Overall men have been getting the short end of the stick in the past couple of years. I know I am calling the wrath of every feminist on my head by saying this, but especially in the west, men have been set a target they are almost sure to fail. Men should be strong, yet sensitive, we want them to be professionals and make a good living, but not a lot more than we do.
We expect them to participate in chores yet still be macho, be in touch with their emotions but no cry babies and the list goes on and on. You can find bewildered males hover hesitantly in the vicinity of a group of girlfriends meeting for a coffee, unsure of how to show they are interested, how to be proactive yet mindful of the woman’s independence and be properly respectful.
In Egypt it is still a little different, at least when you look at it from the outside. The division of tasks is often done down traditional lines, with women taking care of the house and kids and men working to earn a living and feed the family. This does not necessarily mean men have the final say in everything that goes on, even if it may seem that way.
Egyptian women are fierce in their convictions and know as no other how to stand up for themselves and their loved ones. Certain things are still the domain of men and woe betide the woman who crosses that threshold. Often this has to do with appearances though and a picture that is painted to the outside world; women often rule at home and have many tools to convince, cajole and downright nag their men to get their way.
Men in Egypt are proud and macho in a subtle way, yet they are capable of showing affection and are much warmer than their foreign counterparts. They greet each other with warm kisses on the cheeks and hugs, often walk down the street holding hands or arm in arm while their western counterparts exchange firm handshakes and an occasional clap on the shoulder.
Egyptians are prone to touch each other during conversations and often call each other habibi, while dude seems to be as far as foreign men are willing to go.
While abuse of course happens, most Egyptian men are very affectionate with their children and any male here knows how to hold a baby, while many westerners end up gingerly holding small kids like they would a football.
It really is a different world and what sometimes seemed overly emotional to me when I first moved here is what I notice lacking when I visit the country where I grew up. Control of emotion is considered a virtue where I am from and people are considered strong when they choke back their tears at funerals.
Overall it seems to be the consensus that men don’t cry, and I have always felt that was yet another burden that was placed on their shoulders. Crying when a terrible thing happens can be a relief and having to hide behind a stereotype does not seem fair. I have very seldom seen men in my surroundings cry while I grew up and as a kid I was convinced for a while that it was something that only women could do. Like having babies.
The direct result of this is that when I see a man cry I almost always feel the tears well up. When I worked as a nurse I sobbed along with the young man raging at the unfairness of having to face the end of his life because of a terrible disease, I cried with the husband faced with having to say goodbye to his wife and raise their two small kids alone and happy tears ran down my cheeks in sync with the new father who could not stop looking at his daughter.
It still gets to me, and this week many pictures of crying men have filled the news. I am haunted by the image of the young father holding his 11 month old son killed in an airstrike, gathering him close, his face wet with tears of unspeakable grief. I cannot forget the wet faces of the fathers of the over 50 children between the ages of four and six that died when their school bus crashed with a train.
I cry for them and with them and I wonder how it is that those who can prevent these things do not.