MESA event explores impacts of Arab Masculinity

Wednesday, April 3, 2019 - 8:48pm

Students attended an event hosted by Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs as part of Arab Heritage Month in the School of Education Wednesday.

Students attended an event hosted by Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs as part of Arab Heritage Month in the School of Education Wednesday. Buy this photo
Alexandria Pompei/Daily

On Wednesday night, about 25 students gathered in the School of Education for an event held by Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs as part of Arab Heritage Month. The event centered around Arab masculinity and mental health.

It was hosted by Robbie Abdelhoq, a program manager for the Office of Student Conflict Resolution, and Jad Elharake, a program lead at the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Abdelhoq began by discussing the context surrounding the event.

“We are having this conversation in the #MeToo era, in the era in which the conversation around sexual assault, sexual harassment, behavior of men, the complicity of men. This is the backdrop to this conversation,” he said.  

Before beginning the formal presentation, he explained what he hoped attendees would take away from the conversation.

“What I hope you will leave with today is what is my obligation to helping change to helping this situation that we’re in,” Abdelhoq said. “And also you helping to understand in a healthy way what masculinity means.”

The first topic centered around how masculinity has typically been portrayed. They explained academic writing on masculinity has often been written by and for white men and why this is problematic when discussing Arab masculinity.

“That conversation really transitions and does a shift when it comes to Arab men, and this is also true for other men of color,” Elharake said. “Even as I think about myself, I was born in Lebanon and immigrated here when I was seven. Masculinity looks very different in Lebanon.”

Abdelhoq and Elharake then began discussing social constructions of masculinity and how they influence men’s behavior. They described three categories: hegemonic masculinity, the traditional stereotype of masculinity, complicit masculinity, where men receive the benefits of masculinity, and marginalized masculinity, where men are given power based on their gender while being marginalized in other ways.

Abdelhoq said he believed many men fit into the category of complicit masculinity. He said though they aren’t directly perpetuating inequality, they are still receiving the benefits of their masculinity.

“My sense is that a lot of men fall into this category,” he said. “A lot of men don’t fit into all the characteristics or all the defining factors of what hegemonic masculinity looks like, but also don’t challenge how they were socialized.”

Abdelhoq also explained many men of color are often unwilling to stand up for women when discussing issues of gender.

“A lot of times (for) men of color, this discussion of community will hinge on their marginalized identity,” Abdelhoq said. “They will really go to bat for people when it comes to issues of race, and then fall deadly silent when it comes to issues of sexism.”

The event then transitioned to how stereotypes of masculinity are formed at a young age. The presenters put a list of phrases up on the screen that men commonly hear and asked the men in the audience to raise their hands if they had ever received the comment. When asked about the phrase “man up,” every man in the audience raised their hand.

They also discussed how traditional notions of masculinity are perpetuated by “groupthink.” They explained that though it’s commonly assumed that men act masculine for women, the opposite is true; men often act masculine around men to be accepted.

Abdelhoq and Elharake explained how Arab identity interacts with both masculinity and femininity, offering examples of traditional gender roles in Arab families.

“We see this even thinking about our roles in our families — who cooks, who cleans, who eats where?” Elharake asked. “At least in my experience, often Arab men are allowed to go out past a certain time and often Arab women have to be back by six or seven.”

Abdelhoq pointed out this inequality has been made clear, especially as progress is made towards equality.

“There has been an uptick in the need to reinforce traditional values,” Adelhoq said. “Men’s knee jerk response has been to re-establish traditional boundaries that perhaps some movement has been made on.”

The event concluded with interactive exercises. The first asked the audience to choose which of  two men better fit the mold of traditional masculinity — those chosen included Russian President Vladimir Putin, rapper Meek Mill and Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo.

The audience was also prompted to guess what percentage of men surveyed reported being uncomfortable when the terms “bitch” and “slut” were used in reference to women. Though audience members guessed five and 12 percent, the answer was revealed to be 81.

When asked how one could help challenge negative effects of masculinity, both Abdelhoq and Elharake provided input.

“Have the courage to say something when and if it comes up,” Abdelhoq said. “I think inherently and intuitively you’re going to know this when it happens, it’s having the courage to say something about it.”  

Elharake offered similar advice for students, both for those who identify as Arab men and those who do not.

“We think about spaces that we’re in — small classrooms and large ones — a lot of comments are really thrown out that promote or encourage this toxic masculinity and behavior,” he said. “And obviously I’m looking at it through a larger lens, realize how that impacts everyone, those who are men, and women, and outside those binary genders as well. It’s really important to recognize masculinity has an impact on everyone.”

Business graduate student Rajiv Khattar attended the event, and in an interview with The Daily after the event he commented on the importance of understanding intersectionality when discussing masculinity.  

“When we just look at masculinity there’s a lot we could talk about,” Khattar said. “Then we talk about the Arab identity, there’s a lot we could talk about. Then we add mental health. It’s understanding all these individual identities take on a slightly different flavor with the other ones is important.”

When explaining why he came to the event Khattar discussed the lack of visibility this topic receives.

“I thought it was an interesting event,” Khattar said. “The intersection of masculinity and mental health from a person of color lens isn’t exactly something we see a lot.”