Do not open your legs… Women!

Welcome to Lebanon, the land of tabbouleh and hummus, sea and mountains, arak and wine. Welcome to the Mekka of plastic surgery and castration, schizophrenia and lethargy, hijab and short skirts, war, neo-feudalism, corruption and political-sectarian mafias and tribes… Welcome to a country where people magazines and soap operas continue to pigeonhole women as objects, bypassing their social/political and professional talents in the process; a country where domestic violence is not criminalized, and family ‘honor’ is still linked with women’s hymen; a country where many women in the workplace are sexually harassed without having the right to defend themselves!

The results of a qualitative research I conducted with 40 women in private and public institutions in 2012-2013, reveal the following:

1-      Lebanese Corporate life is still essentially a man’s world where women have to fight hard to climb the ladder.

2-     Most women in the current Lebanese corporate world pushed for their right to enter it, but the culture had already solidified, and it hasn’t changed much. Women have to conform to it or go home. It’s still part of an inadequate paradigm that women have been told to live in.

3-     Women have not been in on making the rules, but for some reason, they are mostly playing by them.

4-     The working world is still clearly stacked against female workers. Women are paid 15 to 60 cents on the male dollar.

5-     Women are 56% percent of the population, but only 20% in the workforce and less than 1% of corporate leadership.

6-     Even armed with the best of intentions and excellent CVs, there still are women who, despite a portfolio of accomplishment, fall into the trap of looking to be rescued, with less than stellar results.

7-     While there are men who welcome the existence of dual income households, and marriages marked by  shared responsibilities, the majority still want to be the primary breadwinner.  The younger generation of men tends to be more accepting of women’s work roles, but many are reluctant to accept her role as co-provider.

8-      Social pressures discouraging women from working outside the home (and especially married women) have not fallen.

9-     If you are labeled ‘beautiful woman’ (according to certain physical standards), do not expect to reach high positions unless you become physically ‘neutral’ (i.e. ‘sans saveur ni odeur’). However, if you are ‘neutral’ or ‘ugly’ according to your superiors, you will most likely never reach a higher position. Appearance is still a component of the professional toolkit. Looking polished is part of the professional package, and sometimes, looking bitchy is a must!

10-  Most women do not deny their femininity in the workplace, but there are those who took the step from secretaries to executives only after trading their long curls for a bob and donning a sharp power suit.

11-   Most women fear having kids while pursuing a career, unless they can pay nannies or leave them with their parents, and especially being pregnant when interviewed for a job. They often hear that bonding with a kid is a killer to their ambition. According to most male colleagues, procreating prevents female workers from reaching the top of their field!

12-  As women in the workplace, they never know when to stop smiling and when to be more cheerful, thus how they will be judged.  In all cases, women are most likely to be perceived as ‘too soft, too rough, and never just right’! A confident woman might be typed as cocky or aloof. A man is a take-charge guy. Sympathy means she’s weak. For men — he’s a sweet guy. Stereotypically masculine or feminine behaviors of people in leadership still have to be deconstructed.

Last but not least, according to one of the interviewed women who remained anonymous, “if you want your professional skills and CV to be your ticket for a salary raise, forget about it; in most cases, you either need an external ‘wasta’, or … you open your legs!”

The “Opening legs” criterion is definitely to be linked with sexual discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. A vast majority of women in this research have experienced some form of gender harassment, which includes offensive sexist remarks or being told that they could not do their job properly due to their sex, or, the most severe form of harassment, in which women are promised promotion or better treatment if they are ‘sexually cooperative’. In Arabic Lebanese, it is called ‘ftahe ejreyke’ (open your legs)!

Even if I fight for human’s rights, including freedom of thought and expression, I must admit that adopting the ‘ftahe ejreyke’ practice while pursuing one’s carrier is reinforcing the patriarchal system, thus not liberating women from oppression and discrimination. Are there alternative practices? Yes!! Develop a realistic exit plan – heading to a less scorched pasture in order to keep the sense of self largely intact; or, stand up and fight for your rights by starting to build a network of colleagues and advisors as part of an overall sphere of influence! Assert your power and alter this work/life paradigm. Be part of change, even if it will take time, energy and sacrifice!

About Dr. Pamela Chrabieh

Lebanese-Canadian Doctor of Sciences of Religions (University of Montreal, QC, Canada). Founder of the 'Red Lips High Heels' movement. Founder and Director of SPNC Learning & Communication, University Professor, Artist, Activist and Writer. Dr. Pamela Chrabieh (Badine) has an extensive 20+ year multidisciplinary and international experience and expertise in university teaching, academic research, visual arts, art direction, communication, content creation, project management, training and conference/workshop organization.

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29 Responses to Do not open your legs… Women!

  1. Marc Andraos July 20, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    Bravo Dr! Courageous analysis and statement!

  2. Karima July 20, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    Hello Dr. Chrabieh. I agree with the content of your post and i thank you for writing about this highly sensitive subject, taboo in our society.

  3. Mirna Mallat July 20, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    Well said Dr! Excellent!

    Enfin !!!

  4. Biba July 20, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    Sexual harassment in the workplace is a global phenomenon but in Lebanon, there are no laws to protect those who are harassed, whether males of females. But i must admit that women are far more likely to be harassed than men.

    Thank you Dr for this wonderful post! Keep up your good work!

  5. Bloo July 20, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    yyup it also bothers is that at work, you hear them say “yeah we pay the man more because he supports the family”

    even though you work at the same thing, for the same time, and sometimes even more.
    But the man will still get paid more.
    Marriage is a partnership last time I checked, and supporting the family comes from both.

    but just because she’s a woman…

    • Bloo July 20, 2013 at 11:22 am #

      it also bothers me*
      woops

  6. Dr. Pamela Chrabieh July 20, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    Thank you for your comments and support! and yes it is a taboo subject, one of numerous taboos in this country. The solutions can’t come only from women, men also have to be involved, and there are other issues to deal with at the same time, on social, political and economical levels.
    More than laws, we do need to build a new culture, against violence at all levels, including gender violence. Small steps on a personal level are a must, and cooperation with others.
    There are women who are trying to break the status-quo, and even to break the cycle of violence in their families and/or work environment. Next step is to enhance those steps, and enlarge ‘spaces’ of non-violence.

  7. Magalie - Paris July 20, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    Mes hommages docteure!
    Excellente analyse!
    Même dans les pays développés, bien de femmes subissent la violence psychologique et physique, que ce soit au sein de leurs foyers, que dans le milieu du travail.
    Heureusement que certaines lois furent édictées, et que les mentalités ont commencé à changer, mais la lutte pour une égalité des genres est encore loin d’être gagnée.
    Bon courage!

  8. Anabella Farah July 20, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    Love it ! Love it! Love it!
    Audace et force dans votre prise de parole!
    Vous nous encouragez à bouger nos méninges et nos fesses dans le bon sens des choses, c’est-à-dire vers l’Empowerment! La découverte de notre propre force car fortes, nous le sommes ou nous pouvons l’être. Assez d’être victimes!

  9. Charbel Irani July 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    أحسنت يا دوكتورة! شكراً على هذا التحليل وهذه الجرأة حيث لا يجرؤ الآخرون والأخريات

  10. anonymous July 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    I write to thank you Dr. and to testify. I have been harassed sexually in the workplace. My boss even threatened to fire me if i do not accept his advances. I had to sleep with him on several occasions to keep my job, having not other alternatives at that time. I have 3 children to take care of and an abusive husband.
    I felt ashamed and i wanted to commit suicide on several occasions, but the love for my children kept me alive.
    I finally resigned and found another job.
    I am still trying to cope with domestic violence. I am afraid to lose my children. No laws in this country to protect me nor my children.
    I saw what happened to Roula Yaacoub and i have so many friends in the same situation.They don’t talk, especially if in conservative families. Afraid for their lives and for their children’s lives.
    It is hell on earth… Thank you for raising your voice, and giving us hope that we are not alone and we can change things little by little.

  11. Dr. Pamela Chrabieh July 20, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

    Thank you anonymous for your testimony. You are not alone and your life as well as your children’s is precious. And yes change happens step by step.
    It is a constant struggle, but at least, we are many ;) and we will be more!

  12. Dr. Pamela Chrabieh July 20, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    and, anonymous, there are few organizations you can contact for help, such as KAFA!

  13. anonymous July 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Hello Dr. Chrabieh. I am another anonymous ;) for security reasons i cannot reveal my identity but reading your post gave me also a sense of hope. thank you thank you thank you and God bless you and keep you safe!

  14. Marlene July 21, 2013 at 9:29 am #

    I won’t open my legs :)
    Awesome post!
    love it!

    i see what is happening around me… so many women opening their legs… it’s a global practice i’m sure of it, not only in Lebanon

  15. Haitham K. July 21, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    Men too are asked sometimes to open their legs. It depends on the sexual tendency of the boss. Still, i must admit that women are far more harassed in the workplace.

  16. Loulou July 21, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    Everybody should read this article! Good job Dr Chrabieh, as usual!!

  17. Mid July 21, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    A few days after my first interview I received sexual advances from my potential boss such as inviting me to his office even though “we have no electricity and cannot work” and sending me texts saying I’m the “prettiest girl ever” not to mention that during the interiview he kept staring at my chest… needless to say I didn’t accept the offer , but it was very annoying and opened my eyes to the reality I had to face in tbe coming years. it was very disapointing. (Btw the perv was at least in his fifties or sixties while I waas 20 years old)

    • Dr. Pamela Chrabieh July 21, 2013 at 10:14 pm #

      Unfortunately it happens on a daily basis and with so many women at their workplace… If we had laws protecting our rights, it wouldn’t have eradicated sexual harassment but it would have lowered the risks.
      i hope you are working now in a better environment!

  18. Dr. Pamela Chrabieh July 21, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

    Thanks again to all and especially to those testifying and telling their stories!

    • nad July 22, 2013 at 1:58 am #

      all the above is true but is it only in lebanon? it is true that “wasta” is exclusive for our arab countries but all the rest is a worldwide problem for working women. dont you agree with me?

      • Dr. Pamela Chrabieh July 23, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

        Yes nad, there are common realities across many countries. Still, in Lebanon, there are no laws protecting women from harassment. It is the law of the jungle unfortunately.
        Wasta is everywhere too, but in Lebanon it is ‘public’ and unpunished!

  19. Madeleine C July 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    Miss Pamela! I’m so glad that you opened up this topic. I don’t work yet, but I realize that sexual harassment is such a big issue in society today. Unfortunately in Lebanon there is no law that prohibits such a domestic behavior. This article should be read by many women! Thank you:D

    • Dr. Pamela Chrabieh July 26, 2013 at 11:18 pm #

      Thank you Madeleine. Yest it is a big issue and there are no laws protecting women from abuse. Not even a proper education!

  20. Madeleine C July 29, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    Sadly yes! High grades and proper education are not seen as an accomplishment in this country anymore. All women are at risk of being abused!

  21. Maria October 12, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    Hello,
    I’m a university student and I have an exploratory essay to write about the impact of social media and technology in general on the status of Arab women. What do you think about that?

  22. Haji Abdul Kareem Nandasena March 18, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

    Well written articles. Men will join your forum for sure. Will discuss with my relatives, and friends in view of commencing a programme in Sri Lanka in collaboration with your prestigeous Red Lips High Heels.
    Wish you More Health, More Courage, More Wisdom, and More Patience.
    All the Best.!
    Your Brother,
    Haji Abdul Kareem Nandasena.

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