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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Look ... but don't you dare touch!

“Let me give you a little inside information about our society; our society likes to watch. It’s a prankster. Think about it. It plays on mans’ instincts. It gives you extraordinary gifts, and then what does it do? I swear for its own amusement, society sets the rules in opposition. Look but don't touch. Touch, but don't taste. Taste, don't swallow. Ahaha. And while you're jumpin' from one foot to the next, what is it doing? It’s laughing its sick head off! It’s a sadist society!” – That was me, Marwa Rakha, playing John Milton in Devil’s Advocate!

What is it this time that offset my safety valve? Was it a guy who started the lame nauseating right and wrong argument with me? Was it a girl who hid her actions in a cloak of virtue and self-righteousness? Was it a married couple who preach what they never practiced when they were single? Regardless of what irritated my hyper allergic brains, the fact remains that we are a shame society nurturing a guilt culture.

“Shame” – what a word! It has the power to clog your mouth and seal your lips just by pronouncing it. Have you ever noticed how such a tiny word can lock your mind, inhibit your feelings, and imprison you in a world of rules that are not supposed to be broken just because it is a “shame”? We were born free and uninhibited, and then we were given “the rules of shame and its derivatives”; cover your body, hide your feelings, withhold from expressing your opinion, and filter your words before you get yourself in trouble, were all tips to treasure from childhood onwards.

Dr. Thomas J. Scheff, author of Shame and the Social Bond: A Sociological Theory names shame as the premier social emotion. “The thing that moves us to pride or shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but an imputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection upon another's mind. We are ashamed to seem evasive in the presence of a straightforward man or cowardly in the presence of a brave one. A man will boast to one person of an action—say some sharp transaction in trade—which he would be ashamed to own to another.”

Likewise, in the presence of her family, Maha would curl her lips and condemn girls who “shamelessly” hold hands with their boyfriends. In the company of his friends, Ahmed would brag of dumping a girl for “shamefully” offering herself to him. On a shopping spree with her mom, Ola would show her resentment towards a couple kissing inside the elevator. They all want to belong; they all want to be accepted. This is why we lie, fear judgment, and wear masks and faces to hide our own. The question is: who do we see when we look in the mirror?

She woke me up crying in the middle of the night. I asked her what happened and she said that she was so ashamed. “I want to die” screamed R. “I kissed him. I let him touch me. I kissed him back. I wanted him.” I was silent. I knew that my “guilt-shame” argument will not be understood. I tried to be as unbiased as possible. That night I could not sleep; a questionnaire was formulating in my head, and the morning after I was café-hopping picking people’s brains. My “research sample” included single men and women of different ages, families who were having lunch, and couples. The findings of my quick survey revealed that we are sucked in a black hole of contradictions where human termites are eating away our uninhibited essence and our basic human rights are vacuumed by the hands of society and its code of ethics.

The sad truth was that so many responses sounded identical; I asked them on a scale of shame from one to five, one being the least shameful and five being the most shameful to rate the following physical actions between a girl and a guy who were not married. Kisses scored the lowest and full intercourse scored the highest. Touching with clothes on was more acceptable than making out naked. External sex is less grave than penetration. Why? Because what the eyes do not see the mind does not judge and what you don’t know will not hurt you – Hail thee ostrich land I said in the back of my head.

I asked four families who have no relation whatsoever if they would let their daughter date. They unanimously said no; but, one mother said that if her daughter was seeing someone, she did not want to know about it. One of the fathers said, with a stern knowing face “She is not a boy.” Another mother said she knows that her daughter has a boyfriend but “thinking that I do not know, will make her feel guilty. When she feels guilty she will not make mistakes.”

Couples and singles were asked to explain their boundaries; what will they do and what will they not do? Nahla & Amr said that they would do whatever pleased them because they were in love. Their families did not know and if they broke up no one would know. Samar and her boyfriend said they moved in together but told the doorman that they were married. Rehab said that she always kept him wanting her but she denied him anything that went beyond holding hands. Her significant other had a smile on his face and as he told me that this was why he trusted her. He knew for sure that he would be her first and last. Mona does not let her boyfriend touch her at all but she “has a few guys stashed for “touchy-feely” purposes.”

Omar will never take a girl’s virginity, even if she asked for it. Tamer promises that the girl will walk out of his house just as she walked in; “if she walks in a virgin, she walks out one, and if she walks in not a virgin, she never walks out pregnant”. Hisham told me that there were wives and there were whores; a whore would never be marriage material. I had to ask him to define a whore; he said he was referring to loose girls who wore bikinis on the pool. “If I am with her, she would let me rub oil on her body and touch her allover. How could I get married to one of those?” Khaled said that he would never get married to a girl who was known to have lost her virginity. I naturally assumed that he wanted to get married to a virgin until he said “but if it is a secret and no one knew, I can forgive her and marry her.” I was perplexed; “I would be ashamed if everyone knew that I was married to a girl who had experience; but deep down, I do not care less.”

Mayar caught my attention with her long blond hair, made up face, and perfect figure that showed clearly through her tight fitting low waist jeans and body hugging shirt. She was sitting alone when I approached her, introduced myself, and asked her permission to join her. I did not need to ask many questions; she did all the talking on her own. “I am 27 and, as you can see, I am very pretty. I date a lot and my rules change depending on the person I am going out with; if he is “efl” – narrow-minded – I will dress up less provocatively and will just let him pick up the checks. If he is one of those fake modern guys who wear cargo pants to hide their “galabeyas”, I beat him at his game too by showing everything that he cannot touch. I am never myself with Egyptian men; I feel that I am always seen through a microscope and my slightest expression of my feelings will be used against me. When I am with a foreigner, I am more expressive. I am not a slut as people call me.”

Surprisingly enough, none of the people I talked to said that they did something or withheld from doing another because they wanted to; it was never their innate choice, it was always a reaction to “people” - those who make up the double-faced fabric of society. Those "people", along with ghosts, demons, and spirits, are in the same category in my head - they are there but we have our separate lives and our paths don't cross. I don't fetch them and they don't come after me - end of story. “Our intense hatred, resentment, and envy towards anything or anyone, are all products of unacknowledged shame. We fall in the feeling traps of shame/anger. Acknowledged shame is the glue that holds relationships and societies together; it is the cause or the result of social solidarity and alienation.” concluded Dr. Scheff in his study.


NileGirl said...

Wow, great post! I have so many things to say but it's too much to write them here. This is the sort of topic is would be a very interesting social discussion with very interesting points of views. I'll have to remember this one for when I'm out with friends and in the mood to discuss.

Marwa Rakha said...

Hey N:) I am glad you like the post .. would love to know your thoughts:)

Miss Egyptiana "Trapped Soul" said...

i love every single word in this article ... cause that is exactly what i am writing about in my blog, and think of everyday .. and suffer from every minute...

the "guilt culture"... the duality of our society ...

the funny thing is .. we all suffer from such culture .. and to a certain degree we adopt it ... i have stopped long ago telling what i truly feel .. and unwillingly put on the mask .. so i wont be called a freak ..

i agree with nilegirl that this can be a an interesting social discussion .. but .. lets be realistic .. who will listen ..

women who have nothing to do but screaming on blog pages :)

or men who rule with their own terms that we all should follow ...

Marwa Rakha said...

Trapped Soul? Is that what they did to you? No one should ever trap your soul ... no one is even capable of it ... Masks hide our face but fear from being judged is what takes away the buzz from our souls.

I want to see you writing and fighting .... I want to leave my next comment on your blog:)

Eyad Harfoush said...

Dear Marwa,

As great as usual, the matter has more than one face actually

Theology Face:
The religious figures always try to create in us a sense of inferiority in comparison to some ancestors, it is a part of their need creation strategies to let you feel guilty compared to the imaginary utopia in Medina Monawarrah in 7th century for Muslims or during martyrs era for Coptics ….etc. when you feel inferior and devilish compared to the angelic ancestors (and they were not angelic by the way, they were very human) you will be seeking their spiritual support more n more. I covered this to some extent in my book "The Code Trial"

Custom Maid Limits:
Even among prostitution networks there is a level of shame, some of them consider going with Gulf people as shame, others consider non-straight practices as shame …etc. From a small village in Upper Egypt to Maadi in Cairo, you will find we have 100s of social groups, each with custom-made flexibility limit, should he/she exceed it, the shame appears.

Moral Philosophy:
Actually what is right and what is wrong has been a debate since the moral philosophy appeared, everyone of us abides to some moral habits without trying to think about it if it is a healthy sound habit or not, we find it divine because we cal it "moral" while for some ethnic groups at certain point of time over this planet it was not. We all do this, even the lady with the unlimited courage

Marwa Rakha said...

Very deep indeed Eyad ... let's come up with a plan .. how can we help people set their own perspectives of shame and guilt? How can we free the puppets?

KareemFromEgypt said...

perfect post and analysis of the workings of our society

no one could have said it better.

you wouldn't believe the weird, ignorant, contradicting stuff i heard from some of my close friends, most of them partially educated kamaan :)