conformity, Judgement, Personal Growth, Saudi women driving, social pscyhology, Uncategorized

Too Many Judges Among Us

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Judgment serves a purpose in our lives by giving us the ability to draw conclusions of what is safe vs. dangerous, good vs. bad, normal vs. abnormal, or beautiful vs. hideous.  Most of these mentioned dichotomies do not hold absolute truth, but are only arbitrary perceptions that are influenced by culture, beliefs, values, available knowledge, and serve as a form of “social regulation”.   

 All of us have had to undergo the experience of someone judging us.  The experience can be either pleasurable, painful, or at times, not have any meaning to the person being judged depending on the verdict that is delivered, as well as the relationship between the judge and the judged, and the ability of the judged person to recognize the meaning of the judgment.  For example, the judgment or diagnosis by a psychologist of problematic signs in a young child holds importance for the parents, but has very little personal significance to the child personally,  because the child has no perception of what that judgment (and yes a diagnosis is a form of judgment) means.   

I think it is safe to assume that most of us have experienced both the delight and pain of being judged.  Before we frolic in the delight of being positively judged, or wallow in the depths of rejection for being negatively judged, we need to consider not only the meaning of the judgment, but also the purpose and intent of the judge and judgment.  I think we have fooled ourselves into believing that we go through a phase during childhood and adolescents were we tend to conform to our peers, which we tend to believe makes us more likely to be over judgmental of others at any other time in our lives.  Before we accept this as a truth, watch a bunch of adolescent pick and tear apart another person based on her appearance, and then watch a group of adults go through the same process of someone that does not fit into their “truth” of what is normal and acceptable.

This past year, I was involved in a campaign pushing for women to be allowed legally to drive in Saudi Arabia.  I was not a pivotal player in this movement, although I did take up the cause through the use of social media, as well as getting behind the wheel and driving myself a couple of different times.  I have experienced the pain of being without transportation and having a family to take care of and at times being a prisoner in my own home because my husband is out of town, or because a driver had decided to leave our unemployment unexpectedly.  The issues involved in women not being allowed to drive is another blog, or for that matter, a book which maybe I will write in the future, but delving into the complicated issue is not my intent.  The purpose of bringing up this issue is to illustrate how people use “judgment” as a way to instill fear through labeling and passing judgments against those who dare to break the rules of what the majority of people in a social group consider normal and acceptable within their immediate social realms.

My involvement in the campaign came with many judgments, some judgments from people close to me, as well as some people that I have never met.  The judgments were a mixture of support and admiration to disdain, name-calling, and threats.  The positive support and judgments I have to admit bolstered my identity, and actually encouraged my behavior to go further into the movement.  Although the comments labeling me as a whore, infidel, law breaker, as well as threats also had a negative effect in making me question myself, as well as my actions that had led me to living in Saudi Arabia.  I was told by people, whose opinion I valued, that I had overstepped my boundaries because I am a Westerner (although I do hold Saudi citizenship), and should respect the local customs. 

What I learned through this experience, as well as other experiences, is that judgment not only serves as a form of social control, but it also serves as a form of hierarchical system to rank people according to some socially constructed system.  In a way, a jockeying for position and prestige based on a socially observed construct such as appearance, ethnicity, nationality, race, social class, level of social conformity, or some other form of grouping that humans have constructed.  The cognitive function that humans developed as a mechanism to size up situations in regards to the best course of action to take for survival, has transformed into a process of evaluation of the worth of others and ourselves.  A process that is constructed in trying to not only instill in ourselves that somehow we are superior, but also trying to reinforce to others our superior worth as well.  

I sometimes find myself wishing that I could return to the state of the newborn baby, with limited knowledge of the social judgments around me.  Perhaps not the newborn baby, but the toddler who had developed some level of independence, but has experienced minimal conditioning, that has not constrained their way of thinking and acting based on their social world.  Negative and positive judgments are both formed on some standard that we have developed through our interaction in the world that not only actively engages us in the process of judging ourselves, but others.  As our world around us socializes us in respect to the various truths that pervade the earth, the creativity of many of us is shaped and warped with the intent of gaining the positive judgments of those around us.  Even the non-conformist seeks to gain the approval of the other non-conformist, a phenomenon that has gained popularity in recent years.  By the way, I can honestly say that I actually relate to this non-conformist paradigm, but I yearn for the senses of my younger years when my way of seeing and exploring the world were based on some type of child logic, untethered by the judgments of others or myself.

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Uncategorized

Women and Internet Bullying: Would You Type To Your Mother Like That?

Have you been harrassed, called vulgar names, or threatened ? Gone are the days of bullying face to face….it is so much easier for people to take their “cheap shots” shrouded in some level of anonymity. As much as people “fake good” through different forms of social media, also their core evil side also comes blasting out as well. Great article and a reminder to show a little empathy and compassion for individuals.

Drifting Through

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“Stand up like a man, You better learn to shake hands, You better look me in the eye now, Treat me like your mother.  Come on look me in the eye, You wanna try to tell a lie?  You can’t, you know why?  I’m dressed like your mother.”

-The Dead Weather, Treat Me Like Your Mother

When women are being called names, something’s not right.  When women are being harassed, something’s wrong.  When women are being threatened with rape and death, something’s got to change.  Right?  Most of us can agree on that.  But what if these things are happening online?  Is the fallout any different because the words showed up on a screen rather than in the mailbox or on a voicemail?  Is the emotional toll and the fear any less because it was done electronically?  Does the vehicle by which a threat was issued even matter?  Is a…

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Culture, fashion, Hijab, Psychology, Saudi Arabia, West

Stripping Down the Culture of Clothes: We Are All Guilty

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Our culture, belief system, and social pressure around us play an enormous role in how we decide to present ourselves to the world, not only in the way we behave, but also how we dress ourselves.  Our sense of fashion is often dictated by not only our preferences, the latest designs, but also by the social norms of the groups we live.  These forces not only influence the color, fabrics, styles, but also ever more importantly dictates the rules of which parts of our bodies should be covered, or not covered, in particular social settings.

Living in Saudi Arabia, I have learned that people are quick to judge other based on not only what they wear, but also how much they choose to wear in covering their bodies.  As someone who was brought up in the West, I was not accustomed to the rules of fashion for females living in Saudi Arabia.  The black abaya (the long black cloak) and the tarha (the head scarf)  have caused me distress at times in trying to learn to navigate stairs, carry a child, and in the meantime keep the scarf secured covering my hair.  In addition, many women within the country also wear the face cover, called the niqab, which varies from having a small opening to show only their eyes, and some completely cover their face.  During my first years in the Kingdom, I wore the mostly black abayas (with some color on the trim to express my own unique individuality) and the head scarf, but in recent years, I have forsaken the black in preference of colored abayas, as well as I have taken to wearing different colored scarves tied over my head as turbans.  I do not cover my face and refuse ever to do so.  Moreover, yes, I have to admit, as soon as I am out of Saudi airspace leaving the Kingdom, the abaya comes off, which underneath, I am dressed in my Western style clothes. 

It would be an easy “cheap shot” to start criticizing and engaging in what I like to call “Saudi bashing”, but this is not my purpose.  Cultural conformity in regards to dress is a phenomenon that not only occurs within the Kingdom, but is a worldwide phenomenon.  The first vivid memory I have  related to the social taboos of what should or should not be covered, occurred when I was 15 years old growing up in a small town in Northeastern Oklahoma in the United States.  I was in 10th grade in high school and my parents and I were attended the ceremony in which I was being inducted into the National Honor Society , which is an honors group for students who have maintained a high GPA.  My father happened to be in town for this particular ceremony, which was a rarity since much of the time he was out of town with his job.  My father is bald and has been a “chrome dome” (a nickname my sister and I gave him) since his early 20’s.  My father always wore some type of hate, from ball caps, cowboy hats, to his “crocodile Dundee” style hats, and rarely bares his baldhead except when he is sleeping.

I remember the ceremony starting with all the pomp and circumstance that are typically associated with these type of ceremonies, when Mrs.  @@@ screams across the cafetorium (combination school cafeteria and auditorium), in a shrill voice “Take of your hat!”.  Mrs.  @@@ was one of those teachers that every school has.  The type of teacher that was a “stickler” for the rules, although her level of enforcement depended on who your parents were, and whether or not you were considered one of her “favored” students.  She screamed across the room again and actually stopped the ceremony as she pointed her fat pudgy finger directly towards my father in the audience.  I watched in horror as my father’s face turn bright red with embarrassment.  My father is not only a man who always wears his hats, but my father is also an introvert who prefers not to have the limelight directed towards him.  I had always disliked Mrs. @@@, but from that day forward, I loathed her.

While it is customary, or part of the culture, not to wear hats in school, my father was not a child coming in for the school day.  He was a parent watching his child being inducted into an honor society.  While yes, perhaps he was breaking with tradition, his choice of attire aided him in covering his baldhead, which made him more comfortable.  I really do not believe my father’s hat was going to in anyway detract from the ceremony, nor was it going to erode the quality of education that supposedly occurred in the school facility.  Her response to the situation not only embarrassed a parent, but also embarrassed a geeky, insecure, sophomore high school girl, who did not need to have her father called out during a school ceremony  to add further to her feelings of being inadequate.  This was a personal isolated incident where the “cultural rules” of what is to be covered, or uncovered became an “issue” that took precedence over the purpose of why we were there.

In the past couple of years, numerous stories have circulated in the international press related to movements forbidding women wearing the headscarf,  hijab, or  tarha in the Western world.  In addition, across European countries, debates and laws have been passed banning Muslim women wearing the niqab, or face cover.  I will honestly admit, I do not enjoy wearing the headscarf when I am inside the Kingdom, although the turbans I often find as a great way to hide those “bad hair days” I frequently have.  When I am outside on the streets though, I typically do wear something to cover my hair, just to save myself the hassle of potentially being harassed by the Hai’aa, which is the religious police in Saudi Arabia.  With that said, the West has always prided itself in the ideals of freedom and individuality.  I expect in Saudi Arabia possibly to have trouble by not conforming to the local “cultural rules of dress”, but for the West to take a stance forbidding women to wear an article that is part of their identity is a violation of the beloved principle of individuality.  Just as my father felt uncomfortable showing the world his baldhead, for the women who choose to cover their hair or face by choice, forbidding them to wear their hijab or niqab is like asking them to parade around naked.  These are situations where others use their own cultural rules to instill discomfort in others.

I have never personally been a conformist, which has not always made me the most popular person in some circles.  Although I find it quite a waste that humans engage in so much wasted energy trying to regulate what should or should not be covered in different social situations across the globe.  How you dress does not define your real character.  I have met some of the kindest giving people that choose to cover their head, as well as I have met some of the kindest people that choose not to cover their head.  I have met some people that are the devil is disguise with their head covered, and I have met people that are the devil in disguise with their head uncovered.  The point is, your dress does not define your compassion, kindness, or character.  It is not so different in how we judge people by the label of the designer they wear either.  I have met some of the kindest people in Prada, as well as the devil in Prada.  It seems ridiculous when you think of the real crisis we have in terms of environmental issues, wars, poverty, and genocides.  These Issues are just a few that have the potential to drastically negatively shape and change all of our lives,  as well as the generations to come.  Perhaps it is time we start judging people by their actions, and less on what they have, or do not have on their bodies. 

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bicultural, parenting, Psychology

The Gift of Bi-Cultural Children

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Little Lulu, my 10-year old daughter came to snuggle in my bed the other night after the quietness of slumber time had brought peace and quiet to our home.  As she crawled into my bed, she had that “look” on her face; the look that every mother knows that a serious conversation was about to ensue that could potentially leave a lasting imprint on her child.  She had the same look on her face the day she sheepishly came home and announced to me that a girl at her school had “educated” all the other 4th graders about what mommy and daddy “do”.  I had been deep in thought working on a paper for my PhD program and literally choked on my coffee and sent a spray of coffee, milk, and sugar across the room in my shock.  I had been lulled into a false security that my children living in Saudi Arabia would be magically protected from the subjects such as sex, drugs, or other topics that parents worldwide often find a challenge to broach with their children.  I took a deep breath, preparing myself again, for how I was going to handle the subject that my child was  bringing to me, hoping NOT to replicate a similar episode of my coffee choking episode that had occurred in the previous year.   As parents, we are often put on the spot of how to instill some type of wisdom or insight to our children on those taboo subjects that through the generations have left us all in a momentary daze.

My daughters are half Saudi, and half American, which I have fondly nicknamed them “noose-nooses” which translates into English as “half/half”.  Their cultural identities are mixed between two cultures that in many ways exist on opposite sides of the cultural spectrum in relation to individuality vs. conformity.     The identity of an individual is not static but dialectical and ever changing in relation to the environment, social influences, and the people sending messages of worth regarding an identity.  Bi-cultural individuals are often presented with a more complex identity encompassing various ideals, values, and beliefs that may contradict each other (Schafer, 2010).  I have witnessed events either from both my husband’s cultural group and my own cultural group that have said disparaging remarks towards their opposing identity directly, or through indirect methods.  Being completely honest, I do prefer my American ideological upbringing, which in words at least, supports individualistic pursuits and independence.  I would be lying to others and myself if I did not acknowledge this aspect of myself.  At the same time, I recognize that my daughters are not a mirror image of their mother, and have a different world to learn to navigate.  With this said, I want my daughters to understand both sides of their cultural identity and be able to appreciate the positive aspects, as well as negative aspects that exist in both of the cultural identities.  As they develop into adults, they will have to come to terms with the divergent themes between their cultural identities and develop a lifestyle that is befitting of their essences.  Part of my struggles of being in a bi-cultural marriage, as well as parenting bi-cultural children, is I am often faced with trying to provide a response that supports my children’s bi-cultural identity.

As Lulu snuggled down into the pillows and pulled the comforter up around her neck, she tilted her head and began our conversation with an apprehensive tone.  “Mommy, what does God want a female to do?”  I felt the heaviness of the conversation increase as I thought about the various voices she was confronted with on a daily basis of what her role as a female is in relation to the Islamic faith.  While many believe outside of Saudi Arabia that women are oppressed and are served with one version of the role of women, in reality there are a multitude of views and interpretations depending on the people you speak too.  Even in the cultures that are often viewed as homogenous, heterogeneity exists in all societies. 

“Well Lulu, God/Allah wants us to be compassionate and kind to others.”  I replied hoping that his would answer her question.

She sat for a moment, contemplating what I said and then replied, “Mommy, yes I know that, but what does God want them to DO with their life?  My religious teacher told me that God only wants women to stay home and take care of their children.  You stay at home and take care of us.  She said it is against God for women to be like an engineer or something like that.”

I sat there in silence contemplating my next sentence.  To be honest I felt like I was going to explode; I was mad at myself, and mad at this teacher who had erroneously used religion as propaganda to keep little girls from developing their passion.  (By the way, for those outside the Islamic faith, there is NOTHING in the Islamic faith that prohibits women from having careers, although just as in any religion, certain fundamentalist at times try to use religious doctrine to repress a sector of the population).  Furthermore, I felt like a wave of anger wash over me as I thought of the tuition we were paying for our girls to attend this school and have this kind of message sent.  I had specifically selected this school because I knew the history of the school, and the historical struggle of this school to establish education for girls in Saudi Arabia.  I know the founders and owners of the school are pivotal players in the empowerment of women in the Kingdom.   Somehow, a woman had found her way into the classroom and delivered a message that had the potential to leave a lasting impression on the plans of these vulnerable impressionable girls. 

I tentatively asked Lulu “So if women should only be allowed to stay at home according to your teacher, how is it that she is working?”

Lulu smiled and replied, “Well she said it is ok for women to be a teacher.  Like you were a teacher mommy that is ok.”

I left my position at a private women’s university two years ago to pursue my PhD and spend more time with my children.  My children saw my position at the university as a “teacher for big girls”, which fit into one of the acceptable roles women have been allowed to take in Saudi Arabia.  I had always believed that I had instilled in my girls that they could choose a career that they were passionate about, even if it fell outside of the traditional roles that had been assigned to women.  Lulu was born in the United States, but we had moved to Saudi Arabia when she was only a year old and had never seen me in the role of a full-fledged career outside the boundaries of “acceptable women careers” in Saudi.  Furthermore, I knew she had received similar restrictive messages from her Saudi side of the family and I needed to handle this with the utmost sensitivity.  Every fiber in my body wanted to scream to her “Your teacher is a freaking idiot”, but I knew that was my feminist side waiting to be set free and attack every institution or person that had ever left me feeling repressed in my life.  Moreover, calling her teaching an “idiot” was not exactly setting a model of compassion and kindness. 

After thinking for a couple of seconds of how I was going to attempt to show some level of respect for the view her teacher had taught her, yet at the same time provide her an alternative worldview, I began to speak.  “Lulu some women prefer to stay at home, but that does not make them any less or any better than women who decide to have a career.  You know mommy’s cousin in America is an engineer….she is a good person right?  Your Auntie (from her Saudi side) is getting ready to start law school because she wants to go into the courts in Saudi and help women and children.  Aunty is a good person isn’t she?”  My dialogue continued as I continued to try examples of women from both cultures that had contributed positively to their society by taking up different occupations.  In addition, I talked to Lulu about the different positions I have held throughout my lifetime, and what they entailed to illustrate to her that women, if they chose, have a role to play in their community, as well as in their homes.

I want to empower my girls to take on roles that best suit their own hearts, and not those roles that others press upon them.  Lulu is my child that is most likely to embrace motherhood and domestic life.  She loves babies, she loves to watch the cooking channel, and she prefers the comfort of home instead of forging into new situations.  Although she is also my little entrepreneur that has recently developed an interest in creating customized hair accessories, which her father, her older adult sister, and I are encouraging her by teaching her basic business management principles to use in developing her idea.  She is only 10 years old and her identity is continuously growing right along with her physical development.  Although bi-cultural children are often faced with an identity crisis of sorts as they go through the process of figuring out who they are,  bicultural children have also been found to grow into adults who are more flexible and are able to effectively negotiate different social situations and work effectively with diverse people (Matsumoto & Juang, 2008).  Perhaps the exposure of different worldview and beliefs from an early age teaches them there is more than one “right” way to approach and live in the world, which gives them the ability to embrace and respect the diversity of others, because of their own internal diversity.     

 

References

Matsumoto, D., & Juang, L.  (2008).  Culture and psychology (4th ed.).  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Publishing. 

Schafer, G. (2010). Multiple Identifications, movement, and place making in cross-cultural heterosexual relationships in New Zealand. New Zealand Sociology, 25(1), 4.

 

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Aggression, Bias, Fear, Psychology

Help! Tyrannasaurus Rex Is In My Garden

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       Fear serves a purpose in our lives; it gives us a defense warning system to avoid certain people, animals, situations, or environment to avoid death, pain, or loss.  It is rational to have a certain level of fear, such as crossing a busy street because of the possibility that we may be hit by a car and forever maimed, or worse yet, meet our own death.  It is rational because the perceived risks exist, and serves a purpose in making us extra vigilant in our efforts to get from one side of the street to the other side.  Social scientist describes this as rational fear in which the level of emotional arousal is equal to that of the real danger.  As our autonomic nervous system kicks in, our body is flooded with adrenaline and hormones that make us hyper vigilant in double-checking before we cross, as well as our muscles and limbs are ready to jump into action if the threat of a speeding car is heard or seen.  However, what about fears we all have that have no basis of any real risk?

              All of us most likely can think of a fear we have that really has no serious threat to our safety.  Social scientist have labeled this irrational fear, because the amount of emotional and physiological arousal that an individual experiences is not congruent with the actual danger the individual faces.  Some of this irrational fear is based on our earlier childhood experiences.  For example, I have a fear of birds.  As a young child playing in my backyard on my swing set, aggressive starlings would dive bomb me, leaving scratches on the top of my head.  Watching Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller The Birds probably did not help this matter as well.  To this day, I keep my distances from birds, unless they are safely locked away in a cage, and even that if I see them eyeing the top of my head, I prefer to move away.  This fear is based on my former experiences and although irrational, can be explained and understood by my childhood experiences. 

       But what about those situations where we really do not know where the hell that creeping feeling of anxiety, fear, and yes, sometimes pure terror is coming from  This past month, I have been fighting a battle with a gecko in my garden.  A gecko, which is perhaps no longer than my hand, even when measuring the creature from the very tip of its nose to the very tip of its tail.  A reptile that does not have the ability to inflict any source of pain to me.  A small creature that I disproportionality outweigh 100 times over and could squash all the life out of his little translucent body with only one small “step” of my foot.  Although every encounter this gecko monster and I have had this past month has resulted in me unleashing murderous screams, mixed with profanities that are only heard when an individual is facing dangers such as the inferno of hell.  My reflexes and muscles go into overdrive.  In the past month, I have hurled a watering can, a book, and this evening, my mobile became my weapon of choice as the miniaturized T. rex rushed me in defiance of defending his territory behind the flowerpot.  Yes, my rival garden inhabitant has been named T.  rex, or Tyrannosaurus rex, which when translated from Greek means “tyrannical lizard king”.  My irrational fear and response is equivalent to what my prehistoric ancestors must have experienced right before the giant T.  rex munched down on their fragile human bodies and sliced through their flesh with his razor sharp teeth (or at least that is how they always portrayed it in the movies).  Although, the miniaturized T.  rex in my garden poses no danger to me, and the likelihood of him even crossing the boundary and taking even a lizardly-lick of me is quite remote.  Still yet, looking at his image, which my oldest daughter captured with her phone (no doubt as entertainment for my four daughters watching their mother scream and visibly shake even with a digital image), is an account of how irrational humans are.

     I am sure somewhere in my past I was exposed to some image that has been imprinted in the recesses of my unconscious of the mortal or even moral threat of some creature that has a resemblance to my gecko  garden enemy.  Perhaps all those Sunday morning of my parents watching the Nature channel on PBS, or the cheesy movies of the 1970’s and 1980’s, where the life of a caveman was depicted by women being pulled by their hair by the caveman, and T.  rex chomping them both for his evening meal.  With that thought, how many other irrational fears do I, or others have of places, people, or things that are based on some brief image imprinted in their memory?  How many times have you caught yourself in fear or discomfort of something or someone that you have never had contact with, and do not pose a real threat to you?  Where does this fear stem from?  From images you have seen on television on the news, movies, or even stories vicariously transmitted to your from a 2nd hand source?  Furthermore, where did the second source get their information?  When I think about it, perhaps I am being unfair to T.  rex in my garden and need to revise my plans of sending my warrior husband off in the morning to do battle and ultimately annihilate T.  rex.  Perhaps instead I need to learn to appreciate the fact that T.  rex, the gecko, is actually eating the insects that pose far more risk to the lives of my plants and myself than he ever will.  We need to question the level of rationality that exists in our fear, and especially when the fear enrages us to look for ways to destroy the other, which is in reality, no threat at all. 

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education, Psychology, Saudi Arabia

Why We Need Psychology and the Social Sciences in Saudi Arabia

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I keep reading about the various educational initiatives and strategies in the Kingdom, especially the importance of pushing programs and the youth being educated for fields in technology and engineering, while at the same time I read reports there are too many college graduates in the humanities and social sciences. I agree that Saudi needs to employ and develop strategies for educating the exploding population of young people in the Kingdom in quality training education programs in the technology and engineering sector, but I also believe that we need to take a step back and evaluate the needs related to the social sciences. If there are indeed too many humanity social science graduates then evaluating what has been classified as humanities and social sciences, which in itself is a diverse set of professions, as well as evaluating the quality of the training programs also needs to be under consideration. Examining the various serious current social issues, as well as the social issues that are developing provides an urgent need to examine the needs of the Kingdom to deal with these needs.

When people speak of the social science and humanities, generally they are referring to a diverse set of fields including English, Linguistics, Religion and Theology, History, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, Social Work, Anthropology, Music, Art, and Education. Within these fields, there are various subfields, which are specialized to study specific areas of the field. Psychology is my area of expertise which is a vast field including organizational psychology, school counseling, clinical psychology, counseling psychology, psycholinguistics, social psychology, educational psychology, career counseling, health psychology, cognitive psychology, aviation psychology, personality psychology, cultural psychology, cross cultural psychology, psychometrics, experimental psychology, developmental psychology, neuropsychology, psychology of groups, and the list goes on. I say psychology is my area of expertise, but to be more accurate and ethical in representing myself counseling psychology, social psychology, and organizational psychology are where my education and career experiences give me expertise. In addition, after living in Saudi Arabia and being married to a Saudi, I have an intense interest and growing love of cultural psychology. I know many of the basic ideas and theories associated with the other subfields (there is overlap between the various subfields), but just because I am a psychologist, I definitely am not an expert in neuropsychology, which focuses on the biological component of the human body in behaviors, perceptions, and psychological processes. Here is my point, what areas of psychology and training programs are needed to cultivate well-trained professionals to meet the needs of the country?

Examining the various social issues within Saudi Arabia that are reported such as domestic abuse, child abuse, lack of motivation and productivity among the workforce, unemployment, poverty, rising incidents of diabetes and heart disease, educational problems, job training, lack of human resources, drug abuse, traffic fatalities, marginalization of women and other special groups, family issues, and mental health issues are just some of the issues that I read about in the daily local newspapers. For those that might criticize me for bringing up these issues because of my Western background, these are the identified issues of Saudis born and raised in the Kingdom writing in the local papers. All of these issues are social issues, which need the expertise and touch of psychologist to work with the community in researching the issues, as well as developing psychologically sound strategies to deal with these issues. Technology and engineers cannot fix these problems alone, although cross-disciplinary projects aimed at reducing these incidents between the technology sector, engineers, medical professions, educators, psychologist, and social sciences can definitely provide a foundation for addressing these issues.

One scenario that illustrates this need is Saudi having the highest traffic fatality rate of anywhere in the world. The government has been active in trying to reduce this problem by installing cameras at traffic lights and along the highways in trying to reduce the incidents of fatalities. Although currently, the number of traffic fatalities in Saudi Arabia continues to be one of the claims of fame of Saudi Arabia. The social sciences needs to be addressed to understand what are the demographic features of those that are causing the accidents. What are the common factors such as age, licensed/unlicensed, environmental features of the place of the accident, what was the driver doing at the time of the accident, and time of the day? I read a recent news article that called for hiring more traffic police, which I scoffed at because the presence on the streets of traffic police seems more highly concentrated than any other country I have visited. An exploration of people’s perceptions of the traffic officers, the power of the traffic officers, as well as their current strategies to apprehend traffic violators seems like a study rich for exploration. The changes needed through social media campaigns, training of police officers, and policies could follow based on sound psychological principles that are known to influence human behavior. These interventions would require the engineers, but also the expertise of understanding the social factors, human behavior, and perceptions of the general driving population.

The Kingdom needs psychology, along with psychology undergraduate and graduate degrees that are well funded, have culturally appropriate curriculums, and competent psychology faculty. In addition, psychology courses need to be intertwined into the curriculum of other programs to teach individuals skills of living and working with others. It does not matter how competent or brilliant an engineer is if she/he is not able to communicate their ideas and bring that idea to reality. It does not matter how technologically advanced a society is if the basic understandings of appropriate parenting and building relationships is not understood. Without the social sciences, and specifically psychology, a field that is based on the scientific tradition, a society will lose the ability to understand how to strategically plan and appropriately deal with the condition of being a human.

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Cross Cultural, Feminism, Personal Growth, Psychology

Gender Roles in Saudi Arabia and the Southern Part of the United States: More Alike than People Think

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People have often asked me how I could go from living in the United States to Saudi Arabia, especially in light of the perceived role of women in Saudi Arabia.  A country where unarguably women are often at the mercy of their male guardians.  Women in Saudi Arabia are born into the world having the male guardianship of their father, and throughout their lives, and dependent upon their life circumstances may be under the guardianship of their father, brothers, husbands, or son upon their death.  As a woman living in Saudi Arabia, a female will never reach legal status of being “independent”.  Although growing up in Oklahoma, right along the Oklahoma / Arkansas state line, I often see many similarities between the two cultures in relation to women roles and family expectations.  I am the first to admit that Saudi definitely has more harsh interpretations and implications for women in line with punishments for breaking out of the traditional gender roles, but in both cultures, women are expected to play the domesticated maternalistic role. 

I remember when I divorced my first husband  and was returning to start my Master program, my grandfather asking me why I was “wasting my time” with further education, that I should be spending my time in attracting a new husband to secure my future.  His final comment was, “You know you are not getting any younger and women don’t hold their looks forever”, even though I was only 25-years old at the time.  My grandfather was a successful businessperson and attended college, which was uncommon for a man born in the early 1900’s., but still his views and social indoctrination of the role of women were that a female should focus on building a family, home, and children for the security of her future.  According to Johnson & Stokes (1984), the Southern part of the United States has held the view of females’ role relegated to be more domestic with females being relegated to the role of being beautiful fragile creatures excluded from major decision-making positions that are relegated to the male gender.  Interestingly enough, during my grandfather’s lifetime, he was married six times, and divorced four times.  I remember him often saying that he probably would have flourished in Saudi Arabia because at least he would have been able to keep more than one wife at a time legally.  While I love and adored my grandfather, this also showed his views of women in seeing them as a possession or object that were to be collected like luxury cars.

As women, across different cultural boundaries, I am sure many of us can identify a part of ourselves that does not identify with the gender roles we have been given.  For that matter, how many men have squirmed and led a life of misery because their innate tendency does not match those roles, which society has imposed on them?  My mother had a career, but in my childhood, I remember her coming home in the evening preparing the family meal, and then often serving my father in his recliner as he sat watching television.  I remember promising myself as a child that I would never play the slave to any man.  Although I remember in the last years of my parent’s marriage, my father began taking on some of the responsibilities of preparing the family meals as well.  Perhaps the early scenes I watched carried out between my parents forever imprinted an aversion to the whole expectations of a woman cooking and what it represented to me.

 I personally hate to cook.  In fact, my hatred of my expected culinary role, is such an anxiety-ridden experience, I would prefer driving stakes into my hands than attempting to cook a meal.  An attribute that both my ex-husband (an American), and my current husband (a Saudi) both have had issues with.  Both of them had mothers that fit closer to the idealized role of “the wife and mother slaving in the kitchen” to provide for their family.  My husband recently told me “What kind of woman are you?” an attempt to question my adequacy of being a mother, wife, and a female.  In fact, he even tried to pull the “biological argument”, which because of my educational background and experience was promptly slapped down with scientific facts.  In spite of our heated discussion, he did not change his belief that females were biologically born into this world with a pink apron ready to take on the role of Betty Crocker.  A belief that has been so ingrained into the culture, that my scientific based findings were ignored, regardless of the fact that he is well educated with a Master’s degree.

We are not born knowing our gender roles.  As much as the media and others have proliferated the belief that males and females biologically are programmed to take on roles, in reality this is false.  Gender roles are composed of the socialization process that takes place from family, peers, educational institutions, culture, religion, and media that describes the attributes and characteristics that an individual is expected to strive to achieve in relation to their gender identity (Crouter, Manke, & McHale, 1995; Lips, 2006; Para-Mallum, 2010: & Witt, 1997).   Specifically the socialization processes offered by family, as well as education in the early years of an individual’s life influence the primary determinants of gender roles.

Typically, family members are the first life-long, meaningful relationships established by a child that is a major force in a child’s socialization process of the world in terms of culture, values, morals, and more specifically expected gender roles (Witt, 1997).  Gender roles are usually first introduced by the family, where subsequent influences such as peers, educational institutions, and other entities build upon these identified roles, or at other times may challenge the identified gender roles (Witt, 1997).  Not only does one’s family teach the gender roles, but they are also modeled through the interactions of family members in what is expected and sanctioned rules of engagement between genders, as well as preference for the male gender as children, which is seen as a worldwide phenomenon (Crouter, Manke, McHale, 1995; Sadker & Zittleman, 2005; & Witt, 1997). 

Some of the memories of my Oklahoma childhood, as well as my own experience of having children, has proliferated the uneven sanctioning of the worth of the male over the female in both my native Oklahoma, as well as Saudi Arabia.  I remember my mother repeatedly telling me stories of how disappointed my father was that I was not a boy.  I was born in 1971, the days before ultrasounds gave parents the ability to know the gender of their child.  My mother recounted the story of how I laid in the hospital nursery for days nameless because my father had refused to pick any names for a baby girl because of his strong belief that he would be blessed with a baby boy.  I remember my mother telling me how my father looked at me with disdain my first few days of life because my gender broke his dreams of having his prodigy to follow in his footsteps and share his love of hunting, guns, and fishing.  I remember my mother in a fit of rage during her divorce from my father, wondering if their marriage would have been saved or her life would have followed a different path if they had a son.  

Other messages were sent to me during childhood from my extended family by the exaltation of the lone two grandsons that were born into each side of my family.  Each of my male cousins held some sanctioned position as the “prince” of the family, simply because they possessed male anatomy.  That somehow they deserved more because they were the “lone grandsons”, the prince of the family, with the expectations of continuing the family legacy into the next generation.  In my perceptions, as granddaughters we were loved, but no great expectations or special place was contrived simply because we lacked testicles and instead possessed ovaries.

In my life as an adult, I saw my ex-husband, and my current husband disappointed because I brought forward female offspring.  Even though both had the knowledge that the sex of a child is determined by the male, somehow both seemed to carry anger towards me with the birth of daughters.   I will always be grateful to the Egyptian female doctor who performed my ultrasound that revealed the gender of my youngest daughter for chastising my husband who had tears well up in his eyes with disappointment as the doctor happily announced, “It’s a girl!”.  She attacked him with harsh words for his response, and reminded him of the blessings of having daughters in the Islamic religion.  I wondered as I sat there on the table if she too had been made to feel someway inferior in her life because she was a female. 

I personally love having all daughters, because to be honest, I would not know how to relate to sons.  I had no brothers, my father was often away from home during my childhood, and I was raised with the feminine mystique pervading my childhood home.  Quite honestly, marriage has never been my best role as well (according to both my current and ex-husband) because of my apparent inability to “understand and read the male mind”.  It is not that I do not understand the male mind; I just choose not to play into the stereotypical roles that have been thrust upon me, not based on my aptitude, but because of my gender.   

Saudi Arabia and the Southern part of the United States continue to echo benevolent sexism, which is not always openly hostile of women, but more so the process of objectifying women as beautiful creatures, that need to be protected from the outside world, and is measured in her worth of producing male heirs and her performance of domestic duties.  In addition, women often base their own identities in their perception of their beauty and ability to perform “womanly” duties versus obtaining status through accomplishments in the world of work.  Women comprise roughly 50% of the population in both of these cultures, and as such, have also played a role in subjugating and supporting the minimization of the female gender, through their own voices, as well as their expectations of their daughters, mothers, granddaughters, daughter-in-laws, and friends of what a “real woman” should be able to do.  I am a real woman, but I will not take on an identity or roles that are not coherent with my biological aptitudes, which matter of fact, have little resemblance of the  human socially constructed role of a woman.  In addition, I will raise my daughters to listen to their inner voices and follow their passion in life, and not falling victims to the socially constructed role of being a female that others try to impose on them.

References

Crouter, A. C., Manke, B. A., & McHale, S. M. (1995). The family context of gender intensification in early adolescence.  Child Development, 66(2), 317–329.  Retrieved from the Walden Library using the Academic Search Complete database.

Johnson, N. E., & Stokes, C. (1984). Southern traditionalism and sex-role ideology: A research note. Sex Roles, 10(1/2), 11-18.

Lips, H.  (2006).  A New Psychology of Women.  (3rd Ed.).  USA:  Waveland  Press. 

Para-Mallam, F. J., & Funmi, J. (2010).  Promoting gender equality in the context of Nigerian cultural and religious expression: Beyond increasing female access to education. Compare: A Journal of Comparative & International Education, 40(4), 459–477.
Retrieved from the Walden Library using the Educational Research Complete database.

Witt, S. D. (1997).  Parental influence on children’s socialization to gender roles.   Adolescence, 32(126), 253–259.  Retrieved from the Walden Library using the Medline With Full Text database.

 

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