When I elected to use a character from my novel, Only Love Twice, to be from Saudi Arabia, I had to do a lot of research into the culture and history. I was amazed to learn it is still a very closed gender restricted society. While America has long been more open than that society, it still has been partially gender restricted in many areas. Prior to WW1 the military was completely restricted. Prior to WW2 most factories and other blue color jobs were men only. It wasn’t until the 70’s and 80’s that women were allowed to work beside men in police/ fire departments, or as attorneys and doctors. Now women work together with men in most every job place. The military has been one of the last hold outs for men and women to work next to each other. I have heard arguments to each side and they are valid arguments.
The news this morning had a story about women and sexual abuse within the military. It is an area that most who argue against women working along side men in the military use, but I think it goes deeper on many levels. I think we can look to our Saudi friends to see how deep the issue may be.
My understanding is that men want women separated in Saudi Arabia because men cannot keep themselves from sexual feelings with women. So a man must protect his women, his wife, daughters, sisters, and aunts, from the sexual aggression of the other men they may come in contact with my keeping them at home or accompany them everywhere they go. (I hope my Saudi friends who read my blog will let me know if I have this statement right.) This is their reasoning for keeping a gender segregated society. Is this not the underlying reason men use to keep all women out of usually male dominated positions? So it begs to ask: Can’t men control their emotions and sexual feelings? Are they unable to respect others and themselves to the point they have to act out and assault a female just because she is there? This does not say much for men or their abilities to restrain themselves. Now I know women are also to blame to a point. We like to look good and it is human nature to be sexually alluring to the opposite sex. In this the men of Saudi Arabia, and I must be fair, men in the Islamic faith, may have a good argument to keeping women safe by segregating them. But I ask, safe from whom?? Safe from men who cannot control themselves or from women who make it so difficult for men not to act on their human instincts?
What was interesting as I pondered the pros and cons of gender mixing was I read a blog by a friend of mine, Dr. Abdul Al Lily called Sex and Beyond: Saudi Arabia. His latest blog was titled Sex and Saudi Boy-Like Women. In it he discusses a phenomenon currently trending in the female population of women who dress and act like men while within the confines of the all women society but put on the abaya and veil when they are in the presence of men. I thought it was interesting that a gender segregated society should be surprised by this and that religion would think it can contain human nature.
Go back to the all male military of years ago. Some men exert their male authority over other men. There are leaders and there are those that follow. This is human nature. Now go to the all female society. This is not limited to Saudi Arabia, Dr. Al Lily; it happens in any all female society even in America. The stronger, or the leaders (and in fairness, the want to be leaders) will exert their authority over the others, the followers. The human nature thing again. In order for those that want to be leaders to show they are different, they adopt the mannerisms of those they know to be leaders, men. They wear the clothing of the leaders, the men. So I put forth that this phenomenon is just human nature manifesting itself. Having been on both sides of this I can admit it is very difficult to lead a group when dressed in frilly feminine clothing. I am glad there are power looking suits for women that still give some feminine traits available, but my police uniform works just as well.
Now I can just hear those who say that it has to do with repressed feelings of being gay/lesbian; that those women who dress like boys or men are women who are men trapped in a woman’s body. I am sorry I cannot agree with this. Just because a girl dresses like a boy does not mean she is a lesbian or wants to be a man. I think it means she is more a leader and wishes to show she is different. Of course it can also be that the clothing is more comfortable. Ladies, you have to agree with me that a comfortable old pair of jeans and sneakers feels better to wear than a tight skirt and high heels while relaxing, sitting watching television or reading a book. Oh, I forgot, I am different, I prefer riding breeches to a pair of jeans to sit around in, sorry.
To add context to just because a girl dresses like a boy does not make her lesbian I draw on personal experience. When I was a little girl, I grew up on a farm. I played in the barn and walked in the fields and woods. I wore jeans or shorts and sneakers or boots. I am glad my mother did not dress me in frilly dresses because I was climbing trees and chasing cats and dogs through the hay. I played with trucks in mud puddles and sand piles. I never played with dolls; I undressed them and took the clothes to put on my kittens and puppies. Ok, we have established I am not normal but you get the idea, I grew up a tom boy. The only time I wore a dress was to church and more formal functions like weddings and parties. Yet I grew up to like men, sexually. I grew up to prefer the company of men over women. I know I cannot do everything a man can do but I can hold my own in a fight and I can out shoot most men. I guess that is why I became a police officer because I can function in a mans world. Yet I don’t use sex to get ahead in that world; I work hard to earn anything I get there. But I digress.
The point I am trying to make with these examples is that men and women can exist next to each other without sex becoming an issue if we all act like human beings. It is up to women to learn how to resist the aggressions of men and not give conflicting signals to them. It is up to men to resist their aggressions and use common sense when working with women. It can be done. There are more examples of where it works than where it doesn’t. There is a quote from Winston Churchhill: “A lie will get half way around the world before the truth gets up and puts its pants on.” I want to change that a bit, “One wrong doing will get more attention than a hundred good works done by good people.”
In summery; one bad apple does not spoil the whole bunch and just because one apple is red among a bunch of green does not mean it not still an apple.