x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

An overindulged son turns into an over-aggressive man

To stop bad male behaviour towards women, start with the boys' mothers, who have to exercise some control.

It might start with something as simple as a mother saying "habibi", or "darling", to her son whenever he does something inappropriate.

Using endearing terms while supposedly punishing a boy who has done something wrong defeats the purpose, and has negative effects that last into adulthood.

There is a bond between a mother and all her children, of course, but for some mothers, the bond with their sons is especially strong.

Every child needs love and understanding, but when mothers smother their sons, and this behaviour continues into adulthood with "her boy" seen as able to do no wrong, that is when problems appear.

A couple of years ago, my friend's brother was caught sexually harassing a woman in a Saudi mall. He took advantage of a relatively empty store; she was in a corner, behind a stack of clothes looking for something, and he touched her inappropriately. What happened next provides an important insight into culture and gender discrimination: the first person accused was the woman. "What did she expect wandering alone in a mall?" my friend's mother asked.

He was caught only because his sister and her friend were in the mall, happened to see him go into the store and then saw the woman running out, yelling back at someone inside. When she saw that the screams were aimed at her brother, my friend was speechless and didn't know how to react. She had never imagined that her brother, who often had warned her about leering men, could be so disrespectful.

"She is crazy," her brother claimed before walking away. "She wanted my mobile number and when I refused, she started screaming."

The victim did not alert security, probably knowing that she would have been blamed for being there without a mahram, a male guardian.

The entire family knew what had happened, but put the blame on the woman, who "must have done something" to encourage him. His mother said women send signals, and get what they deserve. Her "habibi" could do no wrong.

No wonder some men don't worry about being caught, or even about feeling guilty.

Before we make friends or live in the community, the foundations of our behaviour are set at home. I'm sorry to put the responsibility on parents, but it truly starts with them, particularly mothers.

"Girls are not staying home, you keep your sons away from us," read some of the protest placards following India's recent rape crisis. The same sentiment is heard in Egypt, which also suffers an epidemic of sexual harassment.

This happens worldwide, in all cultures and classes and backgrounds.

The importance of the mother's influence is illustrated by the amazing men who were raised to treat every woman like a rose, in need of protection and respect but equipped with thorns to fight back.

I have come across many men who protect and defend women who are harassed by others. They catch those who do anything inappropriate and, depending on the case, either call the authorities or handle the matter themselves.

I don't think mistreatment of women will ever go away, no matter how much education and awareness there is. But upbringing can help. Besides mothers, fathers must set an example, behaving as they want their sons to behave - like gentlemen of honour.

 

Rghazal@thenational.ae

Twitter: @arabianmau