Attraction 101: A Brief Introduction to the Nature of Love

Attraction 101: A Brief Introduction to the Nature of Love
By Mohamad Wehbe

 The oldest recorded reference to a love letter goes back to Indian mythology around 5000 years ago; Mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana, a revered text in Hinduism, a letter by princess Rukmini to king Krishna. According to the story, Rukmini was deeply in love with Krishna and wanted to marry him, but her brother wanted her to marry someone else. Rukmini then wrote a letter to Krishna expressing her love and asking him to come and rescue her from the forced marriage.

From ancient myths and legends to modern love stories, love has been a constant theme throughout human history, a force that has the power to inspire, heal and transform. But what exactly is love, and how does it manifest in our lives? Is it just a feeling or something more complex and nuanced? In recent years, scientists and scholars from a variety of disciplines have explored the concept of love, seeking to unravel its mysteries and understand its neurological and psychological basis. At the same time, cultural factors such as gender roles, societal expectations, and historical contexts have also shaped how we express and experience love.

 

The science of love

Many have experienced the rush of falling in love for the first time or the deep feelings of love for their family and friends. From a biological perspective, it is often said that the brain of someone in love is like that of someone on cocaine, and there is some truth to this claim. Both falling in love and taking cocaine can activate the brain’s reward centers, specifically the ventral tegmental area. This area is responsible for reward processing and is considered the “motivation hub” for the brain. The activation of this area happens when one eats sweets, quenches their thirst, or takes drugs of abuse. Activation releases the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine teaching your brain to repeat behaviors in anticipation of the same initial reward. This increased activity of the brain not only makes love feel euphoric but also draws one to their partner at the start. Studies have also shown that love can cause a decrease in activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is a region that allows individuals to engage in critical thinking, rational behavior, and self-awareness. Therefore, the phrase “love is blind” does hold some truth to it. When relationships develop, one often feels relaxed and attached to their partner, and that is mainly because of two important hormones: oxytocin and vasopressin. Oxytocin has been shown to play a role as a “bonding” hormone which helps us reinforce positive feelings towards people we already love, making us more attached to our family, friends, and significant others.

Despite making significant strides in understanding what love is, there are still many mysteries that remain elusive to science. Questions like: what causes romantic love in the first place? Can love be measured objectively? Why do certain people fall in love? And what role does culture play in shaping love?

 

How does culture shape our understanding of love?

Science is not enough to fully define or understand love as it is more than just the complex interplay of hormones. To answer questions on how certain people fall in love and how culture plays a crucial role in shaping this love, social scientists have studied how this universal emotion was experienced by people in various historical eras and different cultures, and how it manifested itself in different ways. Drawing historical comparisons on how love was viewed and defined in different contexts, such as in China and Europe, can help us better understand the impact culture can have on our current ideas of love.

During early Chinese history, ancient Chinese texts considered love and sexual pleasure as one of the “great joys of life.” Later, (around 1000 years ago), this changed as Chinese attitudes towards love became more repressive especially when it came to the expression of sexuality. Displays of love and sexual acts outside of marriage were heavily restricted, and the man was often assumed to be biologically-destined to seek satisfaction from women. In 1949, in the People’s Republic of China, love did not appear to play a major role in the life of a young Chinese man, where denial of romantic love often affirmed the importance of the “collective” over the “individual.” In the 1990s, things have come back full circle as there has been a rapid shift in the attitudes toward love and sexuality, which is mainly attributed to globalization and the internationalization of cinema.

In Europe, on the other hand, Christianity seemed to have a major influence on the understanding of love. In 12th century Europe, love was viewed as self-sacrificing and unselfish, implying a compassionate and benevolent relationship where love and friendship were closely related. At the end of the 12th century spanning until the 14th century, literature started to become more concerned with the idea of romantic love, and, slowly, a substantial change started to occur where the phenomenon of “courtly love.” Courtly love was seen as devotional with the courtly worship and idealization of a woman. Later, in the age of Shakespeare (16th-17th centuries), love was often described as a “strong, consuming, and powerful force that is impossible to resist.” Finally, during the Victorian era (19th century), love took a more spiritual nature where it was considered to be something “delicate.”

Love has been perceived and approached in diverse ways throughout history, varying across cultures, religions, literature, and politics. As a result, the interpretations of love and attitudes towards it have evolved significantly, impacting how people comprehend and experience love over time.

 

How do we currently experience Love?

A lot of our current expression of love and how we view it as individuals stem from the Western invention of “romantic love.” Some scholars believe that the idealization of love is a Western phenomenon where this concept of romantic love does not seem to exist in cultures like Japan or China. However, this does not seem to be the complete truth, as recent studies have shown that romantic or passionate love is a universal phenomenon, with some evolutionary psychologists suggesting that love may even be innate in human nature. A recent study published in nature in 2023 provided evidence love is a “near” universal human experience, but the level of modernization through education, urbanization, and industrialization may influence the way we express it. Although correlational, this study hypothesizes that cultural changes in a country’s level of modernization may influence the way one may experience intimacy or commitment.

 

Love and gender roles 

Finally, it is important to touch on how societal expectations through patriarchal and gender ideals influence how different individuals express love. Gender roles often limit the way individuals express love, where men and women are often split into a binary of specific societal roles they should fill in the relationship. For example, men are often expected to show their love through acts of protection and provision, while women are expected to show their love through acts of caregiving and emotional support. These traditional expressions of love should be challenged. Individuals should be encouraged to express their love in ways that feel authentic to whom they are rather than conforming to gendered expectations. Similarly to gender, the expression of love is also diverse and fluid. These non-traditional expressions of love should be celebrated because only through them we are truly able to express and be ourselves around our loved ones. As we continue to recognize and celebrate diverse expressions of gender and sexuality, we can create a space where we can be ourselves, free from the constraints of traditional gendered expectations of love.

 

Conclusion

Love is a complex and unique human experience that has been studied for centuries. While science has made significant strides in unraveling the biological and neurological basis of love, cultural and historical factors, as well as modernization continue to shape our understanding and expression of it. As the feeling of love and expression continues to be studied, keeping a sense of openness and acceptance of the different forms it may take is important. Ultimately, love remains a deeply personal and subjective experience, defying easy categorization or explanation.

 

 

العنف بين جدران الفايروس

العنف بين جدران الفايروس

­­

ريم وهبي

العنف الأسري بين جدران الفايروس

في زَاوية تلك الغرفة، جلستْ تبكي والدموع قد سقتْ جذور قلبها اليابسة الّذي كان بستاناً من الأزهار لا يخلو، وتلك الدموع جعلت من نفسها مرهماً للجروح من أجل الشّفاء، وليس الشّفاء حتّى بقريب. في غرفة مظلمة وحيدة تبكي وتنكشُ في جدرانها عن بصيص نور للهروب، فما بال تلك الفتاة؟ الخوف، كانت خائفةً من وحوش قيّدوها وسجنوها في زنزانة المعاناة وأعطوا لتلك المعاناة اسم الحياة المشرّفة الّتي تليق بها وبعائلتها. العنف … كان الوحش الأول، تزوّجت صغيرة لا تعي بمسؤولية الزواج سوى الفستان الأبيض والطرحة، “طرحة العروس”، فظنت حكايتها كنهاية سعيدةٍ في أحد قصص الأميرات التي قصّتها عليها أمّها قبل النّوم وهي صغيرة بريئة. انتهى بها المطاف بتغيير الأبيض للعروس للأسود وهذا ما وصفت به حياتها. وهذه أميرة احدى تلك القصص التي خطّطها المجتمع مختبأ وراء حجج جعلها محامي دفاع للجريمة التي أصبحت الآن تمضي بلا محاكم ولا حساب لأنّ الدولة “مش فاضية لهيك قصص هلئ”. فما زاد في ملفات الحجج اليوم والذي أضاف رونقًا لتلك القضية هو جائحة كورونا، ففي ظلّ فترة المرض في البلاد أعلنت الدّولة ولائها للدفاع عن شعبها ضد الفيروس مستقيلة من دور حماية أبسط حقوقه مركّزة على صحتهم. العنف الأسري قضيّة لا تُقدم ولا تُنسى مهما مرّت السّنين ومهما كانت الظّروف ان كنّا سنة 2050 أو في الحرب العالميّة الثّالثة فلا يعطي هذا الحقّ للمعنِّف بتبرئة نفسه عندما يتعدّى على ضحيّته ولا يحقّ للدولة بالتّغاضي عن هذا التّهديد لحياة امرأة أو فتاة في حدودها.  جعلت كلماتي مفاتيحًا لأبوابٍ، لا غرف قضايا، بل قصور جرائم قد أخفيت عن أعين البعض منا، فها أنا في بضع كلمات وحروف سأحاول إعادة النّور وتسليط الضّوء على الوحوش التي قيّدتْ صديقتنا في البداية. العنف … المجتمع … الذنب المُفترى … والحماية مِن مَن؟ من دولة … من أسرة … من منظّمات … من نفسها

 

:المعنف والضحية في العناوين

“فالّتقارير الصادرة عن قُوى الأمن الدّاخلي أشارت الى ارتفاع عدد بلاغات العنف الأسري بنسبة 100%، وبعدما وصلت الى 1184 اتصالا خلال الحجر الصّحّي عام 2020″[1]، “ارتفاع العنف ضدّ نساء لبنان 180%[2]”، “أُعتديَ على امرأةٍ على نحوٍ وحشيّ على يد زوجها السابق”[3]، والمزيد والمزيد من الأخبار والأخبار التي تراكمت وتراكمت في ملف القضيّة مع وجود شهود عيان واعترافات وأدلة وتقارير شرعية جميعها تثبت العنف ضد المرأة في لبنان لا سقف له حاليا في هذه الأوضاع. ولكن، إلى أين؟ ولمتى؟ الكثير من الأسئلة تنبع من عين تلك الحوادث عن السبب والنتيجة وما وراء الستار وما الذي سيجعل تلك العين بالمياه تصب من جديد. في ما سيمضي الآن، جعلتُ قلمي يحاول رسم لوحة كاملة الزّوايا ومشرقة الألوان بمعلومات وتفسيرات.

 

:المجتمع والعنف

المرأة نصف المجتمع ومجتمعنا يعتبرها مهندسة العائلة والمسؤولة عن الأولاد والآن لم تعد محدودة بتولّي أمور المنزل والتّحمل، بل أصبحت خارج المنزل أيضاً، فأصبح سوق العمل يستقبل الكثير من النّساء. وفي وقت الحجر الصّحّي في لبنان، لم تكن الأزمات صحيّة فقط، بل تولّت الأزمة الاقتصاديّة نصاب الأمور كذلك حيث زاد الوضع سوءًا وأصبحت القضيّة، أي قضيّة العنف ضدّ المرأة، في آخر دور المشاكل، في ملفّات وُضِعت بالدّرج حتّى إشعار آخر. فهمّ الامرأة اللّبنانية كان الغذاء والشّفاء حيث تقول إحدى النّساء اللّبنانيّات:”أهمّ أولويّاتي اليوم كامرأة لبنانيّة أن تحصل عائلتي على الغذاء وأن أستطيع تأمين الدّواء الخاصّ بي والذي أصبح ثمنه باهظاً جّداً. العنف الاقتصادي تصدّر سُلّم أسباب العنف الأسري، حيث واجه المجتمع اللّبناني أزمات اللّيرة اللّبنانية والبطالة ومن ثم انقلبت المأساة على المرأة الّتي تحاول إبقاء النّصف الآخر في أمان ممّا وَلِّد مشاهد عنف متواصلة عرضتها الكثير من مسارح البيوت اللبنانية حيث الممثلون الأهل بدور البطولة والأطفال بدور الجمهور [4].

 

وخلف الكواليس، أَتنشِر المرأة مسرحيّتها أم تُبقيها مُسجلّةً في سجلّ ذاكرتها؟ وهنا المجتمع يكون أوّل من يقف بوجهها ليصدّها عن عملتها “الفضيحة”. “كيف بتعملي هيك وبتزتي ولادك؟”، “خلي مرت أب تربيلك ولادك”، “أي أم هيدي”، “أكيد الحق عليها”، والكثير من الرصاصات التي يطلقها مسدس المجتمع ليصيب قلب الضحية بنجاح فتعود بين جدران حلبة المعركة تحاول النّجاة خشية خسارة أولادها وخشية البقاء في الشّارع فتحسب الخسائر وتعود من جديد. فتظهر الدّراسات أنّ أسباب عدم التّبليغ والتّحمل والبقاء في بيت الجاني هو الخوف من رفض العائلة، والخوف من ردّة فعل الجاني والخوف من خسارة أطفالها والأسباب الأخرى تكون تابعة للأمور الأمنيّة والدولة.

 

ومن الأمور التي لا تُلفت أنظارنا في هذه القضيّة أنّ العنف الأسري الّذي يقبله المجتمع أي يعتبره فعلا عنفاُ بغضّ النّظر عن ردّه على العنف هو العنف الجسدي وما غير ذلك هو خلافات زوجيّة عابرةً إن لم يكن العنف الجسدي من الأنواع الّتي اندرجت تحت عنوان الخلافات العابرة. فما الشّتم والسّب واللّعن والإهانة للمرأة من زوجها الاّ خلافٌ عابر، ولا التّجاهل ومقاطعة المرأة من زوجها الاّ خلافٌ عابر، ولا إرغامها وغصبها على العلاقة الزّوجيّة الاّ خلافٌ عابر، وما عدم إعطائها نفقتها الملزمة عليه كرجل لزوجته الاّ خلافٌ عابر. لا ثمّ لا، السّب واللّعن فهو من العنف ويسمى بالكلامي، والتّجاهل من أعضاء لجنة العنف ولقبه النّفسي، والغصب على الفراش من أهم ممثلي العنف وهو العنف الجنسي، وجميعها تثبت بتقرير قانوني كدليل ضدّ الجاني. [5]

 

:القانون اللبناني

لننظر الآن الى القانون اللّبناني الّذي يُفترَض أن يكون في خدمة الشّعب وفوق الجميع ويُطبَّق على الجميع دون استثناء، فلنأخذ لمحةً على القوانين التي كتبت دفاعاً عن حقوق المرأة وهل نفّذت حقّاً؟

ينصّ القانون اللّبناني على بعض القوانين تحت عنوان الأسرة وهو رقم 293 حيث ينقسم إلى قسمين: القسم الأول يتضمّن العقوبات التي تصدر على حسب ما قام به الجاني ضمن مواد القانون الجديدة التي عدّلت.  نرى في تلك المواد عدم وجود مادّة معيّنة للعنف ضدّ المرأة، بل تندرج تحت القسم الاخر الذي هو القسم الحمائي حيث يبعد المعنِّف عن الضّحية وأطفالها ويمنع عن الاقتراب منها أو بنقل الضّحية الى مكان آمن. وتجدر الإشارة هنا الى أنّ القانون لا يضمن الزّوج السابق أو أيّ علاقة غير الزّواج الصّحيح من الرّغم من أنّ هذه العلاقات هي الّتي تبقى في حالة تهديد. وكيف يُعرف بتلك الحالات؟ على الضّحية أن تُقدِّم شكوى من خلال الخطّ السّاخن 1744 الذي غالباً ما يعامل تلك القضايا باستخفاف أو يرد بقول:” شو خصني بينك وبين زوجك”. ومن هنا تجد المرأة نفسها في خطر دائم لا حلّ لها سوى الصّبر وتحمّل أشباح المأساة. [7]

.القانون موجود وجيد لكنه ناقص ولا يُطبَّق

:حماية

وفي غياب من يحمي هذه المرأة وُلِدَ من رَحم المأساة منظمّات حماية ضد العنف الأسري تعمل على الدّفاع عن حقوق المرأة وتوعيتها على حقوقها وهذه الحركات حققّت إنجازات مهمّة. من هذه المنظّمات

أبعاد: تأسّست سنة 2011 وعملت على المساواة الجندرية هدفها “التّنمية المستدامة” للدّفاع عن الفئات المهمّشة ومنها النّساء.

UN Women، UNHCR، و UNFPA وتعاونت مع منظّمات أخرى مثل
لتوسيع حقل مهمّتها والحثّ على التّوعية وتشجيع النّساء للتّبليغ وإعطائهم الثّقة بوجود الحلّ المُرْضِيّ.

كفى: تُعنى هذه الجمعيّة في ملف حماية المرأة والقضاء على كافّة أشكال العنف الممارس ضدّ أعضاء الأسرة عامّة وضدّ النّساء خاصّة حيث أسّست عام 2005 وشغلت نطاقها في البحث عن سياسات لحل هذه القضية وحقّقت نجاحاً كبيراً في هذا المجال في شأن ترتيب البحوث، تغيير القوانين، والدّفاع عن النّساء والأطفال وغيرها من الخطط الّتي نفذت وقامت بالكثير. [9]

…:غدا

وماذا عن الغد؟ ما الذي سيجري للنّساء المستضعفات اللواتي تكتمن ولا تبلغن وإن فعلن فالعقاب يكون عليهن لا على الجاني؟ الحلول أمام أعيننا وبحر الفرص لا يَجِفّ فتعتمدن علينا. يا زملائي القضاة، قدّمت لكم من الأدلّة القليل والقرار في أيديكم ولم تَفرُغ جعبتي بعد فلديّ الكثير والكثير، ولكنّ وصف المشكلة ليس كافياً لحلّها فسأترك هنا من ذلك البحر بعض القطرات فلا ندعها تجف.

    أولا العلم، خطواتنا الأولى في خريطتنا للحلّ هي أن تتعلم النّساء الحقوق التي تتمتّع بها والّتي يجب أن تدافع عنها ففي حال الخلل تستطيع أن تكشفه في أول الطريق. ثانيا، التبليغ، ولكن لقد سبقنا خطوة صغيرة وهي أن تثق بوجود من يقف الى جانبها لتستطيع التّبليغ دون أيّ تردّد وبذلك عملنا بتشجيعها نقطة مهمة. ثمّ علينا التّشديد على حمايتها وتحويلها الى الهيئة أو المرجعية المناسبة كالمنظّمات المذكورة أعلاه. وبعد ذلك، “لكلّ حادث الو حديث، بلّش ومعليك لنخلي المي تمشي بمجاريها”…

 

:المصادر

  1. فرحات سمر. “العنف ضد النساء باقٍ… ويتمدّد.” الأخبار، https://al-akhbar.com/Lebanon/339912.
  2. ارتفاع العنف ضد نساء لبنان 180%… والدولة ‘بطيئة’ (ليا-ماريا غانم. Lebanese Forces Official Website, 4 Feb. 2021, https://www.lebanese-forces.com/2021/02/04/women-25/.
  3. على لبنان إعلان العنف ضد النساء حالة طوارئ وطنية.” هيئة الأمم المتحدة للمرأة – الدول العربية، https://arabstates.unwomen.org/ar/news/stories/2021/03/lebanon-must-declare-violence-against-women-a-national-emergency.
  4. “عنف بلا تبليغ.. نصف نساء لبنان بحاجة للحماية.” الحرة، https://www.alhurra.com/lebanon/2021/11/25/
  5. Gov.il, https://www.gov.il/ar/departments/guides/molsa-domestic-violence-types.
  6. Ahmad.abushreaa. “مظاهر احترام الإسلام للمرأة.” جريدة الغد, 27 May 2017, https://alghad.com/
  7. “مكانة المرآة فى المسيحية.” موقع القس انطونيوس فهمي، http://www.frantoniosfahmy.com/sermons/425.
  8. ISF – Internal Security Forces ; قوى الأمن الداخلي – الموقع الرسمي. https://isf.gov.lb/en.
  9. “جمعيّات تعمل لتمكين النساء وحمايتهنّ من أيّ عنف – شادي عبد الساتر.” نداء الوط , 1 July 2022, https://www.nidaalwatan.com/article/90748-

Capitalism And Care Work in Developing Countries

Capitalism And Care Work in Developing Countries
By Omar Bekdache

“Capitalism is the greatest economic system” (Redd, 2021), is a claim made by many around the world. The current system is praised for its high productivity and “equal” opportunities. However, when taking an intersectional approach by considering race, class, and gender, it becomes apparent that capitalism fails to provide equal opportunities for different people. Additionally, social costs of the current liberal capitalist system are often overlooked, especially when it comes to care work (Fraser, 2016). I argue that the current capitalist economic system fails to preserve good quality care work, while particularly focusing on developing countries. I begin by demonstrating how the fundamental nature of the economic system, the long working hours, and the absence of fair government support result in a decline in care. Afterwards, I examine the impact of migration, favored by capitalism, on the deterioration of care work. I then go on to point out the failure of government policies aimed at care work especially in the “South”. Finally, I showcase how the care situation unfolds in Lebanon and conclude with personal remarks.

In capitalism, social reproduction, which is “the creation and maintenance of social bonds” (Fraser, 2016), is treated as secondary to production. The latter is deemed to be the most valuable having a monetary value associated with it. Reproduction, however, is not valued unless it has a direct apparent impact on capitalist production. This undervaluation often occurs in capitalist societies that are solely focused on the maximization of short-term profits. Therefore, it can be deduced that the capitalist system aims to increase productivity at all costs, while leaving reproduction behind and not according to its required attention. This analysis makes it clear that care work, an important facet of reproduction, suffers within capitalist societies.

In Lebanon, women are expected to “juggle” their jobs and household responsibilities, with little help provided by the liberal, albeit corrupt, government (Mounzer, 2021). The laws employed by the government to protect care work towards children might as well be seen as nonexistent, due to their lack of fairness and lack of enforcement. Additionally, these laws do not affect a huge proportion of the society that works in the informal sector widely present in the country, a characteristic of “South” countries. In fact, 77.8% of the total employment is informal (ILO, 2021). The response to this shortage of care is met with an increased demand for paid care work, such as in the “North” countries. Lebanon employs over 250000—mostly women—migrant domestic workers in dire, harsh, and exploitative conditions exacerbated by the Kafala system (Legna, 2022) (Ravn, 2021). Human rights abuses occur frequently towards these workers, which is something that must be eradicated. These poor working conditions, favored by the capitalist “money first” system, would no doubt lead to a deterioration of care work witnessed in households.

Nowadays, “the family wage ideal is dead” (Fraser, 2016). Supporting a household with one member working, traditionally the man, has become unrealistic and unattainable. Both the fall in real wages and the rise of feminism have catalyzed this structural transformation of the household. The 20th century showed a radical increase of women joining the workforce (Ortiz-Ospina et al, 2018). Women, who have been traditionally attributed the role of caregivers, now are required by society to balance both jobs and care. While this is a step in the right direction for equality between men and women, it also presents new challenges. With both parents working progressively longer hours, their ability to care for children and the elderly is stretched (Fraser, 2016). Adding to that the reluctance of capitalist governments to provide quality benefits to aid care work, it should come as no surprise that care work deterioration is occurring. Some might argue that this is not a problem since market-based care work is present to fill in the gap in capitalist systems. However, this can be easily refuted since it is only the upper classes that benefit from it, while the poorer suffer long working hours and the inability to take care of children.

Additionally, the current capitalist system favors migration from developing “South” countries to developed “North” countries which gives rise to a deterioration of care in the former countries. Developed countries are witnessing an increase in the demand for care work due to the higher women employment rates and longer working hours (Näre, 2013). Coupled with the fact that the inequalities between developed and developing countries are increasing, an economic incentive is being provided for women to migrate and take up care work (Benería, 2008). In fact, the number of women that are migrating is steadily increasing, a phenomenon that has been dubbed as the “feminization of migration” (Gabaccia, 2016). Women migrants are still expected to conduct some type of “international mothering” (Benería, 2008) which has undoubtedly a negative impact on care. It can therefore be said that there exist hidden costs to migration, favored by capitalism, which include the dislocation of families, leading to a crisis of care in developing countries.

Furthermore, capitalist governments are unable to provide the necessary legislation and policies to protect care work, especially in developing countries. These governments tend to put in place policies that target employers, such as maternity and paternity leave. These policies can be subject to a lot of criticism since, as previously mentioned, capitalist governments are reluctant to provide quality benefits aimed at improving care work. Added to that, they are even less effective in developing countries. In the “South”, a large proportion of people work within the informal sector. Therefore, they would not be impacted by any of the typical capitalist government interventions. Additionally, the unprotected and unregulated nature of the work makes long, grueling, unfairly compensated jobs a normality. People working in the informal sector suffer a lot from the inability of juggling both their work and parental duties. This clearly showcases the inability of capitalist governments and nations to provide the necessary protection and opportunity for people to practice good quality care work. The case of Lebanon is particularly interesting since it exhibits characteristics of both “North” and “South” countries when it comes to care work.

I find it extremely disappointing that the current system favors productive work over reproductive work, especially when it comes to caring for children and the elderly. It is my belief that taking care of children and the elderly is one of the most important duties that one must respond to, no matter the person’s gender. The current system makes it increasingly difficult and neglects the whole importance of this type of work. Also, I believe that this capitalist approach is misguided. While profits might be high currently, failing to take care of future generations would no doubt be translated into huge losses in the future. How can you call a system successful, when it fails to provide the necessary care for those in need, especially for the children which are expected to inherit their forebearer’s legacy and continue humanity’s improvement in the future.

References

Redd, I. (2022, August 6). Capitalism, the greatest economic system ever: Yip Institute. Youth in Policy Institute. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://www.yipinstitute.com/article/capitalism-the-greatest-economic-system-ever

Fraser, N. (2016). Capitalism’s crisis of care. Dissent, 63(4), 30–37. https://doi.org/10.1353/dss.2016.0071

Ortiz-Ospina, E., Tzvetkova, S., & Roser, M. (2018, March 24). Women’s Employment. Our World in Data. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://ourworldindata.org/female- labor-supply#female-participation-in-labor-markets-grew-remarkably-in-the-20th-century

Näre, L. (2013). Migrancy, gender and social class in domestic labour and Social Care in Italy: An intersectional analysis of demand. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 39(4), 601–623. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369183x.2013.745238

Benería, L. (2008). The crisis of care, international migration, and public policy. Feminist Economics, 14(3), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/13545700802081984

Gabaccia, D. R. (2016). Feminization of migration. The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies, 1–3. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118663219.wbegss732

Mounzer, L. (2021, October 4). Working Women and post-COVID Lebanon. Wilson Center. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/working- women-and-post-covid-lebanon

ILO. (2021, September 1). Mounting challenges have dire effect on Lebanon’s most vulnerable workers. International Labour Organization. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://www.ilo.org/beirut/media-centre/news/WCMS_818370/lang–en/index.html

Legna, E. (2022, October 14). Data shows 68% of migrant domestic workers report sexual harassment in Lebanon. The Sigrid Rausing Trust. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://www.sigrid-rausing-trust.org/story/data-shows-68-of-migrant-domestic-workers- report-sexual-harassment-in-lebanon

Ravn, K. (2021, November 9). The permanent crisis of social reproduction in Lebanon: From past to present. Kohl. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://kohljournal.press/permanent-crisis-social-reproduction-lebanon-past-present

A Lebanese Woman’s Journey in Machine Learning

A Lebanese Woman’s Journey in Machine Learning

 In Conversation with Dr. Sirine Taleb

By Nahida Shehab

Dr. Sirine Taleb is currently a lecturer at the American University of Beirut, teaching machine learning courses at the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, as well as supervising Master of Science in Business Analytics students in their capstone presentations at the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business. She is also a researcher at the provost office’s newly established AI, Data Science, and Computing Hub, under which she further offers an online asynchronous course on customer analytics for professionals. After connecting with her, she agreed to let me interview her about her experience as a Lebanese woman in machine learning–the following outlines our conversation.

When did you first get interested in a career in STEM, and how do your many degrees relate to one another?

I enjoyed technical classes like math and physics in the ninth grade, so I decided to pursue a Lebanese Baccalaureate in General Sciences. After ranking first in Lebanon in the official exams, I earned full scholarships to many universities and picked the American University of Beirut (AUB). I wanted to study civil engineering, but my family discouraged me claiming that it is a male-dominated field and that I am not capable of doing, as a woman, the fieldwork that men do. I then chose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Electrical, Electronics, and Communications Engineering, a less field-based major that was booming in Lebanon and the Middle East.

I maintained my interest in application-based courses and completed a senior project about having an energy-efficient network selection between 3G and Wi-Fi in mobile devices. I then continued my education at AUB. In 2012, machine learning was also booming, so I decided to go for a PhD in EECE with a concentration on Machine Learning, spanning everything from fuzzy systems to artificial intelligence. Apart from the technical aspects, I was also interested in numbers and wanted to broaden my knowledge in the financial sector, so I completed a certificate in financial management. Following that, I enrolled in Science to Data Science, a bootcamp in London for PhD holders, with the aim of bridging the gap between academia and industry by applying what I learnt in machine learning to a real-world business problem. I collaborated with a fintech firm on a project to identify fraudulent transactions in the blockchain domain, specifically in bitcoin.

Are you still affected by your family not encouraging you to pursue a career you were interested in as it required a lot of field work? 

I don’t regret not going into civil engineering now as I ended up liking EECE, but my desire to help women in STEM grew. I began volunteering with NGOs like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which supports all engineers worldwide. Part of it is an affinity group called Women in Engineering, for which I have served as treasurer for five years and secretary for two. The primary objective of IEEE’s Women in Engineering affinity group is to encourage women to study engineering and remain in the profession, as many women migrate to other disciplines when faced with barriers. And these obstacles can arise from within. As a woman, I had, and occasionally still experience, to be honest, impostor syndrome, during which I do not feel competent enough get the work done, yet I always look back and feel as though I was worried for nothing. I further sense that people value my inputs more than I do myself. I believe that my field being male-dominated plays a role. Indeed, when you follow a male-dominated field, you find that there are specific standards you must adhere to in order to be considered a leader. In my case, according to UNESCO, women make up only 29% of those working in science research and development worldwide.

I was volunteering with no prior knowledge of how NGOs operate or what skills I would need in that setting. So, I decided to fill this gap by participating in MEPI’s Leadership Development Fellowship. Throughout the program, I attended courses by Duke University and a research institute in Tunisia about leadership, civic engagement, social entrepreneurship, and social inclusion, which I especially found interesting. I was aware of the necessity of involving women in engineering, but I had not considered, for example, those from rural regions, those with physical disabilities, etc. Hence, I learnt how to help support these minority communities. There were also some lectures on how to establish partnerships with NGOs. I am a member of Arab Women in Computing, which has the same goal but is more focused on the Arab world. These lectures made me think about how different organizations that operate independently could make a greater impact if they joined forces.

From being a student to becoming a lecturer, has the number of women in engineering classrooms today, interested in a career in STEM, and more specifically machine learning, evolved?

Undoubtedly, it has evolved very noticeably. While I was in engineering school, women made up 10% of the class; in contrast, now, I believe women make up 50% of the classrooms I teach. Moreover, I never worked in an all-girls team throughout my university years; teams composed of one woman and four men would typically work on a project, with the woman bearing its writing portion. Today, from what I’ve witnessed in class, all-girls teams are working on an entire project, including the technical part, and even creating publishable material. We have papers now with the co-authors all being women. Things have evolved, and I think the problem is being tackled from its grassroots. More women are graduating with engineering and, more particularly, AI backgrounds, and the job market will ultimately have to adapt.

Countries that invest heavily in AI research are mostly developed ones, including the United States, China, Canada, and several European countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Has it had an impact on you, not only as a woman, but also coming from the Middle East?

As an Arab researcher, there are still barriers, though. For instance, when applying for funding from abroad, you notice the requirements often include that the fund’s Principal Investigator must be of a specific nationality or work at an American or European institution. You thus cannot apply from AUB unless you have some international partnership. Additionally, when submitting a paper to a conference, you sometimes feel obligated to add a co-author from a foreign university. However, this issue is getting addressed at several conferences through the implementation of a double-blind revision. In short, authors submit their paper anonymously, so their nationality, gender, and other attributes are not displayed, and it gets reviewed solely based on its content. Later, if accepted for publication, the names get disclosed. On a positive note, though, PwC recently published data forecasting that AI will be valued at $20 million in the Middle East by 2030, with the UAE accounting for a sizable portion of that figure. That is only 2% of the worldwide contribution, roughly 15 trillion dollars, but I think it is still good. The impact can be even greater if our governments start pushing for more AI-based technology and funding.

Do you believe that there are bias errors concerning gender, ethnicity, and other types of discrimination that arise with AI?

Indeed, there are biases at various levels, such as gender, race, nationality, and so on. At the end of the day, we are building AI based on real data gathered from humans, which will surely be biased in one way or another. Some companies, for example, no longer manually review CVs and instead use AI to screen them. Consider a men-dominated company. Various characteristics in their existing CV descriptions would indicate if the CV belonged to a man or a woman. If one of the extracurricular or volunteer activities listed on the CV is to assist women-based organizations, the AI will conclude that the CV belongs to a woman. Men rarely participate in such activities. Maternity leave is another factor that can identify a CV that comes from a woman. A maternity leave is generally lengthier than a paternity one, if available, as many countries still do not offer one. The gap usually leads AI to assume the CV belongs to a woman. If a CV with the mentioned characteristics is trying to get into a male-dominated company, the AI will conclude that it differs from those of the employees who work there and reject it. That will lead to a gender bias in the hiring process. I believe this problem should and can be solved by eliminating these biases, returning to the original data on which we are developing our machines, and attempting to normalize, or balance, this data. Going back to my example, the number CVs associated with a man and a woman supplied to the screening machine should be equal. There are technical solutions such as undersampling and oversampling the problem when one category outnumbers the other; You can undersample the dominant category or oversample the one that requires more data to be equal. Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil is a highly worthwhile read addressing this.

Can you please highlight available opportunities for current students and professionals interested in your field?

The Women in Data Science conference is taking place at AUB on the 27th of April. All speakers are women, but everyone is welcome to attend regardless of gender. I’ve been to it several times before, and I’m assisting in organizing it this year. When I used to go, there were speakers from diverse fields, including medicine, engineering, art, and so on. It has become increasingly multidisciplinary as AI and data science applications in many domains are growing. It would be an exciting opportunity for students and professionals interested in AI or data science to network, for this profession is heavily reliant on connections. Additionally, many firms are coming, which would be helpful for students seeking job opportunities.

The Power Within

The Power Within
By Eden Haddad

With humanity’s technological advances, it comes to no surprise that preexisting issues would evolve alongside it. With cases such as gender inequality, that exist on all levels of society and in all forms, it is only natural to be able to witness its evolution and track it in the different shapes it can take on. When considering an industry as large and as lucrative as Hollywood and the film-making industry as a whole in the West, it comes to no surprise that the grip it holds is one that reverberates behind the scenes and through the screens. The constant attention afforded to this trade and the people involved in it builds a mounting pressure of conformity to maintain the attention provided as positive rather than negative, especially when considering the nuances of sex and their appeals, and the different expectations placed on different genders.

Considering their existence in the limelight, and the existence of those above them in rank in the shadows, it is only obvious that a power imbalance would prevail as well. Gender and power have long since been intertwined and the best example of the multiple degrees of its existence can be found in Hollywood, specifically the numerous ways power can be wielded to reinforce harmful gender norms, stereotypes and expectations externally, as well as its different internal shapes.

The Portrayal of Women in Cinema:

When cinema in the West began, it was an instantaneous success. Everyone was interested to see the moving picture, and as time progressed and different genres emerged, cinema began to be both a form of escapism and an idealized alternate path for humanity to take inspiration from. It was supposed to show the best and worst of the human race, to discuss and display issues with the gravitas of art. While there remain some aspects of that left, however, the majority of the industry is simply and only concerned with the monetary facet that can be gained—the machinery of capitalism has made it so, thus the focus would shift. It no longer was about art or truth, but marketing. And what better object to market than humans? With humans, one can mold them, shape them into whatever prevailing trend is occurring at the time, taking a heightened interest in a specific physical feature to an almost obsessive standard that is unattainable. The recipients as well, are being conformed as the image of the so-called “perfect human” worms its way unconsciously into the recesses of the mind. It begins with the people behind the camera, shaping the story and the actress to fit the eyes of the viewer. The sexualization that women endure creates a lack of autonomy which is perpetuated in a cycle of exploitation.

In an effort to maintain this standard, great lengths must be taken by actresses in order to remain pertinent in their field of work or face unemployment. In the age of social media as well, this must be further taken up for relevancy to remain high. By being marketed by the industry, one eventually begins to market themselves, removing responsibility from the institution and placing it on themselves. The inner pressure to constantly be received as perfect leads to harmful effects, such as a teenager actress dressing and behaving as though she was much older, leading her to become sexualized as well. The cycle continues, because of the aid of its exploitation.

Power as the Ultimate Master:

The power that the audience wields over both the cinema and their own realities is a considerable one that reflects the state of society as a whole. Society has become fixated on how to turn a profit from every possible angle that could be created, that it sells whatever trend is having breath breathed into it. For the current time of this paper’s writing, sex is the trend that is being sold. The eroticization of human bodies has become a fixated must in all forms of art and it has spawned an industry steeped in shallowness and power abuse. Growing up in the culture of media and social media, the foremost image printed among the inner lens of my eye was one of the perfect woman—the epitome of beauty that women everywhere were to aspire to. She was the lead in all stories, the woman meant to portray all women and everyone shaped themselves after her. So, when they naturally fell short, they took it upon themselves to “fix” that – in every possible, achievable way. Makeup, plastic surgery, extreme weight loss plans that are a thinly veiled shroud for eating disorders… and as trends died and were born again, the facial features of the perfect person changed.

She began to be ethnically ambiguous. Obviously Caucasian, but with ethnic features that cannot be obtained naturally. Previous trends were augmented on a drastic scale, with people having surgery to look like other races, and claiming themselves as that race. Meanwhile, these different races faced racism and microaggressions, because of their birth. It’s a pattern of exclusion that further drives this twisted idea of beauty that is normalized. It is a performance that is brought to reality and carries dangerous health side effects that are considered to be normal collateral damage – something that is worth it. Among our Lebanese society, this is seen from generations past. Plastic surgery is so normalized that pre-crisis, the banks offered loans for that purpose. An entire institution is built to prey on human vulnerability and the want and need to be better than oneself.

It is impossible to separate power from the issues of gender, especially in the case of Hollywood. After all, there still remains much to be said about the abuse that can occur in such situations. Multiple people have spoken out about it as well, with an entire movement taking place in 2017 titled “metoo”. However, in the nuances of power, the abuse one suffers at their own hands remains to be a subject that requires expanding upon, expressively due to the external influences playing on the unconscious nature of it and its material effects. What is seen on the big or small screen is fiction, yet it is hard to see it as such when our own fantasies, hopes and dreams are projected onto it. The blurred line between reality only serves to cause harm and benefit a power-hungry, money-hungry society that feeds off of such instances. Indeed, if there was to be a unanimous confidence and comfortability to occur in each person overnight, the entire film industry would scramble and be turned on its head.

 

 

 

 

 

On Gender-Based Cyber Sexual Violence

On Gender-Based Cyber Sexual Violence
By Malak Mansour

Amidst the rise and ­­ever-growing development of all derivatives of artificial intelligence, it truly seems as if everything is within a laptop’s reach. Powerful AI tools can write essays, code in multiple languages, and compute complex mathematical tasks amongst other day-to-day tasks. However, that entails that AI is powerful and convoluted enough so that it generates artificial videos and images of virtually anyone if fed enough, and seemingly little, data. While bleak to admit, women received the shorter end of the stick, once again. It didn’t take long for people to create scarily accurate deepfakes of women in pornographic contexts, whether as revenge porn or in an attempt to cater to a fantasy of any woman a person desires. It may seem that creating such content would be reserved for the highly technologically literate with any sort of malicious intent. However, the existence of powerful AI tools renders this task quite accessible and relatively easy to anyone with basic computer skills. The emergence of more AI tools that manipulate and generate visual content seems to be the starting ground for more ways to violate women.

In an article by The Washington Post published around two weeks ago, it was mentioned that Hany Farid, digital images analyst and professor at the University of California Berkeley explained, “since these models learn what to do by ingesting billions of images from the internet, they can reflect societal biases, sexualizing images of women by default.” The author, Tatum Hunter, then provides the example of Lauren Gutierrez, a 29-year-old from Los Angeles who fed the app Lensa, which generates AI portraits, publicly available photos of herself, such as her LinkedIn profile picture, after which Lensa returned naked images. This can be attributed to the fact that the training that these algorithms go through include a lot of pornographic content available online, which, in turn, can easily return nsfw (not necessarily just nude) content wi­thout being specifically asked.

Some might argue that the main targets of such content would be celebrities, but as we have seen, it can really be applied to any woman who has a social media presence. It goes without saying that the non-consensual generation and propagation of such content is also sexual harassment or violence. This sort of violence can be even more threatening since the perpetrator can maintain complete anonymity, so the victim does not only have fabricated videos of herself readily available online, but she also does not know the source. This creates a different power structure which exerts power and control over a victim from behind a screen and a stable Wi-Fi connection. In an article published at MIT Tech Review, author Karen Hao shares the story of Helen Mort, a UK based poet and broadcaster, who was subjected to a fake pornography campaign. “It really makes you feel powerless, like you’re being put in your place,” she [Mort] says. “Punished for being a woman with a public voice of any kind. That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s saying, ‘Look: we can always do this to you.’”

The offense does not only end with the release of the videos but can also extend to the professional lives of these women. Women can and have lost jobs and struggle with finding employment. Image-based sexual abuse is a gendered security issue. The concern with deepfakes is not limited to political campaigns, which was the initial reason people were alarmed, but it also extends to the personal livelihoods of many women. There exist many communities online that perpetuate such forms of media without much surveillance or regulation thus far, namely Reddit. For example, Reddit was the hub of a now banned subreddit dedicated to creating pornographic celebrity deep fakes. The problem may seem constricted to a “few ” hundred redditors, but an analysis conducted in 2019 by the cybersecurity company Deeptrace found that 96% of all deep fakes online are pornographic and disproportionately female. This sort of statistic is alarming, to say the least.

It is important to note that there are many legislative and social efforts to combat deep fakes that target and victimize women. Software to detect and recognize pornographic deep fakes are being developed and fine-tuned, but the battle of the AIs remains to this day as both kinds of software keep getting more powerful and nuanced. The grave reality remains true that our use of technology has always been gendered, so while it is important to celebrate revolutionary creations and developments, we must stay vigilant and wary of how it is being utilized without turning a blind eye.

 

Skip to toolbar