Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Saudi/non-Saudi Relationships: Getting a “reputation”

The Sheik

This post was inspired by a recent one elsewhere (the blogger preferred not to be linked)*. It struck me because of its raw emotion and pain at false accusations of the woman writer being a slut, which of course doesn’t put her husband in a very positive light either--even if there is, in all cultures, and in some more than others, a double standard about women’s and men’s morals. Being a regular reader and commentator, I am confident that these accusations are false—which, in my view makes them even more heinous. Ironically enough, this nasty reputation came out with the announcement of their engagement for a legal marriage, to complement their 2-year Islamic one, which was already well-known; and, from Saudi women on university scholarships—not a high school clique where one would expect such things.

Greta Garbo as Mata Hari

Another aspect of what was disturbing about this, is that it brought back a number of memories. My best female friend during my studies in France had a reputation too, mostly because she had spent her first three years of university completely in love with a Senegalese man. When they graduated he returned to Senegal to take up his pre-ordained life there: tribal position, government position, and Senegalese wife. She went to the UK as a teaching assistant, but was so depressed all fall that her friends there paid an airfare for her to spend the Christmas break in Senegal. Her Senegalese boyfriend was not thrilled with her arrival, and basically hid her in the only hotel he could afford, which was a cheap one where she met a number of nice prostitutes.

Ann Savage in Detour, "Shut up! You're making noises like a husband!"

The trip did bring closure to the relationship, and she understood better what his duties were, so that it was worthwhile from that perspective. The next academic year she returned to France, which is where I met her. We were automatically simpatico and soon were fast friends.

Part way through the year, she was very distressed to learn that her reputation on campus was that of a slut. It seems as if, for some, having slept with one Senegalese previously, she now must have slept with the whole male Senegalese student population. Since she and I had spent a lot of time together when we weren’t in class, in the library, or attending to our respective teaching duties, frankly, I couldn’t see how she could manage it—especially since in “prime time”, ie Friday and Saturday nights, she and I socialized often with other students; and, I often slept over in her residence room so I wouldn’t have to wait for a bus in the middle of the night on the same street as the “ladies of the night” were waiting for their “johns”.

The same people who had decided this imaginary character for her also shared their “information” with her new boyfriend, an Afro-Caribbean from the UK who visited on the Easter break. Nasty, but why? Just to hurt someone who was generally happy and well-liked? Needless to say, it put a damper on their relationship, and temporarily on ours, as she was so hurt she had trouble knowing whom to trust.

Lauren Bacall

The other memory, triggered by the recent post elsewhere, was that of a patient I saw in my final year of clinical training. She had come to the university student psychiatric service for individual psychotherapy and was re-directed into a group therapy. I had done the initial assessment, and she was put into a group with myself and a professor as a co-therapist, one who also served as my teacher and supervisor. The group was unfortunately comprised 2/3 of social phobics, ie students too shy to talk in a group; and so, she was one of the few “sharing”, and not getting a lot of feedback from many others.

One day she called me, with choking sobs, and asked to see me individually. I told her what I was supposed to tell her, that she should raise her concerns in group at the next regular session later that week. She gasped, and said that she couldn’t… she wouldn’t… it was too awful… I booked her for an individual session later that same day, and prepared to handle whatever flack I was sure to get from my supervisor.

Ingrid Bergman

She came into my office with her smiling social face on, sat down in the “patient’s chair”, and started crying. Some where in there was the story that, the night before, she had been confronted with the fact that her whole university girls’ residence was saying she was a slut. Hmmm… if she was a slut, how come I, her therapist, didn’t know about it? Well, because she wasn’t. She had been with the same boyfriend since first year, and now, in fourth year, they were engaged. So why did they say this? Who knows; but if the intent was schadenfreude (taking pleasure in the misery of others), they probably got what they wanted.

I did get flack from my supervisor, who most annoyingly came into my office after the group session--where both her individual session with me, and the reason for it, were raised, in accordance with the norms of group therapy—and wouldn’t leave, blocking my exit with that “angry, but not threatening” posture he had been trained to adopt. He insisted on talking to me about my “feelings” about the extra session, and wouldn’t accept that I had no “feelings” (lots of thoughts, no intense “feelings”). He was making me late for my next patient, until the only “feeling” I had was anger at him for being a nuisance. This was not acceptable to “share”, so I made up something politically correct, and walked past him to get my next patient from the waiting room. I also began seeing the student in individual therapy in my private office as soon as the group therapy ended with the academic term (she did well).

In short, so many accusations of sluttiness, so little reality to them.

Bogie and Bacall (Married, never divorced)

In the context of Saudi/non-Saudi relationships, are there particular factors which would favour this type of accusation?
What would it be like to move to Saudi with this accusation in the background or perhaps carried forward there?
How does one get a reputation as a slut?
What does it say about the male partner?
How does one handle false accusations like this?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

*We shall turn to "Cross Cultural Misunderstandings--Part II Watch what you eat!" shortly.


Qusay said...

U just wanted a reason to post all these nice pictures of actresses from classical movies... didn't u?

Chiara said...

Qusay--uhh,...uhm,...uh,...profiled! (all puns intended!)Any personal favourite? ;) LOL :):P

Puça said...

ahhhh reputation, so hard to build up, so easy to lose. Whoever wants to destroy it just needs to proof is needed...

Chiara said...

Puca--thanks for your comment! So true, that the accusation needn't be true or proven to do damage. It is possible to mitigate that damage in some situations, but it is stressful and a sink hole of negative energy nonetheless.

Khalid said...

True, some people enjoy watching the misery and pain of others. They get thrilled when they annoy someone. And worse than this all, sometimes it's done under the idea of teasing someone. I believe that a confident person will not be affected with any sort of gossiping. S/he should know how to stop it since the person is not really what is said about her/him.. As for the story of the Senegalese, and what people where saying, --I believe it has a racism side to it.

Maha Noor Elahi said...

The famous Algerian writer (Ahlam Mostaganmi) says in one of her best-selling novels (virtue was invented by ugly women who can't be sluts) :)

I'll come back to this post to comment in detail...
a very important post indeed!

Chiara said...

Khalid--thanks for your comment! Yes, teasing can be a fun, shared form of emotional intimacy among friends and family, or a very cruel barb. I think confident people have an easier time, but even then if the rumours are persistent, believed by persons important to them or threaten an important relationship or social circumstance (eg career) then a lot of damage can be done. You are astute to perceive the racist component in the instance of the Frenchwoman and the Senegalese man. In fact there are multiple racist aspects: if a white woman would sleep with a black man she would sleep with anyone and everyone, and had; and she wouldn't be an acceptable wife to his family because of her race and religion (though she probably would have converted). Also, her own family were Pieds Noirs, ie French Algerians, and in their case in Algeria from the earliest times of colonization (mid-late 19th century), until they were deported after the Algerian War (in the 60's). She had been raised that above all else she was not to bring home an Arab man, so though she had many Arab friends and supported their mixed marriages to French women, she deliberately avoided breaking that taboo imposed by her mother. Among racists in France it is usually a toss up whether Arabs or Blacks are worse, although the stereotypes associated with each are distinct. All I know is that her mother wasn't thrilled with her Senegalese either, but less mortified than if she had been in love with an Arab. Sad all around.

Chiara said...

Maha--thanks for the reference to the writer, she shall be put on my to be read list. I look forward to your more detailled comment.

Susanne said...

It's sad about these women who got these undeserved reputations and very hurt feelings based on the careless and cruel words of others. I guess these people never learned that gossiping and lying about others is wrong. :-/

Nice pictures though. :)

Chiara said...

Susanne--it is sad, and a universal phenomenon it seems. Glad you liked the pics!

Anonymous said...

In the context of Saudi/non-Saudi relationships, are there particular factors which would favour this type of accusation?

I would also like to include even Indian/Non-Indian Relationships, becuase they have similar factors as well.

Typically Indians/ Saudis have many negative stereotypes about western women because thier women do not socialize with men in the same level as they do. And in India / Saudi, any women who socializes much with men, like partying, drinking, etc. is also termed as a "slut".

They fail to see that inspite of socializing with opposite sex a man or a woman can still maintain their chastity.

And also most importantly for the Saudi's and Indians, relationship between a man and woman is only defined in terms of marriage. So any other relationship even if it is only plain courtship without any physical contacts is frowned upon.


What would it be like to move to Saudi with this accusation in the background or perhaps carried forward there?

Ofcourse yes, there would great opposition if a Saudi/Indian plans to marry a westerner because of the above. But once the marriage is done and some kids come into the family they would mostly reconcile.

But however the ladies would always love to gossip around the western lady in the family.

And if some men think that the western lady is single they may try to make passes at her. However i must say it is common for men all over the world to go around exotic ladies like a dog wagging their tongues.

But a lot depends on the husband, the husband must be iron clad in making it clear that his wife deserves respect and she better get it.


How does one get a reputation as a slut?
I don't know, there are different reasons one gets a reputation like being a slut.

Actually i must intervene here, and say even good guys get reputations of being a womanizer. But the fact is some times even the worst womanizing freak gets away as a model gentleman and a good guy gets all the flak.

What does it say about the male partner?
Its not a big deal for Saudi/Indian males to marry a western women a lot depends on how they handle their relationship, and ensure that their partner is respected within their society.


How does one handle false accusations like this?
I had say just ignore it and break off from them.

But my favorite would be to catch them off guard and confront them.

As a South Indian Rowdy i had try hard not to beat them up, lol, kidding :)


Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?
may be some other time... :)

Chiara said...

Abu Abdullah--thank you for your comprehensive and insightful comment. I think it is important to contextualize to other traditional cultures as you have, because while Saudi is unique it is not completely foreign to other experiences, and to present it as such would be doing a disservice to Saudi and Saudis.

You also raised an important issue about men's reputations, and whether a reputation for good or bad is deserved or not. While the repercussions on men seem less, there are as well. Tiger Woods springs to mind LOL :). It seems to me that disrespecting one member of a couple is disrespecting the other. If the woman is a slut then her husband at the very least is choosing a slut for a wife--not flattering. Codes of honour are about protecting women's reputations but also about protecting the men's honour that was disrespected. Don Juan Tenorio (in the original) deliberately "spoiled" the women of the other men as a way to dominate the other male aristocrats, which is part of why his actions were so socially disruptive.

I would agree that socially rejecting those who perpetrate false rumours is a must, but sometimes the rumour must be confronted with them or more importantly with the people one really cares about. Uncorrected false rumours can gain traction.

Thanks again.

I hope others will come forward and comment as well.

Chiara said...

Maha said:

Here I am again as promised :)
When I read this post, I found it a bit strange that such accusations happen in open societies...If I tell some Saudis about this, they won't beleive it, but I think it's just human nature...
People usually criticize and judge what they can't do or waht they don't understand...Yet, they never admit their lack of understanding and it is easier for them to accuse others or spread rumors than investigate the truth themselves...

In Islam, back-biting is a big NO ...actutally it is a sin...But when the back-biting reaches people's honor, virtue, chastity or morals, a severe punishment is set...People's dignity and their reputation are amongst the most important matters that Islam is keen on protecting.
Some people might think that it is is is simply giving a second chance for people...
Let's say a girl is really a "slut"...when people go around talking about her, that will never give her a chance to repent and start over a better life...
We are human beings and committing mistakes is natural and other humans are not supposed to jugde us...
in the case of accusing an innocent woman of being a slut or commiting adultery, the matter is looked at as one of the seven sins..It is as bad as commiting adultery, worshipping another God, or practicing black magic...

however, in Muslim societies - like many other societies - many women suffer from false accusations about their chastity...this is particularly common in less educated environments and rural areas....In more educated and sophistacted surroundings, people who talk about others' reputation in a bad a way are frowned upon and are usually stopped and prevented from spreading their dirty accusations..

But Chiara, I am interested in knowing the definition of a "slut" in the Western it the same as in my culture?

Thank you for this eye-opeing post..I am so tempted to translate it when I have the time...and i will surly let you know when i do..

Chiara said...

Oh I accidentally poofed my own comment! :( :( My error, not the commenting jinn, which has been exorcised by this new commenting format.

Maha--thanks for your comprehensive comment immediately above, and for persisting in sending me an email to contribute it here. I am relying on this new format to solve the problems.

I am glad you found the post so interesting and if you translate it let me know so I can follow the arabophone response.

Your explanation of the Islamic view of back-biting is very enlightening. Of course is is a sin in Christianity too, and worse when it rises to the level of slander/libel ie serious social consequences. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour" is the 9th of the 10 commandments.

As you asked for definition, in my view a slut in mainstream North American culture is a post-pubertal female who:

1) sleeps with a guy too early in a relationship
2) sleeps with more than one in the same time period of dating more than one
3) has a series of easy come easy go sexual relationships
4) has a series of rapid intense relationships that include sex each time
5) dates/has a cross-racial relationship
6) appears to have done the above
7) appears to be willing to do the above

It is obviously easier to get such a reputation in a more conservative, closed society, and in subsets within an open one.

Western culture isn't as libertine as portrayed in television, movies, celebrity magazines and the news. And Western women aren't as ready to jump into bed as some men think.

I would be interested in others' definition of a slut in their culture, including yours Maha.

I also find it interesting that in 2 of the false accusations above, the false accusation was triggered by announcing an engagement. Meanness and jealousy seem to play a big role!

Maha Noor Elahi said...

Thank you for the definition, Chiara!
Now I am really tempted to translate it...we have a break after about a month, and i think this will be assignments during the break :)

I just didn't fully understand the meaning of (has a cross-racial relationship)...could you please clarify?

I will post the definition of a slut in my culture soon.


Chiara said...

Maha--I am looking forward to your definition of a slut in your culture.

By cross-racial dating or relationships I mean those that would be considered by others to be bi-racial relationships, however they are defining race. Race is defined differently by different cultures, and over time, including by academics and differently by different academic disciplines.

It is interesting to look at the ships manifests of and see the racial distinctions used in the US in the late 19th and early 20th century. North and South Italian are distinct from each other and from other categories; Hebrew is one; and so is Negro of course.
I would say that currently 5 major groups are identified: Causasian/white; African or Negroid/black; Asian or East Asian/yellow; Hispanic/brown (in the US); and Native or Aboriginal/red.

Arabs and South Asians are in fact Caucasian, though some see them as a different race, because of colouring.

In some places and among certain groups no one much cares about this sort of thing. When I was teaching cross-cultural psychiatry one of the Asian-Canadian (Japanese) residents said to another Asian-Canadian (Chinese) about cross-racial dating: just live in the university ghetto (students and profs), everyone is mixed or doesn't care.

Certainly where one race is stigmatized heavily cross-racial dating with that race is seen more disfavourably. So in France whites dating Arabs or Africans, in the US white with African Americans (not so long ago that was in fact illegal in most states, and lynching was routine for it); white and Hispanic is a problem in certain places in the US; Arab and African in Morocco and other Arab cultures.

Since one of the stereotypes of certain races is that they are simultaneously hypersexed and hypo-moral ie hot and loose, various assumptions are made about why they would date cross-racially and about who dates them.

As I mentioned in the post and the comments, it was assumed by some that my white friend, having loved a Senegalese would sleep with anyone preferably blacks, and that no white Frenchman would want her, and that for some she had gone lower than an Arab. Unpleasant to be typing this, but that's the way it was.

She eventually married a Frenchman who had taught for 2 years in Senegal and has 2 beautiful children.

I do hope others will join in to this discussion; and I hope I haven't offended anyone by what was said above. The comments are the results of anthropologic studies or reported attitudes and my observations of others rather than views I hold.

As far as I am concerned the only use for racial/ ethnic identifications is for medical reasons ie knowing to think sickle cell crisis rather than ignoring it or being too politically correct to raise it. I had a patient whose African family had immigrated to Canada from Saudi where he was raised most of his life. In the first year of his arrival his sister was taken to a university hospital ER and died of sickle cell crisis, despite her having a history of it, and her mother trying to tell the staff about it. Let's just say I know the city and they don't have much of an African population, and probably don't see sickle cell crisis, even after a career in the ER.

Other than that, one needs to be aware of the social and political notions of race in one's locale, or where one intends to travel. Otherwise, like the little negro boy from the north of the US who went to spend a summer in the south with his cousins, you make a flirty remark to a white girl, sass back her relatives, and wind up butchered.

On a happier note, I am looking forward to your definition of a slut, and curious about whether race figures into it.

oby said...

As stated somewhere earlier I personally feel the most corrosive and perhaps dangerous part of slander ie: being a slut when it is not true, is the almost impossible situation of trying to prove it untrue. It doesn't matter if it is true or not...if people CHOOSE to believe it to be true then for all intents and purposes it is. How does one prove they are NOT a slut? How does one prove something did not happen that takes place in privacy with no witnesses?

It takes a lifetime to do the hard work of building a reputation and seconds to destroy it without actions...simply one hateful person to spread the rumor and a group of vindictive closed minded people to help spread the rumor.


Chiara said...

Oby--I agree, to me the slander (false talk) or libel (false writing) is the most odious part. The issue of labelling someone as a slut sounds very adolescent to me, very high school, yet I know it happens to women in their 20's as those described in the post. I think it probably happens to older single or divorced women as well. It is, as you say, difficult to disprove, and as with other false rumours, and gossip one often thinks that addressing it will make it worse, or lead to more people "knowing" what they think they know. This has an impact on later marriage or remarriage prospects.

I hope you will read and comment on my newest post on Interfaith Christmases (Dec 26) as well. I do reference John Dominic Crossan, and unfortunately John's post on the Minarets in no longer open to comments.

Thanks for this comment. Points well taken!


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