Women and Men

14 07 2012

(Written while staying in Jordan for a few weeks.)

Stumbling, and frequently tripping, my way through the not-so-subtle-but-frequently-bent nuances of Arab male/female relations has been one of the biggest challenges the past couple of weeks. It’s up there in complexity and almost as mysterious and foreign to me as the arabic language.

In the US, I am friendly, outgoing, and as likely to hug a guy as a girl with, at minimum, a handshake for all.  I really don’t think much of it, unless the guy is married or the situation very formal.  Even then, a handshake is a very neutral, appropriate, and comfortable greeting.

That is all different here.  I’ve hugged when I shouldn’t have, extended my hand to have it refused or awkwardly, weakly shaken, and kept my hands by my side when one was surprisingly offered by someone in greeting.  The more I try to do what is “appropriate”, the more I seem to mess up.  The guard is down when it should be up and up when not needed.

At a public water park, there are women in all stages of non-nakedness: from full covering of head, arms, legs in layers of loose clothing to too-small bikinis.  Where do I fit into that? Why does responsibility for sexual control and restraint rest on the women? And what is protecting men from the lustful thoughts of women?  I understand the idea that wearing a covering is a way of preventing the sexual objectivation of women, but isn’t insisting on complete body covering removing her humanity to some extent as well?

I’m not criticizing, but genuinely don’t understand and just hope that I am forgiven for my many fumblings.  At least I have a good excuse and can hide behind my abundant Americanism (and, no, this American did NOT wear a bikini).

I guess that Marisol is going to have to have another of “those” discussions with me. 🙂




5 responses

14 07 2012

Aw sweetie. Can’t wait to see you and hug the suffin’ outta ya. 🙂

15 07 2012

Sounds like you are having an interesting trip! Can’t wait to hear about it. It’s really, REALLY neat that you get to experience a culture so different from ours. I may have missed one opportunity to do the same when I was preggo with Claire during the EMBA trip, but hoping to do more traveling in the years to come! Anyway, point being – keep on keepin’ on with your positive and adventurous spirit! And be careful over there!!

17 07 2012

Jessica: You can always travel, but you can’t always procreate! 🙂 I’m sure that you will have plenty of opportunity later and then you can share the experiences with your children.

17 07 2012

I started reading “A Bride’s Gift” by Ulla N.G.Khraisat and came across this quote:
“In Sweden I seemed to have everything under control, my professional and my personal life, but not here in Jordan. Here I feel like I am groping in the dark, searching for a helping hand that can guide me through society’s labyrinths.”

17 07 2012
Mandi M. Miller


Am smiling and nodding the entire time I read your post.

I have asked all of the same questions you are asking in this post.

To cover up or not…. It is a right, a responsibility, a gesture…. it is so many things to so many people. Do you think anyone REALLY believes that men have this latent sexual prowess that they can keep under wrap if and only if a woman remains covered from head to toe? Ha! It is like someone saying “the woman got raped BECAUSE she was wearing provocative clothing.”

What it boils down to is people, being people in whatever society they are in.
It will always be that what is right for one, isn’t right for another no matter what the social norms are in that particular situation at that particular time. There will always be someone who is offended by something that someone else views as perfectly “normal” and that is something that crosses over every part of the world. It is only that it is different that makes us question and wonder why it (whatever the ‘it’ is) is the way that it is or appears to be.

I had the same trouble with kisses and hand shaking in Tunisia. Was it two kisses? Three? or Six? Depended on who I was meeting and kissing…. Why was it no kissing, only handshake for some, but six kisses and a small embrace for others? And when you make the “wrong” moves with someone, you are left in a half kissing/half embrace/ half hello’ing sort of chaos. And coming from a generally NON handshaking society to an ALWAYS handshaking one is a transition for sure.

Oh! Coming from an independent society going to an interdependent one is also a fairly big transition. For me, it was the questions! Wondering after an interaction if I had asked enough questions about the other persons well being and the well being of his/her family members, one by one…. even if I had never met those family members.

Making mistakes? Of course you are. Glorious mistakes. The great thing is that you CARE when or if you have made the mistake and look to improve future interactions with people.

People are and will always be PEOPLE. Bottom line. No matter where you go, no matter how far from home you travel.

I am sure you are doing brilliantly Dayna, and making good impressions with whomever you are meeting!

I’ve been missing you and thinking of you often. Am so excited to hear and see all that you have to share.
Please thank Marisol on my behalf for taking such good care of you.

Love you,


p.s. Are me and MJ picking you up on the 22nd? If so, what time?

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