You are here

Home » News and Views » Lebanon: A culture of blame

Lebanon: A culture of blame

Publication Date: 
June 18, 2012

Just over a week ago, female Al-Jadeed reporter Ghadi Francis was brutally beaten outside a hotel in Dhour Choueir, where an event for the Syrian Social Nationalist Party elections was being held. A day prior to the attack, she reportedly posed a question in a news report that sent a wave of intense criticism in her direction from the SSNP leadership. “Isn’t it time for the SSNP to have its own Arab Spring?” she asked.

Francis herself is an SSNP member. And in a patriarchal society like Lebanon’s, Francis is in no position to scrutinize the antiquated tactics of the men who control politics. She is, after all, a woman. A woman’s body houses her honor and the honor of her family, which are considered in need of protection.  As such, she is expected to fulfill certain socially-constructed roles, none of which involve criticizing the male hierarchy or its decisions.

If a woman steps outside the strict boundaries of behavior prescribed to her, she faces communal rejection, stigmatization, violent assault (as in the case of Francis), and even death by way of “honor killing.”

The attack on Francis made little more than a dull murmur across media channels. Instead, all eyes were on another Lebanese woman last week: entertainer Myriam Klink, who became the focus of intense public scrutiny after a video clip of her performing the sexually-suggestive song “3anter” on an OTV entertainment program went viral on the web.

It’s no secret that the Lebanese media has set a strong precedent for favoring salacious gossip over news stories involving human rights abuses, crimes against minorities and other forms of injustice.  But the ease with which the media collectively chose to overlook the attack on Francis in favor of Klink’s superficial attributes and talent is contemptible.

The media consistently conveys the message that maintaining an attractive physical appearance is the most important goal for girls.  Products are marketed to women to make them feel as though there is something fundamentally wrong with not meeting society’s standards of beauty. They are told to reduce and remove wrinkles, smooth out cellulite and bleach their skin. Maryam Klink is the predictable outcome of teaching generations of young Lebanese women that society’s arbitrary standards of beauty completely define their value as human beings. The great allure of perfection is that it falsely alludes to power. The more effort women put into trying to achieve this culturally-constructed notion of perfection, the more powerless they are. 

More troubling is that sexual freedom in this country is somehow equated with real freedom, neither of which Lebanese women actually enjoy. A woman cannot pass on citizenship to her husband or her children; she can’t even open a bank account for them. If a man forces his wife to have sex against her will, it’s not considered rape. Moreover, rape is strictly defined as the penis penetrating a vagina. All other forms of sexual abuse are ignored. An accused rapist can have his sentence reduced if he marries his victim. There are numerous other examples of institutionalized discrimination against women.

And yet, ironically, we live in a society that promotes the objectification and sexualization of women while ultimately sexually repressing them. Thus, women are caught in a frantic limbo of constantly trying to negotiate being conditioned, on the one hand, to gain value through physical appearance above anything else, and on the other, to be modest and submissive to traditional gender roles. This tension encompasses why, for entirely different reasons, Ghadi Francis and Myriam Klink were both publicly punished last week.

Both were reprimanded for doing what they needed to do to get ahead in their respective careers. For Francis, that involved asserting herself as a hard-nosed, critical journalist. For Klink, that involved wearing provocative clothing and singing sexually-charged songs.

The men of this country demand women act as symbols of virtue while consistently devaluing them as human beings. They believe in trying to shame women as a primary means for enforcing their expectations. The media is complicit in this culture of blame. And it’s not just bad for women. Men end up viewing their interactions with women as a shallow means to an end, rather than a genuine opportunity to connect with another human being.

As women, we must ask ourselves this: Are we really living in an age of freedom, or are we more oppressed, confused and unfulfilled than ever?

It is a crime that the media continues to perpetuate the myth that women – and their bodies – are supposed symbols of democratic freedom in Lebanon. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As women we must stop ascribing to the machinations of people who use their status, privilege and gender to impose control over us.

Angie Nassar is a reporter and blogger at NOW Lebanon. You can find her on Twitter @angienassar.