A 2016 Masculinity survey in four the Middle East and North African countries by UN Women has revealed how people in those countries perceive a man to be.
The qualitative study of IMAGES survey brings out the definition of manhood there.
The survey found startling facts about manhood. In Egypt, manhood is seen in positive terms and most Egyptian women associate manhood with “toughness, courage, strength, dignity, and fortitude.” People recognized that men are ‘street-smart’ being exposed to risks of the public sphere. A considerable difference in the understanding of masculinity in Egypt was found between younger and older citizens. Whereas younger participants believed ‘Imposing one’s will and getting one’s way’ is masculinity, older participants emphasized more on ‘morality, resilience, and forgiveness’ as the characteristics defining masculinity.
Egyptians still define men with ‘ability to take responsibilities’. A ‘good man’ is defined as the one who takes his responsibilities for his family, siblings etc. A good husband is defined as the one who takes care of the ‘needs’ (both in bed and out of bed) of his wife. Apart from ‘responsibility’, the other biggest attribute to masculinity is considered to be ‘freedom’.
In Morocco, masculinity is defined by ‘moral, physical and domestic authority’ parameters. Moroccans believe that to be a ‘real’ man is to exhibit ‘responsibility, steadfastness, loyalty, honesty, dignity, reason, hard work and respect for others’. Men’s actions and labor were given prime importance there.
Women defined ‘ideal man’ as the one who ‘respect women’s rights and not expects women to carry out the entire burden of household work’. Men have viewed masculinity as the men who can take care of wife’s needs (in and out of bed) and also by the way men hold themselves among others.
So, we see that in Morocco the masculinity is defined more by the ‘toughness’ and ‘responsibilities’.
Women, however, were defined as ‘tender, expressive, loving, faithful, patient, dignified, modest, talkative’. The IMAGES – MENA, 2016 survey also noted that these qualities are more socially constructed and developed by ‘nurture’ than ‘nature’. Surprisingly, the survey didn’t try to classify an ideal female.
Lebanon is country where the definition of masculinity is significant because of the presence of a large number of Syrian refugees. In conflict-prone areas, people defined masculinity more with ‘toughness’. This is also perceived that an ‘ideal’ man will be able to provide for his family well and will ‘not’ need his wife to work.
However, in terms of women’s participation in work and acceptability of women working outside their homes, Lebanese people were found to be more lenient. In fact, most respondents did not agree that “when opportunities are scarce, boys should be educated before girls or men should have access to jobs before women”.
Palestine is a country which is not the only conflict driven but also restricted to a large extent in their freedom of movement. With scarce to very scarce resources this country creates a huge problem for all citizens. Most Palestinians live below poverty levels and the 2016 IMAGES survey found prominent provider roles for men even if they were not employed. The job market in Palestine is mostly uncertain and on a part-time basis. So, with the gender roles in Palestine confirming male provider role, it is becoming extremely difficult for Palestine youth to conform to the gender norms.
From 2016 IMAGES – MENA survey we find prominent traditional gender roles emerging from these countries. While UN Women sees this as gender inequality, most women surveyed also expressed the views conforming the gender stereotypes. These countries present a unique problem of scarce resources and refugee issue. Problems faced by Palestine males are also faced by male Syrian refugees and Lebanese men. Many of them feel suicidal because of their inability to provide for their family and provide for them. Women, however, do not have the same problems.
To be a man in these Middle East and North African countries where resources are scarce is really challenging. It takes us back in history where resources were scarce and human groups had to fight it out with other groups. The historic humans could migrate to other places when resources were scarce. However, these people can’t even migrate to other lands even if they are willing. International geographical boundaries and laws will prevent them from doing so. Under these circumstances, these men have only one option, ‘to fight it out with their own men’.
What if, women become providers with men as UN Women suggests? When the situation demands it to sweat it out to get to the meager resources, will women be able to match up to the hard-working men and bring enough resources home to survive in this increasingly global and inflationary economy? This is something we all need to watch in the days to come.