Why does he get that stiff when she passes by? Why is it that her initial reaction is turning her head away? In any setting where men and women mingle, you can sense the tension. Some may confuse it to sexual tension when I think it is a total ambivalence to how to act or behave with and around the other gender.
In a society that is witnessing progress at its quickest pace, some people seek to participate in such march without being prepared for all of the different interpersonal issues that will emerge. Different institutions have been established upon the main goals of serving the nation and thus employing all qualified males and females. The interaction between both genders becomes crucial to the quality and speed of work. Now if they have not already been to co-ed schools and universities but instead have spent most of their lives indoctrinated that it is immoral to study or work or even be around the other gender, then these people will have a serious problem when entering the workforce.
Although the only basis upon which I would defend segregation is educational as some studies indicated that students perform better in single-sex schools, it is not my intention here to defend the mixing of both genders but deal with the status quo and expose an existing dilemma.
In strictly conservative societies, spaces are defined for both men and women; the private space is women’s and the public space is for men. For a woman to trespass through men’s space, she has to be fully covered, draped in black, and silent- all to make her as invisible as possible. But why would they want her to be invisible? Because of an entrenched cultural belief that a woman is a dangerous being, capable of seducing any man and making him sin just by looking at her. Therefore, a woman is “awra”- a forbidden territory to look at and best kept aside, marginalized as if it does not exist. Despite belonging to a religion that has elevated women’s position and has considered women and men equal when it comes to rights and responsibilities, these patriarchal societies have made women believe that they must accept and act according to men’s decisions.
So what happens when the traditional barrier of segregation is lifted and the previous constraints are relaxed and result in spaces where men and women can co-exist?
Both men and women get confused to how they should be dealing with each other. Many will consider the other gender as a ‘forbidden fruit’, and oscillate between desire and total rejection. And some will try to neutralize their differences and deal with the other gender as if they are dealing with their own. Thus, we end up in a situation where men harass women- at work or on the streets and women use this newly gained exposure negatively by dressing provocatively.
What needs to be done for people to keep up with a country that is modernizing and using all of the human potential as its main capital is reprogramming. Men and women need intensive reprogramming as early as elementary schools, and later at universities and work places, promoting a healthier model of interaction between genders.
Sexual harassment laws should be enacted inside and outside work, followed by educating people to what sexual harassment is through TV, radio, newspapers, seminars and public lectures. So next time a man chases a woman, he would know that this in fact a form of sexual harassment that could end him up in prison.
If respect is not practiced willingly, the government should enforce it. To create a healthy atmosphere in which both men and women can feel comfortable around each other, new rules need to be established and endorsed by everyone in the society, because the present is for all of us to share regardless of our gender.
This entery was published in May as a column in Woman Today, a Qatari based monthly magazine.