Change is Never Easy Print E-mail
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Thursday, 14 November 2013 00:00

 We are generally comfortable with what we know, and the older we get the more resistant to change we become.  The trick is to balance the innovation of youth with the wisdom of age, and this becomes increasingly difficult as technological advances compress the time frame for change.  This is especially noticeable in the area of cultural values and expectations, where what served society well during the age of horse drawn carriages is no longer relevant in the digital era.  In the area of gender dynamics it is possible that a majority of men and a significant number of women are still riding an old fashioned stage coach oblivious to the jet propelled spacecraft that race past them.  Sometimes an extreme example helps us to understand why some traditional views on gender are no longer relevant and need revision.

Saudi Arabia may be the richest country on earth, using the latest oil technology to pump out the black gold that underpins its wealth, but in politics, social organisation and gender relations, it is still riding camels from one desert oasis to the next.  A daily affront and inconvenience that Saudi women face is the ban on female drivers that renders them totally dependent on their male relatives.  A world class female professional is deemed incapable of driving a car.  Before Belizean men snicker about the danger of “women drivers” it may be useful to note that data from insurance companies shows that though women may be involved in  more minor fender benders they are implicated in far fewer serious and/or fatal accidents than male drivers.  The majority of women in Saudi Arabia favour an amendment to the law and support a vigorous campaign for change but, the campaign’s opponents, led by 200 male clerics (almost all old men), denounce what they call a “conspiracy” to put women behind the wheel.  Sheikh Salah al-Luhaydan, a well known cleric who also practices psychology, claims that there is scientific proof that driving affects the ovaries leading to clinical disorders in the children of women who drive.  The sheikh may be an outlier, but no doubt his views resonate with a large section of Saudi men who fear losing their privileged position in society.

Some of the more extreme clerics of Belize (almost all middle-aged or older men) may be less radical, but many of their pronouncements on gender issues are grounded on the traditions of similar nomadic tribes from the same era as the original Saudi desert societies. Their views may be excessive, but they mirror the fears of ordinary Belizean men who worry about losing their privileged position in society.  Thus, an older male columnist may base his discussion of rape almost entirely on the rare cases where a female leads a male on in one way or another and then suddenly says, “Stop.”  While cases of this nature undoubtedly do occur they form a very small percentage of the total cases of rape.  Even in these cases it is the right of any person to say no whenever they feel uncomfortable.  Many victims do indeed know their attacker who may be their neighbour, fellow worker or family member, but this does not mean that they are responsible for inciting the attacker to commit his act.  Promoting the view that men cannot control their desires leads to a cultural climate where men do not even try.  Blaming the victim conveys impunity on the perpetrator. 

Consider an analogy.  If a person reports to the police that his or her house has been burglarised the police naturally try to discover how the intruder gained entry.   If they discover that the burglar gained entry through a small window or even that the home owner had left the house unlocked they may advise that this is not good practice in the modern era.  However, they do not dismiss the case on the grounds that the home owner incited the thief to his act by leaving his home unsecured in some way.  The burglar cannot give as an excuse that he was not to blame because it is natural to want nice things and the homeowner tempted him to commit the crime by forgetting to secure a small window on the upper flat.

It is time to enter the modern era.  We cannot pick and choose from the banquet of modern inventions and discoveries.  Only those who refuse to use all modern technology can legitimately decree that our cultural and gender relations must be based on camel or horsepower while our communication is digital.