region. Still, much is needed in order to implement full gender equality or at least expand existing spaces of equality.

Une Guerre contre les Femmes au Moyen-Orient?

War against women in the Middle East
Selon une croyance répandue, l’humanité est passée d’un état de sauvagerie où les hommes des cavernes traînaient les femmes par les cheveux à une civilisation où ils leur ouvrent galamment les portes. Or, la réalité n’est pas faite de blanc ou noir, mais de zones grises…

Je m’inspire ici du fameux ouvrage de Marylin French La guerre contre les femmes pour poser la question suivante: existe-t-il une guerre contre les femmes au Moyen-Orient? Sans vouloir généraliser, vu que les espaces de dialogue des genres se propagent quand même peu à peu au sein des nouvelles générations, les ‘lieux’ de guerre sont encore de loin plus nombreux. La guerre veut dire dans ce cas: l’oppression, la discrimination, la violence psychologique et physique, l’ostracisation, l’écrasement, la subordination partielle ou totale, etc. Mutilations génitales, infanticide des filles, crimes d’honneur, viols, aggressions et manipulations de tous ordres au quotidien, exploitation dégradante dans la publicité, le langage et les arts, instrumentalisation au nom des religions et des traditions socio-culturelles, etc.

Des hommes – et non ‘les’ pour ne pas généraliser – justifient encore la soumission des femmes en déclarant que Dieu ou la nature les avait créées à cette fin, s’accordant des qualités telles que la raison, la logique, l’intelligence, et même l’åme; les femmes au contraire, souffriraient d’une instabilité émotionnelle ou d’une sexualité débridée qui subvertissent l’ordre et la loi. Des hommes traitent les femmes comme des marginales dans les grandes affaires du monde, et dénient leur rôle nourricier fondamental. Même lorsque des féministes forcent des hommes à les écouter, les politiciens les qualifient de “groupe d’action spcécifique” comme si leurs revendications n’affectaient qu’une petite fraction de la population et non près ou plus de 50% de cette dernière.

De nos jours, lorsque les gouvernements ou les dirigeants religieux adoptent des politiques résolument anti-femmes, il est rare qu’ils les expriment ouvertement, préférant les masquer sous d’autres problèmes. Le prétexte le plus souvent invoqué est “la protection de la famille” – comme ce fut le cas au Liban tout récemment lorsque le projet de loi contre la violence domestique infligée aux femmes fut rejeté, et ce, essentiellement par des instances religieuses pour lesquelles l’honneur de la famille et son unité passe par la “responsabilisation avec les poings” de la femme. Amère ironie!

Or, tout comme les nations  entrent en guerre sans en voir les conséquences à long terme, des hommes persécutent des femmes sans comprendre qu’ils détruisent leur société et leur humanité. Un peuple, une espèce, peuvent-ils espérer survivre lorsqu’une part de ses membres agresse l’autre?

The Revolution of Mentalities and the Appropriation of the Female body

The Revolution of mentalities and the body appropriation in the Middle East Sustainable revolutions in the Middle East, and especially in the Arab World, begin with a revolution of mentalities, and the latter is based on many pillars, including the re-appropriation of the Female body.  A body being in most cases oppressed, utilized, objectified, mutilated, excessively covered or uncovered… both for individual gratification and political/economical ends. Such violence is rampant in all corners of the Middle East and manifests itself in a number of ways, including:

  •  When a woman turns down a suitor or does not get along with her in-laws becomes a victim of a violent form of revenge: acid is thrown in her face or on her body.
  • When a woman is suspected of extra-marital sexual relations, even if in the case of rape, is subjected to death (called ‘honor crime’ – the woman is seen here as carrying the honor of the family through her body).
  • When a woman endures domestic violence, which is a violation of her right to physical and psychological integrity, to liberty and to her right to life itself.
  • When a woman undergoes a Female Genital Mutilation which is the removal of part or all of the external female genitalia, on the pretext of cultural/religious tradition or hygiene. According to Amnesty International, an estimated 135 million girls – especially in African countries – have undergone FGM with direct consequences ranging from infection (including HIV) to sterility, in addition to the devastating psychological effects.
  • When women’s sexuality is regulated in a gender specific way and maintained through strict constraints imposed by cultural norms and often through particular legal measures supporting those norms. “The community, which can include religious institutions, the media, family and cultural networks, regulates women’s sexuality and punishes women who do not comply. Such women include lesbians, women who appear “too masculine,” women who try to freely exercise their rights, and women who challenge male dominance”.
  • When the female body is territorialized by the new biotech reproductive order as a pre-eminent laboratory and tissue mine for a lucrative medical/pharmaceutical industry – an ultimate form of body colonization, with practices and ideologies reinforcing patriarchal systems of scientific and medical authority, control, and rationalization of reproduction, thus contradicting radical feminist philosophies of women’s autonomy. “Recent techniques such as harvesting live fetal stem cells for medical research, suggest the urgent need for new ways to assess the threats to women’s health and autonomy posed by rapid naturalization and deployment of such technologies. Since most women do not understand many of the complex implications and consequences of new ReproTech, it is necessary that feminists begin to generate autonomous (free from state, corporate, or entrepreneurial control) cross-cultural, decentralized, biomedical sex and reproduction education projects transnationally”.
  • When the female body is exhibited at beauty contests and other exhibitions as examples of the best socially institutionalized patterns of physical beauty. The body is evaluated and ranked based on its external appearance. Not considered are all the indispensable requisites of a healthy, socially and psychologically well-balanced person. In the case of women’s beauty contests and the race for the ‘perfect appearance’ through plastic surgeries – I am thinking here for example of Lebanon defined as the ‘Mekka of Plastic Surgery’ -, it is another demonstration of female subjugation rather than their empowerment.

Standing against others’ appropriation of our bodies as women is a first step to re-appropriating ourselves and becoming equal partners in creating/spreading a so much needed revolution of mentalities.

Marriage Laws in the Middle East

Marriage Laws in the Middle East

This article presents an introductory overview to the marriage legal system as it pertains to Women’s rights in the Middle East, especially in countries such as Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, where family law is based on interpretations of religious laws and a patriarchal system. Beyond being different, religious legal regimes concerning personal status and marriage in particular, are never egalitarian. This inequality, which is not only legal but also political and social, is also the case for women. In light of this inequality, discrimination against women is at the heart of our article. Tensions between Religious Laws – and especially Islamic Law – and Human Rights focus on marriage, inheritance and nationality.

In the Qur’an, marriage is a flexible arrangement, made through mutual consent, and according to which women are expected to be obedient, but in return, they can expect men to provide for them an honorable life style. Marriage is negotiated on the basis of a contract, and it includes the payment of a dower (Mahr). Marriage is glorified as an institution, contrary to celibacy which is perceived as undesirable. It is not perceived as an irrevocable event. Divorce is easy for men and possible for women who included the right to divorce in the marriage contract. Many scholars have held that Islam does not hinder married women, or force them to stay at home; still the obligation to obey their husbands remains for married women as well as the fact that a husband is authorized to beat or reprimand a disobedient wife (Sura 4,34).

The Qur’an makes marriage possible between a Muslim man and a Jewish or Christian woman. Yet this permission is contingent on the four following conditions: The future wife must truly believe in God and must really be Jewish or Christian; the future wife must be virtuous;  the future wife must not be from a people who are at war with the Muslims; there must not be the certainty or even a strong suspicion of something bad that would result from such a marriage of a Muslim man with a woman belonging to the People of the Book.

Islamic sources do not allow the marriage of a Muslim woman to a Jewish or Christian man because she could find herself in a situation in which the head of household would not recognize her faith and Mohammed’s message as an authentic message of God. That is why what is possible in one direction is impossible in the other. We can only note that here marriage is part of a patriarchal social structure. This implies the application of a system of patrilineal filiation in which the individual inherits the cultural identity of his father and cannot transmit it to his children unless he is a man. In such a system, belonging and rights are transmitted only by men. Patrilocal culture also manifests itself; the married couple often lives with or near the husband’s family. This encourages the affirmation that in this world it is the man who is of importance, notably for that which concerns family heritage, inheritance, and assets.

In Lebanon, where personal status is sectarian, all individuals should be subject to the same personal status laws, which guarantee women the same rights and obligations in marriage, inheritance, divorce, alimony and custody afforded to men under the Lebanese Constitution and gender-sensitive international agreements. A unified civil code on personal status would put an end to existing inequalities between men and women, and among Lebanese women of different sectarian branches, and is the first step in upholding the constitutional aim of abolishing or reforming sectarianism.


SYLVIA TORBEY is a Lebanese lawyer who worked for many years in Divorce cases.

Read further: Women in Personal Status Laws