Learning About Sexism in the Middle East
And Learning About An Airlines

One of the benefits of overseas travel is learning, seeing, and experiencing the rest of the world. Having said that, one of the drawbacks is being cooped up on a plane for 13-hours from Chicago to Doha, Qatar. To attempt to alleviate that feeling, I got up several times and walked up and down the aisles of the plane.

On one of my pilgrimages to deal with the cooped-up-ness (I recently created this new term), a flight attendant saw me and said something accompanied with a gesture to get back to my seat. She very looked concerned about something. I thought that we were flying over Syria's airspace on our way to Doha, and a SAM might have just been fired at us. From the map below, you can understand my concern having flown from Chicago.

This map will show you the reason for my initial concern.

This map will show you the reason for my initial concern.

I returned to my seat, but, after a couple of minutes, I realized that we were not going to be shot down by a Syrian missile. The flight attendant merely knew that we were about to go through some air turbulence and did not want me walking around during it. While seated, I sat there and started to think about the concern that the flight attendant for Qatar Airways had. Her concern was like any other flight attendant in any other airlines.

And then it hit me. I was flying on the national airlines of Qatar, a Middle Eastern Muslim nation. The flight attendant who was concerned about me acted and dressed like other female flight attendant on any other airlines.

This is what the flight attendants wore.

This is what the flight attendants wore.

Here is another picture of a plane's entire crew:

Change the lettering on the plane, and it is similar to all airlines.

Change the lettering on the plane, and it is similar to all airlines.

I teach many humanity classes and one of them is a survey class on world religions. One of the issues that the classes deal with is that of sexism in the various religions. Most students do not have a problem critiquing faraway religions when it comes to sexism. However, when the discussion involves religions like Christianity and Islam from which nearly all the students come, it often gets touchy.

Some students and I get rattled by some others who get defensive when addressing sexism in either Christianity or Islam. Nonetheless, some students feel that they must defend sexism in their religion by explaining that it is not sexism but merely the will of God or Allah.

When attempting to help the class understand this as a societal issue and not a religious one, I talk about traveling in the Middle East, Turkey, and North Africa over several decades where I have seen mistreatment of women many of whom merely accept their second-class status in the world.

Some Muslim students will address the wearing of hijab (scarf) as a means to address modesty. However, many women especially in the Middle East will wear niqab, which cover all but the eyes or a burka that covers the entire face. I get conflicting points of view regarding why headdresses are necessary. Some women will say that they need to wear some sort of head cover so as not to appear too suggestive to men. The other reason is to keep aggressive men at bay. In either case, it is to control possible unfitting behavior...whoever the corrupt might be.

In the spring of 2013, I went to Scotland to address the independence movement and discovered the term Scottish cringe in which some Scots feel second-class behind the English. When I returned to the States, I invented another term, the Churchillian or English cringe. This cringe is due to the same issue of inferiority. The English have enjoyed dominance over Scotland for many centuries, but now that Scotland will vote on independence on September 18, 2014, they are getting a severe case of that cringe. The English fear that if Scotland goes and Northern Ireland deals with union with the Irish Republic, the United Kingdom will be Wales, England, and some dozen little islands scattered around the world.

During winter break from teaching a couple weeks ago, I traveled to Myanmar (Burma) to interview Min Ko Naing and Aung San Suu Kyi about their efforts to become truly free from the military junta that has suppressed Myanmar for over a half-century. My flight to Myanmar flew from Chicago to Doha, Qatar, which is about a 15-hour flight and then onto Yangon (Rangoon).

While sitting at the Doha airport for the connecting flight to Yangon, I observed a new cringe issue, which I call the Muslim cringe...on two levels having to do with Muslim women and men. As for the women, they are parallel to the Scottish cringe issue in that many cannot function in total freedom in their society. They know their place...behind men. In ultraconservative Saudi Arabia, women cannot drive cars, because some imam declared that it will cause ob/gyn problems for women.

At the airport, I watched husbands and wives walking to or from their flights to wherever. Even in public, there are men out there that are not very far along on the learning curve necessary to drop sexism. The men dress as casual as I do. However, their wives wear burkas while being ordered around. This is an accepted behavior and dress code. I cannot imagine what it is like within their homes.

After a couple hour layover, we were in the air again for a 6-hour flight to Yangon. Here is a Muslim nation's airlines with male and female flight attendants who look and dress like any Western attendants do as they care for passenger's needs. I just sat there...watching, observing, and thinking. There is a logical disconnect between the way men and women relate to each other in the entire world...but certainly in the Middle East. Headdress vs. casual dress is but only the tip of the iceberg. It goes far deeper than that. The question is more about who is in control and who is submissive.

This is exactly about what some Scots believe. They are not capable to protect and care for themselves without the English there to support them in the real world. The Scots call this feeling of social inferiority, the Scottish cringe. While at one level, it appears to be a Scottish psych disorder, it is in reality an English one. Their inferiority comes to them from the way the English treat them.

Great Britain was once the largest empire in human history, but it is a dwindling empire of Scotland, N. Ireland, Wales, England, and a dozen or so small islands scattered around the globe. Their empire has indeed dwindled down to a precious few...as the song goes. Hence, the English feel inferior and when Scotland leaves their once vast empire, it will be even worse. Therefore, they belittle the Scots in order to feel more important.

This is a precise parallel when it comes to sexism. It is not that men are superior to the inferior women. Women outlive men on average by a half dozen years across the world. They create new life and primarily care for the next generation. There is a logical disconnect in that reasoning.

That psych disorder of men is always played out in the world of religion. There are no religions that are sinless when it comes to sexism...and that list includes Christianity and Islam to name the two largest religions. Whether we are dealing with the Christian or Muslim cringe, it is the same sense of inferiority that causes males to overact by putting women down. One way that religions address the sexism issue is merely to say, "It is the will of God." Really? It is a very sad just how contagious the cringe is.

I sat on the plane after leaving Doha on our way to Yangon while a Muslim woman in a burka cared for her toddler who was a girl and a 5-year old boy. She did all the appropriate motherly things taking care of two children. She changed diapers, feed them, comforted them...exactly what all parents should do for their small ones...except one thing.

What did this mother teach her little girl? In addition and of equal importance, what did the older brother also learn? What was stored in the brains of either of those two little children about the sex roles in life? Bad data. Extremely bad data. Both those little children were learning a cringe...females are not equal to men.

In the next couple of decades, those children and millions like them will learn a lesson about which they are not aware...it is just the way the world functions. Men are in charge and women need to know their place...behind men. Here I was on a plane of Qatar Airways learning and processing something that the entire world needs to process. At least, the airlines addressed the head cover issue in a Muslim run airlines and country. Nice going.

One final thought. If you think this is an unsolicited advertisement for Qatar Airways, it is not. I was impressed with Qatar from Chicago to Doha and from Doha to Yangon. On the return trip, it was a radically different story. Our return trip from Yangon to Chicago was the worst experience in the skies and airports in over 50-years of my flying. It started as a strange boarding delay that lasted more than an hour delay to nearly a four-hour delay after we got home.

  1. On our return flight back to the States, we got in line to board the first leg of the flight. The announcement said that parents and children would board first. That made sense especially since that included about half the passengers. Then the rest of us lined-up and waited. Another announcement said that we would have to wait about an hour or more while the ground crew cleaned up the plane's cabin since this was a connecting flight. I understood that also. What I did not understand was why load half the passengers onto the plane and then clean it up with half the passengers already onboard. The people without children with them waited over an hour to join the rest of passengers with children.
  2. Finally, we took off and settled in to a long flight of over 20 hours with one layover in Doha. The flight attendants served meals and drinks. A flight attendant asked me what I wanted to drink. I said a cup of tea. The flight attendant poured a cup...and paused. She emptied it and poured another cup. Still something was not right. She sniffed it several times as a parents would before giving an infant warm food to make sure it was not too hot. Finally, the flight attendant when to the next cabin and pour a cup, sniffed it again, returned to where I was seated and gave me a cup...a cup of coffee.
  3. We had a long delay landing at Doha, because we arrived late. Finally, we landed and getting to the gate was again delayed. We now were already several hours late in our return to the States.
  4. Finally, the plane landed in Chicago. We went through Customs, and then into the baggage claim area to wait for our luggage. We waited and waited. Occasionally, a couple suitcases came down the chute. Then we waited again. We waited for more than 3 ½ hours. Why, you ask? Well, the crates that were used to store the luggage in the plane were frozen inside the plane. I know; that did not make sense. I have flown many times in the past half century and have never had luggage frozen in the plane.

Waiting for the luggage

Baggage carousel

  1. Finally, after a total of more than 7-hours of delays, we got our two pieces of luggage. One was fine. The other was suitcase was torn open and then placed in a clear plastic bag. The condition of the bag did not concern me as much as having many of our souvenirs damaged.


While Qatar is dealing well with sexism, it needs to address a broader issue...the care of all their passengers.

Scottish independence: Yes campaign

Scottish independence flag

Visit the Scottish Independence page to read more about this topic.