I’m feeling angry. And when I’m angry, I write. It’s the only way I know to release my frustrations out onto the world.
The topic for today is societal control. I know of no way to get to the point of what I want to address other than by giving an example or two.
Example number 1: I have a couple of friends who wore the hijab (a scarf that covers the hair) and then decided to take it off. Both describe very uncomfortable situations where they were criticized and judged for this decision. Yet at the same time, if a woman decides to wear the hijab in Egypt, she will also in many circumstances find herself judged by other members of society for becoming too conservative. And yet other women who never wear the hijab find themselves sometimes criticized for being loose or without moral values. And still other women who decide to cover their faces are labeled extremist by many members of our society.
What is this obsession with what women wear for goodness sake??
Example number 2: I also have some girlfriends who are in their 30s but because they are not married they live with their parents. It is almost unheard of for an Egyptian woman, no matter how old she might get, to live outside of her parent’s home unless it is in her husband’s home. Although it is nice that women are taken care of – to an extent – in our society, the downside is that the woman’s independence is seriously compromised. Even if the families allow the woman to be independent, society and its harsh judgments will affect the woman’s decisions and actions. A single Egyptian woman will find it difficult, for example, to come home too late. This is not necessarily because her family prevents her. It could very likely be because she doesn’t want the neighbors or the doorman to talk and spread rumors about why she stays out late. A woman’s reputation in Egypt is everything.
There are so many examples one could give.
My question is: At what point is an Egyptian woman considered an independent, mature adult who has the right to make her own decisions and live her life the way she sees fit?
Why do I even have to ask this question?
And as I continue in my angry, emotional rage, I’ll ask more questions:
Why is it that women in particular are so strongly judged for almost any action they take by the society they live in? Even more infuriating is that these judgments are made both by men AND women.
Why is it that a woman’s reputation can be so negatively affected because of her personal decisions about how she wants to live her life or what she wants to believe?
Why is it that once this reputation is affected, all aspects of her life – including her career and her relationship with work colleagues – might also be negatively affected?
When will the day come when a woman’s personal decision is left at that: a PERSONAL decision and it is no one else’s frickin business!
There are also much simpler examples, but also very telling. After I returned from my Kilimanjaro trip, many women told me that they would love to go out and do something of their own but that they can’t because their husbands would not allow them to. Would not ALLOW them to?? What kind of a shame is it for our society that a 40-something-year-old woman is either being “allowed” or not to do something she feels she needs to do? I am not in any way suggesting that spouses should not discuss things over. But there MUST be an age when a woman is mature enough to make her own decisions? There MUST be!
A woman is more than capable of considering all the issues at hand, the advantages and disadvantages, the impacts of her decisions on her family and how to put in place the mechanisms that will keep the family strong and happy even as she allows herself some degree of independence.
So what if a woman – maturely and independently – makes a decision that others find to be non-compliant with their religious values? It is that woman’s decision and it is her right to decide what her values are. You stick to your values and your religious beliefs. I’ll figure out what mine are and try to stick to mine. Or I’ll change them as frequently as the leaves change on trees. It is no one’s business.