Over the course of almost two weeks, a trend erupted on TikTok after a video was made claiming “Middle Eastern men belong to Latinas”. Whilst the video may have been all fun and games, and addressing Middle Eastern men, it was in fact Arab women who flooded TikTok with comments such as “take them”, “we don’t want them”, and worse. On the surface these comments may seem harsh and uncalled for, but it’s important to address where the frustrations behind them are coming from. So has this Tiktok trend reinforced stereotypes in the Arab culture? Let’s dive into it!
Despite many of us Arabs living in the west, traditional cultural expectations and double standards still exist here as much as they do in the east, especially for Arab women. Issues such as dating, divorce, sex education, choosing a career over family, having children out of wedlock etc. are all areas that Arab women are rarely encouraged to pursue, let alone discuss publicly, whilst men are afforded the right to live out these experiences with little to no social repercussions. Our Latina and other non-Arab sisters have the possibility of being with an Arab man regardless of their previous experiences and current lifestyles, without having to carry the burdens of Middle Eastern societal expectations, which Arab women do.
For example, it’s commonplace to see an Arab man with a non-Arab partner, but Arab women are not always afforded the same privilege of normalcy, due to cultural taboos and deep rooted racism within our communities. As a result, Arab women are often shamed and sometimes even disowned if they do not marry within their culture or religion; an issue which is rarely of concern if a man does so. This not only further limits the options for marriage or partnership for women, but also directly feeds into the underlying inequality between the genders.
The second double standard is most often upheld by Arab men. Many men deem it completely normal to marry a non-virgin from another culture, but shameful if their Arab sister, cousin, etc. was a non-virgin or had a “reputation”. Furthermore, Arab women who lead a less traditional lifestyle are shunned or humiliated, whereas their male counterparts are celebrated. This double standard further supports oppressive narratives and mentalities that have led to women developing mental health issues due to being socially isolated and ostracized. Less commonly, even honour killed. Such was the case with Israa Ghrayeb, a 21-year old Palestinian makeup artist who was killed in 2019 by her family after rumours regarding her and her fiance spread. These methods of punishment and exclusion have historically been reserved for women, and never men, in Arab societies.
The third issue is the immense amount of pressure placed on the Arab female in the west. Having to deal with European beauty standards (which are often most firmly upheld by Arab societies), whilst moulding their identity between both cultures, and making their voices heard within their communities, is hard enough. Add to that the pressure of having to prove their rights, worth and beauty in a society which, in comparison to other women, does not place as much value on these qualities when they are coming from Arab women.
So how has this “Middle Eastern men belong to Latinas” Tiktok trend reinforced stereotypes in the Arab culture? Middle Eastern men have the power of choice; the power to choose Arab women or not, to dabble in dating, to build a partnership outside of their ethnicity/race, and to partake in nontraditional experiences without society holding it against them. As Arab women, society does not afford us the same luxuries nor the freedoms, and this is the very root of our frustrations. And when our frustrations do flare, we are often silenced and our experiences consequently erased.
Middle Eastern men have the power of choice; the power to choose Arab women or not, to dabble in dating, to build a partnership outside of their ethnicity/race, and to partake in nontraditional experiences without society holding it against them.Manal Mourad Nasser on gender previlige in interracial relationships
What role does Arab feminism play in all of this? Feminism addresses social constructs as well as political ones. The double standards discussed are the direct result of patriarchal views that have become the mainstream norm. The overarching issue here is that the Arab man is generally accepting of a non-Arab woman who is not held to the same standards and social requirements as Arab women, but will denounce or shun an Arab woman for sharing the same qualities. This is due to the notion that other cultures are “less conservative”, thus making it acceptable for one and not the other. This is a reality that Arab women see too often in the west, and has reinforced stereotypes in the Arab culture.
These themes barely touch the surface of the underlying issues, but it’s important to highlight the longstanding flaws in some of our cultural practices, this Arab Latina TikTok trend has reinforced in the Arab culture. Arab women deserve so much more. We are not pawns in competition with other women. Claiming spaces to air out our grievances on social media platforms (such as a simple TikTok video), without fear of judgement and shame by Arabs and non-Arabs alike, is a step forward in demanding our social rights. Our stories and experiences need to be told, and only we can tell them.
by Manal Mourad Nasser