Obviously some stereotypes cross multiple cultures, such as the widespread belief that women are weaker and inferior. Many of the others though, I was surprised to find that they crossed borders, even among the extremely open-minded class. However, I then wondered why I was surprised, because shouldn’t it make sense that a culture with more discriminatory views on women would hold these stereotypes? Many times, people use cultural differences to justify the perpetuation of a certain discriminatory behavior. For example, when I complain about street harassment here, some common responses I receive from Americans and Tunisians alike are, “Well that’s just the way things are here, get over it,” “That’s just their culture, if you speak out against street harassment then you’re disrespecting their entire culture,” or even, “Well it’s not as bad as in some other countries, so stop complaining.” Just because something is “normal” or “just part of the culture” doesn’t make it right. Nor does the frequency of discrimination make it more or less right. Nor does disliking one aspect of a culture mean that I’m anti-Muslim or anti-Arab. Nor does it mean I’m trying to impose my western views onto a non-western culture. I feel that gender equality (and all equality) shouldn’t be seen as a western way of life, but a human way of life.

So, what stereotypes am I talking about? Today, I was talking with a male friend about a skit I acted in for my school called Drawing the Shades. It’s used in many freshman orientation programs as a way to raise awareness and educate people on rape and sexual assault in a very powerful way. The 4 actors portray 4 real people, 2 men and 2 women, one gay and one straight each. One of the male characters gets raped by a woman while drunk, and my Tunisian friend found that baffling.

I find that many males think it’s impossible for a woman to rape a man, thinking either that a man wouldn’t be able to achieve an erection if he didn’t want to have sex (which is false, because how many men have gotten hard-ons at inopportune times, say, in the middle of class?), or that he would be strong enough to push the woman off. The one excuse that really shocked me though was the belief that no man would ever not want sex, so therefore it couldn’t be rape.

Of course I’ve heard this before back home. However, I feel that most Tunisian youths are more relationship centered. Many women won’t have sex with a man unless he’s committed to her, for many of the same reasons women at home do the same. But it’s more so here due to the Muslim influence that women need to be virgins at marriage. (Fun fact: Hymen reconstruction is the most popular  surgery for young women here. Since women do enjoy sex, and despite the stereotypes and pressure to remain “pure,” women will have sex before marriage but appear to remain a virgin for their next beau.) I’ve also noticed from the streets and from living with Tunisian families, that many young men seen to be extremely infatuated with their girlfriends and thoroughly enjoy monogamous relationships, even if they only last a year or so. I know a Tunisian male who has repeatedly turned down offers for sex by attractive young women because he wants more of a connection, he wants to actually care about the woman before he sticks it in her.

Another shocking comment was that my friend said, “A man who gets raped is a pussy.” I’m not sure if this meant, “He’s a pussy if he’s too weak that he couldn’t fight her off,” or “He’s a pussy for not wanting sex.” Maybe both. However, this stereotype perpetuates the stigma of male rape and is part of why most male rapes go unreported. Men are made to feel emasculated if they are taken advantage of sexually in any way.

I also know many men who are very offended by the stereotype that all men are supposed to be raging sex maniacs 24/7 and have completely unemotional feelings towards the women they sleep with. They feel pressured into acting a certain way, or feel as though there’s something wrong with them for wanting a meaningful relationship. To these men, all I can say is hold on. With time, hopefully this stereotype will also fade out.

Another stereotype that I found crossed border was the belief that marital rape is an oxymoron. Especially in such a male-dominated culture, I expected that many people would think a man can’t rape his wife, since they think she agreed to sleep with him whenever he wants when she said “I do.” Another fun fact: In Tunisia, a woman can press charges for and file for divorce if her husband forces her into having anal sex. As for unwanted penile-vaginal sex, I do not know the law, seeing as this is viewed as the “proper” way to consummate and anal sex is obviously dirty and unnatural (sarcasm). I have to do further research.

So what’s my point? I don’t really have one. Maybe that gender stereotypes are bad? Well, duh! This was more of a reflection on what I observed, and a desire for negative stereotyping to end. Naturally, it’s a rather lofty goal, but maybe we can at least  try to break down some of those barriers and enact laws to protect those people that the stereotypes hurt.

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