Part 2 -- More from Both Right and Left Handed: Arab Women Talk About Their Lives by Bouthaina Shaaban
See the previous post to read about the author, the introduction and Syrian interviewees.
Lebanon was discussed next and it included interviews with female Amal leaders, who shared stories about their reasons for joining this movement and how women have fought against Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon. One section told of a son who wanted his mother to pray that God would accept him as a martyr. She shared how after four battles, his prayers were answered. "All Southern women urged their children to join the Lebanese resistance and give their blood for the liberation of the land. Here, it is no longer the habit of women to mourn their dead children; instead they celebrate their death and hand their guns on to their younger brother or sister." (pg. 92)
One lady said, "The Israelis have all the American and Western media at their disposal, whereas we have no access to either. That is why they have more supporters in the West. As for the Americans they might have a lot of human knowledge but they don't have a clue about the Lebanese, the Palestinian or Arab problems in general. ... The problem with the Americans is that once they learn something about something they can't learn to think of it in a different way. They must be the most gullible people on earth. I believe people have to think about what they hear, but the Americans don't think about what Israel tells them; they always take what is said to be the ultimate truth." (pg. 110)
The head of the Druze Welfare Society told the author, "I believe that what needs to be changed in the Arab world is not the laws and legislation; rather it is men's attitudes to women. It is true that the laws are not perfect, but it is also true that people's attitudes lag far behind these laws. I blame Arab women for not making more effort to change people's convictions and opinions. The Arab women should bring men up the right way. She should teach them to respect their mothers, sister, etc. She has to make her son feel that he is equal to his sister, no more or less." (pg. 112)
When asked if she were envious of European or American women, a Lebanese Christian woman replied: "I don't feel envious of them at all. I feel that we are richer as women than they are, richer inside, because I think that despite all the suppression, oppression and taboos we have had more love in our families than they have had and I think we have learnt more about giving. I think we are better givers than they are. They are more assertive of their personal needs; I think they are more selfish" and "if you want to be that selfish and assertive you should not have children in the first place." (pg. 124)
By the way this same lady claims there are more lesbians in the Arab world than in Europe. (pg. 122) She and another woman (in the Syrian section of the book) claimed that women often have true relationships with other women because they don't get that love and respect from their husbands.
The author found some Lebanese students studying in Damascus. One, a Sunni Muslim, said this: "Look at the Arab world; there is not a single Arab country in which you could say that women are free and equal to men. Arab men themselves are not free; how can a man be free who doesn't dare voice his own opinion about a political system, a party, or even an idea, and how can such a man help a women to be free? So long as Arab men suffer from their own weaknesses they will continue to keep women down. Most Arab men feel frustrated in their jobs and society so they go home and try to prove their manhood by pinning their women down. I strongly believe that so long as there is no democracy in the Arab world neither men nor women can be truly free." (pg. 126)
Well, I think there is some (a little?) democracy in the Arab world now so I wonder if things have changed. Are the men treating their women better now that they have more freedoms? I think this book needs updating to reflect current Arab women's views. Surely things have changed among Arabs in the twenty years since this book was published.
Stay tuned for excerpts from the interviews with Palestinian and Algerian women.