The patriarch and the pecking order

Lebanese family time

family time

Beyond the obvious differences in the traditional roles of men and women, living in a society where basic rights depend on gender holds the occasional eyeopener. I have become accustomed to people assuming I don’t work, don’t drive, and do 100% of the cooking. I wasn’t overly surprised to be receive consoling comments about expecting a girl. But although many Lebanese women do work and drive, these stereotypes are not on their way to oblivion.

There has been recent coverage in local media of the fact that women are not able to open bank accounts for their children. The father must be present at the bank to carry out the required formalities. It is also true that a domestic worker cannot open a bank account for herself alone. She needs permission from her employer.

I wonder if permission of the mistress of the house is enough or whether she needs the patriarch’s signature. This could mean a married Lebanese woman has more authority over her maid than her own children, while the domestic worker is actually taking a maternal role with the kids. Its a particularly confusing pecking order especially if the kids start ordering the maid around as of age six.

On a visit to a new gynaecologist I was buzzed in and stood for a moment or two waiting to see if I would be registered first or if I should take a seat on the leather couches. After a moment the receptionist looked up. Her first words were: “What is your husband’s name?” The main identifier for my pregnancy health record. I noted also that the nursery on the maternity ward at one hospital, full of tiny babies in tiny beds, bore a notice restricting access to “mothers and husbands only”.

I knew that a family head could claim a daughter as a dependant until marriage, regardless of her age, and after marriage should she become a widow, while boys cease to be declarable after 18 or after their education ends. But I only recently discovered that while a man can claim a tax rebate for his non-working wife and any children, a working woman with an unemployed husband can claim neither for him, nor for any children. Not much consolation in the fact that her wages would be lower than a man’s anyway so she would not be taxed so much.

It’s not exactly a thriving stay-at-home dad culture. Having said that, since my husband and I work from home anyway, people seem to think we are both going to be stay-at-home parents, which is not quite the same thing. But never mind, we can always hire a foreigner to be our 24-hour nanny, cook and cleaner at rates so low as to make it nearly look like a good option to have a stranger sharing our flat and bringing up our kids. But not quite.

4 Responses to “The patriarch and the pecking order”

  1. mary ann says:

    All this and yet I can relate to the women who tell me that things are so much better now than they were before. I’m sure they are better, and I’m also sure that women’s rights shouldn’t be different than men’s.

    I believe Lebanon is becoming more equal. It’s coming, I hope. I hope it is.

    • I am sure things have improved for women since times past. Perhaps that is why there are still some surprises out there, because in general women in Lebanon are very active outside the home and clearly do not live in anyone’s shadow.

  2. Christina says:

    I’ve seen some social media groups pushing for more gender equality in Lebanon, particularly over the issue of women being unable to confer Lebanese citizenship by their own right onto their children. It surprised me to read of the extent to which women can’t do things because I tend to think of the country-and Beirut especially-as being fairly equal.

    Is it very difficult to deal with this discrimination? I get the feeling that my feminism would flare up and confrontations would ensue…

  3. Sherbil says:

    These issues are nothing but a hell of a mess…
    Sometimes the logic behind the uneven rights is, mm, logical… and yet again things are never fair for all parties (but justice is a matter of perception, like everything else).
    Anyway, I believe we should go back to the good old Hunting-Men/Nesting-Women era, I’m sure things done like nature intended are simpler – and we would hear a lot less about the gender equality.

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