Bab il-7ara was a big hit this year during Ramadan, and in fact people still seem to be talking about it in Jordan. I’ll admit right off the bat that I was too busy to watch more than 4 or 5 whole episodes but I found it astonishing to see the wide spectrum of people who watched the Syrian drama set in the 1930’s. It found a fan base in the young and old, as well as the men and women. The feedback I get from a lot of people is that they were attracted mostly to the way ‘things were done’ in those days. In other words, the men were men and the women were women. The men were the masculine types who stood up for things like honor, family, religion and community, while striving to be good fathers and husbands. This was their place in society. Meanwhile, the women also knew their place in society. They spent their lives being obedient good wives who took care of their husbands, even when they approached what would today be deemed an abusive state.
It’s almost obvious why the show appealed so much to its male fan base, no matter what their demographic. There is perhaps some sort of desire to see a return of such a society, with such social mechanisms in place; or maybe its more of a lament for the old days. In fact, a lot of Jordanian men venture out to Syria where they feel girls are still brought up to be “real women” and “good wives”.
But why women loved the show was a little unclear to me. Especially in West Amman, which is far from the religious and cultural conservatism that exists throughout most of the country. Some have suggested that on some level, Arab women, also find such a time and society appealing. The husbands, fathers and/or brothers were not really abusive but they were very controlling and certainly they practiced methods of dealing and speaking with the women in their lives (save their mothers) in a way many would call brutish, rough or abrasive.
The women never ever talked back to their husbands or fathers, and if they did, it would be reason for divorce as the show so clearly demonstrated during one of its climaxes.
So it makes me wonder if in reality women are more keen on having men in their lives that are commanding and perhaps teetering on the edge of abrasiveness. I’ve seen some of the most intelligent women fall for men who treat them like absolute garbage, and yet they stick with them like glue to a feather. Many have even shared that, deep down, they prefer men to behave this way as its a demonstration of their caveman masculinity. And this is exactly what I see a lot of in Jordan. Smart, western-educated, even liberal, and feminist-types are constantly tied up with testosterone-laden brutes.
At first I thought it could just be an “Arab thing”, but I don’t think this social paradigm is restricted to a specific culture, people or society as I see it all over the place.
Which naturally leads me to my second inquiry.
Are those really the qualities that define masculinity; that define what it means to be a man?
Are both men and women still trying to overcome millions of years worth of behavioral programming, with even the best of us finding it too difficult to resist?
If so, please excuse me while I go beat someone over the head with a ganwa.