x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

You can’t hide your double standards behind a wardrobe

Men and women are treated differently by society, and even by their own friends, writes Rym Ghazal.

Just when you think you have heard it all, you get a little jab of shock and surprise at the limitless double standards that appear in our society and are passed off as being “part of the culture”.

There he was, one of my friend’s husbands, shopping at Ikea with a young woman who seemed half his age and was definitely not his wife.

At first, I wanted to extend him the benefit of the doubt, thinking that, perhaps, he was helping a friend or a friend’s wife. But quickly those assumptions were shattered as I saw the man make a quick dash to the corner and try to hide behind an assembled wardrobe. It didn’t help when we heard his companion say: “Honey, where did you go?”

I was with friends, one male and one female, and while we all initially laughed at the scene, we then felt bad for the man’s wife who we knew was at home with their new baby.

The male friend said: “Listen. He is a man, he can do this. Nothing he does can really ruin his reputation unless we are talking about his professional reputation.”

My female friend fumed: “It is so unfair. A man cheats and society says it is OK, he is being a man. A woman dares to even think or talk about another man while she is married, and she is shunned by her community and friends.”

What bothered me most about this episode was that if it was his wife who had done this, it would have caused more ripples and brought stronger criticism. But then again, women are more careful in public over matters like who they are seen with, where they are seen, and what they wear and when.

There is always more pressure on a woman to “appear” a certain way, because she is judged and analysed wherever she goes and whatever she does. It can be so tiresome.

I’ve never understood this obsession everyone has over what women wear, whether it’s too tight, too covered, too this or too that. Who cares? I don’t overanalyse what men wear.

But then again, little surprises me any more. I did an experiment once where I put a male name on my CV, and sent it to a group of people to see their reaction. When they read about my travels, initiatives and somewhat extreme experiences, they felt that this man was “adventurous, ambitious, brave, thoughtful” and so on. There were even a few “awws” expressed over the humanitarian and animal activism section.

But when I present it as my own CV, I get the whole “why did you do all this?” reaction to my experiences and even a few people saying: “When did you find the time?”

Then, there will always be this kind of comment: “But where is your husband? Isn’t that the biggest failure for a woman?” My point here is that women and men are judged differently. There are different sets of expectations depending on nationality, age and religious background.

Recently, I met some old girlfriends, and we sat and laughed and joked until late into the night.

A male friend had seen us and commented that it looked “improper” for us to be out so late, and criticised us for being loud and thoroughly “unladylike”.

When he heard that the other women were married, he criticised us even more.

“What husband would allow his wife to be out so late unaccompanied?” he said. “What is the new generation of women coming to?”

Interestingly enough, this man is a bundle of contradictions himself. He goes to bars and clubs, but would never take his wife as, he said, these are not places for a “decent woman” to be seen.

Whether we like it or not, women are judged against a different set of values than men. There are overall higher expectations placed on women.

The way that some women manage to balance their lives between demanding husbands, children, in-laws, work, friends and community, and yet come out looking like graceful swans, should be applauded by the rest of us.