Black boxed in: Amal Mahmoud’s ‘How to Get Hitched’ breaks no rules

"Aalashan el-Sennara Teghmez" (How to Get Hitched) is a duo of pocket self-help guides (one for men and one for women) written by Amal Mahmoud and published by Top Point Print in 2010. The books continue a recent publishing trend–helping Egyptian women settle down.

Mahmoud is the author of numerous articles on sexual awareness and is also a TV host. Like the 192 pages of the books, these articles include short quotes or aphorisms about dating men and women, grooming, and the many rules to the game of courting and marriage; also, like the books, the articles obscure their occasional wisdom with obnoxious vulgarity.

The books–a blue volume for the men, and red for women–are very popular in Egypt, a worrisome fact given that their content did more to convince this reviewer to avoid marriage than to go out looking for a husband. The pursuit of a mate seemed to vulgar, too desperate, and sometimes simply too confusing. Some of the advice contradicts itself; for instance the writer highlights the importance of honesty yet she encourages women not to disclose their sexual history and previous relationships, which she dubs a woman's "black box" (a telling euphemism, implying that a woman should be ashamed of any dating experience prior to her perfect husband).

The writing is based on the notion that men hunt and women are the prey–an antiquated and, frankly, nauseating dynamic for any self-respecting, educated and independent woman. Mahmoud asserts that women, if they are to be passive prey, might as well look good while hunted and offers advice on style and hair removal. (Of course, if her website is an indication, Mahmoud would make an amazing hair dresser.) The message seems to be: if you are being hunted, it's preferable to get eaten as soon as possible.

Some of the writing is merely a translation of the dating classic (and classically maligned), "The Complete Book of Rules" by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider (first published in the US in 1995). The "rules" include: don’t blab on your first date, don’t ask for his number, don’t call him first, and do not be available all the time.

The blue volume, intended for men, was Mahmoud's first publication and attempt to distinguish her work from the rest of the self-help market (choosing red instead of pink for the female volume might also serve to do that, the darker hue implying… something darker). The for-men guide includes information about hormonal changes, ovulation, grooming, PMS and many other pieces of information that the author considers "priceless" for a man on the prowl. Women, it seems, are naturally so complicated that they, as well as those around them, could use a manual. Mahmoud goes so far as to compare a woman with PMS to a terrorist. In other places, she gets her facts wrong, like when she asserts that balding men have more testosterone (in most cases, hair loss is hereditary).

"How to Get Hitched" cannot be fully blamed on the author. Rather, the information it perpetuates is a result of a desperate society that, because it is constantly producing bad relationships and divorce, chooses to fixate on superficial and easy fixes like waxing and make-up, while totally ignoring the deeper reasons for failure: lack of responsibility and respect.

It is the superficiality of the young generation that allows Mahmoud and her ilk to capitalize on people’s desperation. Mahmoud refers to herself as a "relationship expert," although she offers no rationale for that title. Being a host on a TV show is not exactly a degree in psychology or sex education.

Until Mahmoud figures out her limitations, she may want to stick to her pasta paintings (available for viewing on her website), which I believe are her best work until now.

Related Articles

Back to top button