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Ladies First: The Modern Arab Take

Ladies First is a phrase often heard as we go about our daily lives. When a man standing in a queue allows a woman to pass, he may say “ladies first”. When a man gives up his seat for a woman, makes sure she is seated before him in a restaurant, or holds the door for her, we consider this good etiquette.  Despite the fact we live at a time where women are demanding equal rights and equal treatment, some men still prefer to give their female counterparts the right to go first, and some women are still willing to accept it as a demonstration of respect.

We talk to men and women around the Arab world to get their take on the “Ladies First” concept.

A Compliment or an Insult?
“This saying was understood differently by people in the past; originally this was a western saying that became a popular proverb amongst people, especially in Italy. The saying arose from a love story about a rich young man and a poor girl who loved each other but were prevented from getting married because of social inequality. They decided that if they couldn’t live together, that they would die together, jumping off a bridge. The man insisted on dying first, but after he jumped and died the girl backed down and didn’t commit suicide. She went on to marry someone else; thus the term was derogatory, carrying the implication that women were not to be trusted. However, in the Arab and other cultures the term has been used to signify respect and consideration for women, said Naïf Al-Badr, Saudi journalist and academic. I always give priority to women in everything.

The Modern Arab Take
News anchor Hiba Jamal said perspectives on the ‘ladies first’ concept from one country to another. In Europe gender equality is generally applied in all aspects of life, but some men will still hold the door open for a lady. In some Arab countries, like Lebanon “ladies first” is implemented consistently, and I have found this also to be true in other Gulf States. It reflects respect for women.

Sami Ahmad Diyaa’, an electrical engineer at Aramco, says “Ladies First” is a concept related to refined behaviour, respect and confidence. He said that he implements the ‘ladies first’ policy in his own life.

Yasir Al-Alami, program producer and presenter, believes that all men adhere to the concept of “ladies first” in varying degrees. He thinks that the eastern man experiences an intellectual and psychological conflict between his convictions acquired by keeping up with modern humanitarian and rights and his heritage, and customs and traditions which dictate that women are a treasure that should be kept under lock and key.  Either way, there is no harm in being polite to her by implementing “ladies first”.

Kholoud Al-Nimr, anchor of Sayidaty program on Rotana Khalijia, says, “There is no shame in giving priority to women in public places; she is a delicate human being who deserves respect. The concept is not belittling to men, on the contrary it shows that men are respectful and considerate. I think that many men implement the ladies first concept more as a social nicety than because they truly believe in the concept.

Dr Nada Al-Danawi, an expert in etiquette and International Protocol, says etiquette dictates that men and women interact with both genders adhering to the highest standards of good manners. This includes men implementing the ‘ladies first’ concept, if that is what is socially expected.

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