Saudi Arabia: When the Boys Become Men

 

 

From the time a boy is born he is groomed to become a man in Saudi Arabia.  The process may begin when his father is entertaining guests.  The son may have the responsibility to hand khawa cups to his father when given khawa to guests.  When he is as young as six or seven he may be asked to walk to the local bakery to get the fresh bread for that evening’s dinner.  He is always told to take care of and protect his mother, grandmothers and sisters.  He may start his Ramadan fasts as early as seven years old but expected to maintain a fast by age nine.  If there is an emergency and his father is not available, he would be expected to get his female relatives to a hospital whether he is driving or engages a taxi.  Once he reaches a legal driving age he will be expected to help transport his mother, sisters and grandmothers when they need to go out.

 

For most boys though, they feel that they become a man when they have reached puberty and must segregrate from their female cousins and aunts.  It is a sense of pride and honor to know that they are now expected to remain with the men during a mixed gathering.

 

Yet how do the young boys feel when there is the abrupt change?  One moment he is greeting his aunts and cousins and the next day they can not be uncovered around them.  Does this make him look at them differently?  Does he now think about a female cousin as someone he might possibly marry some day?

 

I’ve spoken to mothers and aunts who expressed regrets that their sons grew up too fast.  Once they stay segregated with the men they are not seen as much.  One Aunt who only had daughters felt that her nephews were like surrogate sons.  She grieved deeply when they reached puberty and her special times with them were lost.  One mother with many daughters had her husband remind their son that he was not the girl’s father.  She felt that her son was being too strict with his sisters.

 

I’d like to hear from Saudi men and their experiences on when they considered a man and how their life changed at that point.

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30 Responses

  1. I honestly hate the fact that boys in Saudi are given too much responsibilities at a young age. Boys are not expected to play with other kids when they reach ten. In my case, I started to have mustache when I was eleven. Hence, my female relatives covered their face from me, my relatives did not let me play with other kids since that time. They were always telling me I am a man and I should not play nor mix with women. I was innocent and a kid at that time. I did not know why I was treated that way. Couple years later, I realized all kids at my age started to be treated the way I was treated.

    In fact, I don’t think I have enjoyed my childhood as I should. I think it has been taken away from me at a young age. People in Saudi should realize that kids must enjoy their early years and not push them into responsibilities they should not handle at young age.

  2. I’m a 28 years old male, I come from the eastern province, we are not as strict as Riyadh or Qassim, as we are not tribal and we don’t have that “Bedu” culture. However, because we live in Saudi Arabia and the Bedu culture is enforced on everybody, we got affected one way or another. I think to raise a boy in a way to make a man of him is something really great, I find it unique in the Arab culture, he is expected to be responsible and take care of his immediate family. What I have a problem with, is to raise to become a guardian and a source of control over his female relatives. To create a family man is one thing and to create a man of a family nightmare is another! I still remember my first experience when I wasn’t allowed to be among the women because I became a “man”, this separation makes the kids or the “new man” to look at women differently, however, the mere separation doesn’t create a strict attitude toward women, it’s what the culture tell this boy about women! For example, there are many cultures in the world that require some sort of separation between men and women, yet you don’t find the level of restriction you find in Saudi. I think the mainstream media and culture needs to change the attitude toward women, we need to enforce this in public schools, TV, Newspapers, and even on the Friday Prayers. Only then we will have a generation who have more respect toward women and therefore more women rights will be granted.

  3. Being a female this might be a bit off base but it seems to me that attaining manhood at such a young age is contradictory. Despite a person’s physical appearance the brain does not mature until the early 20’s so I think perhaps these young boys are having responsibilities thrust upon them that they are too young to fully handle. Also, having the power over your female relatives I think can be a heady spicy mix for a young man entering adolescence. He is given this authority without the maturity to handle the responsibility judiciously and with care and thoughtfulness. I think the temptation to make ones sisters jump to your word would be too great a temptation for many a young brother!!! A kids fantasy come true!! LOL!

    I am sure many a young man tries his best to “buck up” under the new expectations but I really think it is detrimental to their development not only as men (and maturing into the idea of what that means to them), but also it robs them of the ability to just be a kid and NOT have such big responsibilities placed on such young shoulders. I think it must change who they are going to become as men as they are forced to define it much earlier than they are emotionally or brain growth ready to handle.

  4. I’m really glad my two nephews won’t be segregated from me. I would be very sad.

  5. This is the first I’ve heard of boys segregation from aunts. My husband comes from a fairly conservative family, and I’ve never heard of this! Although, I do remember my husband telling me that when he first saw his younger nieces after several years out of the country, they were shy around him. But everyone reminded them that he was their uncle and that it was no problem.

  6. The segregation is not because of Aunts and Uncles. It is because of Aunts and Uncles by marriage and because of cousins. Aunt/nephews and Uncles/nieces are allowed to be together uncovered. However if a household is segregating of course the Aunt will be with the women and the nephew with the men.

    I think it often causes a sense of superiority and entitlement when young men (boys) get to “help” their helpless female relatives. It doesn’t reinforce respect- it reinforces that women have to depend on men- that men are superior.

  7. The commenters who mentioned it being unhealthy for a boy to be considered ‘responsible’ for other people at a young age are spot on. I have two close friends who inherited the role of ‘man of the house’ in their teens when their fathers died. Both are in their 30s now, and both have ongoing relationship and self-worth issues that seem to me to be largely caused by having to grow up too fast, and being held responsible for situations they had no role in creating.

    Both would strenuously argue with me if I voiced this opinion to them, but I view both mothers as being primarily at fault, because they were the adults in the situation, and rather than act like it, they chose to shift a large part of that burden onto their young sons. Everyone knows that the infantilization of women is harmful to women, but few people think about how the consequences can be harmful to men, as well.

  8. I agree with Khalid 100%, the same things goes for girls, at 12, or 13 she suppose to cover, at least her hair and not play with her male cousins, children are innocent by nature, sadly many are not given a chance to enjoy their childhood. I feel sorry for many children in Saudi Arabia, especially girls as soon as they get to be 10, or 11 they can’t even ride a bike in public, cover up that’s the order of the day, these are kids for God sake, let them enjoy their childhood.

  9. Just for the record, Nephews are never segregated from their aunts.

  10. Acco to F Children, especially Boys are denied many childhood pleasures in their teens in Saudi, nothing wrong with throwing some responsibility at them if it’s coupled with normal childhood leeway. Every stage in our development matures and feeds and has a specific role in our bodies growth and development.
    F was turned into a man when he was 12 but luckily for him it meant being sent abroad for education, and landed with his aunt and uncle who treated him as their own adn more important as a child. I don’t think his siblings got lucky . I cannot comment about long term development of such individuals but it does take away the carefree childhood that’s every childs right.

  11. @Anonymous Saudi – ‘I feel sorry for many children in Saudi Arabia…’

    But see, the thing is, this is not just Saudi Arabia. That same mindset can be found even in your ‘moderate’ Muslim right here in the good ol’ US of A!

  12. @Lynn – The USA recognizes the right of parents to raise their children as strictly as they want short of outright physical abuse, but an important difference is that the child is free to live however they like once they turn 18. In Saudi Arabia, that’s not the case – a woman has to follow those rules for her entire life, even if her parents think they’re absurd (which plenty do).

    @Anonymous_Saudi and whoever else mentioned nephews and aunts – While nephews and aunts aren’t specifically segregated from each other, they’ll inevitably see much less of each other once he reaches ‘manhood’, because he’ll always be with the men when she visits, and she’ll be with the women. I’ve always found it hypocritical for a society that talks so much about ‘family values’ to make such a point of splitting families along gender lines at every possible opportunity.

  13. ‘…an important difference is that the child is free to live however they like once they turn 18.’

    As long as they have the ability to support themselves. But, still, the childhood is lost.

  14. “‘…an important difference is that the child is free to live however they like once they turn 18.’
    As long as they have the ability to support themselves. But, still, the childhood is lost.”

    And here I thought that 28 was the new 18! 😉

    On a serious note, though, I can remember worrying about money troubles as a child, and it wasn’t fun. Sometimes, that’s just the way it is, and at least I had (have) amazing parents, unlike some of my childhood friends who were abused. I actually feel more carefree as a young adult than I did during my childhood because money is not as much of an issue now. I feel like I have less to worry about. It’s not just Saudi Arabia and it’s not just men that are having that feeling of responsibility at a young age.

    I agree that there is nothing wrong with giving children responsibility as long as they are still allowed time to play and be carefree. Adults want their playtime, too. Why should it be withheld from children?

    I would think the segregation would make the teen and tween years more awkward, though? As for innocence in childhood, I think it really depends on how sheltered the children are raised to be by their parents, where they live, etc. For instance, when I was 13 there were already rumors going around the school I attended about the other students being pregnant/having sex/etc. It’s just the way it is in some places, especially low-income, low-education neighborhoods.

  15. I found most young Saudis pretty naive and sheltered, even childish at age 20 which in the west is considered an independent adult.

    There is very common misconception when nurses here receive patients and we do not know the age yet, according to behavior one would guess 13 but in reality they are in their 20s..

  16. @Laylah – ‘one would guess 13 but in reality they are in their 20s..’

    So odd. Do you think that is true for both sexes? Could you describe a behavior that you would witness that would make you believe that a 20 yr old was 13?

  17. @Strangeone – ‘And here I thought that 28 was the new 18!’ LOL – Yes, but the only difference is that there is no law saying that your parents HAVE to support you after 18 sooooo…. better make sure they are happy with the way you choose to live your life = not so FREE to choose after all! LOL

  18. @Lynn,
    Very true. Thankfully, my parents are more open-minded and easy-going. 🙂 So I still get freedom to do what I want, as long as it’s productive and not harmful to anyone. (Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t live at home still! LOL) The money is not seen as any one person’s money, but as the family’s money. It was that way when I was little, and it’s still that way now. It actually allows all of us more freedom to do as we please, which works for us.

  19. @ StrangeOne,
    I am curious. Are your parents first generation immigrants? And, may I ask which ethnicity? As some cultures are more communal than others.

  20. Seriously? I have never heard of a family that is so open minded and easy going that they give open access to the ‘family accounts’. I can just imagine how long the ‘family accounts’ in my family would have stayed solvent with 12 hands just taking as they pleased. LOL

  21. @Kristine,
    My family has been in the US for quite a few generations. I am 1/8 Norwegian, but other than that, it’s anyone’s guess. My parents picked and chose what they liked from different cultures. They wanted to give us more opportunity and help us succeed in life than what they were given. Hence, they are willing to support us as long as we are working to a positive goal. Plus, we all get along really well so it’s nice to be at home. We are all good friends, although our parents are our parents first and foremost. 🙂

    @Lynn,
    There is a system to it. Basically, there is one person (a parent) who manages the finances. Everyone else tells this person what is important to them that requires financial income. Priority is given depending on what it is. When there isn’t enough from the main income source, then the secondary income sources are used to pay for whatever it is. It took me a while to get used to as a child, because my money is not just mine but also the family’s The flip side to this is that when something is important to me, I have other people to rely on for financial concerns. It’s not a one-way street; it goes both ways (meaning sometimes other family members would borrow from me, and sometimes I borrow from them). Although, my parents don’t mind paying for everything now.

    If I had to, I’d just get a higher-paying job. However, right now because my parents are helping me out, I am able to enjoy their company while gaining experience in a field (and at a particular business) I enjoy working in. Doing what you love is more important than money, although having both is nice, too! 😉 I was taught to be responsible and have a strong work ethic as a child. That is probably part of the reason why the system works with my family- we all want to contribute.

  22. Strangeone…

    Your system works because it sounds as if you have been raised with a “collective society” mentality rather than a more individualistic one. It reminds me of how families lived years ago, particularly during the Depression. (I am NOT saying your family is poor or anything like that.) But they had a more “one for all and all for one” sort of mentality that helped the families survive and in some cases flourish. I have been reading a lot about that lately and the kids knew that everyone was “in it” together. Everyone, even the kids, contributed to the family kitty to help out and they were happy to help the family as it was a point of pride. Of course, I am sure it didn’t work perfectly in every family, but it seems when it worked it worked well and the whole family was a more unified unit. Between you and me, when reading it I thought it sounded so nice to have that kind of camaraderie…even though they were poor, they never felt alone as the whole group was in it together.

  23. Srangeone – I was following you until you said that a family member ‘borrowed’ from you. How could they do that if your money was already in the ‘kitty’?

    I remember my parents talking about when they were still in Scotland and living at home. When they came home with their pay they handed it to their parents who would then give them an ‘allowance’. The rest went to the ‘family’ but that money was NOT for going to the movies etc it was for food and rent etc. My parents did not raise us that way though (perhaps they did with the oldest ones, I’ll have to ask them, the older ones of course have all kinds of horror stories and we young ones were spoiled etc LOL It’s just that my dad finally got a good job in the factory by that time and some of the older ones were out on their own so things were not as tight at home)

  24. Sounds like you have an amazing family strangeone!

  25. @Oby,
    It is more collectivist in the sense that we share resources, but individual in the sense that we are all encouraged to do what makes us happy, whether or not we live at home. You’re right; it is very nice to have this sense of comradery. It’s kind of like having a safety net that allows me to truly explore life and find something that not only pays the bills, but that I enjoy, too. Thanks. 🙂

    I think the US is going back to the “family sticks together” mentality. It just makes good financial sense from the view that it costs more for everyone to live separately than for everyone to live together. I think this is part of the phenomenon of young adults moving back home after graduating from university. (The other part being that it takes more work to get a good job after graduation and experience is becoming just as, if not more important, than a degree in many fields.)

    @Lynn,
    It’s not exactly easy to explain because it’s not cut and dry. There is no set amount I have to contribute each month. However, if we are low on something in the house, I just go buy it. If I need lunch and I’m at work, I simply go buy it (although a lot of times, I try to bring my own). If it is necessary to transfer money from one account to another, we do so then. If it was necessary (and when it was necessary) to be more particular on saving money, then we would do so.

    At the end of the day, though, my parents want to pay for the majority of the expenses and let us keep what we make at work in order to help us be able to save up for when us “children” someday have a family of our own. In return, they expect us to do the same thing for our future children. If my parents needed extra money for my mom to do what she enjoys, then I’d start looking into getting a second job, too, simply because I think it’s important that my mom follows her dreams also. However, money is not the issue it once was for my family.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, too! ❤

    @Kristine,
    Thanks hun! I love my family. 🙂

  26. @Strangeone – Oh, well, now that you put it that way, it sounds like you are in what I would consider a normal family situation. Unless you are saying that you would tap into the family ‘funds’ to buy yourself a car or something. 😉

  27. @Lynn,
    LOL. That idea is just absurd! Although, my parents did buy me a car…;)

  28. In a lot of places Joint family is the norm, my parents lived in one, and i lived in a partial one when i was a kid. but the unstated rule in our family for our generation was once you got married you were out. I stayed home till i got married and so did my brother, actually my brother got married & moves into an apt close by to my parents but still as soon as he got married his pay went to his wife 🙂

    i got married when i was in my final yr ( residency) and F was in his masters residency so we barely made enough to eat !!! however instead of stayingin diff hostels as we were staying till then, we decided to rent a room and manage , which would have never happened if my mom and his aunt didn’t provide us with regular food, got most of our household stuff and set us up( in our 1room place) i look at the pics now and am amazed we couldlive,cook, study and have fun in a 200sqfoot room with a tiny balcony ( which doubled as a kitchen) and an even tinier bath 🙂

    Again this would have not been possible without family support, no way. we both graduated , F got a great job and i joined the Masters program and after a few months my dad came by to remind us we were no more students and we didn’t have to live in that hovel 🙂 we were quite attached to it by then…

    I think parental help to start out is a great thing, but again i don’t think there should be any parental interference after marriage – good or bad, if you are capabale enough to get married, you should be capable enough to support yourself.. that way everyone is happy .

  29. @Radha – ‘if you are capabale enough to get married, you should be capable enough to support yourself’

    Yep!

  30. What my parents always told me was that it was important to go to college, so even if I got pregnant and/or married, as long as I was getting good enough grades, then they would do their best to support me. I can remember being told this as early as my tween years, although I think they may have told me this before then.

    They would probably still be okay with me living at home after marriage and/or having children. Although, depending on the situation, they may advise us to live on our own if they thought it would make things easier on us. I really don’t know, but it would probably depend on who I married and how well we all got along.

    I am welcome at home as long as I want to be here, although there is no guarantee my parents won’t someday move out! LOL. (That’s basically what they told me.) 😀 This is one of the many things I love about my parents! 🙂

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