I was reading accounts from contributors to 'Quora' about the culture shocks they encountered in the Middle East.
The Middle East being in the news right now, whenever I think about the place I think of guys with guns out burning flags of other nations in public. OK, it's a stereotype but these are the images drifting lazily around in the vacuum that is my head.
But one contributor really made me think. His experience was of working in a mixed office in one of those countries and he was quick to advise readers that you do not, under any circumstances, talk to the local female workers. They are shrouded in the bee-keepers outfits in fetching black and though their eyes are visible, they will never make eye contact with a male.
Whenever my mind idly drifts to images of women from other countries I visualise tall blonde Swedes, dark alluring French, healthy naive Americans and weird sounding Aussie birds, (more stereotypes). My mind's eye hears the accents and my imagination fills in the blanks on what they would likely be saying. I enjoy female company from time to time and even at my age, I still find them interesting and fascinating.
But the contributor I read mentioned that he treated the Arab women as if they weren't there. He wrote that he just saw them collectively as inhuman. This was not an active thought but rather something passive that just was. I sat back shocked because actually, that is how I've always thought about it without ever verbalising it. I have to confess that when images of a Middle-Eastern City comes on the screen, the women are just background props for me. There may as well be little metal robots hovering around under the black gear.
Don't get me wrong though. When I rationalise it, I know they must be human beings. It's just that you never see any evidence of it so you are not invited to think about them at all. A mate of mine reckoned they must be there to give birth to all the terrorists but even he admitted it was easier to see them as non-beings. Neither of us would consider ourselves to be particularily racist by the way.
I wonder how many of you out there ever think about Middle Eastern women? We are certainly invited to think about Middle Eastern men quite a lot these days, aren't we? But what about the Mothers, Daughters and Sisters? What do they think about? What do they like and dislike? What is their average day like? Are they interested in sport or music? What do they do for the craic or are they even allowed to have a laugh? You'd have to think they would be but how are we to know?
But it did concern me that I never wondered about these millions of women and had therefore subconsciously filed them under the heading, "Not there." It means when I see them in film footage I do not register other human beings. Naturally I've never talked to one of them, never mind met one of them. It upsets me now on reflexion because there is no other race on earth that I view in this light. The human face registers expressions so even the inscrutable Asian visage tells a story. Years ago Punch magazine ran a cartoon of a passport photo booth with one of the Arab women inside staring at the camera through the little slit in her headdress and five more exactly the same queueing up outside. It didn't need a caption.
Like I say, it bothers me that I should think that way about millions of women that I don't know so I asked myself, is it my fault? From all that I have read, it seems it is the Arab lads who demand that the women hide themselves, so is out of sight also out of mind? Is the Arab male responsible for my inhuman perceptions or is it down to my own unconscious dismissal of their women-folk for some odd reason?
What do you think?