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Dedicated followers of fashion in Dubai

Caitlin McDonald

104078628 300x208 Dedicated followers of fashion in DubaiFor women in the Arab world, cross-dressing can be a way of accessing masculine power and privilege. In September 2010 a widely circulated New York Times article covered the practice, believed to be fairly common in Afghanistan, of raising daughters as sons due to social and economic pressures. Dressing as a boy allows these girls to have freedom of movement and educational opportunities they would likely otherwise be denied. But it means renouncing the social cachet that women do have, at least until puberty where most Afghani bacha posh are told to renounce their boyish ways.

Young women who dress as men in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are currently getting a lot of attention. Unlike the girls of Afghanistan, these Emerati boyat are not blending seamlessly into society as boys, able to take advantage of social privileges they’d otherwise miss out on. Instead, they have long faced widespread criticism from traditionalists. This includes a 2009 campaign targeted at them titled “Excuse me, I’m a girl” stressing the myriad virtues of femininity. According to a human rights report issued by the US Department of State, the campaign included “psychological treatment and social counselling” for young boyat.

Now, the Dubai Police are launching a new drive to curtail the practice. They’re not just focusing on girls in boys’ clothing. Women who “walk with a masculine gait” will also be targeted, as will women with short hair or who are “tough”. Instead of workshops and lectures, boyat now face arrest and potential imprisonment.

The boyat are in the main meeting this news with a robust shrug, saying that they are already the targets of feminizing campaigns at schools, on popular talk shows, and on Facebook.

But social networking sites like Facebook, along with blogs, chatrooms, and websites, also provide a space for girls to share advice about the motivations for and the practicalities of cross-dressing. The traditionalists might be right that globalization, and in particular new communications technology, has intensified the boyat subculture in the UAE. Despite mounting social and legal pressure, though, unless viable alternatives emerge that allow these women to push back against social norms that they find restrictive, Dubai can expect to see more swagger.

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  • writeratlarge

    I do not think this is as harmless as “cross dressing” of girls in Afghanistan because that is done for very cogent reasons. Here, the perception is (I work with young people in Dubai) that the so called “boyat” are lesbians and thus a danger to society. In university dorms, the “boyat” are seen as the dykes who will prey on the weaker (more feminine, if you will) girls. The “boyat” have grown in number because of the extreme repression and sexual control that is exercised over the female population of this country. Girls and women have very little freedom to interact with young people of the opposite sex. Culturally, they are not inclined towards sports which could be a healthy outlet for their energy and youthful vigour. I am aware that the powers that be have taken serious note of the “boyat”. There are notices in colleges and universities warning the young people about any misconduct of this type. There was even an absurd incident of a group of young women being injected forcibly with female hormones to (I guess) reinforce their femininity. As a final comment I would say that this is a society in turmoil, caught between the 21st century “development” of their country and religious laws. 

  • writeratlarge

     do not think this is as harmless as “cross dressing” of girls in Afghanistan because that is done for very cogent reasons. Here, the perception is (I work with young people in Dubai) that the so called “boyat” are lesbians and thus a danger to society. In university dorms, the “boyat” are seen as the dykes who will prey on the weaker (more feminine, if you will) girls. The “boyat” have grown in number because of the extreme repression and sexual control that is exercised over the female population of this country. Girls and women have very little freedom to interact with young people of the opposite sex. Culturally, they are not inclined towards sports which could be a healthy outlet for their energy and youthful vigour. I am aware that the powers that be have taken serious note of the “boyat”. There are notices in colleges and universities warning the young people about any misconduct of this type. There was even an absurd incident of a group of young women being injected forcibly with female hormones to (I guess) reinforce their femininity. As a final comment I would say that this is a society in turmoil, caught between the 21st century “development” of their country and religious laws. 


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