Part 4 -- More from Both Right and Left Handed: Arab Women Talk About Their Lives by Bouthaina Shaaban
See this post to read about the author, the introduction and Syrian interviewees. Click here to read about Lebanese women. And click here to read about the Palestinian women.
The fourth and final group of Arab women interviewed were Algerians. Reading about women fighting in their war for liberation from France was rather exciting! From this chapter, I learned that Algeria (at the time of this writing - mid-to-late '80s) had the highest birth rate in the world with the average family having eight children! One Algerian woman said she was all for women's liberation, but she said she did not want the kind of society they have in Europe where many women reject marriage and motherhood. She said too many Westerners divorce on a whim and leave a lot of broken children. The author discussed with her how men don't make sacrifices for their families, but know women will, therefore, men use women by manipulating women's sacrificial tendencies. Thus women are once again at the bottom of the ladder. (pg. 207)
From reading these interviews, I get the impression that these Arab women are not by any means rejecting marriage and children. They just wish for the opportunity to learn and have careers outside of their homes if that's what brings them joy. For those who want to stay home with the children and not have outside careers, no problem. But these women feel they are often forced to stay home and/or if they have outside jobs, they are still required to do 99% of the work at home. They wish for their husbands to pitch in at home and help them with cleaning, cooking and taking care of the children. (Actually this sounds like something past American women have fought for as well.)
One woman explained that she could not visit someone who invited her for tea or go for a walk without asking her husband's permission. When she told him how she hated this, he replied, "You're my wife; you're a woman; you can't decide things without me." (pg. 209) However, when they go out of the country, her husband treats her as an equal. She explains, "My husband behaves like this because of our society. He often says that if we were living in Europe or somewhere like that he would change his attitudes completely, and I believe him because when we go on holiday he behaves exactly as I would like him to behave - as an equal. But that's because he knows we are on holiday and no one knows us. Whereas when we visit his parents he treats me in a way which shows his parents that he is 'the man.' I understand that now and I understand the code and make allowances for it. But I do not respect him for that. He is not really honest." (pg. 210)
Lesson here: be honest, be real. People don't respect hypocrites or those who put others down in order to feel powerful. In order to be respected, be worthy of it. Respect is earned, not something we can muster up and feel on a whim.
One woman, Fatima, summed it up like this: "Marriage is recognised in all Arab societies to be the sole aim of women's lives. Most Arab men, and a large percentage of Arab women, believe that outside marriage and children women just don't exist. Legally, no woman can be entered in the census of an Arab country. An Arab nation's citizens are all men -- with daughters and wives as their property. When an Arab man gets married he is registered separately from his father, whereas his wife's name is just moved from the name of her father to that of her husband. If she gets a divorce, her name has to be re-registered under her father's entry, while her children remain under her husband's name. As for women who marry foreigners, they are crossed out of the country's registration books altogether. They have no right to pass their nationality on to their children, for the children's nationality is legally that of their father." (pg. 216) She went on to say that despite what religious people would have you believe, marriages in the Arab world are not more blissful and that's why there is less divorce there than in the West. Rather a woman wasn't allowed to live on her own so she either stayed with her "cruel husband" or "malicious father" -- what a choice!
I really hate that women are of such little value that they can be simply erased from the national registry. Where do people think all these children come from? *sigh*
In Algeria the author flies to the Sahara Desert region and interviews ladies from the Al Tawariqu tribe. Although it's a Muslim area, they have very liberated views some of which I agreed with (men being shamed for getting a woman pregnant vs. the woman being shamed which seems common in most Arab countries; their rejection of polygamy and wife beating) and others which I did not (divorce being super-easy, leaving your husband or wife for another person and the numerous times people married - average was about six - and the relationships between unmarried couples prior to marriage).
Interesting book overall. And with that, I am finished posting notes from this book.