By Paula El Khoury, Sociologist – Paris (France)
This was the answer of Roba, a 27-year-old Lebanese fashion-designer, when I asked her for the sake of my research on women entrepreneurs in Lebanon: How can you take care of your child with this load of work?
For an interview, she agreed to receive me in her house, which turned out to be her “atelier” at the same time. It is a large flat of more than 300m², occupying an entire floor in a high-rise building in Beirut. While contiguous, it has two separate entries; one for the living space and the other for her working place.
As always, I am amazed how women can transgress artificial social boundaries! Some say because these were made by men, for men!
Ten minutes later, I caught a glimpse of her husband in the hallway with a naked baby in one arm and a baby diaper in the other.
Roba is not the only woman in Lebanon who relies on her husband to take care of domestic and “family care” duties that usually fall upon wives.
Take, for instance, Sonia who does high quality embroidery for a Lebanese international fashion designer. When she describes her day at work I can’t help but see her husband at different times of her daily routine.
She leaves the house at 7:00 o’clock and it is her husband who prepares their children for school, cooks, and delivers food to Sonia’s workshop for her to eat there, in her prettily-designed kitchenette. He eventually helps fixing things in the atelier, and then goes back home before the children return.
‘He insisted on handling my business accounts’, she said. Not surprisingly, indeed. According to studies on bakers, restaurant and grocery store owners, tailors, pharmacists, but also high profile business men, it is their wives who play the role of accountants for them. Sometimes they are like real secretaries without themselves or their husbands being aware of it.
I believe that Lebanese and Arab men were always helping out their wives with children and housekeeping, but it was done in private, or, as it goes in Arab societies: “not to be seen by others!”
What changes now is a new generation of men, who want to “show it” off; they are not ashamed of being the nurturing father or the housekeeper, even in front of “others”!
Yet, this is not only a practical issue – like a kind of ‘division of labor’ between men and women. For those men, it is an emotional matter too.
French sociologist Christine Castelain-Meunier, who is an expert on masculinity and gender, says that nowadays fathers express their need to care for their children and to befriend them just like mothers do.
Confirming research, Roba’s husband is not only helping her out, but seems to like it to take care of their child. When she introduced me to him half an hour later, he told us stories about how his eight-month-old child has done this and that.
He was very happy and proud, like mothers are when talking about their children.
Yes, men are changing!
Paula El Khoury, PhD, is a Research Associate at the Centre d’Analyse et d’Intervention Sociologiques (CNRS) in Paris, France. With more than 25 years of professional experience in Sociology and Journalism, she has been writing, lecturing and researching on issues related to Gender and Social Change in the Arab region. Her key competences are in the fields of Women Entrepreneurship, Arab Youth, Digital Media, and Corporate Social Responsibility. She lives between Beirut and Paris and she is member of the Lebanese Press Syndicate and the Association Française de Sociologie.
Photo credit: P. & Ivette Kiameh (family album)