Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman shed some light on what you may have missed in the latest episode of "Arab Labor."
The central theme of this episode is the difference between the older and younger generation in Israel. Women from older generations usually don't work outside the home, instead tending to their families, while their husbands play the role of "breadwinner."
Marriage has evolved and has become a partnership more than ever before, with the roles of men and women progressively changing. Today, more women have careers outside of the home while more men are sharing the duties around the house. Sadly, this evolutionary role reversal has made some members of the older generations uncomfortable.
The episode starts with Amjad trying to take care of things at home while Bushra is dealing with an emergency at work. It's obvious that Amjad is overwhelmed and upset at the situation Bushra has left him in when Timna stops by to borrow vanilla. Having just come across it moments before, Amjad happens to know exactly where it is. Impressed that he knows his way around the kitchen and surprised that an Arab could be sensitive to women because of the sexism in Muslim culture, Timna commends Amjad on his progressiveness and "metrosexuality." While Amjad starts to embrace this idea of helping around the house, and in effect doing housewife duties, Abu Amjad is concerned that Bushra is working too hard and seeing patients alone until midnight -- both of which are inappropriate in his opinion.
Some viewers may be surprised to find out that Arab and Middle Eastern culture actually happens to have a lot of metrosexual men. They take pride in how they look by dressing trendily, trimming their beards, gelling their hair, going to the gym, and wearing tight shirts. They tend to be attracted to glamorous women who wear too much make-up. Of course, like in every culture, there is the other side of the spectrum with guys that couldn't care less about their looks or the shape of their beards and bellies.
The contradiction in Arab culture about what's masculine and feminine can be blurry. Men kiss on the cheeks when they greet each other and boys sometimes hold hands. In very conservative communities, single men and woman don't socialize together publicly and they are separated in school. It's a huge problem that gets passed down from generation to generation and only a few can break out of the socially accepted sexism.
Amjad's suspicions compel him to confront a man that he thinks is sleeping with his wife. The old-fashioned way is to fight for your honor and deal with it in a "masculine" manner. Of course, the affair is not happening and he's just a client of Bushra's. As usual, Abu Amjad delivers my favorite line, "It's not right for her to be alone with men in her clinic until midnight. With all due respect to Freud, we're not in Vienna." This means that the culture in Jerusalem is different and village people won't understand a private female practice therapist seeing patients alone late at night.
The more shocking part of this episode is that Amal, who is now living with Meir, finds out that she is pregnant and sees no choice but to get an abortion. The stigma and backlash for an unmarried, sexually active woman is horrible with Arabs. If people were to find out that she got pregnant out of wedlock, this would ruin her reputation, embarrassing her family and making her potential for marriage nearly impossible.
Of course, there is a historic misogyny in the Arab world that has been ingrained in the culture. It keeps woman down and the double standards are so transparent, it's hard to believe. The modern generation may be intelligent, but they don't necessarily have a receptive culture that allows women to become equals. If there is still inequality for American women in 2014, you could easily imagine what Arabs are like. I would say when it comes to sexism in the Middle East, some countries look like America in the 1950s, at best, and practice complete and total sexism and discrimination, at worst.
Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.
When you Google Middle Eastern men, what you get is unflattering and uninviting, to say the least. Yes, they're considered dark, sexy, and mysterious, but they're also described as overtly jealous and with a tendency to flaunt finances. They supposedly honor issues regarding women's conduct and are macho, controlling, and stubborn. Woman are told to beware and simply stay away.
This episode is amazing in its ability to break not only the stereotype of the Middle Eastern man, but the Muslim man. Bushra opens up a clinic in the village and is very busy. This in itself is breaking a stereotype that Middle Eastern men and woman don't go to therapy. Therapy is as popular in some places in the Middle East as it is in America, but there are still people who think it's useless and rubbish as Amjad's father himself says, "With all due respect to Freud, this isn't Vienna!"
Amjad becomes a house husband. Up until now, we saw Amjad struggling between being an Arab and trying to be a Jew, the struggle is now about his manhood. He rises to the occasion and once Timna calls him a metrosexual man, he truly embraces his newfound identity. Timna's approval gives him "permission" to be the modern man he wants to be, whether that means smelling nice or using hand cream.
It's easier to change when you get approval, especially when the person you seek approval from is the one impressed by your change. But up against Timna's approval is Amjad's father and his expectations of manhood.
Once Bushra is suspected of being unfaithful, Amjad is expected to channel his Middle Eastern masculinity -- not to think rationally, but to simply act out of testosterone. He even pulls a knife on the man he thinks is having an affair with his wife, brilliantly falling into yet one more stereotype, which still lingers from a time when Arabs frequently stabbed Jews.
Amjad is both the stereotype and the breaker of the stereotype. He's stuck in an impossible bind of not only being an Arab in a Jewish country, but being a modern, evolved man in a traditional, masculine society.
Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.