Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Qatar’s ‘Manly Women’

Thank you, Little Diamond, who sent this article from The Economist as an update to blog entry on cross dressing based on a tiny article in the Gulf Times

CROSS-DRESSING is on the rise among young Qataris. The local press says that more tradition-minded locals are upset by the growing number of young women affecting a masculine style of dress, baggy trousers, short hair and deep voices. These women, who call themselves boyat, which translates as both tomboy and transsexual (and is derived from the English word boy), are being seen in schools and on university campuses where some are said to harass their straiter-laced sisters.

In an episode of a talk show on Qatari television, called Lakom al Karar (The Decision is Yours), a leading academic said that the “manly women” phenomenon was part of a “foreign trend” brought into Qatar and the Gulf by globalisation. Foreign teachers, the internet and satellite television have been blamed. So have foreign housemaids, for badly influencing children in their care.

The studio audience was divided over how to respond. Some called for the death penalty for cross-dressers, while others favoured medical treatment. A rehabilitation centre for Qatari boyat has been set up, but a local report says that as many as 70% of them refuse to give up their “abnormal behaviour”.

It is not just Qataris who are rattled. A year ago the ministry of social affairs in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched a campaign against “masculine women”. The project, entitled “Excuse me, I’m a girl”, involved workshops, lectures and television programmes, stressing the virtues of femininity and raising awareness of the presumed dangers of women looking like men. An emirates’ foundation is helping to fund a research project on “gender identity disorder among Emirati youth”.

One official describes the “deviant behaviour” of the boyat as a “menace” to society. But others sound less fazed. An American university lecturer in the region says the short hair and gym shoes worn by these young women would look perfectly normal on an American campus. That is just what unnerves the traditionalists.

Why do you think these girls dress and act like men? Why would a girl do that?

I think girls do that – in any country – for a reason. If privileges and freedoms are heavily weighted in favor of males, perhaps there is no great mystery as to why some females would prefer to be males. It makes sense to me. Girls aren’t stupid. They can see who is getting all the goodies. My guess it is less a gender issue than a values issue.

On the other hand, when – and if – things are more equal, there is less motivation to be other than what we were created to be.

I had some young local friends who told me that they were taking Tai Kwan Do, but quit when a neighbor told their mother that it might threaten their virginity. It broke my heart. The martial arts give grace and confidence to young women. There are a lot of ways a hymen can be broken; I have never heard of it happening while training in Tai Kwan Do. These young, vibrant girls have fewer and fewer activities that they are encouraged to do, and end up staying home or strolling endlessly at the local malls. Aaarrgh!

Dads – teach your daughters to hunt! Teach them to fish! Teach them to swim, to throw a softball, to kick a football. Take them camping in the desert, and let them run freely. Teach them chess, and how to win. Give them the gift of physical and intellectual activity, give them the understanding that sports, employment and power are equally accessible for all sexes, and you won’t be having problems with girls who yearn for the freedoms and privileges of being male.

January 30, 2010 - Posted by | Character, Cross Cultural, Doha, Education, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Generational, Living Conditions, Qatar, Social Issues, Values, Women's Issues


  1. So you are not a believer in the theory behind gender roles? Being that one’s gender is not determined physically but socially?

    By advocating for women to partake in traditionally male activities then you will get men in the end only with biological differences.

    I’m of the opinion that due to segregated societies and the rise of globalization, frustrated females, unable to mix with the opposite sex turn to one another for relief.

    This happens with men too.

    When they can’t mingle with the opposite sex, they start hitting on members of their own gender and hit the online world and start doing the whole ‘I’m going to see the girls at a pool party’ or ‘I’m going to the dewaniya’ when in fact they’re not.

    Comment by rabidkoalabear | January 30, 2010 | Reply

  2. There are things a man can do and a woman can’t do and vice versa.

    This is innate, and has been part of human cultures since primordial times, nothing, not even this new age liberalism/feminism/equal rights BS will change.

    I love the crowd that demand equal rights then when things like wars pop up, they suddenly quiet down.

    Comment by rabidkoalabear | January 30, 2010 | Reply

  3. That’s right, blame everyone except the parents who are never around to monitor their children’s behavior. Typical Khaleeji.

    Comment by enigma | January 30, 2010 | Reply

  4. […] Originally posted here: Qatar's 'Manly Women' « Here There and Everywhere […]

    Pingback by Qatar's 'Manly Women' « Here There and Everywhere « Internet Cafe Solution | January 31, 2010 | Reply

  5. You refuse to accept the fact that the society in this region is broken, and you are unwilling to look past the fake smiles to acknowledge that there are issues behind closed doors.

    Go sip on your damn latte and do your nails, you have no place outside your bubble.

    Comment by FUZZYBEAR | January 31, 2010 | Reply

  6. And also, how do you expect parents to monitor their children’s sexual behavior?

    The stupidity of your answer will take me days to recuperate from.

    Comment by FUZZYBEAR | January 31, 2010 | Reply

  7. I was born into a world where men had privileges, and where women were expected to be happy keeping house and raising children. Being limited in that way would have made me crazy. I’m thankful I had more options, and was able to both work and raise my child.

    I stand by my point – I do not believe this is a gender issue, as much as an access issue. These women, I am betting, do not want to be men. They want to have the same rights and privileges as the men. They are acting out. It happens in every culture, wherever there are perceived injustices.

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 31, 2010 | Reply

  8. Oh, by the way, RK, our women go to war, too. There are women in the armed forces in most of the western countries, now. On the police force. In the National Guard. Women bring a new dimension to service-to-country. It is not a war between the sexes, working together creates a new synergy, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see it, and that’s how I believe it was created to work. 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 31, 2010 | Reply

  9. Enigma, most of the time I agree with you, but not this time. The stricter the parents, the likelier they are to produce young women who fight the system. There is something born inside some people – men and women – that just looks at the situation and says “That’s not fair!” How they choose to demonstrate against the injustice varies – these girls are evidently ‘choosing’ to become ‘men’. A smarter way – IMHO – is to get educated, and work yourself into positions with potential for greater influence, change the system from within.

    Women in Qatar need to be studying law, and preparing for careers in the legal system, in the schools, in health and health education, and as religious scholars. They need to be positioning themselves to be influential, and to some extent, that requires playing along until you can begin to exert influence.

    Meanwhile, these young women are drawing attention to a frustrating situation. “How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?” (it’s an old song)

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 31, 2010 | Reply

  10. This sounds very familiar, ” “manly women” phenomenon was part of a “foreign trend” brought into Qatar and the Gulf by globalisation. Foreign teachers, the internet and satellite television have been blamed. So have foreign housemaids, for badly influencing children in their care.”

    They are preaching the same thing in Kuwait – foreign influences.

    Perhaps what we are seeing is just an evolution of regional culture; gender segregation. What are the long-term affects to society of having boys/girls/men/women separated? Couldn’t western cultures look upon gender segregation and term it “deviant”? I don’t see the behavior as “foreign”; I see it as “home grown”.

    How can anyone expect any gender to understand their role in society if the very society they live in is causing them confusion?

    Comment by Desert Girl | January 31, 2010 | Reply

  11. Im a women and like to open my small business but i didn’t found any support for me! but suddenly someone surprise me and give me a help it was a small loan but for me im so happy coz it was the start and the begining of my success , so coz of that im here now posting just to say so rarely to found these days person who care.

    Comment by Rola | February 10, 2010 | Reply

  12. Rola – Mashallah! You were in the right place at the right time with a plan! It sounds to me like whoever it was who is helping you is making a very wise investment. I wish you well. 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 11, 2010 | Reply

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