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I Don’t Belong to One Culture

Hey joonies – we love starting the week with a GUEST post! We’re especially excited about this one – half Egyptian, half Dutch, and an all around strong woman. We’re so excited that Sara, a writer for Muftah.org and an Egyptian feminist, shared her story.  Enjoy! 

A lot has been written about us third culture kids. Identity crisis, confusion, and an endless sense of restlessness are just some of the issues that come along with the title. As someone who is half Egyptian and half Dutch, I know all about it. Who am I? Where do I belong? What is home?

All these questions pop up on a regular basis and bring with them a feeling of constantly being unsettled. Issues that are seen as simple to other people are complicated to us, and when it comes to relationships, it gets even more complicated.

Not belonging to one culture means that you miss a lot of rules and signals that are second nature to everyone else.

Egypt

Egypt

A lot of culture is passed through unspoken practices that no one tells you about but that everyone just knows because they’re so used to seeing it all around them. When it comes to dating and relationships, it gets even harder.

When I’m in Egypt, it’s all about how Egyptian men “really” are and how they like women to be.

– You can’t make the first move.

– You can’t pay when you go out with them.

– They love to be protective.

When I’m in Holland, it’s exactly the same, with different stereotypes.

– You should make the first move by showing you’re interested.

It’s weird if you don’t want to have sex after a few dates.

– You have to be direct and up-front about everything.

When I first moved to Egypt and then later to Holland, I found myself constantly lost trying to understand what all the signals were and how to act. How did dating work? Who made the first move? How did you know when things were serious or when it was just a fling? Time and time again friends would tell me the same things in both countries, and repeat the same string of stereotypes.

man

But there was always a part of me that wasn’t happy with it.

Were men that easily reducible to a series of stereotypes? Isn’t that what women keep complaining about, while at the same time doing the same thing to men?

Every time I’d tell my friends about a situation with a guy, I’d hear the same exact response from completely different types of people. “Oh, he’s doing that because he thinks this. You know, he’s Egyptian, that’s how they are.” Or, “Yeah he’s responding like that because you said this. All Dutch men are like that.

Not only are there are whole series of culturally-specific stereotypes everyone seems to think are set in stone, there are also universal traits that somehow every single man in the world possesses. My personal favourite is the “don’t make the first move and play hard to get; otherwise he just won’t be interested.

Seriously, it seems we all operate on a list of assumptions about each other that even the most critical of us are scared to stop believing in.

coffee

On the one hand I want to believe in radical feminism and all that, but on the other hand, is that too idealistic?

Men are socialized to be a certain way after all – so maybe I do have to play the game, even if I think it’s sexist.

Not happy with that either.

I think a lot of us are caught in between being scared that the stereotypes have some truth to them and knowing deep down that people are more complex than that. Personalities stretch along an endless continuum, which means that every single person is completely different. Sure, there are certain cultural traits that people share if they’re brought up in the same place.

But do those traits define you for life? What about people growing, changing, and maturing—especially when they fall in love?

The problem is that if we keep getting stuck on all these cultural stereotypes, we end up actually creating them. What was first just in our heads ends up becoming a reality. People change according to the situation they’re in and the people they’re with.

Instead of constantly worrying about what a guy is “really” like or when a guy will “show his Egyptian/Dutch side” why not just enjoy people for what they are—complicated, fluid individuals that will usually end up surprising you.

As scary as it is to go into a date, or relationship, with a completely open mind, it’s probably a lot better than assuming what the person is going to be like based on stereotypes you’ve spent your whole life hearing.

When your Egyptian date opens the door for you, it doesn’t mean he’s going to be oppressive and dominant later on. When a Dutch guy doesn’t pay for dinner, it doesn’t mean he’s going to be cheap for the rest of your lives together.

love

When we want to simplify life by believing in stereotypes, we end up seeing things that aren’t actually there. 

Maybe the Egyptian guy is just very polite, and maybe the Dutch guy is just having a bad week.

I feel it’s extra important for feminists to stop pre-judging men, since that’s exactly what we keep asking people to do to us.

We don’t want to hear things like “oh she’s angry because she’s PMSing” or “she’s wearing hijab so she doesn’t date” and so we definitely shouldn’t be doing that to other people.

Getting to know people with an open mind and expecting the best is scary, but definitely makes life a lot richer than writing people off based on nationality, sex, or anything else. We’re all complex, and we can all change. Keeping that in mind is probably the best lesson I’ve learned in life so far.

SEXANDFESSENJOON@GMAIL.COM

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TWEET AT SARA: @SARAMSALEM

XOXO,

SARA سارا
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Comments

  1. Love this! Easier said than done but all very good points!

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