Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Dependency Indoctrination of Arab Girls

By Dr Numan Gharaibeh*

Empowering Arab civil societies is doomed to fail without empowering 50% of the Arab societies (girls and women). Concepts such as empowerment, dependence, independence, autonomy, self-reliance, etc are tricky. They lend themselves of over-simplification and over-generalization and other black and white and extreme interpretation. Most humans don’t deal well with vague, slippery, and unclearly defined, or clearly undefined concepts. There is no absolute dependence or absolute independence, only a mix of different proportions of the two. Social and moral judgment—not known for its sophistication—has it that independence is “good,” and dependence is “bad.” Or to put it in relative terms, independence is better than dependence. However, a close examination of an average day reveals the depth of the problem of separating dependence from independence. We no longer hunt and gather our food; we simply go to the supermarket to buy it. After all we are not interested in going back to becoming hunters and gatherers. We are dependent on the supermarket, the gas company, the electric company, the phone company, endless manufacturers and so on.

For the sake of economy, I am focusing I this essay on the negative aspects of dependency when Arab girls are indoctrinated with it from a very early age. Indoctrination is another word that lends itself to misuse and misunderstanding as there is a fine line—very fine—between education and indoctrination. To reduce vagueness and be more illustrative, I shall use indoctrination to refer to dogmatic teaching that does not induce free thinking or skepticism in the learner; rather it induces obedience to the teacher’s scripture in the broadest sense of the word “scripture.” My intended focus is on indoctrinating Arab girls with passivity, helplessness, “being at the mercy of,” or dependent on males, teaching them to have no say and disempowering them by painting a future that is plagued with unhealthy dependence, and teaching them acceptance of the tremendous power differential that exists between male and female. 

It is unfortunate that even in the West (broadly defined), the female “role models” are presented in the children’s programs such as Cinderella, Snow White, Pocahontas, Tarzan, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast, Rapunzel, Thumbelina, The Nutcracker, and others is the that of the passive/dependent role. Girls are taught through these Disney characters that the heroine gets rescued by a handsome prince. All that she has to do is sit there and look pretty. Is this what we want to teach our daughters? Not only these heroines/role models are teaching passivity and dependence to young girls (west and east), but also they are sending them a clear message that they, independent of a male savior, are not worthy on their own, and that their biggest asset is their beauty. The female role model is frequently just a “model” and her prince is a male “model.” 

Movies and cartoons (including the supposedly family-friendly Disney ones) may be excused as entertainment. However, children’s books teach reading while sending an almost a constant message about the female roles that girls learning to read absorb the role of the passive beauty waiting for the knight with the shining armor on his white horse to save her (and don’t forget the sexualized overtones). Where are the female role models whom Arab girls can model themselves after; an independent, self-sufficient, ambitious woman who depends on her wits and hard work more than on her beauty? 

Another dimension to this male-dominant indoctrination is religious instruction. The three patriarchal religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam more or less share this male domineering indoctrination giving it the divine stamp of approval. These three monotheistic, Abrahamic, patriarchal religions all teach obedience and submission to the sill of the ultimate male, God himself. There is not a single doubt the God is a male. Not only that, but the talk of the lip service that this religion or that gives women equal rights and respect etc. is disingenuous. In Islam, just for example, the female gets from her parents half the inheritance that her brother is entitled to, the same thing in court, her testimony does not equal that of a man, she is to obey her husband, she is to accept being one of four wives etc. 

The message is loud and clear, you, the Arab girl, is inferior to your brother. What does that do to self-esteem on the long, one can only imagine.

*Numan Gharaibeh is the proud father of two daughters. He was born in Jordan, graduated from Jordan University of Science and Technology, in Irbid Jordan. He was trained in psychiatry at New York Medical College and forensic psychiatry at Massachusetts Mental Health Center/Harvard Medical School in Boston. He is currently working for the public sector in Danbury, Connecticut.


Hypatia's Ghost said...

I emailed this to my father, who also loves his daughters as people rather than possessions.

Anonymous said...

Your arguments demonstrate a clear misunderstanding of the three major religions.

God is not considered male in either Christianity, Judaism or Islam, he is a gender neutral figure, most people from the three mentioned religions will re-emphasize this to death if the need be.

More to the point however is that you miss how Islam, Christanity and Judaism glorify women, the virgin Mary in both Islam and Christianity is regarded as one of the greatest people of all time, Christians essentially see her as the mother of God and in Islam she has an entire chapter of the Quran named after her.

Many of the greatest people in the histories of all three religions are women and no matter how hard you might try by taking such trivialities as 'god is referred to by 'he' therefore is considered male' which are false even on a grammatical level (as 'he' can be used for gender neutral references) you don't change the essence of these three religions you attempt to, and fail at, demonizing.

Anonymous said...

The main issue of the article is INDOCTRINATION not religion. I can tell that Eucalyptus is missing the point and gets biased to a small issue (perhaps he is a He?). The point, which I am sure many Arab girls could speak a lot about (if they had not been brainwashed from early ages), is the tremendous discrimination that they go through. Not only by their fathers, brothers and other male figures but by their own mothers, which after the years have totally bought into their female role.

Arab Democracy said...


The writer dedicates not more than 1/3 of his article to discussing the impact of religion. And verbalising an opinion does not amount to demonizing. Whether the 3monotheistic religions theoretically are neutral in theory on the gender issue, in practice the patriarchal tendencies and the determination to maintain a statusquo in the unbalanced relationship between Men are Women are more than obvious.


Gharaibeh said...

Dear Hypatiasghost,
Thank you for your kindness, and regards to your dad.
Kindness is fast becoming more precious than gold these days since it is in shorter supply.
Numan Gharaibeh

Unknown said...

i am not sure if u are able to respect the human being believe system and look at the deeper meanings in it, we are poisned by the idea o dependance vs independance in a way that it looks fair and just and it is not, no body being men or women is independant totally.
2nd : religions make people of both genders responsible for their destination very independantly which is the main issues of religions ( after life responsibility ).
3rd : why dont we differentiate as people the fact that women are different than men and both have different roles since the creation and yes protection among humans is a man job while nurturing is the woman job, why should we insisit on this issue to be a weakness? WE ALL ARE DIFFERENT : ELDERLY WWEAKER THAN YOUNG, CHILDREN NEED MORE CARE, MEN ARE NEEDY FOR WOMAN HEART WHILE AHE NEEDS THEIR POWER, WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT????
we have to enjoy the difference really.
4th and finally in islam at least and i think all religions are the same in this regard, men and women are partners not competitors and power is distributed evenly based on the situation and the society is obliged to prevent any one from misusing his power being a man or a woman.
YOU stated ( Where are the female role models whom Arab girls can model themselves after; an independent, self-sufficient, ambitious woman who depends on her wits and hard work more than on her beauty ) i think in our history it is there all over the history and hollywood nor western obsession with attractivness does not represnt our cultures and thanks for the stimulating thoughts

Anonymous said...

A very interesting and realistic article. I am a woman, and many times I wished to be a man because of the obstacles and discrimination that we still face today. I totally agree about the indoctrination part of this article, even though I was the brightest of all my siblings, my mother immediately gave up on my professional dreams once the first good suitor was there. I also agree that sometimes mothers are the worst enemies of their daughters, as they are the source where we get our feelings of securities or insecurities, where we learn independence or dependence…etc I also have to state that there is No need to assign roles, I can be a loving mother and wife, but I am also at the same time an ambitious and confident business woman, the same applies to my husband. It is always one of 2 scenarios, either men are better than women or women are different (coming from another planet). Today women are conscious of this , and we are also lucky that we have now enlightened men who are supportive, all what I can say that ,every day we face the discrimination ,but every day we grow more determined to make a difference and fuels us with energy to be a role model not just for other women but for men too.

Unknown said...

It is noteworthy that dependence can impact not only woman's rights in Arab and indeed most Muslim societies, but their health and their lives. Anytime you open a paper there is something on a Pakistani rape victim, or a Saudi or Yemeni girl (8 or 10 years old sometimes) being married off to a much older man. Every time one flips the TV channels, there is talk of female genitalia mutilation (or female circumcision) with disastrous results on the female hygiene and indescribable pain in say Egypt or Nigeria. Jordan still witnesses "honor killings" and "virginity forensic testing" despite large percentage of educated females at the highest ranks in the country and despite huge support from an open minded Queen.

Of course, one needs to be careful pointing the finger solely on religion. I was talking to a couple of female veiled Qatari doctors in a hospital after my talk and had the courage to ask them why do they agree to a full veil black (Burqu')? In perfect English one replied- It is not religion. It is tradition in our society. Of course, the percentage of veiled women in Jordan, I believe, is growing because of all the Jordanian expatriate workers in Saudi, Kuwait and the Gulf. And to hammer the idea of the society more than the scripture effects, one only needs to look at Muslim women in Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, etc, who are not less observant than those in Saudi Arabia. Where Turkey, Iran, or Egypt would allow females to drive cars (indeed fly planes or spaceships), Saudi authorities would arrest them on the spot.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Gharaibeh, I tried to post this comment earlier, but it didn't show up so I will try again. If the comment is doubled, please feel free to delete one, if possible. Thanks.

Omar, you wrote:
"protection among humans is a man job while nurturing is the woman job"

Who assigned these roles? Who says that this is their jobs. I know men who are fine nurturers, and women that can take on any two men.

You also wrote:

Really? I have known lifelong happy heterosexual bachelors, as well as women who live only to climb the pinnacles of power...and vice versa. And speaking only from personal experience, I sure don't feel needy.

I think, Omar, your post serves to confirm Dr. Gharaibeh's opinion; that these societies program their people to accept these stereotyped gender roles instead of leaving them to perhaps reach their own potential.

Layla said...

I am an Arab girl and I know well what he talks about but what about giving us chances. I live in the West and because of my FAITH, because I do have one yeah I do. I can't seem to get anything sorted in term of employment. What about people finally realising Islam is a way of life that has brought only positivity to the whole of mankind, people should actually the soil we walk upon for what our forefathers have brought to the world, others like you guys are only bringing negativity to this whole system, see the results? societies are messed up and now they wanna mess up ours. In Islam the system of democracy does not exist, we have a lot better to offer not that cheap man-made law ely ma taghnee wla tfqar!
one other thing what about u men who are mentally stuck by the thought that u can't do anything regarding our situation as a whole, yes u arab men who go around saying this is helpless, we can't change anythin, actually that is our worst ennemy and you fell into it. If you were MEN worth the name, you wouldn't be here chatting about silly issues because back home we've got loads of Arab women who know what they are doing and thanks we love our lifestly we don't need anyone to come and teach us how to leave, keep ur western values for urself. a man is a man SO ACT LIKE ONE and a woman is a woman so she should act. BE MEN AND FACE THE REAL ISSUES THAT ARE CONSUMMING US AS A WHOLE not this garbage.

Arab Democracy said...

Dear Layla

I am responding to your comment in my personal capacity and Dr Gharaibeh might have his own views.

You are clearly an angry woman. Unfortunately your anger is misplaced. I am not sure whether your unemployment is a result if your faith. Maybe it is more an issue of your attitude.

You have your faith and that is fine with me. But I, as a free individual have to right to comment, criticize and reject it. You say Islam has only brought positivity to this world. It has certainly brought some, just like most religions. But no one can rationally claim that the impact of their religion has exclusively been positive. (Arent religious wars at least partially a product of religion?)

The great thing about genuine democrats is that they will fight for your rght to live your lifestyle and for your right to express your opinions, although I disagree with them.

In return you choose to insult and the name of religion.


Anonymous said...

Democrasy - it is when the majority could not harm minority.
In our country is living a group of muslims - Crimean Tatars. By the way, even in the most religuos presure times, during Oslamic Impire reghn, the Tatar women never covered their faces.
Many of the issues, which people incriminating to Muslim, have nothing to do with religion. Its or local traditions (often cruel ones) or big policy - religiuos background is the richest soil for the war (as it was shown in Chechnia, Russia).

Anonymous said...

God is definitely male and it says so repeatedly in the bible. Women are not glorified in Christianity or Islam.

If you think that "he" is a potentially gender-neutral thing to say, you may be in severe denial and probably need a psychologist for your logic-distorting pent-up problems from the past that cloud your judgment.

Also, if you think that the inclusion of the Virgin Mary is any compensation for the rest of things, you are mistaken.

While the author's stance on Disney is a bit extreme, it is true that such traditional roles are negative.

I'm less inclined to say that they are suggested, however.

More interesting is the fact that Cinderella was actually more of a horror story that involved her sisters cutting off their toes to fit into the slipper.

Making that into a modern-day children's story seems a little disengenuous on the old morality scale.

That doesn't mean, however, that Disney's Cinderella is Satanic or evil.

Just suspiciously capitalistic.

Anonymous said...

Witness the tyranny of women/feminists in the West to see that women are not an ideal species at all. Given "freedom" they abuse it always and invariably. So I don't care much for any of your bleeding-heart talk.

Anonymous said...

"Every time one flips the TV channels, there is talk of"

In the West, all that comes from the TV set is feminist propaganda designed to disempower and demonize men and boys.