“Kitchen! Kitchen!” Most North African boys still make fun of each other by saying this, which means, “Sissy!” (For my foreign readers, this means, “You’re acting like a girl!”)
North African mothers still raise their daughters to do all the housework, and boys are not expected to help at all. (The only exception is in some families where there are no girls, and the boys have learned to help.)
The first generation of educated, North African women are out in the labor force. But are the attitudes of men changing? Not yet. Working women are still expected to work full time AND do ALL of the child care AND take care of ALL the housework. In general, men are expected to work, and spend all of the rest of their time relaxing. They still expect to come home and find “everything done and waiting for them.” (A very few modern husbands do help out doing dishes or cooking, or with general housework. But they don’t tell their friends! Some even make sure the curtains are closed so no neighbors see them helping out, either.)
As one young dual-citizen North African-American girl told me, “In North American culture, MEN take care of WOMEN. In Arab culture, WOMEN are expected to take care of MEN.” This accounts for the shocking experience of American women who marry Arab men, only to find they are expected to take care of the man as if they were his MOTHER! Many intercultural couples have hit the divorce courts over this exact issue, as many of these men are unable to adapt, even when living in America.
Will this change, in Arab countries, within a generation, as the second generation of women hits the workforce in 25 years? I don’t think so. Here’s why not. This is my own theory, but when I discussed it with several local North African women, they all agreed with me.
Islamic inheritance laws give double to boys as they do to girls. The reason for this is that men are supposed to be financially responsible for women under their care, in THEORY. If a man is decent, he will do it. (But just as everywhere, many men are irresponsible, or not decent.) In practice, many women are never able to claim their inheritance rights, particularly in places like mountain villages. (Crawford, 2008)
The essential point is this. Every woman knows that she is under a man’s thumb, or will be in the future. Girls are under their father’s control. Wives are still under their husband’s control in most Arab countries (such as needing the husband’s permission to get or renew a passport, even for a foreign wife, such as in Egypt). When women become widows, they are not free, but instead under the control of their sons, and at the mercy of their sons! Love aside, THIS is the TRUE reason why mothers spoil their sons so extremely. That son is eventually going to have power over them, and be responsible for supporting them in old age, so of course they need that to be a very strong emotional relationship. But it accounts for why they young boys are treated as pashas (the amount varying by specific country, but in all countries when in comparison with the West, where boys and girls are treated equally).
When I asked several North African women, that what if inheritance (and divorce) laws were changed and made totally equal between men and women, do they think women would continue to treat men and boys as pashas? Each of the women I asked answered me by saying, “What you say is true, of course they would not.”
However, since those inheritance laws are laid out in the Koran, I don’t see any changes on the horizon!