The Hefty Price of Being Your Own Individual in Egypt

Are we an Insecure Nation?


Are Egyptian men insecure when it comes to their manhood? Do they judge women and divide roles accordig to gender? Are men insecure when it comes to their “macho” look and attitude? I think we all know the correct answer…

Surfing the Internet we found out a group called Flip Side that consists of men and women who make short videos on the Internet. Their page on is full of hilarious content. What is so interesting about these videos is that they all have the same main concept: men and women switching roles. In the videos, we see a group of men and a group of women shot doing things that only fit with the gender role stereotype of the opposite sex. They apply the videos to many situations, camping, football party, birthday… etc.

One video in particular caught our attention. It was called “Social Media”. Following the basic concept of the entire channel, men and women switch roles. We see women taking “selfies” in the mirror of their abs, men taking pictures of their legs on the beach, and all other sorts of funny situations. This isn’t it, though. The show provides quite a decent social experiment, it turns out.

It shows three men asking a woman to take their photo on the beach. They keep asking her to take the picture over and over again because each time one of them is not happy with how he looks! They show the same insecurities women have about their looks, only because men are doing that, it’s amplified.

It is done the other way around as well, with a man arguing with his girlfriend over her relationship status on Facebook. Again, when you see a woman displaying all this fear of commitment that we always see on men, it makes the impact much stronger.

All in all, the channel is very entertaining. We always like seeing creative content that can amuse and still deliver a message. It made us wonder, however. If a channel like that was made in Egypt, would people be prepared to accept something like that?


Flower Children who Bent All the Rules

The 70s marked a time when the entire world decided to throw everything they were always told out the window. People were rebelling. They were sick and tired of never-ending wars, incompetent leaders and outdated rules. Some may even say that the Arab Spring and the global protest movements which followed it are reminiscent of that era.

They couldn’t change the world the way they had wanted to. Still, they did change some things, sometimes without even meaning to.

Some of the many things they inadvertently changed were certain gender role stereotypes. In the free times of the early 70s, men stopped cutting their hair. Shoulder length hair for men became fashionable. This was shocking to older generations who thought it was emasculating. However, if we look at pictures of men from the 70s we will find that they looked very manly. Many of them also donned beards. Most women will admit that they find that look extremely attractive.

On the other hand, women started cutting their hair very short. This was something that was accepted by society at that point in time. However, it was still considered strange as it contrasted with men’s long hair. These choices of haircuts could have been triggered simply by both men and women wanting to be comfortable. Men gave up on their razors, while women chose not to spend time on their hair by keeping it hair short. Whatever it was, it didn’t stop there.

Men and women’s clothes became awfully similar. Tight, V-neck sweaters, tight bell-bottom pants and long necklaces. Men and women, for the first time in modern history, could wear each other’s clothes and not look out of place.

This might seem like it doesn’t mean much, but that era changed history. For one thing, women’s liberation got a strong boost. Women started burning bras and being openly career-oriented. Men were also affected. They started being extremely open with their feelings. Someone like Jim Morisson is a perfect example of that. Men discussed their emotions so openly that they were writing songs about them! Everyone was liberated by this new attitude. It showed everywhere, even here in Egypt. You could see men and women walking down the streets of Cairo in shorts without a care in the world.

As the 80s rolled in, this entire generation slowed down and a more conservative wave swept over the entire world. Egypt – among other countries – got the worst of it and the conservative wave lingered way longer than it should have.

There is hope, though. In this new-wave of rebellion – that is indeed reminiscent of the 70s’ – we are seeing many young ones defying gender role stereotypes. Maybe, like their hippie 70s counterparts, they also grew tired of the rules.


The Injustice of Society’s Rules for Gender Behavior

Sit with your legs crossed
Stop laughing so loud
No, you can’t travel alone!
Go make your brother tea!
What do you mean you’re working on your masters?
You should get married!

Ever heard any of that? If so, you are probably a woman. And you are not alone. Regardless of where you live, you must have witnessed a difference in the way society treats men and women. Of course, in Egypt, that difference is much more obvious than it is in other countries. Ironically, most choose to not address it. Merely because that’s the way things have always been. The moment you are born, your entire life is planned out. Your gender defines how you should talk, act and even pursue the rest of your life’s plans.

It starts from early childhood. A girl is told to keep her legs crossed and her voice low. She is given plenty of chores around the house, too. She needs to be prepared to be a quiet, obedient and demure wife. Her brother, on the other hand, is not given instructions on how to sit. He is not being told to keep his voice down. And he is definitely not getting any chores done. Are you out of your mind? You want a boy to do the dishes or vacuum the living room? Even if he wants to help out, he might be told off for it.

The entire society will pressure men and women into fitting in a certain mold that sometimes isn’t theirs. Simply because this is what they think is right. A girl who has a lot of friends of the opposite sex is considered promiscuous. While a guy who has that is patted on the back. We can measure everything else on that. If a guy smokes, he is growing up. If a girl smokes, she clearly needs discipline. A guy can travel abroad, but a girl can’t. A guy can stay out late, but a girl needs to be home by 9. The list goes on…

Naturally, as boys and girls grow older, expectations from them are extremely different. The girl is expected to “start looking for a husband”. On the other hand, the boy is expected to pursue a career – even if he is more interested in starting a family. If a girl wants to get a Masters, PhD or a promising career, she is immediately considered a source of concern. Her parents start worrying about the possibility of her not getting married until she is thirty.

This doesn’t get any better. A woman in her thirties who is not married is automatically considered an under-achiever. No matter how big her academic or career achievements are, she will still be considered a failure. On the other hand, career-focused men are praised for their persistence and hard work. And when those men get married, they must make more money than their wives. This goes to explain why women are mostly underpaid until now.

Society doesn’t only decide how men and women should lead their lives. It obsesses with even the smallest details. It is a cause for alarm if a boy wants to take dance classes. And a girl who likes cars and helps fix things around the house is told to leave this to the men. Society has already succeeded into making most parents fit into its neatly structured mold. And parents will not rest until they do the same to their children.

God forbid their son wants to wear a pink t-shirt, or their daughter wants to take karate classes. God forbid those kids are individuals and want to do things different from their peers’ interests. God forbid their parents let them be who they are…Kids grow up doing things, not because they are convinced, but because they were told to. Even worse, they grow up applying those behavior stereotypes to others. It’s a vicious circle.

This is how we end up with a society that measures how womanly a woman is by her looks, her quiet voice, her timid demeanor and her ability to cook; and measures a man by his emotional detachment and ability to endure physical pain.

Gender Role Stereotype Resistance Then and Now

There are plenty of women and men who defied gender stereotypes. Their reasons vary from making political statements, to creating art, to just being themselves.

However, at the end of the day, they all made an impact. Here are examples for each reasoning behind resisting gender role stereotypes:

Qui Jin was a Chinese activist, feminist and writer who lived during the late 1800s and early 1900s. When she donned Western male dress of trousers, shirt and jacket, she was making a very strong political statement. The woman bent gender stereotypes during very uptight times in a very traditional country. Qui Jin was a feminist who urged women to seek education and financial independence. A left-wing supporter, and a partisan of a failed uprising against the Qing Dynasty, she was beheaded at the age of 32.

Like Qui Jin, two groups of Lebanese men made extremely strong statements recently using a similar method. First, there was a group of Lebanese university students who were sick and tired of the Faculty’s rules against wearing shorts to class. In an admirable act of hilarious defiance, they donned skirts to class. Pictures were taken and their story made the news. Another group of Lebanese men protested domestic violence by wearing heels. Pictures of the men wearing business suits and women’s high heels went viral. Women everywhere were grateful that men like them exist.

David Bowie is one of the most famous rock stars of our time. He is known for his talent, good looks and his ability to make any woman swoon. He is also known for wearing copious amounts of makeup, high heels, tight outfits and even chandelier earrings at one point of his life. Part of his performance was based on his strange hyper-feminine costumes. Unlike Qui Jin whose choice of attire was done to make a political statement, Bowie dressed like that for art. And it worked!

This brings us to the last point. People who resist gender stereotypes because they’ve embraced themselves. Take Harnaam Kaur, who was interviewed recently in the Daily Mail, as an example. She was born with a rare condition which causes excessive hair growth. She started noticing facial hair appearing when she was only 11 years old. She was horribly bullied. And so she shut herself in and even self-harmed at one point.

However, now, at the age of 23, she decided that she will let herself be the way she was born. She was baptized as a Sikh and the religion specifically teaches that one should not remove their body hair. In respect to her religious belief, she now stopped trimming, waxing or even bleaching her facial hair. She was quoted in the Daily Mail article saying, “I feel more feminine with my beard”.


Pain: Who Handles it Best?

It is a debate as ancient as human civilization, who can handle pain better, men or women?

We live in a society where men feel the need to be “tough” and not show that they are in pain. So it could be that men do feel a lot of pain and simply respond with “no, it’s not that bad”, because they feel like it’s emasculating to admit that they are in pain.

Keeping the previous points in mind, we decided to ask people whose line of work involves inflicting pain unto others about this. Timur Reda, a tattoo artist. We asked them about how men and women deal with pain. Since their experiences are natural and unmonitored, their answers convinced us more than any research ever could. So here goes, who handles pain better?

“What I’ve noticed is that women handle pain better”, Timur says, “or just generally dealing with tattooing for long hours on difficult spots on the body”.

It doesn’t stop there. It seems that appearances can be deceiving, “also, it’s always the people that you don’t expect. Somebody really small or scrawny would handle it pretty well and then you would know it’s not about physical size”, Timur tells us.

“I’ve noticed a lot of bodybuilders or really tough guys that don’t handle it too well”, Timur continues, “so I think it’s nerves overall, but I can say that women always handle it better”.

Labor pain is one of the womne’s most common arguments when pain tolerance is in question. To rule this out, two men and their wives went to a doctor who agreed to conduct an experiment to try and put an end to this issue. The experiment involved having electrodes stimulate labbor contractions on the men’s abdomens. At first, both men were not phased in the slightest. Then as the artificial contractions got worse, so did the men. THeir wives held their hands and told them to breathe through the pain but there was a barely concealed glee on their faces. Their husbands finally knew what they went through as they had their children. After the experiment was over. Both men said the pain was a lot worse than they expected. It was clear they had a new found respect for women.

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