“He’s cold”, “He doesn’t respect me” are the classic complaints of Egyptian wives. And yet no one has it figured out yet. A man shaped into a specific mold with no room for emotion is hardly going to compare to a woman raised on expectations of being dramatic. A man taught from birth that he is superior is not going to respect a woman used to being told she is inferior. The irony is, despite her frustration, whatever she feels her husband lacks, her son is learning to replicate.
Wishing for a son
Before a baby is even conceived, the hoping for a boy has already begun. Having a male heir to carry down the family name and legacy is an age-old concept that fails to die out. Even though many couples will be happy with a girl, very few wish for one. Months before an ultra-sound can identify the baby’s gender, a woman would even wish for her nose to get bigger for any sign that she is having a boy. But do all these couples wanting to raise a boy know how to raise a fine one?
“Once the golden boy arrives we cloak him in blue to celebrate his masculinity.”
It’s a boy!
Once the golden boy arrives we cloak him in blue to celebrate his masculinity. Our obsession with glorifying manhood leads to parents constantly fearing that their boys don’t having enough of it. Before he can even distinguish between his hands and feet we have already decided his likes and dislikes. He forms his identity around the identity that we have chosen for him.
Reaching the age of two, your son learns to cospy what he sees around him. It is more than just an annoying game that he plays, mimicking words and phrases. It is when the unconscious mistakes that you make begin to leave a mark.
“A boy listening to his father continuously talk about how men handle everything (“ElRagel Bystahmel”) without showing the tiniest bit of emotion or pain, will obligate himself to do the same.”
Our first pitfall is making him see the world through a gendered lens. Barbies are for girls, male superheroes are for boys. It isn’t just toys that we categorize, it is characteristics too. “Elragel may3ayatsh” (Boys don’t cry). A boy listening to his father continuously talk about how men handle everything (“ElRagel Bystahmel”) without showing the tiniest bit of emotion or pain, will obligate himself to do the same. When he grazes his knee he will fight back the tears and bottle up the pain like a man. Coldness seems to be the cure, when in reality it is part of the disease. Some day his partner will wonder why he can’t share his feelings with her, and he won’t remember why, or at what point he adjusted himself to that cold mode.
Marriage and settling down is a trap that Egyptian men are always cautious of falling into, but who says marriage has to be an anchor holding them down? Definitely not science, but rather the man’s observations of his own parents as a child. Having parents on watch 24/7 puts their dynamics to the test. According to Psychiatrist Nahla Farrag, “90% of cases suffering disorders have a history of family issues, it could be overprotective, overanxious, or separated parents.” In relationships which have a dominant-submissive nature, the wrong concepts are likely to be rooted in the boy’s mind. Perceiving his father as “Ragel ElBeet” (Man of the house), sets in motion the steps to him becoming the “Ragel ElBeet” of his own household once he finally conquers his fears and puts a ring on it.
“Why isn’t he playing football or wrestling with the other boys? Is something wrong with him?”
Girls play with girls and boys play with boys
Sending our kids off to school, expectations arise about them following the path drawn for them. Learning that your son befriended only a girl leads you to worry that he isn’t doing the sociable thing right. Our assumptions aren’t just about his company but also his interests. Why isn’t he playing football or wrestling with the other boys? Is something wrong with him? Pressures on the little boy come from concerned parents, and bullies provoked by the unfamiliar scene of someone not participating in activities that are a must for his gender.
” “Tla2i omak el gaybahalk” (Your mother must have bought it for you) Because obviously if it is daddy who made the purchase it is okay, but if it is mommy then you should be ashamed.”
The Ultimate Insult: Like a Girl!
When your little boy finally becomes a teen, his perceptions of the opposite sex solidify. But that is when society teaches him that the most humiliating insult for a male is one that compares him to females “Mateb2ash zay elbanat”. Almost every curse Egyptians use includes “moms” or females in general. Another belittling tool is assuming that a guy’s car, house, or even boxers were bought by his mommy. “Tla2i omak el gaybahalk” (Your mother must have bought it for you) Because obviously if it is daddy who made the purchase it is okay, but if it is mommy then you should be ashamed.
Raising a boy and a girl under the same roof creates a chance to establish a double-standard of rules. As the apples of their mothers’ eye, boys can get away with not washing their dishes or tidying their rooms, forming a dependency that they carry into their later life, expecting poor unsuspecting wives to carry on the legacy.
Another miscalculation is parents taking pride in their son’s ability to charm girls and have multiple relationships at the same time, which stands in stark contrast to their expectation of their daughter to be shy and refrain from having close male friends. “Masmoosh Sahby esmo zmeely” (He is not your friend, he is your colleague.) According to Nahla Farrag, the media also has a role to play here. “Because the media usually portrays men as womanizers, this affects our perception of them. When we see a man turn red when dealing with the opposite sex, we frown at his shyness and consider it odd! Our expectations in men can later lead to them having multiple relationships and marriages at the same time,” she suggests.
“The view that they have a say over the decisions of the females around them, seeps into their minds and becomes a natural reflex whenever a female has a choice to be made.”
This huge gap between your approach with your son and daughter boosts the idea that a brother is superior of his sister and is her ultimate protector. Something that gives boys the right to critique their sister’s actions and deem them as acceptable or not. The view that they have a say over the decisions of the females around them, seeps into their minds and becomes a natural reflex whenever a female has a choice to be made.
The hierarchy that is created between most husbands and their wives isn’t born on the day they vow to be for each other. Its causes go way back to each of their origins. If the boy never saw his father in the kitchen, helping around, or even changing diapers he’ll never do it with his own wife. The older they get, the harder it is to divert from these lessons that they have learnt. And so, the cycle continues.
The only potential cycle-breaker is a recognition of the culture that creates these men and the realization that this molding starts before they are even born. We point our fingers accusingly towards men and who they are, when in fact, who they are is who we made them be. A stereotypical Egyptian Man doesn’t just exist, he is created from the clutches of the expectations of his parents and wider society, in order to better him, we must better how we raise him to be.