Arab men see their value in God’s eyes

In the Middle East Father’s Day tends to go by mostly unnoticed, in sharp contrast to Mother’s Day. The culture tends to see emotional expression as feminine, leaving most men without space or permission to explore their feelings and develop emotional maturity. This affects men’s ability to serve as fathers with a healthy understanding of masculinity and manhood.

Recently SAT-7’s Gender Equality and Freedom of Religion or Belief project launched a series of videos exploring the notion of healthy and authentic masculinity. Each of the six short pieces features a personal story from a man about a time when he struggled to conform to social expectations of manhood, which is followed by a thoughtful and theologically-grounded reflection from a psychiatrist.

A difficult start

Maggie Morgan, the Egyptian filmmaker who leads the project, says that it was not straightforward to create these videos. “When I approached a director with the draft of the ideas I had, I didn’t know if they were doable. The question I wanted to ask men was: ‘When are you tired of having to act “like a man” in the traditional Middle Eastern sense?’ I didn’t think anyone would answer the invitation to participate; the culture of toxic masculinity is so dominant here.”

First the team held auditions inviting members of the public to share their stories. Three men came but then did not turn up to the video shoot the next day. “They said it was too soon for them to share their stories and feelings,” says Maggie.

The acute pain and complexity underlying cultural expectations of masculinity was apparent in the Facebook comments left by audience members. One viewer wrote, “If you eat then you are a glutton and a selfish person who is eating your children’s food. If you sleep you are lazy; if you are sick and undergo surgery then you are pretending; if you are in pain you are acting spoiled. Any boundaries you put in place are torn down. I am afraid to keep going. I know I will find myself completely destroyed.”

Seeing men through God’s eyes

Emotional repression stood out as a common struggle. In one of the videos, a man tells the story of losing his father suddenly while in college and the suffering he went through as he held back his grief.

In the following reflection, psychiatrist Dr Bassem Fawzi said, “They say that a man does not cry, that if his tears fall then so does his manhood, as if this man is not a human being but an object, but is that true manhood?”

The rest of the video laid out better definitions of manhood and masculinity and presented a model for healthy and mature emotional management.

The response from viewers was overwhelmingly positive. The content brought relief to men who welcomed discussion of the challenges they face. The viewer support team encouraged those in need of a listening ear to reach out to them for one-on-one guidance.

SAT-7 ARABIC Channel Director George Makeen has lived experience of these issues.

“As a man and father myself, who was raised in a culture that doesn’t appreciate allowing men to be in touch with their feminine side, or makes the mere idea scary and shameful to them, I was encouraged to find women like Maggie, and the role-model men she interviewed, exploring such topics, encouraging men to open up and understand the importance of being humans.”

“I find it encouraging that our female viewers are learning about such issues, so that they become partners who can support their men in discovering what is true manhood and living up to it, and mothers who raise up resilient children.”

SAT-7’s five-year project was launched in 2022 with support from Norad via Digni and the Norwegian Mission Society. It aims to help female viewers learn about issues of gender equality affecting both women and men, and the effects of these on individuals’ freedom of religion or belief.

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