Friday, January 21, 2011

So a Khaleeji guy walks into the Interconti lobby

I'm sitting in the Doha Intercontinental lobby with a friend having a drink and minding my own business. An Asian woman shows up, sits at the piano and starts playing some pretty mediocre music, as you normally do in hotel lobbies. Soon we notice two local men standing right next to her saying things like "Hello. How are you? What is your name?" The woman is obviously annoyed and does not respond. Then a male hotel employee shows up to the rescue, takes the men aside and starts talking to them. "Please. The woman is playing the piano. She cannot chat." One of the neanderthals responds "But I want her to come and sit next to me." The employee says "You cannot ask her now. You have to wait until she's done playing." An angry response comes "You don't tell me what the rules are!" I'm not sure how they finally resolved the issue and quite frankly I don't care. All I could think about was how many times an employee did not show up to tell that guy to respect the woman playing the piano.

Moving on to a huge outdoor cafe in Souq Waqif, where a performance is held every night. The cafe is surrounded by metal barriers with guards scattered throughout. While walking past, we stopped to catch a glimpse of the performers when a guard ushers us to keep moving. I ask my male companion about the reason and he replies "Because they don't want us to look at the women." "The women?" And he points, so I look back and find a table where around ten women, completely covered in black, were seated. I hadn't even noticed them until that moment. This got me thinking, were the instructions given based on the women's request, or their husbands'?

The reason I am writing this post is that recent events (such as this appalling Jordanian parliament decision)  have compelled me to look into some women-rights issues that always angered me, but somehow seemed alien. Not because I don't care about them but because they don't really affect me personally. I am not worried that my brother will shoot me if I engage in a Facebook discussion with a guy I met once. I am not worried about my inheritance. Or custody of my children. Or my reputation if I wear a revealing dress. I am only concerned with two things: 1. Equal treatment in the workplace and 2. Being able to give my family the passport I have, out of principle. Why is that? Because this is not the society I live in, or the people I hang out with. I don't live in the same society that most women in our region live in. These women live somewhere else, where the rules are different from those I have to abide by.

Which takes me to my next point: How much do we really have in common? Is it enough that we are all Arab women? Very recently, a Jordanian woman was indicted for provoking her son to murder his own sister because of "unacceptable" behavior at home. How can I communicate with this woman? I know that she probably didn't do it because she hates her daughter, but she thought she was protecting the other daughters from shame. But not protecting that particular daughter is not acceptable to me nor to most of the people I know. So if I am to discuss an issue such as honor killing with many women in this culture, I will likely sound like a westerner. Hell I'm writing this in English, what more proof do you need?

So how do we consolidate between what we, as "westernized" women and men, believe is right and just and what most others we share our culture with believe? Or are we expected to just reject the culture itself, and whatever is left of our identity?

This is just a frustrated rant and a revisit of the topic is in the works.


Matthew said...

Time for cultural evolution methinks!

kmango said...

Ditto what Mathew said!