The Arab myth of Western women

By Khaled Diab

Unflattering as some Western stereotypes are of , also get a bad press in conservative Arab circles.

16 November 2010

My previous article explored unflattering Western stereotypes of Arab men. As if to confirm the popularity of this archetypal image, many commenters betrayed so obvious a fondness for the Arab baddie that they could hardly bring themselves to admit that there were other alternatives.  Amid this polarised debate, a number of commenters, including WeAreTheWorld, suggested that Arab stereotypes of Western would also be a worthwhile subject to explore.

Just as Arab men are stereotyped and pigeonholed in the west, Western women hover somewhere between myth and fantasy in the . “We're loose, obsessed with , batter our men, are bad mothers, and can't cook,” my wife joked, summing up pithily some common Arab prejudices. Then she cracked her whip as I cowered in the corner, huddled over my bowl of wood shavings.

Like the traditional orientalist image of the harem, Arab views of the contemporary Western woman are also highly sexualised. In fact, many Arab men, particularly those with little contact with the West, have this fantasy of Western women that comes straight out of Playboy magazine or the grainy images of pirate pornos.

In this view, Western women are oversexed, promiscuous and have revolving doors in their knickers. “A typical Egyptian male is a firm believer that any Western woman is an easy catch and would not mind at all having sex with complete strangers,” observes Ahmed, an old college friend.

This can lead to hassle and harassment for Western women travelling or living in and some other Arab countries, although in places like Yemen men will either just stare or the Western woman will become invisible like the local women, as my wife found while travelling alone through the country. Of course, given the potent mix of sexual repression, poverty, ignorance, the growing disappearance of the traditional model of respect for women and the failure to replace it with a modern equivalent, you don't have to be Western to be harassed on the streets.

Some men will hit on Western women out of the conviction Ahmed described, while others who understand the West better will do so out of simple opportunism, hoping that they will “get lucky” with a woman from a society where sex does not carry the same heavy restriction for her as it does for her Arab sisters. In fact, some men want the best of both worlds: a bit of fun with Western women, then settling down with a traditional local woman.

Another form of opportunism is the allure of escape. “I think sometimes it's not the Western woman who's so attractive, as the lure of her passport. It sometimes seems to spell freedom,” observes Angela, a Jerusalem-based acquaintance.

Among certain men, this myth of the Western Aphrodite is complemented by another delusion: that Western women find the men in their own countries too emasculated and weak and so prefer a ‘real man'. In fact, some blokes I've met entertain the belief that Egyptian men have a good reputation among Western women for their virility and sexual prowess.

This misperception is reinforced in their minds by the fact that some women do come to Egypt for sexual tourism or get caught up in whirlwind filled with old-fashioned romance, expressions of undying love, passion and charm. “He swept me off my feet with his sweet words, compliments, attentive gestures, romance, and warmth,” said one European woman who got drawn to a charmer with a darker side.

So, which Arabs have the most negative views of Western women? Well, probably those from the most conservative societies. “From my personal experience, the worst Arab men I found were the ones from ,” a journalist with a leading Portuguese newspaper told me. “They think that all foreign women are prostitutes and they try to treat them like that.”

What is behind this belief that Western women are somehow sex-crazed? Part of it relates to the conservative Arab fixation on women's sexuality in general. According to this outlook, women's sexual appetites are so insatiable that, if they are left to their own devices, they turn into uncontrollable nymphomaniacs and temptresses luring men to crash into the rocks of lust.

As every woman is carrying a volatile sex bomb that will explode upon contact with freedom, in Arab societies where women have entered the workforce en masse and reached the highest academic and professional echelons, they have often done so by emphasising their ‘virtuousness', that their independence hasn't made them ‘bad women'.

A similar phenomenon is occurring in other modernising patriarchal societies, such as India. Even in the West, the pioneering women in academia and the professions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries often lived like nuns.

It should be pointed out that many religious Arabs, including women, do not believe that Arab women are oppressed, but that they enjoy a different, and superior, kind of liberty. In an interesting turning of the tables, conservatives are reciprocating the western interest in the position of Arab and women by examining the “oppressed” status of the western woman.

In an apparent bid to answer the charges of Western orientalism, the Saudi-based conservative Islamic thinktank, al-Medinah Centre for the Study of Orientalism, which has developed its own brand of ‘occidentalism', has a section dedicated to Western women. Another conservative Islamic site targeted at women asks “who will end the injustice against Western women?”

“How can they [the West] demand the ending of what they see as injustice against Saudi women, when their own women are drowning in seas of injustice?” asks the author, pointing, paralleling his Western counterparts, to the prevalence of domestic violence and rape in the west – as well as pointing to questionable surveys which show that the majority of western women actually wish to return to the home.

This column appeared in the Guardian newspaper's Comment is Free section on 10 November 2010. Read the full discussion here.


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22 thoughts on “The Arab myth of Western women

  • mrscheshire

    Some people have a knack for judging others by their own-questionable- standards.
    Like all those men who call western women or women in general whores, slags and the gods know what else; usually they’re pretty ‘loose’ themselves. But the gods forbid a woman should exercise her sexual freedom. We can’t have that now can we…

  • I blame the rap music.

  • nagatopwnsall

    Sounds about right to me. The western world is the most promiscuous.

    Men dont want whores or sluts for wives. The simple fact of the matter is that most men would dump a women if they did not like the ammount of men she has slept with.

    If a women has slept with more then 7 men in her life its a deal breaker for me. Other men have higher thresholds and some even lower. Call it a double standard if you like but its not going to change anytime soon if ever. Its been this way since the dawn of time. Its pretty much biological i guess.

    Many men in your bed=not monogamous enough,not family material,not marriage material,slut,whore,etc.

    Its been statsitically proven that women cause over 50% of domestic abuse.

    The state of western society actually shows that western women are horrible mothers.

    • you are an uneducated, slack-jawed idiot. 

  • spectre991

    Different people have different views. Gotta live with that. All – Western, African and Middle Eastern, Sub-continent, Eastern world etc. have their own myths about each other. It’s kinda funny actually. Yeah they often cross the line but sometimes differences have to be accepted or at least tolerated.

    With that said, lol at women being more sex crazed. :hehe

  • Kankurette

    Methinks it’s not us Western women who are obsessed with sex. The men who complain about us could, you know, just not look at us. I’m so sick of the emphasis on modesty being placed on women because those poor innocent men might be tempted if they see our hair or something. And of course if they dip their wick they’re oh so manly and awesome, but when a woman has sex she’s a dirty slag.

  • erictheking

    “How can they [the west] demand the ending of what they see as injustice against Saudi women, when their own women are drowning in seas of injustice?”

    If we were being strictly reasonable, this tu quoque would be thrown out in one second. Admittedly reason does not always prevail over cognitive bias and hypocrisy is damning in the real world, including in politics.

    The problem here is that they are themselves being hypocritical in using the prevalence of domestic violence and rape in the Western world to shut their critical voice down.

    The fact that both domestic violence and rape (certainly within marriage) are practically allowed by the Saudi law system, and the evidence from women’s rights organisations working in the Arab world that violence against women ‘is at an epidemic level’ – would suggest that the incidence of domestic violence and rape is at least equal, if not greater there than it is in the West.

  • sadated_peon

    To me this seems to be seeing the culture from the outside without understanding the context. In western culture we have gone through the sexual revolution where women regain much of the power in the relationship, and much of the power to control their own lives.

    They are no longer forced to live from their father to their husband and be under their power. They can live for themselves and control their own lives.

  • Sunrider

    An interesting article. All these authorities in the western world, all these authorities in the eastern world, all trying to solve the “woman issue.”

    And it seems, not a single woman consulted in the process.

  • White Tiger

    I see it as this:

    Men are like keys. A Key that open all locks is said to be a “master” key.

    Women are like locks. A lock that can be opened by all Keys is said to be a shit lock.

    This analogy sums it up very accurately.

  • I don’t like how this article implies playboy and porn are not being truthful. I learned all my life lessons from porn. Yes, that includes table etiquette, hygiene and theoretical physics.

  • “A typical Egyptian male is a firm believer that any western woman is an easy catch and would not mind at all having sex with complete strangers,”

    no no no. they’ve gotten them mixed up with western men. MEN.

  • I have a friend from Iraq who pretty much thought that American girls were going to sleep with him despite the wife and kids back home. He was gravely mistaken.

  • Similar stereotype about western women exists in Japan, the whole them being sex-obsessed sluts.

  • Shinigami

    Is this really a stereotype? Okay, I know our women aren’t the creatures portrayed in rap videos and Playboys. But just go to a bar around 12AM on a Friday night and buy drinks + smile, you’re more than likely to go home with one by closing.

    Not complaining, I’m a guy and it’s fucking fantastic. But our sexual girls are anything but a myth.

  • Koppachino

    I’m not arab, but I did finish high school in Dubai and have a lot of arab friends. The arabs that view western women as “promiscuous” are the old-school, traditional types, i.e. the arab-rednecks. You generally won’t find that train of thought in an educated environment.

    And now, in the States, I’ve met just as many Caucasian/Hispanic/etc men who think of American women the same way the article describes. It’s a sad, universal thing.

  • how I wish all those stereotypes were true

  • Its not just Arabs but South Asians too. They all believe western women have no morals, don’t take care of their children, are sex driven and only value money. And use this as a reason to not allow their daughters basic rights.

  • If they knew…

    I’m a western woman and I don’t even like having sex.

    But it’s true I’m a man beater and a terrible cook. Kidding.

    And I prefer my eurofags over all the men around the world.
    They treat their women well.

  • It’s ironic that In describing the stereotypes of a people, the author has to stereotype them.

  • I’d like to know how the author concludes that, according to Arab men, “every woman is carrying a volatile sex bomb that will explode upon contact with freedom.” That’s a funny line, and fun to read, but I can’t take it seriously as an effort to represent the views of any actual culture. I was hoping for a discussion of stereotypes that would delve, not just echo.


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