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Gender and Society - are women still a minority?
by Saberi Roy
2008-09-24 10:06:31
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I have been traveling widely for the last few years and although like any artist I have often felt that I have transcended my smaller identities, like gender for instance, society it seems has a way of reminding people that there are barriers to moving beyond smaller identities. In my travels I’ve seen strange gender perceptions, especially within Middle Eastern countries.

Not only have I been repeatedly asked by the consulate sections for consent or permission from male members of my family in order to be able to travel alone, but some countries like Saudi Arabia absolutely deny entry to independent female travelers. When I did manage to travel to some of these places, women whom I met at airports or shopping malls found it strange that I travel alone and that I am not accompanied by a man. Of course, this is Quranic truth, that all women should be accompanied by a male member when they travel, but how long will the Middle East continue to follow such bizarre and demeaning rules?

Middle East apart, what about the West? We are seemingly liberated 21st century individuals and most people believe in the equality of the sexes but then in news reports, articles and research papers, ‘women and children’ are considered as one vulnerable group. News reports highlight events with phrases like – ‘X number of people killed and among them many women and children!’….hey did you think the world was without women?

But this is a pattern in all news reports, showing concern for women perhaps but such phrases only project women as vulnerable minorities and no better than children. The concept that women have to be ‘protected’ and that they are weak is still found in different versions around the world – and the Middle Eastern countries follow this aggressively and the West follow this subtly. Asian countries also have various dimensions of gender inequality.

Strangely some of these perceptions are associated with our era of sexual liberation which has only increased the number of women posing nude and getting into prostitution. Western society seems to be changing rapidly, yet the male as sex object is still not a widely acceptable concept, although there have been changing trends. Mainstream media and social culture give importance to ‘sexy’ young glamorous women and powerful rich influential men and there are several social occasions where along with influential businessmen and company CEOs, young models and actresses are invited to parties and social gatherings.

Older women with knowledge and experience are hardly seen or heard in the media and there seems to be among women a perpetual fear of losing youth and a desperate attempt to keep looking young to be accepted not just in society but also within the family. This is a sad situation and unless there is a fundamental change in our perceptions on issues of race, gender and our smaller identities, we will not be able to evolve with a true sense of being part of the greater humanity.

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