Small Steps Hiding Big Dreams
October 28, 2012 10:34 AM   Subscribe

The Art of Presence. Despite so many threats to their freedom, Arab women continue to stage a thousand small revolutions in their everyday lives.
posted by bardophile (8 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
thank you so much for this. I'm very lucky to have known (and to count as friends) three very different Muslim women.

a few things in this article stand out for me:
As a matter of fact, for a sea of veiled Arab Muslim women, the veil has never been a choice — pure and simple. Equally, it has always been the happy route of those who believe they are fulfilling God’s wish — no more, no less. But when scholars went in search of explanations, they found women at the forefront of the discontent that has fuelled the veil’s ready adoption as a centerpiece of identity politics. If the relatively better educated — and, yes, more affluent — types were first to unveil in the early years of independence, soon followed by others further down the economic rung, so the daughters of the rising middle classes would be first to put it back on a few decades later, sending it up the same rung.

That Islamists, who had long been rallying to spread this star marker of their influence, grabbed a hold of the trend and ran with it was just smart strategy and brilliant timing
‘We [women] live in a constant state of struggle — culturally, socially, economically, politically. It's… exhausting.

( I actually felt a little of that exhaustion here on Metafilter with the recent threads on gender but then I got a grip and realised that not being able to read a book in a public park without a creep thinking i must just be signalling I WANT A SHAG is offset by the fact that I am largely in control of both my happiness and my body)

But right after the uprising, she started to experience more threatening taunts, urging her to cover up. She flinched at first, scurrying ahead to avoid contact — a rather strange reaction for the self-described offspring of ‘a family of very strong women’. But these slurs had much sharper edges than the insults of old. And then, suddenly, she decided to do her own one-woman revolt. She started to shout back.

is this any different by how politicised rape and abortion have become in some parts of the USA? or gay or transgendered experience of life. Only mostly in other countries we're more socially and geographically mobile.

I was also reading some of the blogs relating to how some Pakinstanis felt the whole Malala media phenomenon was an attempt to attract attention away from Drones Wome again seen only in terms of how they relate to the masculine agenda?

I read Lauren Booth's diary of life in Gaza where, (possible because she was wearing the veil & accompanied by male fixers/friends/.drivers, her experience was almost bucolic acceptance in horrendous circumstances)

it really is so complex but so relatable to women's experience everywhere they are not granted equal autonomy to men.

a friend who lives in Dubai was talking to me recently of a social phenomenon where highly educated wealthy women lack both employment prospects and marraige prospects. The former is being addressed by Hofuf a women only city (way to go SA!) while the latter is the cause of much anguish.
Basically certain families will allow their female folk to only marry within certain other families and while the goldfish bowl is big (some of the founding families had mutiple wives/offspring etc., the fact remains that the men in this culture do not prize education: it tends to lead to uppity women, and they can easily marry more than 1 due to their economic resources. so the educated female either puts up or is left lonely.

now while this may seem OK to a western POV (they are in fact wealthy via their father's so can do multiple degrees in the west, shop and live in London NYC or Paris) when your entire upbringing is family oriented, marraige oriented, childbearing oriented, these highly educated women feel failures when they don't find a match that is acceptable to their families.

I really don't see the small revolutions as leading very far when the very custodians of the scared spaces of islam have managed to destroy much of their archaelogical heritage because it didn't suit the Wahabi message.

I wish these small revolutions heralded something better and have often felt positive that social media and access to education would definitely push things in the direction of better rights for women....but that may be cultural imperialism on my part.
posted by Wilder at 12:36 PM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Great article, and I've never come across this magazine before - thanks!
posted by alasdair at 2:50 PM on October 28, 2012

Great article, thanks for posting.
posted by ambrosia at 6:06 PM on October 28, 2012

Great post. I count many Muslim women, veiled and non, in several countries among my friends and I will pass this on.
posted by Isadorady at 7:17 PM on October 28, 2012

Women living within these regimes have my admiration. Their courage and wisdom is something else; it's relatively easy for me to stand up to things that bother me. The stakes here are bigger.

I used to have a lot of prejudices about the veil. I've dropped those. I don't understand all the nuance, and I trust women to make decisions that work for them. I appreciate the chance to read about the complexities of this.

Also yeah, what an interesting magazine.

Nice post, thanks.
posted by Miko at 9:26 PM on October 28, 2012

Wilder, some of the things that you highlight are bits that spoke very strongly to me as well, particularly the bit about Islamists taking the trend and running with it.

As for education and marriage prospects: When I wanted to go back to the US for college, my mother sat me down and had a chat with me about the very practical consequences that would have. i.e. it would reduce the number of men who would be interested in marrying me. Now my mother had studied for a masters' degree in Pakistan, in the 60s. She and my father made a lot of sacrifices for us kids to be able to get good educations. So this wasn't someone who was simply paranoid about women's education. And the conversation was not a fear-mongering one. It was a very calm conversation about making decisions with a clear vision. When I told her that any man who thought I was over-educated or felt threatened by that was clearly not someone I would be happy with, anyway, she accepted that. But she was right, too. I was the last amongst my friends to get married. Most of them had a child, several of them had two, before I got married. And in a culture that is very family-oriented, being single is a difficult thing, irrespective of gender, really. Like most social pressures, it falls heavier on women, but it's pretty heavy for men too.

The veil is an extremely uncomfortable thing for me. I see more and more of my very educated, reasonably independent cousins taking on the hijab, and more and more of my highly educated, previously perfectly-comfortable-with-uncovered-hair aunts taking it on as well. I find myself wondering what it is that they see that I am missing. Some of it is a signaling of political solidarity. Some of it is simply taking to a logical conclusion a process of eliminating metaphor from discourse. I worry about the widening gap, the reduced common ground, in conversations about religion and politics. In Pakistan, you really can't have one without the other. And it seems that there is less and less middle to meet in.

I can relate to the desire to yell back. But I identify more closely with the small resistances. The small resistances make a difference. My favourite concrete example of this is in looking at the number of women drivers one sees on the roads in Pakistan. My best friend and I learned to drive together, the year we turned eighteen, eighteen being the legal driving age. Taking the car out on our own was a battle, because all too often, it would end in one or more young men on motorcycles weaving in and out, surrounding the car, terrifying the new drivers that we were. My friend's response was to stop driving too much. My parents thought I should stop taking the car out alone, too. I remember telling them that if more of us took cars out, it would stop being such a novelty, and the harassment would stop. And continuing to drive on my own. This was in the mid-90s. Today, the eighteen-year-old women who don't drive are the unusual ones. Some of them occasionally get harassed (because apparently the novelty of harassing women never really wears off, anywhere in the world). But it's not nearly as frequent, and a young woman driving a car is no longer something people find remarkable. This is an amazing increase in agency. And fifteen years is really not a long time when it comes to social change.

So women's struggles do not overlap identically with the ebb and flow of the politico-religious tide. They intersect with it, of course, but there are real gains made, independent of the larger national, or even pan-Islamic landscape.
posted by bardophile at 1:23 AM on October 29, 2012 [9 favorites]

I just finished an amazing book called Alif the hidden, which is a hacker thriller with djinns set in the Arab Spring. One of the protagonists takes the veil, and her decision plays a part in the story. It was written by a Muslim woman who also chooses the veil, but not full hijab. It may be a slightly off topic thing to mention, but this book is so brilliant, and written from a perspective not often available to western readers.
posted by dejah420 at 3:11 PM on October 29, 2012

I apologize, the book is Alif the Unseen.
posted by dejah420 at 3:42 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older California's new election rules (Prop. 14)   |   Matt Cain destroys things Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments