December 01, 2008

Archaic II

I lifted this one off a fellow 'Dutch in Lebanon' blog. It is quite funny, in a way. Sad, in others.


My friend visiting me from the Netherlands and I were sitting in the back of the minivan going around Beirut. It was dark and raining outside, and we were the only ones left on the bus – we were getting close to the final destination. The van stopped to pick up another passenger. It was a young woman opening the sliding door, folding her umbrella and taking a seat on the first bench. The bus continued its way, the door still open.
She’s not closing the door! my friend whispered to me. No of course not, I replied no longer surprised at the scene in front of us, women here don’t close the door. They wait for the men to do that. As we were the only other passengers on the van, there were clearly no men to close the door for her. So who’s going to close the door now? my friend asked, while the girl turned to close the small window next to her, still looking where those annoying gusts of wind and rain came from. No one, it will eventually close when we go downhill and the bus hits the brakes, I said. The door indeed remained open until a few minutes later we stopped at a crossroad.
It is something I can’t get used to, this weak attitude of many Lebanese women, and my Dutch friend’s astonished reaction was a nice reassurance that I am not alone in my disdain for the dependency it displays. Why would any girl need to pass the water bottle to her male friend to open it, when she has proven she can easily do so herself when he is not around? Why does he need to carry her bags, when she is the one who wants to take the stuff with her? I simply don’t understand what’s nice about seeing other people carrying my groceries to the car, or having to stand aside while some men are struggling to load my cupboard onto a truck – clearly in need of an extra hand, but unable to accept help from a woman.
Sietske seems surprised that
the bank offers her a credit card and then requires her to bring her husband to sign with her. I say: in a country where women refuse to open or close their own doors, it only makes sense that they are not allowed to open or close their own accounts either. (Source)

15 comments:

Kheireddine said...

LOL! This woman is stupid! She does not know that she puts herself in danger by keeping the sliding door open?

Raffi said...

Lol, but I should also tell you that this is not always the case everywhere, among all the Lebanese women in Lebanon, despite the fact that there are women who behave like this.
In addition, you see, it shows a sign of "weakness" only to those who are looking from outside, and from their perspective and mindset, not knowing the reason(s) underneath this behavior. While in fact, there's much more involved, which are culturally rooted.

Now finding those reasons would a great endeavor.

nicolien said...

Raffi, in anthropological terms we call what you wrote 'cultural relativism' - which is a dangerous synonym for 'they are different and if you aren't born like them you can never truly understand them'. As a woman, however, I see Lebanese women as fellow women, and from that perspective, to me there is not a lot of strength to be found in not opening or closing one's own door.

Ms. Tee said...

Nicolien, I still find the whole story "exotic" and it has nothing to do with your being "foreign" (my "foreign" husband thinks it is exotic too). Anthropologically speaking, taking an out of the ordinary incident and fitting it into a stereotype of Lebanese women to explain what seems to be an irrational and bizarre behavior is exoticizing it. I have taken public transport on a daily basis for years in Lebanon and never witnessed such a thing. And believe me, I would have noticed it.

Yes, a lot of Lebanese women over-feminize themselves, but this kind of behavior only makes sense, for example, in the presence of a male who can close the door for her. (Raffi's suggestion is sound, in this respect, and understanding the motives and reasoning is not the same as cultural relativism). So, I would pose to consider in your story.

What I find really problematic (again, anthropologically speaking) is that you chose to interpret it without engaging with her (I assume you know Arabic if you are doing research in Lebanon). This only serves to exoticize the incident even more. "Do you mind if I close the door?" could have revealed her motives, which might have ranged anywhere from confirming your interpretation to wanting fresh air or being van-sick. That you have chosen not to engage seals the matter completely. The woman's motives will forever remain closed to us and she will continue to be this exotic figure who would rather freeze to death than close the door of a van (which she herself has opened!).

Hope this clears the misunderstanding.

walid said...

1. a blog post about an incident cannot be discussed as an anthropological study of women in lebanon. at the same time recounting a specific incident no matter how "exceptional" one might think it is, is a way to comment on a certain social phenomenon.
2. To say that this story is exotic is a way to deny a social issue that, even though this incident is perhaps an excessive illustration of, remains present in lebanese society.
3. it is not by tracking the motive of this specific woman who did not close the door that we will get a better understanding of the phenomenon, on the contrary understanding the specific motive in this case will only justify it in a case per case basis and loose the whole point. in this case, since the blog post is talking about a lack of empowerment of women in lebanon (i doubt anyone can argue that lebanese women are socially empowered), it would be better not to question this woman's reasons, but use it as an illustration for the larger picture.

The point is that Lebanese women reenact their inferior role in society in countless social interactions. "Over-feminizing" as Ms Tee calls it is simply another term for "over-inferioizing" in other terms the use of feminizing in this case is simply a reassertion that femininity is about being physically weak, or dependent, when in male presence, and this is exactly what the blog post is criticizing (by giving an anecdotal example of the closing door). These is cultural specificity to be sought here, only power relations in society. whether this happens in public transport or not (how often have you been on a bus/van with only women around?), or whether this is the rule or the exception in the case of van-life is completely irrelevant. this example merely shows an incident that illustrates the dependency of women that women themselves contribute to sustaining (and justifying?). The point is not therefore to prove that women close their own doors more often than not. It is not about public transport per se, nor about doors.

I did not see any exoticism in this whole issue apart from the sentence:"Yes, a lot of Lebanese women over-feminize themselves, but this kind of behavior only makes sense, for example, in the presence of a male who can close the door for her."

nicolien said...

As I was writing a reply, Walid already answered most points. What I'd like to add is: : I never said this was irrational or bizarre behavior, and I certainly don’t think it is. I do think it is behavior that puts women in a disadvantageous position in society (see: last sentence of the post), because it is hard to have equality in one area (creditcards, in this case) when not doing your part in others (opening and closing doors, the example in this case).

nicolien said...

As I was writing a reply, Walid already answered most points. What I'd like to add is: : I never said this was irrational or bizarre behavior, and I certainly don’t think it is. I do think it is behavior that puts women in a disadvantageous position in society (see: last sentence of the post), because it is hard to have equality in one area (creditcards, in this case) when not doing your part in others (opening and closing doors, the example in this case).

nicolien said...

As I was writing a reply, Walid already answered most points. What I'd like to add is: : I never said this was irrational or bizarre behavior, and I certainly don’t think it is. I do think it is behavior that puts women in a disadvantageous position in society (see: last sentence of the post), because it is hard to have equality in one area (creditcards, in this case) when not doing your part in others (opening and closing doors, the example in this case).

nicolien said...

(Sorry Sietske for hitting publish 3 times, I didn't mean to!)

Ms. Tee said...

at the same time recounting a specific incident no matter how "exceptional" one might think it is, is a way to comment on a certain social phenomenon.

Not to belabor my point, but it was precisely about the approach to the incident (See "What I find really problematic...").
Nicolien, I said what seems to be irrational or bizarre. Someone on your blog said "it's totally bizarre to me too". So, the way you relate the story gives this impression and I am saying it could have been different.

Walid, your reply goes in many directions at once and you misunderstand me on several accounts. I don't think I disagree with either you or Nicolien on the bleak assessment of women's position in Lebanon, just on the approaches.

Lalebanessa said...

I must say that I agree with Ms
Tee, the fact that Nicolien never asked the woman "why" she didn't close the door means she shot her own discussion and analysis of the situation in the foot.
The woman was demoted to an anthropological cliche without getting a chance for rebuttal or explanation.

nicolien said...

Last attempt: The story was an illustration of the argument of the blogpost, not an analysis of the situation. It is unnecessary to ask this woman why she didn't close the door, as it is irrevelant for reasons outlined above by Walid.

Furthermore, it is not an exotic example, nor exotification of the regular by taking an 'extraordinary situation' and turning it into the cliché of a Lebanese woman. It is an account of something I see happening very, very often (and you may or may not believe this, based on what you have noticed during your life in Lebanon): woman gets on bus, sits down, door is still open. Door remains open until another passenger closes the door (almost always a male passenger) or the driver closes the door by abrubtly halting the van. (And it is not only on vans that women expect men to open or close doors, as you can read in the rest of my post.)

Finally, as to someone calling this 'bizarre behavior' on my blog: that's a reader's opinion, I am not responsible for her interpretation of my posts (and I was actually surprised at how she could have interpreted and worded it this way).

:P said...

nya32!!! Only peasants rides buses!

Anonymous said...

Well I to but I dream the brief should have more info then it has.

Anonymous said...

Again a good post. Thanks your also pen-friend