Ana mish ‘ayza my MTV

Over the weekend, Viacom launched the new MTV Arabia with much excitement and a publicity blitz in the Middle East that left one’s head reeling. While music videos are nothing new to the Arab market (and quite a few of them more risqué than one would think), it will be interesting to see what kind of impact MTV has on this region. When I think about the effects that it might bring though, I have to admit I am being selfish and thinking more of how it will affect me than the Egyptian society I am living in.

When I get together with other women in Cairo, the topic of conversation almost always turns to the sexual harassment that is a part of everyday life here. No woman is immune, from graying grandmothers to pregnant twentysomethings. Arab women complain of getting harassed to a point as well, but it’s mainly limited to catcalls. That’s what I was prepared for when I arrived here. Catcalls I can deal with, leering I can learn to ignore. But there’s a vibe that’s very difficult to explain but that is felt by many Western women when they are harassed here. The best way I can think of to describe it is instead of getting the usual sense of disrespect and chauvinism, there is rather a clear feeling of proposition and expectation. To try and illustrate this, it’s one thing to be walking down the street with men whistling as you pass. That can be explained away by machismo and bad form. But when a man chases a woman all the way down the street and into her apartment building, then is truly and honestly shocked when she is terrified and angry, there’s clearly a miscommunication going on.

So what is it about Egyptian culture that makes a man grab a woman’s breast on the Metro and think its okay? I think many people would quickly explain it away as a result of a culture that is less respectful of woman or perhaps a problem with Islam or Arab society. I think this explanation is too easy and far too full of holes. I’m going to get uncomfortably close to blaming the victim here and suggest that Western woman are harassed because of the way they are portrayed by Western culture.

We’ve checked movie listings several times here to see if any good American movies are playing. We have yet to see one. Everything shown here falls into two categories: horror film sequels where the female characters are either Paris Hilton in lingerie or senseless other half-naked women who up the body count (invariably after having sex with someone) or violent flicks about Americans going after those Muslim terrorists. I’m not even going to touch the impact that the second genre probably has. But I suspect that these movies, hand in hand with exported American reality TV that shows women living in the Playboy mansion and bachelorettes all sleeping with the same man in hopes of getting chosen by him lead to certain assumptions about American women.

We talk about what impact seeing women portrayed as they are by popular media has on the Young Women of the church. We consider these images when trying to understand chauvinism or the addiction to pornography that plagues so many men. What we don’t think about is what these images are saying to others whose only experience of American women is through American popular media. At least in the US we have examples of and access to women who are not naked sex-crazed bimbos as role models.

A woman in Relief Society was discussing this with close Egyptian (female) friends who knew her well and was shocked when they admitted that they had assumed she and their other American women friends slept around frequently and indiscriminately with no qualms. When this sister explained her standards as a member of the church, she got the sense that her friends did not quite believe her. In speaking to college-aged women in my classes, I have find a distrust of Western women because of these widely held beliefs about their behavior that the women admit comes from what they see on TV.

As an avid fan of Beavis and Butthead from its nascent days and a fierce devotee of Matt Pinfield and 120 Minutes, I’m surprising myself by taking such a conservative tack. But now I’m experiencing the effects of MTV culture and I have to say that our tastes as Americans are hurting our citizens abroad and feeding their objectification and harassment.

Whose fault is this? The American public that tunes into trash like Laguna Beach and The Girls Next Door and makes it profitable or the Egyptian public that imports and consumes it? One can hardly argue that American women are especially chaste and modest as a whole. The reality is that American attitudes towards promiscuity and sex are very different from Egyptian attitudes. So what happens when these attitudes meet?

One of the bigwigs at MTV Arabia was boasting of the 60% of content that would be brought in from existing MTV staples such as hip-hop videos, reality shows and such gems as Cribs and Pimp My Ride (which will actually translate well in places like the United Arab Emirates). He said that he hoped this would act as a culturally unifying force. But when the result of exports such as this is physical harassment and women of different cultures becoming more suspicious and distrustful of one another, I have to say I’m skeptical.


  1. I’m having a flashback to 1981!

  2. Where are the Egyptians getting these action pictures with jihadis as the villians? I’d like to see one. I gather that The Kingdom fits the bill, but I haven’t seen it yet. The last one I remember was with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it came out in 1994.

  3. There haven’t been any movies of recent note that portray jihadi terrosrists. Hollywood even goes out if its way to rewrite original material to avoid making impolitic comparisons (see Tom Clancy’s “Sum of All Fears” where the terrorists were changed to European neo-nazis).

    Besides exporting more and more trash to the rest of the world, Hollywood is realizing that more and more of its business is coming from overseas. If it hurts the U.S. or portrays it in bad light is not so important.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    I was surprised by this announcement. If MTV would be banned by BYU, it seems an unlikely import to predominately Muslim countries.

  5. It has also been my experience when living in foreign conservative countries that men will break out of character and make outlandish suggestions and actions towards me and be shocked when I am not interested. I have experienced this in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. I believe that it is because their opinions of me are based on media (generally b-list and below). A few misconceptions I have encountered:
    1–Americans (including me) eat beef for breakfast
    2–It is appropriate to refer to black Americans with the N word (got this a lot from Africans, which was odd every time)
    3–I (your missionary and volunteer teacher who has lived amoung you for three years building your nation) carry a gun and would use it if robbed
    4–for me (and all Americans) sex is appropriate anytime anywhere

    The sexual expectation was disturbing, but it was perhaps worse for me that my students genuinely believed I would shoot them dead if they tried to take my stuff.

  6. Melissa, thank you for this very thoughtful post. I don’t have a substantive comment, but I appreciate you raising this issue. It is easy to isolate oneself and this shows how large the ramifications of our popular culture are.

  7. The Siege – 1996

    The Peacemaker – 1997 (bomber was a Bosnian Muslim and not really a jihadi)

  8. Ugly Mahana says:

    If the victim is western women, then I do not think you are blaming the victim. I think much of the media you describe truly harms people, and you have just identified another set of victims.

  9. Mish ayza kamaan!

    I completely agree. Egypt was far and away the worst place for sexual harassment that I have ever experienced (except when I chose to wear a veil). I can only imagine that it has gotten worse in the 10 years since I have been there. I had to explain many, many times that I and many American women are very different from what the media portrays. It didn’t help that we were traveling as a group of students.

    But what is interesting is that even though this type of media is easily available in Central Asia, another predominately Muslim area of the world, the attitudes are completely different there. I was never harassed in any way at any time while I lived there (except once by a man who spoke to me in Arabic instead of Russian or Kyrgyz; it was a bit of a shock). I have wondered why this is the case.

  10. I remember The Siege, and indeed there were villainous jihadis in the picture, but the main villain was a megalomaniacal US Army general intent on occupying Brooklyn. Because, you know, that’s what they all want to do. The take-away from the movie was that while terrorism might be bad, it’s nowhere near as dangerous as anti-terrorism.

    You got anything in the last 10 years?

  11. Steve Evans says:

    How about The Kingdom, gst?

  12. You mean the movie I mentioned in my first comment above? I think you’re right. I look forward to it.

  13. Steve Evans says:

    Or, failing that, the epic Team America: World Police.

    See here. Warning: link contains profanity and puppet violence.

  14. Now we’re talking, Steve.

    Melissa: Sorry for the tangential comments. Henceforth I will refrain.

  15. Eric Russell says:

    And while The Kingdom is the closest we get, even it frames anti-terrorism as nearly as bad as terrorism.

  16. Aaron Brown says:

    Lots of good food for thought, Melissa.

    I suspect that what causes Muslim men to react to Western women the way they do is a complicated question. My wife and I were in Copenhagen a few years ago, visiting my wife’s cousin. She lived in an area of the city with many Somalian immigrants, and she had recently had her first child. I vividly recall her description of the cat-calls, the stares, the comments, and the almost belligerent reactions she would get from Somali men whenever she walked outside during her pregnancy. Other Danish women apparently had similar experiences. And she made it clear that it was her visible PREGNANCY that they were reacting to. (She didn’t experience this at other times).

    I’m not sure what this means, but I doubt it has anything to do with the noxious effects of Western culture.

    Aaron B

  17. I can’t say I disagree with anything you’re saying, Melissa. I’m currently living in the Kingdom and I’m always surprised (in a bad way) when the Americans around me continue to wear spaghetti straps and short shorts around our compound (which is also, oddly enough filled with Saudi men and women who completely veil). I respect the right of these women to wear what they want, but I also know that it’s continually reinforcing the stereotype of the “immoral” Western woman. I don’t want to contribute to that (not that I get to wear spaghetti strap tank tops anyway…)

    Combined with the stuff that gets imported from America that’s shown on TV (reality shows and stuff) and you can understand how the Arab population here thinks we’re all very unchaste and well… trashy, in their eyes.

    It’s very sad that Americans have so many great things going for them, but they choose to export the worst of the worst. :-(

  18. Amira’s comment is interesting. In her book “The Battle for God,” Karen Armstrong comments that Muslim women like the veil because it’s a way of “containing” themselves. That’s not Armstrong’s word, just the only word I can come up with. I don’t want to say “shield,” because it’s not used as an outright defense, but it’s a way of maintaining themselves as separate when outside in society. Like the “circle of safety” Anna ascribes to big hoop skirts in The King and I.

    Anyhow, perhaps one defense mechanism would be to veil yourself.

  19. Ann, this is actually true. When I lived in a different part of Saudi Arabia 12 years ago, I would always cover (my head) and often completely veil when I went out. When I was completely veiled there was a certain feeling of protection and freedom that I had. I felt free to smile, talk, or use my facial expressions without being paranoid that my expressions were going to get me into trouble or somehow be misconstrued as being flirtatious or something.

    That doesn’t sound very feminist, does it, but, when you’re here, you don’t really want to stand out.

  20. Saw this article the other day.

    Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights fact sheet

  21. The media’s messages distort reality here too, unless there is a countervailing reality.

    I never played basketball with an African American until after I finished law school and moved to New York. I subconsciously expected that they all were Dr. J or Nate Archibald. (Michael Jordan was still in high school back then.) Only when one of the other new lawyers in our firm, an African American, showed up and played with our firm team did it dawn on me that the media images didn’t apply to the entire race.

    Same goes for “crime infested inner cities” or “criminal illegal aliens.” If you listen to Tom Tancredo and Lou Dobbs long enough, you risk thinking that the hardworking folks down the street are somehow a threat to our nation’s security.

  22. Melissa, astute observations. I’m following this thread with interest.

  23. Melissa, our experiences are eerily similar, and I have come to the same conclusions. I, too, have spent my time in the Middle East dealing with catcalls, unwanted attention, etc. every day. From time to time, I wish that Britney Spears (and the like) could come over and see what it’s like to deal – every day – with the consequences of the “Western Woman” image she (and others) have created and promoted.

    Recently, the Arab satellite channel MBC4 premiered “Desperate Housewives.” Other shows already on offer: One Tree Hill, The Bold and the Beautiful, Inside Edition, etc., not to mention the American music videos that are shown on Arab music channels. I can’t help but think that MTV can’t possibly do too much more damage.

    Does that frighten anyone else?

  24. Melissa, I am also a liberal who dislikes media sleaze. Having lived in Russia, where the dynamic you invoke does not operate in the same way, I’m a little skeptical cross-culturally about the causal mechanism you propose. Specifically, I found Russian men groping women, both foreigners and Russians, and similar malevolent propositioning in public spaces.

    Final conclusions would await a more careful analysis of these (and other) cultures, but I’m not entirely persuaded that the media sleaze is the cause of brutal treatment of Western women by Egyptian men.

  25. Don’t forget “True Lies” as another example.

    I should have refined my earlier point by saying that Hollywood has gone out of its way post 9/11 to not portray Arabs as terrorists.

  26. Thanks for some great thoughts. My internet is in and out so I haven’t been able to respond as often as I’d like. (perhaps the Egyptian government is on to me).

    It’s interesting to hear of similar feelings in other locations. This is the first place I’ve experienced harassment that has expectation in it and I wish I had more information to compare it to other places to see what really is at the root of the problem, if not exported images of ready and willing women, especially after hearing from Sam about Russia.

    Aaron, that’s strange! As I’ve become more visibly pregnant, the harassment I’ve experienced has gone down remarkably.

    David, The Kingdom is the one I have the major beef with and I have to admit I haven’t seen it so I’m totally judging it by its poster, which, plastered in multiples around the city, isn’t a great image. (cowering men in traditional Islamic garb)

    On an interesting note, taxi drivers always ask where in America I moved from. I tell them near Chicago and they invariably go “oh Chicago! Bang, bang!” while making shooting motions with their hands.

  27. The veil is such an interesting thing. Although I haven’t gone that far yet, I can definitely see the appeal of the veil as a safe haven. Like other women who have commented, as much as I’d like to be brave and make a statement by, say, wearing my hair down, its just not worth the extra attention. I would much rather blend in and avoid the hassle.

  28. Mark B. raises a point I’m interested in. What media portrayals do we see that we assume are true of other cultures or people?

  29. Interesting post, Melissa. I’ve wondered what effect on actual behavior our media stereotypes have, especially overseas. This is a good discussion.

    I only have a tangentally related experience. I served a mission in Ukraine. There was a popular Mexican soap opera that everyone watched. Many women would tell us how hard things were in Ukraine, and wish they could move to Mexico where everyone is rich like in the soap opera (I forget the name). Several wouldn’t believe us when we told them Mexico had poverty too, and not everyone lived like that. It was actually kind of odd for me, as an American, to run into an assumption that Mexicans are all rich, because I had the opposite assumption, also based on media.

  30. Like Aaron Brown talking about Danes in Somalia, and smb in russia, I see this as a much more complicated interaction than mellissa’s simple explaination would allow. The link to american media is unclear to me- are these men only beligerant sexists towards amercian women and yet they are fair and respectful to “their own women” ? What ancient forces of loyalty to one’s own tribe are in play, urging them to oppress visitors and residents from other places? Racism is found in all places against all sorts of other places, so if it is true that they treat lcoal womne so much better than american women, why do you leap to find american factors to blame and not first expect the cause is simple racism? I just don’t have much faith in the enlightenment and sensitivity of the society when this behavior is happening to anybody. you know- if somebody is not free, nobody is free. That sort of thing.

  31. F. Douglass says:

    “Racism is found in all places”
    I think it’s easy for Americans to assume that, based on our own experience and how we view race. But, our view of race is our own construction, and the result of our precise history, which includes forced slavery, the resulting war and segregation, genocide of the Indian nations, etc.
    I don’t think that broad of a generalization is accurate if applied to the whole world.

  32. Melissa, thanks for a thoughtful post. Based on conversations with people I had in Sicily, I came to the same conclusion you have here: the steady diet of American media images about American women’s wildly over-the-top sexual lives were contributing to the street hassling we had to put up with every day. Some men just could not seem to believe that although we were American women, we really, really, truly were not available.

  33. Melissa, a friend who worked for the American Embassy in the Kingdom for many years chose a unique solution in an attempt to blend in and be safe (she got tired of being pinched in public) while retaining some semblance of individuality. She had a dressmaker make her a full veil and body covering out of a bright fabric with flowers all over it. She even roller bladed in it. Saudi women stopped her on the street asking where she got it! It looked a lot better than a black tent. In some countries she just wore bright scarves or the head covering and in others, she wore the whole thing.

  34. cj douglass says:

    F. Douglass,
    As one who has never left the US (*gasp*) but has known visitors to this country from nearly every part of the world, I have to respectfully disagree with you. In fact, besides the extreme cases, I think Americans are actually less racist than anyone on the planet.

    And this actually has a lot to do with the original post. A large contributor to bigotry is simply not being around a certain culture, religion or race and letting the media tell us what those people are like ala Mark B.’s comment. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve heard from Indian, Korean, Japanese, Italian and Russian people (to name a few) about Americans of African descent – their opinion formed because of the way they are portrayed in the US media.

    The reason other nations don’t have the racial issues we have is simply because they lack the diversity to stir up such a discussion/conflict. The US has plenty of problems but diversity is not one of them.

    side note: growing up, an American born Korean friend of mine was dating an African-American girl. His mom forbade him simply because of the color of her skin (and she openly admitted such). She also spoke openly of her dislike for Japanese and Vietnamese people. My friend would shrug, “that’s how she was raised”. If my white, Idaho born mother said such things can you imagine the out cry? Of course this is not the only anecdotal evidence I have but its a piece.

  35. F. Douglass says:

    I think Americans are actually less racist than anyone on this planet.

    Uh, CJ, my point was that the first broad was statement was, well, too broad. You respond by saying you’ve never visited another country, but my clarification is en error because but Americans are less racist than anyone else?

  36. Melissa,
    Great discussion.
    I’m going to side with Sam and others on this one. It seems like Muslims are getting an unfair shake. Having served a mission in Russia, I was accosted too many times to count. I often wondered if the men following us home or literally trying to bang our door down thought we were prostitutes. It did not seem to me to matter if they were Muslim or not. Although antecdotally, the worst perpetrators of all, especially one terrible incident of which I will spare us all the details—the man was Azerbiajani. I could easily side with the Russian’s in a very racist way and say the Azerbaijanis were particularly disrespectful, but I’m not sure that is fair. The main difference seemed to be that most of the Russian men were drunk when inclined to, put it mildly, approach us—the men from the Caucuses were not.
    I have to disagree with Meems and Ann, and Karen Armstrong. To characterize women as liking the veil in order to “contain” themselves, or even protect themselves, seems like faulty logic. That would imply that men in their culture are biologically programmed differently than men on the rest of the planet and incapable of controlling themselves unless women were veiled. Wouldn’t the cause be just the opposite? That the way women are forced to wear the veil provokes men to view them a certain way if they don’t don it?
    About feminism and veiling and not veiling, wouldn’t the most logical thing to do be to when in the Kingdom, do as the Kingdom does? It certainly seems like the best way to win friends and influence people, or at least gain their respect and lower suspicions. Wearing shorts and tank tops seems like something a teenager would do to prove they have power to rebel against the system, when in fact it does nothing but make you look like a skank in that culture.
    I too see MTV as more of the worst. We had a foreign exchange student from Tunisia and who really thought she would come and live life in America as if she was in The O.C. She had a rough go of it. However as Amira noted, our exchange student from Tajikistan did not have that attitude, and I think that may have been because she had not seen all the American TV show and movies, while our student from Tunis had it as the mains staple of her diet.

  37. cj douglass says:

    F. Douglass,
    I see. Upon further review, it seems that your main point is that an American’s view of race relations is not necessarily the same as others who have not dealt with a history of slavery, segregation etc. and therefore we should not make generalizations about others racism because theirs is a whole different animal?

    If so, I still disagree. Tongans were once enslaved by Samoans, Indians were segregated from the white British in their own country, Tutsis were killed by Hutu in Rwanda, South Africa, Kosovo etc. etc. Our experiences with race are not very unique.

    Of course I could be misconstruing what you’re saying and this is a thread jack anyway. If so – sorry for the misunderstanding…….

  38. Not a movie, but one of the absolute worst portrayals of Arabs in US entertainment is 24. TV is the more frequent offender these days, though kudos to the last episode of “30 Rock” for mocking that stereotyping :) I don’t buy this silly notion that there is a PC Hollywood fear of offending Arabs and Muslims. I live with a Muslim name and heritage and so watch out for these things quite closely and I see an overwhelming tilt in favor of promoting stereotypes in the media while the 1 in 10 exception of somebody trying to be sensitive ends up getting trumpeted as supposedly being a free speech stifling rule rather than exception it is. More broadly, to anyone interested in the topic of Hollywood’s systematic (and deeply rooted) villification of Arabs, the standard text on it is Jack G. Shaheen’s “Reel Bad Arabs”:

    I would also add, I always shudder whenever I hear Arabic in US entertainment. It generally falls into the category of incredibly bad Arabic (often bad Fusha, doubly ridiculous), or an obviously wrong dialect for the character in question. But then I suppose uninformed portrayals of the “other” are not limited to Arabs – in Blackhawk down I had a hard time taking the movie seriously because almost none of the characters looked remotely Somali. Most Americans can’t tell a Somali from a Nigerian so not surprising, but equal sign of ignorance.

    As per racism, I agree with the comment that exists pretty much everywhere, but it definitely does take on unique local forms. Egypt for example has some really ugly racism towards Sudanese and other black Africans. Hearing them referred to as…well, I’ll skip the epithets, they’re not kind…is an unpleasant experience for me, 10 times so for those forced to take such abuse. But Egypt like pretty much any place is full of contradictions on these issues – folks can be so kind and generous to outsiders in one set of circumstances and downright nasty in others. Just like folks in the US can be. The circumstances that cause that may vary, but it is part of our common human condition.

    As per media, I think Melissa is on to something as one factor among many. Counter-examples from other parts of the world clearly show it’s not the only factor, but there’s no doubt in my mind that media stereotypes feed it. Interestingly, an Indian Hindu friend of mine pointed out that having lived in the US for many years, she was practically unmarriagable back home because people would now just assume she slept around like Americans, so it’s not just Arab countries. But in Arab countries like Egypt, I’d throw in a host of factors (all of which are stereotypes in and of themselves, but we gotta start from generalizations to try to figure the details I guess)

    *western media

    *the sex-infused aping of western media in the new generation of music videos (Brittany and Shakira don’t have anything on the just as or even more racy Nancy Ajram or Haifa Wahbi) (which I should note is largely the product of Saudi-owned media companies – As’ad Abu Khalil’s take is that it’s a sort of anti-politicization Soma for the masses, I’d partially agree but say it’s also just pure money-making and pandering to the sexually-frustrated young male masses of the region)

    *a broad worldview that encourages a view of Muslims as operating within certain moral norms while *anyone* outside Islam as outsiders without a moral code and therefore “fair game”

    *a social code that puts pretty strict boundaries on moral behavior between the sexes but when combined with economic stagnation (you have to pay for a hefty dowry, an expensive wedding party and have a paid-for-and-furnished apartment ready to go before you can get married in most cases) builds up some pretty incredible sexual frustration

    *a huge population boom that has left tens of millions of far-too-idle young men hanging about and looking for a thrill. This has a whole host of economic and political factors behind it, but young men everywhere have hormones. Balloon their percentage in the population and leave them without jobs or decent prospects of marriage, and they get frustrated.

    And many other factors, those just come to mind now.

    What it adds up to is a society facing some real issues on the sex-relations front. Attitudes towards western women are only one manifestation of that. As an American professor of mine who had lived many years in Egypt once stated (which the few Egyptians I mentioned it to largely agreed with), there is an unspoken assumption in Egypt that if you stick any man and any woman in a room alone, they will eventually have sex. A sort of “the devil will make us do it if we’re not separated by society’s rules, so we can’t be blamed” (or at least the man can’t) attitude. Although frankly, as I look around the world, I’m not sure I find any society that doesn’t deal with serious problems here, just different ones. A society as hyper-fixated on recreational sex without responsibility as ours I can’t take as being any more healthy than one with deep issues of sexual repression.

  39. I like to think that Egyptians aren’t idiots and can separate colorful images of bouncing cleavage set to music from actual Western women that have occasion to visit their country, just as I can separate, say, True Lies from reality.

    The fact that the former continue to treat the latter as they do has little to do with Hollywood mind control techniques, although certain depictions may feed a confirmation bias.

  40. in Blackhawk down I had a hard time taking the movie seriously because almost none of the characters looked remotely Somali.

    Well, the film was filmed in Morocco. Maybe the producers should have imported more Somalis for the shoot, but then again, I’m not sure how the Moroccan authorities would have felt about granting them work permits.

    But I hear you; I have a hard time taking portrayals of the Middle East seriously when filmed on location in, say, the California High Desert.

  41. I love how we think that this is a new problem. Before men were grabbing women’s breasts on the metro it would’ve been in the wagon, at the house, in the tent, in the trees.

    I’m sure media can add a magnifying glass to it, but honestly you can’t say this wasn’t happening before. Well you can say it, but a quick look at women’s history in that area will prove you wrong.

  42. in Blackhawk down I had a hard time taking the movie seriously because almost none of the characters looked remotely Somali. Most Americans can’t tell a Somali from a Nigerian so not surprising, but equal sign of ignorance.

    I forgot that Somalis are experts at distinguishing Canadians from Americans.

    I had a hard time taking the movie Ocean’s 13 seriously because in one scene they clearly show the digitally manufactured image of the new casino between the MGM Grand and the Planet Hollywood casinos which are south of the Paris casino. But in another interior shot you can see the front of the Paris casino. Well everyone knows that means the shot was taken from a penthouse in the Bellagio casino facing east. Ignorance indeed!!

    (Sorry, I’m leaving for Vegas in a couple of days, so I’m a little giddy…)

  43. This was a fascinating post. I think that American media really distorts the image of Americans throughout the world. I live in Sweden and have spent a lot of time talking with people about what is portrayed in films, television and in the news.

    When I visited Israel, one of the most uncomfortable experiences I ever had was while visiting the Old city in Akko, was the way men looked at me, EVEN while my husband and four children were with me. It was unnerving. I wasn’t followed or anything, but it really made me feel uncomfortable.

  44. Just an interesting note today from this morning’s CNN broadcast about a rape victim being sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes. It happened over a year ago, but because the victim had spoken to the media, her punishment had been increased.

    Apparently her guilt stems from the fact that she, as a married woman, was in public with an unrelated male, so seven men abducted her and raped her. The full story is here.

  45. In # 44, the country is Saudi Arabia, which I neglected to mention.

  46. kevinf,

    I saw that too. Apparently Saudi Arabia also thinks the media is part of the problem:

    The woman was originally sentenced in October 2006 to 90 lashes. But that sentence was more than doubled to 200 lashes and six months in prison by the Qatif General Court, because she spoke to the media about the case

  47. Anyone else struck by the “natural man” concept here?

  48. It is perhaps obvious, but nonetheless worthy of repetition: Saudi Arabia’s system isn’t representative of much of anything other than a small group of incredibly insular, overwhelmingly Najdi clerics allied to a privately licentious but publicly pseudo-pious ruling clan. Corruption, foreign mercenaries (primarily American), technocratic efficiency in key places, and bizarre power deals are the driving force of the system. The result is an abuse of religious terminology to support a dysfunctional (to society such as this girl) but effective (to the ruling clique) system. Religion it is not, abuse of religion it is. Many citizens chafe under the system. Ask any Hijazi or Asiri or native of the Eastern Province if they don’t want the system to be different (and indeed many Najdis themselves), and the answers will overwhelmingly be yes. The difficult questions are how to get from A to B and where exactly B is.

  49. Non-Arab-Arab, I didn’t make any editorial comments about the news story, not wanting to make judgments about Islam as a religion. Certainly we don’t see this everywhere, but there are parallels in the tribal lands of Western Pakistan, isolated incidents in other Muslim countries, of violence on women for their “potential” of causing men to sin.

    There does seem to be a double standard of some sort in these stories. Why is it acceptable for men in Cairo to accost Melissa in hopes of having sex, yet condemning women for “inspiring” sexual sin in men?

    It should be pointed out, for those who did not read the CNN article, that the rapists were also tried, convicted, and sentenced for their part in this incident.

  50. Ray–
    what exactly do you mean?

  51. #50 – Mosiah 3: 19 – “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

    It just seems like the common denominator here is that the men involved are acting within their “natural” (animalistic, predatory, unrestrained, etc.) selves – unrefined by the working of the Spirit that takes the “natural” and makes it “peculiar.” Popular media increasingly plays to that natural instinct,especially in men, thus taking a “natural inclination/urge” and justifying it in whatever way possible – generally for profit and power.

  52. Ray (51),

    So how come men act “naturally” in the Middle East but not in Provo?

  53. To many of them do in Provo, as well, but, hopefully, more of them in Provo yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit. If you lived there and didn’t see it, it’s probably because you weren’t on the receiving end.

  54. “Too many” – sheesh.

  55. Kevinf: there is a double standard, completely agree. Only point I would make is the causes are more complex than the standard explanations one typically hears.

  56. Ray,
    So the natural man goes around groping and raping women? It is natural for all men to do this without the enticings of the spirit? I won’t belabor the point–but it seems even without the spirit, cultural norms, among other things, do not make it natural at all to behave in such a way. It isn’t inherently biological for men to behave badly either.

  57. #56 – Depending on how you define the working of the Spirit, cultural norms and societal restrictions certainly might fit into that disclaimer. I know I attended college with a lot of guys who were perfectly respectable when others could see them and total sexist jerks (and potentially dangerous) when they were hidden from view. I have heard it said that alcohol doesn’t change personalities and inclinations, for example, but rather that it impedes spiritual sensitivity and puts biological inclinations at the forefront. There is a reason I teach my daughters not to drink that has nothing to do with the Word of Wisdom.

    Also, I would say that any man who is devoid of spiritual sensitivities – who lacks a deep connection to societal conscience – who is immune to the promptings and guidance of the Spirit in it many manifestations (fruits of the Spirit) – who merely follows his biological instincts and inclinations is much more likely to grope and rape than a man who does not fit that description.

  58. Ray–
    I agree that any person who is devoid of the spirit is much more likely to view others as mere objects for sexual gratification. When the problem is endemic, is it a symptom that the whole populace is devoid of the spirit? I think Melissa’s post shows how MTV and the like, which are devoid of the spirit, may entice people to do things simply because they are seen as the norm. A man in Egypt may think it wrong to grope a woman of his own culture, but not an American because he sees it as normal interaction between western men and women.

  59. So we agree? *grin* As to the actual question, probably not, but perhaps.

    I think there are cases where individuals are devoid (as well as innumerable levels between devoid and full), but there have been cases where that spiritual state was so widespread that it might as well have been endemic (meaning “characteristic of a specific people or place” not “belonging exclusively or confined to a particular place”). This is the point of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah – that the entire city was devoid of the Spirit and acting outside its constraints – that the condition can become endemic.

    I’m not saying that this type of behavior is endemic to the entire Muslim world; I’m just saying that this type of behavior is typical of people who are not in touch with the Spirit to such an extent that they are acting according to “the natural man” detailed in Mosiah 3:19 – regardless of their religion and country of residency (or even city, in the case of Provo). Having said that, I am concerned that MTV is not going to advance the influence of the Spirit in countries like Egypt and decrease the actions of those individuals who already are prone to follow “the natural man.”

  60. I’m just waiting for the review of “Real World: Dubai”.

  61. L.C. Goddard says:

    As an American living in Sweden, I get to observe the reaction to American steroetypes on a daily basis. The movies and television shows that sell best all feature dumb-horny-sexy American women. Interestingly enough, I’ve never been harassed by a Swedish man, and I don’t know any other ex-pats who have either.

    However, as a former resident of Dearborn, Michigan (second largest arab population in the US) I had problems with some middle-eastern men leering at me or making comments and I had friends who complained of the same thing. As a slightly chubby mother of four children, I’m not exactly what you would call a babe. But I do wear short sleeve shirts and of course, I never cover my hair.

    What’s the difference between Swedish culture and conservative middle-eastern cultures? Plenty. First of all, Swedes are taught from the earliest years that a naked body isn’t automatically sexual. They’re also taught that nobody has the right to harass – not for any reason. Last and probably most important, women are not objects or posessions.

    As an aside, when I was a student at BYU, I was asked out on a date by a boy from Jordan. A devout Muslim, we met in the cafeteria and talked for a long time about why he was at BYU. “Good moral environment.” he said. He asked me out on a date and drove me to Salt Lake for dinner. On the way there, he talked at length about the five pillars of Islam. Then he started talking about his sisters back home in Jordan and how if they ever went out on a date (like me) they would be beaten. Up to this point, I was comfortable, but when he said that, I immediatly felt scared. Then, he passed all the restaurants and started driving up into the mountains. I asked him repeatedly to take us to the restaurant, but he kept smiling and saying “you are going to love the view.” When he finally stopped the car, he lunged at me and it took every bit of my strength to push him off me. I should have gotten out of the car and ran, but I didn’t. I don’t know why. I just begged him to take me home. He was dumbfounded. He said “This is your culture.” I became angry and said “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Take me home now!” and he did.

    The whole way home, he kept repeating the same things over and over. “We don’t allow our sisters to date. It’s not appropriate for women to date. Women are very different here.” I didn’t say much. Frankly, I was afraid he would change his mind. When we arrived at my house, he asked if he could please call me again. I told him I absolutely never wanted to see him again and to tear up my number, but he called repeatedly over the next two weeks. I finally had my older brother talk to him and I never heard from him again.

    Hypothetical question: If that man had raped me, would it have been my fault? The man who answers yes to that question must look into his own heart and ask several more: under what circumstances do I lose the ability to control my behavior? Is it when I’m kissing a woman? Is it when I think a woman is flirting with me? Is it when a woman looks lies she’s available? Is it when a woman is drunk?

    It’s a myth that the answer to male sexual harassment is to hide the ladies. Forcing women to cover themselves only serves to further sexualize every part of the woman that is hidden.

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