Unraveling Toxic Masculinity:

The Interplay of Culture, Politics, and Social Norms in the Middle East 


By Amr Amin

This analysis explores the genesis and ramifications of toxic masculinity in the Middle East, tracing its roots to historical factors, conservative ideologies, and societal expectations. The study unveils how cultural paradigms, gender roles, and political structures intertwine to perpetuate a rigid and detrimental definition of masculinity. The stifling of individual expression, intolerance towards deviation, and the reinforcement of patriarchal norms contribute to a toxic environment affecting both men and women. The juxtaposition of tradition and modernity further complicates the region's struggle, calling for a reevaluation of societal values. The abstract emphasizes the need for understanding and addressing the environmental factors shaping behaviors, promoting inclusivity, and challenging oppressive norms for a more harmonious society in the Middle East.

The Middle East is known for embracing their culture and tradition, as well as implementing it into their politics, and the social aspects of their society. Resulting from colonization the Middle East was under for many years, the region was forced to grow at a much later than the rest of the world in an effort to reclaim and rebuild. Through the process of recapturing and reconstructing the Middle Eastern national and international identity, many nations reverted to conservative ideologies stemming from religious values. This was considered a reactionary response to the western influence enacted during the imperialist rule (Helfont, 2015). The rejection of progressivism created a toxic overarching societal framework, manifests as a result of distinctly defined roles that expunge the nuanced psychological underpinnings of manhood in the Middle Eastern context. This pervasive toxic masculinity finds its roots in the interplay of entrenched social norms, cultural paradigms, and political ideologies.

Social norms in the Middle East wield a profound influence in shaping a toxically defined masculinity, permeating communities with a rigid and normalized conceptualization. In this construct, a Middle Eastern man is emblematic of strength, power, and the purported role of a 'savior of women.' This delineation, ingrained within societal expectations and gender roles, designates men as familial providers, juxtaposed against women cast as nurturers.

Leyal Khalife, author of "Arab Boys Don't Cry," contends that these gender roles embedded in Middle Eastern social norms empower "real men" with a perpetual sense of control. In this paradigm, the Arab community stigmatizes femininity, branding any display of vulnerability or emotional expression as weakness, contradicting the accepted definition of a man. The prevalent phrase "shed halak," meaning "get a grip," encapsulates societal disapproval for men expressing grief or vulnerability, perpetuating a culture that expects men to be unyielding rocks, or the 'backbone' of the community.

This enforced emotional stoicism not only impacts men but also inflicts harm upon women. The resulting false superiority complex among men reverberates through every facet of communal life, fostering a toxic and aggressive mode of self-expression. It becomes a breeding ground for an environment detrimental to both genders, leading to adverse living conditions within the community.

Compounding this issue is the stifling of individual self-expression, particularly manifest in the Middle East's aversion to deviating from a 'military-like' model of masculinity. Brian Whitaker's account of 23 men in Egypt facing imprisonment for engaging in homosexual activities sheds light on the extreme consequences of such suppression. In the eyes of Middle Eastern countries, homosexuality is viewed as a foreign phenomenon—an illness that, if not contained, could be contracted from Western influences. This narrative perpetuates a culture of violence, injustice, and hatred towards those who deviate from the prescribed social norm, reinforcing the restrictive definition of masculinity.

In essence, the Middle East grapples with a complex interplay of social norms, perpetuating toxic masculinity and stifling self-expression. The repercussions extend beyond individual well- being, impacting the broader dynamics of communal life and engendering a society fraught with inequality and intolerance (Khalife, 2015; Whitaker).

The Middle East, renowned for its rich culture and deep-rooted heritage, grapples with a complex struggle between tradition and modernity. While cultural pride and family values stand as pillars, the region faces challenges in reconciling these virtues with contemporary ideals. In Middle Eastern households, family cohesion often translates to men holding sway over familial matters, breeding a culture that can harbor sexist and misogynistic behaviors, exemplified by the imposition of dress codes on women.

Wesam Ragab's exploration of arranged marriages sheds light on another traditional facet. While not universally applicable, many families insist on paternal approval, potentially stifling individual choices. This cultural paradigm extends into political spheres, where male-dominated governments reinforce patriarchal norms, evident in laws that grant men control over critical decisions in women's lives.

The legal landscape, such as Saudi Arabia's requirement for a male guardian for women, further solidifies gender-based segregation. These systemic imbalances contribute to a toxic masculinity deeply ingrained in societal structures. For instance, Egypt's divorce laws, placing an undue burden on women, perpetuate power imbalances, fostering communities marred by abuse and violence.

Despite these practices, there's a flawed perception that such measures safeguard against Western influences, fostering a culture of strong men. Nour El Miligi critiques this perspective, arguing that true strength arises from openness and acceptance, challenging the oppressive roles assigned to men. The Middle East's failure to address the psychology of men, and the repression of emotions, inadvertently cultivates more violent and aggressive behaviors.

In essence, the Middle East's cultural, political, and social dynamics converge to promote toxic masculinity. While the region ardently guards against external influences, it inadvertently stifles opportunities for growth, forcing men into predefined roles. Rather than blaming individuals, understanding the environment's role in shaping behaviors becomes crucial for fostering a more inclusive and harmonious society (Ragab; El Miligi).



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