By Loubna Flah
By Loubna Flah
Rabat – The poor Moroccan girl, ”Amina Filali,” who preferred to relish the embrace of death rather than enduring the company of her “rapist husband,” could have told us a different story about her ordeal, had she still been alive laying in the hospital recovering if the rat poison had not been so lethal. For there are manifold and interwoven factors involved in this legal and social tragedy. Once you slightly turn the prism of reality, you reveal different nuances to the girl’s ordeal among a family rooted in archaic beliefs that seem for many incongruent with the pace and style of modern life.
Fearing “dishonor” Amina’s family made a decision, which would provoke unpleasant chain reactions that nobody could really foresee except the poor Amina. Under the leaden weight of silence and a prolonged humiliation in her in-laws’ house, the poor child buried her dreams into the deep recess of her mind. Nevertheless, the pain would resurge at every single moment and would shatter once again this cracked marriage.
Beneath this tragedy looms a set of beliefs transfigured by human practice and through the inevitable process of cultural transmission. The concept of honor, for instance, is of paramount importance in a patriarchal society. It is considered a safety valve against the collapse of all those chauvinistic norms that cement this male-dominated world by consolidating male hegemony over society.
In this cultural framework, women are burdened with the duty to be the bulwark of the family’s honor. In fact, their conduct is subject to constant scrutiny by a large number of relatives who appropriate the exclusive right to inspect women’s behavior. Yet, honor remains a highly evasive concept tacitly transmitted from one generation to another. It is common to warn women against the far-reaching consequences that may ensue as a result of their rapport with men.
It is of note that the concept of honor and social accountability are intimately intertwined. Indeed, Individuals believe that they are accountable to other community members over the conduct of their female relatives. Any form of misconduct is blamed on the male who is accused of not fulfilling his role as an overseer. Thus, women remain accountable to the dominant males in their family, namely the father and the brother. On the other hand, women cannot contest their moral authority.
In this sense, society places a high value on women’s virginity as an attribute entailing a quality of worth and respectability. This code of honor, that is deeply rooted in a patriarchal society, grants acceptance to all those actions that are in harmony with its moralistic provisions. Conversely, any woman who would transgress this code of honor would be subject to shame, ostracism and honor killing in the most conservative communities.
In anthropology, the concept of shame is considered as a control strategy used by men to maintain social order. In patriarchal societies, the culture of “shame” is exclusively inculcated to young girls. Throughout their life stages, women are expected to avoid any “misdeed” liable to run counter to the code of honor and to provoke shame to the whole family.
Their male fellows are not compelled to a similar insistence when it comes to the issue of virginity and honor. Seldom is men’s sexual conduct subject to social scrutiny. In patriarchal societies, men are granted a social “immunity” even if they engage in open promiscuity. By immunity, we mean that males’ debauchery is rarely exposed and less condemned than women’s promiscuity. Men who engage in premarital relations are not blamed, whereas women’s sexual endeavors outside the boundaries of marriage are unanimously proscribed.
There is obviously a bias in dealing with men and women’s sexual conduct. In fact, the concept of virginity is promoted in “shame societies” as exclusively a feminine attribute. Religion has another say when it comes to sexual conduct. Islam for instance requires Muslims, both men and women, to lead a virtuous life. Virtue in Islam is a broad concept that is equated with adherence to moral excellence. In Islam, virtue is a trait that is highly valued in all matters of life ranging from sexuality to business transactions. Indeed, Islam warns Muslims against all wrongdoings susceptible to corrupt the human soul and to lead humans down the dark path of vice and sin.
In patriarchal societies, the emphasis is laid on the most concrete manifestation of women’s virtue, which is anatomic virginity, rather than the broad spectrum of values promoted by Islamic ethics. In this sense, women are morally questionable about their conduct. They are said to be “open categories” which means that they are required to justify their choices and behavior and to comply with sanctions and punishments issued by the “patriarchal power “.
The obsession with women’s virginity reveals a society that perceives women as a constant threat or a destructive power that should be harnessed through the establishment of a strict moral code directed exclusively towards them. This state of hypocrisy regarding sexual virtue betrays the presumed harmony between local cultures and Islamic provisions. While Islam requires equally men and women to lead a virtuous life and refrain from any kind of sexual intercourse outside marital institutions, society tightens its grip over women and loosens the restriction on men’s sexual ventures.
The tragedy of the young “Amina Filali” made us realize that we are still miles away from legally based gender equity. Nevertheless, this fixation on women’s virginity is a harbinger of the backward thought that still prevails in Moroccan mindsets. It is of note that the law often mirrors cultural values and widespread beliefs about moral decency. As long as mindsets remain secluded in gender based values and patriarchal beliefs, the struggle for decent life and gender equity has a long way to go.
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