Posts Tagged ‘Generation Gap in Muslim societies’

The Generation Gap in the Arab World

March 15, 2011

If anyone remembers the Generation Gap of the 1960’s in the United States, a similar phenomenon is now sweeping the Middle East and Arab World.

Here is an example:

Traditionally in Middle Eastern culture, women do not “date.”  A man who sees a woman he likes in the street that he is attracted to is supposed to go and propose marriage to her family before he is allowed to get to know her.  (This is one of the reasons why the incidence of cousin marriage remains relatively high–people ARE aware of birth defects caused by it; however, men are often afraid to take a chance on marrying a woman they don’t know at all.  So they settle for marrying their first cousin, whom they have been allowed to get to know in a family setting.)

Now, almost all young girls are in school with boys and talking to boys, even if they are in rural schools.

In the cities, many girls in schools are having boyfriends (which doesn’t mean they are actually dating) as in classroom romances between children.  Even if a girl doesn’t have a boyfriend, all of them have boys they “like” in the class.  Boys also have the girls they “like.”  All this starts in early elementary school.  By the time kids get into junior high and high school, kids in the richer high schools are actually dating.  In many cases, the mothers know their daughters have boyfriends, but they keep it a secret from the fathers (who tend to “go ballistic”). I n a few cases, the fathers know and don’t care, but this is very rare.

So, even girls in elementary school are having boyfriends even if they are not dating at that age.  Due to modern television programs from the West, many middle-school girls now ask their parents when they can start “dating.”  The most common answer which girls I know have recently been getting  from their parents is, “When you finish the university, and are ready to get married, then it would be OK to go out on a few dates, such as to a restaurant or a movie.”

This seems like a quite liberal idea to the parents and especially fathers who are answering in this way, as it is so much further advanced over what their generation was allowed to do (men currently in their 40’s).  Yet, to the children and teenagers, this idea seems so far behind the times as to be laughable.

So is the Generation Gap a real phenomenon?  Yes, I think it is.  It happened in America in a time of great social change; it is happening in the Middle East in a time a great social change.  In the West, the changes were driven by the pill;  and by sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.

In the Middle East, the change is driven by education, particularly  of girls.  This is the first generation where girls are being educated even in rural and mountain areas.  Before, girls were kept in the house except to go to the market and public bath.  Now girls are out going to and from school every day, unsupervised and unaccompanied by their parents and family members while in school,  and free to talk with boys at school.   They have opportunities for freedom never before available to Middle Eastern girls.  So yes, the Generation Gap does exist.

Sex education is mostly absent in Middle Eastern societies (after all, no need is seen for it since girls are not supposed to be doing anything at all before they are married).  The result of this is that more out-of-wedlock pregnancies are happening.  Even pediatricians are being pro-active in bringing up the subject of birth control pills with high school girls and their mothers.

In my view, it takes at least a full generation for the Generation Gap to close a bit.  Teenagers will always want to be different from their parents, no matter how “hip” their parents were in their own time.  But this type of difference is far less than the amount of difference in a Generation Gap.  I predict that today’s Generation Gap in the Middle East will last another 30 years.

–Lynne Diligent

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