Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Undervalued women?

Has a shallow regard for foreign looks and perceived sophistication led to some Egyptian women feeling undervalued by society, asks Omneya Yousry

Al-Ahram Weekly

Thirty-five-year-old media figure O. E., a man, believes that current social trends including what he thinks is an increasing shallowness could be taking people further away from more genuine values. Some women have also lost a true understanding of marriage, he claims, seeing it mainly in material terms.

“It’s hard to find someone to love who has a non-superficial character and that you can respect intellectually,” he said. Too often, people forget that marriage should depend on understanding, frankness, and loyalty. “Too many women think all the time about the house and not the home, about laughter and not real happiness, and about how to gain things but not how to share them.”

O. E. was married to a Russian girl for 18 months, but because of job obstacles they broke up. “My marriage was based on understanding and love. I didn’t have problems with cultural differences — on the contrary, most of my problems are with Egyptian and Arab culture. Marrying a foreigner was always an option for me, though it wasn’t the main thing I was searching for,” he said.

According to 24-year-old Abdel-Fattah Yehia, a banker, how women see themselves is what matters. “Every country has its own culture, but unfortunately we seem to be unable to be ourselves, or even to imitate the positive points in others,” Yehia said. Egyptian women want to imitate foreigners, and so they imitate their styles of dress. But they don’t think about the quality of relationships, Yehia added. “We need women to be beautiful and to keep their Eastern traditions. I could never marry a woman who had had many boyfriends before me.”

A. Y., a 30-year-old web designer, said that “in most countries the women of the country are seen as the most attractive by the men. However, in Egypt we seem to have what could be called a kind of ‘cultural cringe’, meaning a feeling of inferiority to Western culture and characteristics.” This cringe is the settled conviction that everything foreign is good, and everything local is bad, he added.

“I never intended to be in a relationship with a non-Egyptian. It just happened that my intellectual and behavioural patterns fitted better with them than with Egyptians,” he said. He did not necessarily find foreign women more attractive than Egyptian women, he said, though it was human nature for men to look for the uncommon rather than for the average, he believed.

 Though A. Y. has had more than one relationship with European women, the longest lasting 19 months, there were many negative aspects in those relationships — mostly having to do with the language barrier and the lack of the same sense of humour. “Humour comes from culture and history, and the lack of these things in another person makes you unable to enjoy the humour you’re used to,” he added.

“The language barrier is not about not being able to communicate. But even if you use a mutual language like English for example, you still find that things sound different from when you say them in your own language.”

For 23-year-old Dena Mohamed, Egyptian women suffer from Egyptian men comparing them with Lebanese or European women and judging them negatively in comparison. “They think that green or blue eyes and fair hair and skin are the gold standard of beauty, while these things are rare in Egypt,” Mohamed said. The paradox was that people from many other countries believe that Egyptian women are naturally more beautiful, she added.

“I don’t believe that physical beauty is the basis of happiness, but who said Egyptian women are so beautiful,” asked 24-year-old Zein Amin. “To be honest, beauty has standards, and these are not widely enough applied to Egyptian women.”

“I am honest enough to admit that neither Egyptian men nor women are widely considered handsome or beautiful,” he added, citing Mohamed Ali Pasha in the 19th century, who ordered wealthy Egyptians to marry Turks on the grounds that this would eventually improve physical standards of beauty. “Beauty needs intelligence, good surroundings, and higher living standards. But beauty is not everything in life, though many men consider it to be so,” he said.

Nineteen-year-old mass communications student Ahmed Kamal thinks the issue has been exaggerated. “I think women are overreacting. I’ve never really understood this ‘hot blonde’ syndrome that’s been going around. Prettiness has no homeland. Egyptian women may have beauty, but they may not always know how to show it,” Kamal said.

Searching for a proper Muslim woman was the key for 27-year-old quality specialist Abdel-Rahman Eweis, who said that foreign Muslims could sometimes be more familiar with religion precisely because they had often converted to Islam. “I met her on one of the Islamic daawa forums. She visited Egypt to spend Ramadan in a Muslim country a year after she converted to Islam,” he recalled. “We met, and I found her to be the perfect model of a Muslim girl, and my father, who often travels abroad, supported me in my choice. Islam facilitates marriage, though some people, especially parents in Arab societies, can exaggerate their demands of a future spouse, and I did not find this to be the case in my wife and family-in-law.”

There are Egyptian men who prefer Egyptian women to all others, notably because Egyptian women are still often fighting for their freedom and face pressures and frustrations, unlike Europeans, who already have every privilege. “I was married for eight years to a Ukrainian woman. Unlike what some people might think, the problem was not the difference in customs and traditions. Our disputes were more about anger-management and prioritising,” said Maged Aziz, an IT specialist. 

Men should not aim to marry a woman based on her nationality or facial features, he added, since this makes marriage “into a deal or a project”. All of us have defects, he said, and Western superiority is mostly about having a better living environment, educational system, greater opportunities and equality. Egyptian women face various burdens that prevent them from enjoying their leisure time in the way that Europeans can.

It is not only Egyptian men who sometimes praise the attributes of foreigners. Egyptian women sometimes also do the same thing. Aya Arshad, a 23-year-old Egyptian woman, is married to Adam, a Turkish man she met in the United Arab Emirates three years ago. From the start, he wanted her to marry him, and Arshad was attracted by his faith and optimism. “He conveyed his faith in our relationship and his certainty that it would work out. He said that we wouldn’t let our different traditions or customs damage it as long as the Quran and Sunna were our references.”

“He started to learn Arabic for my sake, and he was flexible regarding the country we would live and raise our kinds in,” she said.

An exaggerated interest in foreign standards of beauty is probably an adolescent phenomenon, and as such it is one that quickly passes. “Most probably it happens with teenagers, or those who are searching for transient relationships, as girls from Western cultures have more freedom. Such relationships don’t cause the man to enter into any commitments,” said Madeha Al-Safti, a marital relationships expert.

It is something that appeals to men looking for “exotic” looks, or women who stand out from the crowd. These men want to feel special, and they often think they have something that other men do not. The character of Egyptian women is not the problem, Al-Safti added. When it comes to marriage, each relationship is individual and unique, though the standard is to marry an Egyptian woman.

“Most men want to get married in order to maintain family stability, stick with their traditions and guarantee their children’s upbringing,” something that is easier to do in a homogeneous relationship. However, Al-Safti also said that there was no rule regarding marriages to foreigners: many cases are successful and each partner is able to adapt to the other’s different culture and mindset.

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