The two structural categories that define my identity are religion and gender. Being born and raised in the Sultanate of Oman, it is almost obvious that I should have a strong Muslim identity. Additionally, I classify myself as a typical male. The manner in which I dress, interact, speak, and behave is distinctly male. However, these masculine attributes are generally accepted by the people in my country of origin. They may not conform with features that are considered to be made in European countries such as Germany or England, or in South Africa.
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I have religious stereotypes, which is seen in several ways. Muslims in my country are conservative and strict about their cultural norms. I dress conservatively and adopt mannerisms that epitomize this worldview when I am in my country. For instance, I will attend a social gathering and accord elderly persons with respect. My family and I often celebrate Muslim holidays and we eat foods that are permitted by the Quran and, consequently, avoid eating food that is prohibited by our religion. I believe in principles prescribed by my faith, and they guide my decisions in almost every aspect of life. In the future, I will marry in accordance with my faith and raise my children religiously. Visiting Mosques is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my week. During my stay in Australia, I have become even more convinced in my faith because I now appreciate its strengths. The Quran has answers to all facets of life, so I can always count on it to give me direction.
The structural category of gender also affects my life significantly. I think of myself as the head of my future family and intend to provide and take care of my family when I get one. I will wear my white dish dash and hat when in Oman or on my way to the Mosque in Australia. This is the generally accepted dress code for men in my country. However, I often wear what most Australian men wear when in this country. Usually, these may include trousers, a shirt, and leather shoes.
I am working hard to secure my degree in order to become economically independent. It is likely that this educational background will grant me access to a good job. This will strengthen my standing in the Omani community and my reputation as a capable man. The freedoms I enjoy in my country are distinctly male. I have participated in some of our family businesses during the holidays. This was possible because I am a male member of my family. My mannerisms are also stereotypically male. For instance, the tone of my voice is masculine and I do not like to touch people when speaking to them.
Regardless of fitting into these stereotypes, certain aspects of my identity also define these expectations of religion and gender. For instance, I currently live in Australia, where the culture is quite liberal. Therefore, I often refrain from wearing Islamic dress too often. Additionally, the Quran teaches that men are not supposed to shake hands with members of the opposite sex. However, when in Australia, I normally shake women’s hands because it would be awkward if I did not. Conservative Muslims are forbidden from embracing western lifestyles. However, I am guilty of listening to secular music from time to time. Certain Muslim men choose to live a polygamous lifestyle. However, I intend on having a monogamous marriage, so to a certain extent, this defies stereotypes.
Gender typecast is also not true in all parts of my life. For instance, I often cook my own meals; do the cleaning in my house among other things. These are not activities that many Omani men perform. Furthermore, certain typical male hobbies are unappealing to me. For example, I enjoy driving cars but do not like fixing them. In fact, I despise those lengthy visits to the mechanic and frown upon technicians who extend them unnecessarily. On occasions, I like to buy Persian rugs and interior decorations. These hobbies may be regarded as feminine, but they do not threaten my gender classification. I also believe in the equality of men and women, even though these may not be in line with certain conservative perceptions of male and female gender roles. In fact, I intend on raising my female children (if I have them) in a way that will develop their full potential. I want them to pursue leadership, business, or any of the opportunities that women in an equal society should be able to enjoy. These ideas may seem to be too progressive to some Omani men, but I am a modern man who believes in a just society.
The theory debate of choice is the agency structure debate. In this school of thought, scholars explain a person’s ability to determine their life choices on their individuality or their environment. Persons who ascribe to the agent-driven school claim that people control their lives and use free will to become who they are. This means that policymakers in these situations will blame a person for their circumstances, and will advocate for individually-oriented punishment. Conversely, people supporting structure-driven schools claim that a person’s social context determines their life chances. These scholars believe in structural alterations of policy as people do not live in isolation. Nonetheless, not all individuals adhere to one and the same school of thought. Some scholars believe that people have free will to determine their life outcomes but are also controlled by structural forces.
The agency-structured debate is critical in determining how identity is defined. A person’s prospects in life may be severely hampered or heightened depending on their belonging to the structural category. Furthermore, their susceptibility to economic disempowerment, inequity, and repression will also be determined by these categories (Pease 54). Therefore, the notion of privilege or lack thereof depends on one’s identity as defined by these traits.
This theory debate was critical in helping me understand my identity. It also highlighted the external factors that I have no control over in my life. These assisted me in appreciating the privileges I enjoy and the marginalization of other groups that do not share my identity. The first issue that arose as a result of this theory is the notion of male privilege. Oman is a patriarchal society in which women’s rights are not given much significance as men’s rights are. An example of these discrepancies is the gender gap in the workplace. Few women are represented in the corporate arena even though a number of them are well educated and qualified to embrace these opportunities. Certain privileges come with belonging to the male gender, especially in Oman. Sexual harassment and violence are often instigated against members of the female gender.
Women in my country tend to surrender their decision-making power to their husbands as soon as they get married (Chatty 253). They must be accompanied by their spouses if in need of a car or some other consumer item. It is uncommon to see women walking without the company of male relatives. This indicates that their freedoms are dependent on the availability of members of the opposite gender. Their status is defined by their spouses and children. It is even more disempowering for some of these women as they rarely get the opportunity to choose their own spouses. Most men will approach their parents in order to ask for their hand in marriage. Some women may be satisfied with their status as housewives. However, others may be more ambitious but could be constrained by these social norms. As a man, these are issues that I will never go through, yet my sisters, aunts, mother, and nieces experience them all the time.
When one belongs to a dominant group then chances are that they will access certain privileges that others will not have. Sadly, this is true in my case; I belong to the religion of Islam in a predominantly Islamic society. Therefore, certain opportunities are available to me that would have been inaccessible to a Christian, atheist, or a member of another religion. This does not in any way indicate that religious freedom is nonexistent in Oman. However, when a businessman is looking for a supplier, they are likely to look for someone with similar characteristics to them. In this regard, a Muslim businessman is likely to trust a Muslim supplier. Since this religion belongs to the majority, most contracts are likely to go to members of the majority group.
Sometimes the two structural forces, religion, and gender confound to exert even greater injustices against women in Omani society. The Quran teaches that people of all genders should be treated with dignity. However, members of my society have somehow interpreted Quran laws in a way that favors the male gender. For instance, women’s choices are rather limited in pursuance of divorce or child custody after separation. The Quran is clear on women’s right to get a divorce. However, because of social norms, these religious laws have been interpreted to serve male interests (Chatty 250).
Now divorce must be at the discretion of both spouses. Sometimes male spouses may refuse to separate, and there is little women can do about it. Certain verses in the Quran talk about male guardianship. It is this interpretation that has defined gender roles in the country. Male privilege in Oman is a reality because social divisions between genders are quite rigid. It is justified by the notion of guardianship for males. These issues are tricky for someone like me, who enjoys privileges. However, the agency-structured debate caused me to contemplate on gender disparities in my community. This theory also challenges a belief in the status quo. It is easy for one to blame individuals for their circumstances but when all the economic, social, religious, and political forces disfavor a certain group, then much can be achieved. The agency-structure debate provided a platform that allowed me to engage in a self-critical analysis of my position of dominance. It thus illuminates my experience and the person I have become today.
Certain things are not as straight forward as they seem in the structure-agency debate with regard to my identity. As it has been mentioned earlier, belonging to the dominant religion in Oman and the male gender accords certain privileges to me. I had nothing to do with these advantages as they were structurally instated. Nonetheless, the theory debate does not illuminate every aspect of my religious and male identity. Some experiences just do not fit into these analyses.
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As a Muslim man, there are particular times when I have experienced discrimination. In some religious meetings, I have felt unwelcome due to a myriad of reasons. Sometimes it was because I did not belong to the same country as did the members there. In some Islamic events, I have been prevented from speaking because I was still perceived as less knowledgeable than others in the event. I also found that my opinions were not welcome when other religious authorities were present. An agency perspective would not be sufficient to explain why I was discriminated against despite saying or doing nothing, so self-determination did not come into play. Conversely, a structural perspective would hold that I should have been privileged in these circumstances. Clearly, even those who belong to certain structural categories that are deemed advantageous are still exposed to discrimination. Therefore, the debate may not be able to explain these biases.
Foreigners sometimes experience incidences that cause them to question their very place in society. As an Omani national in a predominantly Christian world, what was a source of privilege in my country has now become a tool of marginalization. I have not experienced any direct discrimination from Australians, but I have noticed certain prejudices. Some individuals may become dismissive of me when talking about Christian issues. In my first year, I noticed people staring at my Islamic dress on Fridays. The structure-agency debate does not highlight these challenges. It does not acknowledge that sometimes a person who experiences certain advantages may be the target of discrimination based on those same structural categories. This theory tends to apply to persons who are born and bred in the same society for all their lives. However, when one alters their location, then the very sources of privilege could turn against them as in the case with my experience.
Generally, my identity is a product of my personal decisions as well as structural forces in Omani society. I have certain traits that do not fall neatly under the gender and religious categories defined by my community. This implies that personally, I define my identity. As such, the agency perspective applies to my life. On the other hand, I consider myself to be a strict Muslim who takes pride in his gender. These are all categories that my society defines. Therefore, the structural component of the agency-structure theory also applies to my life. This theory has been insightful in explaining why persons who do not share my identity are oppressed and marginalized. Nonetheless, the debate does not explain all my experiences, especially in Australia where my sources of privilege have become a foundation for prejudice.
Chatty, Dawn. “Women Working in Oman: Individual Choice and Cultural Constraints.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 32.2 (2000): 241-54. Print.
Pease, Bob. Undoing privilege: Unearned advantage in a divided world. London: Zed Books, 2010. Print.