What do Arab men want? Well, I spent two weeks asking every single Arab man I met that question.
"So what do you look for in a woman?" I asked casually.
And that's all it took to unleash a flood of ideas, lists of "wants" that went on for almost an hour per man. Some guys rambled on ignoring the interruptions of waiters or their own mobile phones.
It is like they were holding it in all this time, until someone asked what they thought.
I don't want to generalize here -- this was just a sample of men from different Arab countries that I met mostly through work or friends and I actually don't know them that well. Still, their candid answers and thoughts have helped me understand the "marriage market" better.
First, these men want a woman who is naameh (soft and gentle). She shouldn't "talk too much," "be loud" or "nag." And when I asked what they mean by nag, they mentioned things like always asking where their husband has been, or calls on him to "fix this or that." Those kinds of demands are considered as "nagging."
As one guy put it: "I can't stand it when a woman calls me up and asks me what I am doing or where I am. It is stifling."
Men also have physical wish-lists. I found it interesting that all of the men wanted someone "fair" and "blonde," and if not blonde then "light haired" with light colored eyes. Note that none of these men were blond, and had thick curly black hair that looked slimy with gel. They were also quite hairy, and you have no choice but to notice their chest hair given their widely open shirts often elaborated with gold chains, or silver "halal" chains worn by more religious men. In Islam, it is 'makrouh' frowned upon for men to be wearing gold and silk.
So, a quiet gentle blonde woman is what they want? And with a great figure. When I said: "Oh, so you want Barbie?" they all said "yes."
Not just any Barbie, mind you. These hairy, gel-streaked men wanted a "conservative" blonde who doesn't go out on dates, is "educated" but not "too" educated. When I asked for elaboration they said a degree was OK but not if it came at the cost of interaction with too many men and took her away from living with her parents.
Some admitted they were suspicious of women who lived on their own and moved out for a career. But what if she has no choice, I protested. "What if she had to support herself and her family?"
Finally, this mystical, blonde creature of brilliant subservience had to be well off, or "bint Aela" -- from a good family with a good reputation and plenty of money.
As we chatted many of the men I was interviewing were getting calls and messages from women they were not replying to. Silence - "This tactic hooks them in," said one guy smiling.
Apparently, none of the women they are currently going out with fit their criteria, and so, they bluntly admitted, they will not marry them. I wonder if the poor women know this. Regardless of what people say, in most Arab families, it is the man who decides whom he marries and women just have to wait to be asked.
Meanwhile ability to cook, being a good mother and "some sense of humor" did pop up, but wasn't in the top five. I guess it all depends on one's own upbringing and experiences.
These days many women can't cook like their mothers or even their grandmothers. Couples and families end up eating out most of the time anyway. Motherhood has changed as well, with many relying on help from maids and nannies.
Some men will deny that my sample group represents them, but I believe these guys I've been speaking to simply told me what many guys won't admit.
Of course, during all this talking, the issue of what I'm looking for in a man did come up.
"A gentleman," I replied, when one of my interviewees asked. "Someone who respects me, makes me laugh and at the same time can be a real man when it is needed. An honest soul who is not a coward."
To which I got roars of laughter and one of the men quipped: "I think you have read too many romance novels. We are spoiled and are not brave like the heroes you women read about."
Clearly, none of these guys was my Ken. Even if they were all looking for Barbie.
Rym Tina Ghazal is a senior feature writer and columnist for the National Newspaper. She is working on her second book, Single in the City.
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