[All posts in this series can be found at The Arab Mind archive.]
Male Sexual Anxiety and the Danger of Female Sexuality
Male sexual anxiety is a universal part of male psychosexual development. In the modern Western world, attempts to minimize the anxiety are often expressed through crude "locker room" humor, pornography, and other manner of objectifying women. A women who is primarily an object for sexual gratification is much less threatening to an insecure man than a fully three dimensional woman who has her own desires and independent mind. The idea that such a woman could find the man lacking in his sexual prowess and endowment is a great source of anxiety for many men who have difficulty negotiating the developmental milestones along the way toward adult relatedness.
In the Arab Mind, the culture has been much less developed in its handling of male sexual anxiety. Female sexuality is so intensely frightening to the insecure Arab male that extreme measures have been devised to help control his anxiety.
In my last installment of this series, The Arab Mind: Part X, I discussed the concept of the women's body as a container of 'ird, honor, which can only be diminished by her misconduct (including being the victim of sexual assault) and can never be replenished. In order to protect against the woman's sexuality despoiling the honor of his family, the Arab man must find ways to constrain her freedom to transgress. Thus, in Saudi Arabia, an unaccompanied female is considered to be de facto evidence of shameful behavior. Worse, an unveiled woman, in many Arab communities, is considered a danger and a temptress.
Mashad, 10 April (AKI) - A top Shia cleric in Iran has said that unveiled women are a serious danger to Iranian society as they cause men to be "transformed into beasts".
"Women without the veil are a danger that the authorities underestimate," said Hojatolislam Seyyed Ahmad Elmalhoda, a powerful cleric who leads the Friday prayers in Mashad, a site considered sacred for Shia Muslims as it houses the shrine of Imam Reza.
"This situation is very serious in that if men see these bad women, they will turn into beasts, and then the whole of society will have to pay the consequences."
This is a rather straightforward depiction of the female as temptress that is ubiquitous in the Arab world. However, there are additional factors that enhance male anxiety with female sexuality in the Arab Mind.
[Note: While this series is called The Arab Mind, it is important to understand that the reference is to those groups and cultures, that adhere to the most fundamental and tribal aspects of Islam, as further explained in The Arab Mind: A Necessary Digression. Iran's inclusion reflects the Khomeniist's attempts to prove themselves more faithful to Islam than all others so as to gain the mantle of the Guardians of Islam for themselves. To that end, they have become "holier than thou" and that includes their treatment of women in accord with traditional the Arab tribal mentality.]
As described in Part III, the Arab boy learns at a very young age that he can be aroused by women against his wishes and without his permission; since the opportunities to gratify such arousal are extremely limited, this is dangerous on several levels. As noted in Part VII, traditional circumcision rites enhance the typical castration anxiety that is part of male development. As a result the anxiety over female sexuality that is an expectable part of male psychosexual development is already exaggerated by the time the Arab boy reaches puberty and begins the tumultuous adolescent progression toward adult sexuality.
Dr. Sanity, in her brilliant discussion of Islam's Vicious Misogyny, described some of the genesis of Arab fear and hatred of women, and reinforces the thesis:
Glazov goes on to argue that Islamist terror can be thought of in part, at least, as a response to sexual rage, frustration, and the humiliation of being connected to a "degraded mother." Thus the men in the culture must constantly assert their masculinity, defend their masculine "honor", and strike out in rage against any who "shame" them.
This is apparent in the sexual mutilation of terror victims who are perceived as "inferior" by the Islamists, and on a par with women of their own culture. It is also seen in the Freudian symbolism of the barbaric act of beheading; as well as in the ubiquitous rape of non-muslim women around the world.
To some extent, such behavior has been seen in all cultures that debase or oppress women. In misogynistic cultures (and individuals) there is usually both the revulsion of the "whore" combined with a perverse obsession with, attraction to, and idealization of "perfection" in a woman (the "madonna" complex). In order to be idealized, women must be stripped of any hint of sexuality.
As a culture, the Arab-Islamic world has perfected this "stripping" to a nightmarish art form of shapeless, individualess, blank nothingness.
Misogyny can be defined as an unreasonable fear or hatred of women. Ever since Eve tempted Adam, women have been reviled in many ways and for many overt reasons around the world and in various cultures. They are hated and feared for their bodies, which tempt men to give into their "base" instincts; They are feared and considered "unclean" because of their monthly cycle of bleeding; they are hated for their unique feminine abilities, which are invariably considered malicious--or worse, evil--by the misogynist individual or culture.
There are three basic motivations underlying why men fear/hate/vilify women (and they are not mutually exclusive, but may exist in various combinations or all at the same time) :
-castration anxiety, and
-resentment and anger at being dependent on women, especially the mother.
The idealization of women, on the other hand, originates from the innate desire of all humans, male or female, to return to the perfect union with the mother that each experienced in the womb.
The apotheosis of Arab misogyny is honor killing. Yotam Feldner in the Middle East Quarterly in December 2000 discussed "Honor" Murders – Why the Perps Get off Easy, with an emphasis on Jordan, a "moderate" Arab/Muslim country. He noted that honor killings are a vestige of Islam's Arab tribal beginnings but have been codified in Arab law and culturally accepted and condoned by religious authorities:
... the influence of Islam on the conduct of Muslims is not limited to what is written in sacred texts; rather, it includes cultural perceptions of Islam. First, there is the fact, noted above, that the Jordanian public and its elected representatives by a nearly 2:1 margin endorse men punishing their women-folk. This custom is, in other words, deeply rooted in a devout society that does not view honor killing as an aberration from the teachings of Islam. Indeed, it is not uncommon to hear honor murderers claim that they believe what they did was part of their religion.
Second, if honor killing originated in pre-Islamic Arab tribalism, it has long since been incorporated into Islamic society and thereby become common throughout the Muslim world, including India, Pakistan, Turkey, and the Balkans. In Muslim Kosovo, for instance, thousands of Muslim women raped by Serbs during the war were abandoned by their husbands. Indeed, as one observer noted, most victims do not report the crimes because in Albanian society rape brings shame on the victims. Women who gave birth as a result of the rape, abandoned their babies and escaped from the hospital to live, "with no identity to prevent the disclosure of their situation, which would turn their life into hell."41
Third, honor killings fit into a wider pattern of customs that flow from the texture of Muslim life without specifically being required by Islam, yet still enjoy the blessing of Muslim authorities. Female circumcision, now more often known as female genital mutilation, is another example: common mostly in Muslim African countries, it is not mentioned in Islam's sacred texts and did not originate in Islam. Yet in those countries, religious authorities associate this practice with Islam. In other words, female genital mutilation, a clearly pre-Islamic custom, was adopted by modern Islamic authorities, who declared female circumcision to be worthy Islamic conduct...
Fourth, it bears noting that the policy of "not taking the law into one's own hands," which dominates Islamic authorities' circles, is less than an unequivocal moral and religious prohibition of honor murder. The refusal of Islamic authorities to unambiguously denounce honor killings signals to the public that this practice does not necessarily contradict Islam.
Fifth, the already ambiguous Islamic objection to honor killings becomes even less effective when considering the way mainstream Islamic scholars interpret the Qur'anic verse (4:34) that legitimates wife-beating. This verse states: "Men are responsible for women... So virtuous women obey [their husbands]... Admonish those of them on whose part you apprehend disobedience, and keep them out of your bed, and beat them." ... Other Islamic scholars have come up with their own recommendations on wife-beating. Some rule out the breaking of bones and stress that in no case should the beatings be accompanied with "verbal assault." The Islamic rulings section of the Palestinian Authority's daily newspaper forbids stabbing. There is a consensus that the husband should avoid leaving bruises on his wife's body, and all scholars agree that wife-beating is the husband's last resort. Still, it is recommended when a couple finds itself on the verge of divorce: "It is better for the husband to beat his wife a little, to make her feel she was wrong, than to destroy the family through divorce."
The faith, in short, cannot be confined to the narrow boundaries of the Qur'an and other early holy sources. It includes developments and interpretations that occurred after the sacred texts appeared. If this cultural reading of the teachings of Islam is accepted, then the role of the mainstream Islamic establishment itself is revealed in nurturing the "values of virility" that lead to honor killings.
Note the explicit connection between honor killings and nurturing the "values of virility." A man who cannot control his women's sexuality is considered to be less than a man; ie her sexual misconduct, in effect, emasculates the man and he can only regain his prowess by killing her. Feldner describes several examples of honor murders and includes this explanation:
These testimonies are in line with the analysis of ‘Izzat Muhaysin, a psychiatrist at the Gaza Program for Mental Health, who says that the culture of the society perceives one who refrains from "washing shame with blood" as "a coward who is not worthy of living." Many times, he adds, such a person is described as less than a man.
Female sexuality and the female taint (blood) threatens the male with its implicit undertones of castration and genital danger. It is not a coincidence that Islam offers its imprimatur to child brides; girls are much less frightening than women to insecure and infantilized men. When real women, rather than caricatures, are forbidden to the young male, he has no flesh and blood example with which to temper (and synthesize) his split images of women. She is either angel or whore raised to a degree not seen in the West since well before the advent of the women's liberation movement.
Male sexual anxiety is a major determinant of cultural traits that serve to confine and restrict freedom in the Middle East. These trends are further strengthened (worsened?) by the acceptance of polygamy, with all the attendant troubles for young men that such systems engender.
It also implies that one of the most powerful weapons the West has in our struggle with radical Islam concerns women's liberation. By actively supporting women's rights in the Arab world and unapologetically pressing the moral and ethical arguments in favor of women's rights, the West will not only have the high ground in the moral confrontation but the immoral and amoral treatment of women in Arab countries will be held up as shameful; by leveraging the Arab Mind's sensitivity to loss of face, sharaf, we may be able to loosen the bonds holding women in place, and ultimately encourage the liberation that would be to the benefit of men and women in the Arab world.