InSight: Some gender issues are pretty complicated
A discussion on gender issues can become complicated in a conservative society, especially if talk shifts to the seemingly growing subculture of girls and women behaving like men and having intimate relations.
A person who displays this behavior is known in Arabic as a “boya” or in plural “boyat.”
Although gender lines and segregation policies are clear, some females are taking on the role of males, especially during their adolescent years.
The word boya is not a compliment, but some do not consider this to be the case. “It is our nature and we have not read any tomboy style book,” said one Saudi boya on Twitter.
“I was completely taken by surprise when I saw two girls hugging intimately as I was picking up my girl from school,” said Umm Shahad, who wanted to remain anonymous. Umm Shahad’s daughter is an intermediate student at a public school in Al-Sulemaniya district in Jeddah. “One of the girls was in total control of the other and looked more like a boy,” she said.
Umm Shahad went straight to the headmistress to complain about this “despicable behavior.” But the headmistress would only say that there was nothing they could do, they had “given up,” and “hoped Allah would guide them to the right path,” said Umm Shahad.
Umm Shahad said she is afraid for her daughter and is now looking to find her a new school, hoping that it would be different.
“I had heard many such stories, but now I have seen it with my own eyes,” she said.
Several male and female Saudi writers believe this behavior would have a negative impact.
Writer Randa Alsheikh, in one of her columns earlier this year, said that she attended a social gathering where she saw a group of females who appeared almost completely like men.
“I would not be exaggerating if I say I could not tell the difference between them and men,” she wrote. She said that they looked, talked and walked like men and “even worse” some appeared to be in their 40s. “We need to quickly address this phenomenon to contain these girls so that they are able to build good families and a healthy society,” she said.
A boya named Abeer, 25, who recently appeared on the Saudi TV show “Ya Hala” said that she was attracted to women while still at school. She had a “complete” love relationship with a classmate for a long time. After they broke up, she started looking for other girls to satisfy her weird tendencies.
A boya is characterized, in general, by no make-up, no women’s accessories, no feminine expressions or even a feminine name. This is even the case outside the confines of a girl’s school where there is a prohibition on make-up, unusual hairstyles, and accessories. “But that is not always the case because I have seen boyat with long hair,” said one school girl, who wanted to remain anonymous.
A boya who goes by a boy’s name “Hamood” recently told Radio Sawa that she was rebelling against social norms and her family’s restrictions.
“I was popular at my school with my manly looks and clothes,” she said.
Like Abeer, “Hamood” was engaged in a “love” relationship with another classmate and often felt jealous when her “partner” interacted with other girls. Soon, she started calling this girlfriend “my lady.” “She was the best thing in my life,” she said.
Saudi journalist Yousef Al-Qafari said in an interview on Radio Sawa that family disintegration and lack of true love have led women to act like men. He said education was the best way to tackle this phenomenon. He called on the Ministry of Education to take up this role.
Social worker Nadia Naseer said families play an essential role in such cases. Families should monitor their female members, especially when they start acting like men by cutting their hair short, wearing men’s clothing, or refusing to wear women’s accessories, she said. When a girl or woman does this, she is looking for attention and sending a message that she is a boya, said Nadia Naseer.
Twitter has seen intense debate on this issue. “It is weird when you talk to a tomboy at school, going ballistic about her adventures as a male wannabe and at the end of it, she puts on her abaya and leaves,” one person tweeted.
Several boyat have set up Twitter accounts to lure other females, promising them “unheard of experiences.”
Schools are not geared to detecting boyat, said a social worker at a local university. “They are there to get educated and that is our job,” she said. “Unfortunately television series, especially Kuwaiti ones, have portrayed this as a natural social occurrence,” she said.
The authorities have shut down many boyat online forums, including Gulf Boyat, “but unfortunately, they are regrouping on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.”
Nadia Naseer advised parents to be vigilant about what their daughters watch online.