Double Standards on Public Decency

My cousin’s daughter is smart. She recently summed a deeply rooted societal problem in few words. The little girl is relatively chubby and her mom, my cousin, keeps giving her remarks on her weight and looks. At one point, she responded: “Don’t you see that you are fat too! Plus, you are the one who keep feeding me all the time!”

Hypocrisy is the first word that came to my mind when I first saw this headline: “Morocco teens held for kissing photo on Facebook”. As mentioned in the story, the teen couple was “held for violating public decency.” For those who live in the Arab world, this is a well-known misdemeanor. And personally, as a citizen, I’m totally with maintaining public decency. But wait: is the sight of two teens kissing in public an act that actually violates public decency? I feel like I have been fooled for my entire life!

My teenage years were during the nineties, those days when our lives revolved around the TV schedule. We were based in a Gulf state and in the summer vacation we used to spend time Egypt. In both “Arab countries,” where kissing in public is unlawful, the few TV channels that were available back then (state-run channels) had daily Arab movies (mainly Egyptian) on their schedules, and *surprise surprise* kissing scenes were a must in any romantic story. As a teen, the message that I got from these films was: it is  completely okay for couples to kiss in public as long as they are in love.

BUT, society is always there to confuse us. The very same states that shower us with such romantic scenes on a daily basis consider these acts violations to public decency if practiced by the citizens. Well, I’m sorry to tell you that your laws are not helping in preserving your idea of “public decency,” for we are human beings and learning by imitation is inevitable! As the few lines of the above story highlighted, “Others accuse society of hypocrisy for castigating a young couple for copying what they see on TV.” Some might argue that this generation is an “online generation” and TV is not as influential, hence no state control is practiced any more over the content to which a teenager is exposed. Again, such scenes are not met with the same social disapproval when they are on the screen. What happens on the screens stays on the screens. Try to convince a teenager with this rationale.

Before leaving this story, a vital question emerges: What really are the acts that violate public decency?

One activist’s response to Moroccan teens incident was that, “In this country, it is a crime to kiss a girl, but it is not a crime to hit her.”  Domestic violence definitely violates public decency. However, this is the end result of a number of root causes, many of which can be found within popular culture.

A scene from Tamer Hosny’s music video for Si El Sayed. [Source].

Can I give you one example that REALLY violates public decency? The answer is Si El Sayed, the latest video clip [mainly in Arabic, with some English] by the “King of a generation,” Egypt’s pop star, Tamer Hosny (if you’re surprised to see Snoop Dogg, know that it’s unfathomable to us Egyptians as well to find him there). The title of the song, “Si El Sayed,” is the name of the iconic character that resembles tyrannical patriarch in Naguib Mahfouz’s novel The Cairo Trilogy. This character became a symbol of any dominant man who is strict with his family. It is clear from the video that he is the role model that Tamer Hosny aspires to be and thinks that every guy should be. In the song, Hosny suggests – actually believes – that he is entitled to set and enforce the rules for his wife, fiancée or girlfriend. And if his partner does not like it, she has to walk away. Snoop Dogg seems to approve this, saying “I’m the head of the castle.” (What castle?!) Not only this, he thinks that this way he will “make her a better woman”! The cherry on top of the cake: “without us [men], what could you [women] have done?” Not to mention the main female figure in the clip, who does nothing but yelling, leading Hosny to call her “crazy.”

You know what, with misogyny like that, women sometimes have pretty good reason to yell.

To be honest, this is not only Tamer Hosny’s position. Another famous figure agrees totally with him. To add insult to injury, this figure is Donia Samir Ghanem, the Egyptian actress and singer. Yes, you read that word correctly; she is a woman! Her recently released song [Arabic] depicts a girl in love. Which is not bad at all; good for you, girl! The problem is that her lover tells her what to wear and what not to; he even chooses whom she befriends because he does not like most of her girlfriends. The tragedy is that she happy with this situation. Yes. Happy. Follows his orders carefully and contently.

A marriage between a guy who adopts Hosny’s position and a girl on Ghanem’s side will almost definitely end in domestic violence: physically, verbally, and emotionally.

Public decency is not only violated; it’s devastated with such “masterpieces.”  So rather than freaking out every time two teenagers kiss, maybe it’s time to look more deeply at bigger violations of “public decency,” and at what it is in our popular culture that contributes to these violations.

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    With all due respect, Moroccan television, past and present, has never shown kissing on-air.


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