An Open Letter: What Happened To Us?

Dear family, friends, and acquaintances,

What happened to us? What happened to the concept of family and close friends?

Have we really lost all reality of what it means to be family? Have we engaged in such superficial dialogue that when we speak to each other there is some hidden agenda?

Can you remember the last time you actually asked about each other without feeling it was an inconvenience? We hide our troubles and pain from each other. Not because we may cause a burden, but because there may be a small portion of that discussion that we may feel will be used against us.

Whether we lost a parent, child, uncle, aunt, grandparent, or cousin, we only appear to ask about each other when in mourn. We are quick to say “if you need anything let me know”, but also so quick to turn away from those who require someone to be there for them emotionally.

We are appearing to engage with each other through online mediums such as Facebook or snapchat, but find it hard to really ask a person how they are doing to their face. We have superficial dialogue that comes immediate to us to ask a person “how are you?” But not really care for the response.

We portray a different person online, comment on pictures, or share photos hoping someone would like it.

I remember as a child when it was someone’s birthday we would always get together. Whether cook outs, holidays, or just to get together. Now we use the excuse that people are getting old, or people have their own families to deal with. This is the time where we should be around each other.

When someone’s in trouble it becomes difficult to help them because we don’t have time. We only grow closer to someone when we lose them.

Some of us are hurting in silence. Some of us are showing hurt in front of all. But we refuse to actually ask our family to speak up and dialogue about the pain.

We defend those so quick that aren’t family or close friends, and put down those who need us the most.

Some things are personal and should be left personal. Your business is yours! I’m talking about the support system that has disappeared. It’s so easy to say “did you hear about so and so”. We enjoy gossip, and talking about other people who we call family. We get involved with someone’s life decisions when it’s convenient for us. We become judgmental because people’s life choices are not ours. We don’t stand up for those who need us the most.
We are quick to make a Facebook status about our feelings, rather than talk to the person about the problems. We seek validation from strangers, and not solve the issue directly with the person we have the problem with.

When someone wants to get married, we talk about why we don’t like the person they chose, and instead we choose not get to know the other person, and see for ourselves. We tell someone how they should spend their money, or ask how much they paid for something. We are consumed with the idea that money is above all. We let money come between family. “He owes me this, or she took this from me”.

We tell those to get a better job, without even knowing what job they already have.
We are too quick to make recommendations, and not understand the other persons perspective.

We believe we know best about someone else’s bad or good choices, without examining our own faults.

We call ourselves Godly, and find it hard to help people in need.

We teach our kids to live a materialistic life, and not understand the true meaning of living.

We separate ourselves from each other based on social and economic status.

We are becoming greedy, and teaching our kids to be greedy as well.

We expect something in return when we do something good for someone.

We get mad or stop talking to each other for things in the past, and go to church with hate in our hearts.

If you believe you have some dark things about yourself that you need to change, take the time to do so.

Show love and compassion to one another.

Visit family members when you can. I know it’s not easy for myself to visit family. But the attempt to actually know your family is needed. What we knew about each other before, is different today.

We get defensive when someone points out the wrong in us.

I know who has been there for me and my family. I also know that my family is open to helping others. Let us help people without any expectation to get something in return.

There is a deep sadness and nostalgic feeling in me that wishes it were my childhood, because that’s when I have felt the most happiness. No technology, no Facebook, just family and making memories. Playing dodgeball with my siblings and cousins, basketball, playing outside and just being children. To go back to that is impossible, but we can make the best of it.

Redefine family to what it used to be and not just something that is disposable.

If I have wronged anyone at all I apologize. I hope that someday we can be honest with each other in a positive way before it is too late. When someone leaves this earth, we begin to feel a bit of regret because of the way we treated them or didn’t treat them.
We all go through something that can’t be explained, but we can be compassionate to one another because we have the ability to be human and loving.

If you got defensive or angry from this, that wasn’t the point. Just to redefine your purpose if you feel a bit lost or hurt.

Sincerely,
Me

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How The Middle Eastern Culture Can Be Toxic

By: Rhonda Nemri

Now I know some people will take this to offense, and say “how could you say this?” Or that I am not prideful of my culture. If that’s your first instinct about this, then you’ve already proven my title. However, there are many ways in the Arab culture that people depend on because it is “safe”, and a better excuse for getting away with their hostile behavior. I will explain what “culture” does to people, and how it affects our society; mainly the Arab community. The list will predominately focus on the Arab/Middle Eastern Culture, but can relate to the general idea of culture.

1. Culture is established by a group of people’s norms, and their own perceptions of life, and something that usually sticks with them for a lifetime.
2. Culture brings people together, and creates traditions that can be passed on to generations.
3. Culture allows you to identify with a group/race.
4. Culture is something good, but when taken too far, it can actually create toxicity among family, friends, co-workers, etc.
5. Saying “this is how it is supposed to be” is based off of what someone created to be the norm. Therefore basing everything you do in your life a norm that you only live by because someone else told you this is how it is supposed to be.
6. Culture makes people become hostile towards those who do not fully abide or engage in cultural norms.
7. Culture puts a timeframe for when to be married, when to have children, and requirements on whom you should be with/shouldn’t be with.
8. Culture creates an identity crisis. Arab/Middle Eastern culture versus other cultures can cause one to conflict between being authentic versus being what someone else wants.
9. Culture creates a sense of fear for living authentically. The constant thought that people are monitoring your behavior, and being worried of what other people think of you.
10. Culture makes people believe that because specific norms have been around for so long, that they are correct or acceptable.
11. Culture has created strict tendencies and traditions that have been the cause for separating family units, or has hindered the quality of life.
12. Culture has repeatedly made women to be the lesser equal. Invoking certain lifestyles, do this and don’t do that, limiting career opportunities, etc. As well as creating standards for men to be and act a certain way to appear masculine.
13. Culture for Middle Easterners has been a reciprocated understanding between several religious faiths. (Examples: Christians/Catholics and Muslims). Thus prohibiting many ideas, and new values from different men and women.
14. Culture does not allow mistakes, because your reputation is a representation of your family, and is always accounted for. If you make mistakes, then the people in your family also live through repercussions. People then bad mouth, or speak badly about each other.
15. Culture makes religious people focus more on cultural values, than religious values. This can be detrimental for those who try to live through their religion as Godly-like beings.
16. Lastly, Culture would be something great if people allowed each other to live freely, and not have to live for other people.

Final thoughts:

If we would see the negativity of our culture and become more positive we would be happy individuals. Stop paying attention to other people, and grow as an individual. Making someone suffer because of what you think is right, does not make you right. It’s bad enough we have to live to see the Middle East falling apart because of control, power, and greed. So why do this to the people who you call your family, friend, acquaintance, or someone you vaguely know. Give each other a chance to live life, and a chance to know them before you let culture dictate your every move in your life. Culture is important to have, but not to make you hostile towards humans.

Communication Strategies for Equality: A Discussion on Middle Eastern Women Lacking Education and Career Paths

By: Rhonda Nemri

When it comes to education, some of us are sure with what we want to do after receiving a college degree; others are left wondering what the future holds. Even though most of our destiny is not fully understood, we still have some sort of direction of where we would like to be. However, some women are put in a place where education comes easy to them, but the aftermath of receiving the degree becomes a complicating matter. In many parts of the world, many people lack educational backgrounds due to societal roles, or not having the ability to afford such opportunities.

Women who hold some type of familial values tend to cater to the needs of their conditioned beliefs, and expected destiny. The women I speak of are Middle Eastern women, who tend to include themselves in educational experiences, yet find it hard to include themselves in a career path based off of many cultural norms that do not allow them to explore, and work in such industries such as math, science, medical, communication, and other fields. While being an educator and a Middle Eastern woman, I too found it hard to choose a career path, based off of family, and cultural expectations for me. I will discuss (1) The issues Middle Eastern women experience when it comes to education, and career paths, (2) my experiences highlighted through my lens as a Middle Eastern woman, (3) strategies for women to take part in education, and careers, and finally (4) offer some conclusions about this topic.

The Issues Middle Eastern Women Experience with Education and Career Paths

The question that I tend to ask myself is why are there many Middle Eastern women in the classrooms at universities, yet not many in the field they choose to study? There are many reasoning’s behind why a person chooses certain things for their lives. However, the main answer I can accumulate for this specific question is the cultural influence, and strict traditions the Middle Eastern culture tends to have on women versus men. The idea of women in this culture comes down to specific roles that she must acquire throughout her life. The main ones are marriage, children, and house duties. Her duties as a young lady are to learn these basic norms, and use it as a reminder of how to be successful as a woman. Even though there are many women who choose to have careers over this type of lifestyle, they are still eventually expected to fulfill these main roles as a woman in their life.

Women’s status in the Middle East has been one of those controversial matters that one cannot seem to understand what is essential to fix. In the Middle East there are different laws that are posed that show more leniency for men to do whatever they want. Nevertheless, for women this does not come easy for them, because she is to maintain a flawless image. Very few Middle Eastern Women get jobs once they receive their cap and gown. “In Lebanon 54 percent of university students are women, but only 26 percent of the labor force and 8 percent of legislators, senior officials, and managers are female” (Baker, 2012). “Sixty-three percent of Qatar’s university population is comprised of women, but ladies make up just 12 percent of the labor force and only 17 percent of legislators, senior officials and managers” (Baker, 2012). “But in Jordan, enrolment is excellent at 86 percent – however, girls drop out in secondary school because of early marriage” (Faisal, 2003).

Women in the United States who come from different countries become International Students, and have similar ways from the Middle East. Most of them come to the United States to receive a different atmosphere of education, however these women move back to their country, and get married once receiving their degree. Some women are already married, and attend a university with their spouse, and are expected to have a similar major as their spouse; taking similar classes together. Once their degree is received she is more socialized in the home, than in a career path.

As the influence of culture begins to rein on options, women in different parts of the Middle East have been given privileges to work in specific fields, or take part in political action. “Egypt has recently granted women the right to divorce their husband, in Tunisia abortion is legal, and polygamy is prohibited” (bakerl, 2012). “Women have served as ministers in the Syrian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and Tunisian governments and as Vice President in Iran” (Baker, 2012). With all of these different opportunities given to women in the Middle East, there are still conservative, and extremist interpretations of religious laws, that have kept women from even stepping foot into the workforce (AbuKhalil, 2005). These laws and prohibitions on women, have led women to believe there is no purpose for her to fight for her right to achieve such goals and aspirations, because religious laws, and governmental laws perpetuates the stereotypical notion that women stay home, and men are the breadwinners of the family. “While women do have a luxury of attending college, men who are traditionally expected to be family breadwinners can’t afford to devote time to their studies” (Jezebel, 2012).

The problem arising in these situations, are that women are negating their true identities, and becoming the stereotypical weak-minded individual that is expected from them. They fear exploring their own lives and finding different paths that will benefit their social skills, and opportunities to be in the workforce. Philip Rushworth (2013) states:

Feminist activism in the Middle East is prey to two shared ideological discourses. On the one hand, scholars in the West have in the past denied the possibility of an indigenous feminism in the Middle East. At the same time, conservatives and others in the Middle East argue that feminism is anathema to the region, considering it an importation of Western and colonial ideas. These two discourses feed on another, denying women in the Middle East their agency while simultaneously asserting that feminism belongs solely to the West. (p. 8)

According to the Population Reference Bureau (2000) 42 percent of women in the Middle East and North Africa are illiterate, compared to 22 percent of men who are illiterate. About 73 percent of men enter the labor force, and 20 percent of women who are in the labor force (Population Reference Bureau, 2000). As we can see there are women who are educated, but the idea of working is a problem for women. There is gender discrimination that comes into place against women. Family laws, or civil codes usually requires women to get “permission from their male relatives, usually a husband or father, before seeking employment, requesting loans, starting a business, or traveling” (Population Reference Bureau, 2000).

“Even in the 1990s there was a big gender gap in education. However there’s a paradox that we have a lot of women getting higher education and they are still too absent from the workforce and politics” (as stated in Davies, 2012). So why do women go to school, and do not work afterwards? As education is an important factor for growth, it has becomes a reason for socialization, and friendships to be made. They meet their girlfriends there, or future husband. It allows them to explore opportunities, but at a minimum.

In Iraq, women have been forced to leave their jobs, and dismiss ever being involved in academics, or careers. “Women have also been prohibited by Shia militias from teaching other women. The threat has become real after two teachers – one in the mostly Shia Sadr City district and one in Kadhmiyah neighborhood – were killed after giving lessons to illiterate women near their homes” (Humanitarian News and Analysis, 2007). Khalid Hassan (2007), a Mahdi Army officer in Muthana Governorate quoted, “girls and women don’t need to read. They should be good mothers and housewives. The schools are just imbuing them with new and modern ideas that are inconsistent with Muslim women’s duties”. There are pressures that Jordanian women go through that keep them in a small social environment. “While growing number of Jordanian families—even low income ones—are buying cars, usually it’s the husbands who takes the car to work, leaving women stranded at home. When a woman dares to take a bus, she faces sexual harassment…which then restricts her movement” (Guarnieri, 2013, p. 3). So the thought of being educated, or career oriented for these women begin to be questioned, and becomes impossible in their mind. “Family matters in countries as diverse as Iran, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia are governed by religion-based personal status codes. Many of these laws treat women essentially as legal minors under the eternal guardianship of their male family members” (ListVerse, 2008). Family and citizenship laws throughout the region demote women to an inferior rank paralleled to their male counterparts. This is something that is apparent overseas, and currently in the U.S. Middle Eastern families. “This legal discrimination undermines women’s full personhood and equal participation in society and puts women at an increased risk for violence” (ListVerse, 2008).

Middle Eastern women create these boundaries for themselves as well. They do not engage in dialogue with other cultures, do not speak up in the classrooms, and are not aggressive in social situations with their peers, or professors when it comes to academic and career opportunities. These reasoning’s are quite understandable, given the idea that they have been conditioned to feel, and act this way. Then there are young women, who are born and raised in the United States, which really are different than women from the country side. Women in the U.S. are free to choose what they want; however, there are still restrictions and expectations from them.

A lot more young Arab women are expected to be in various fields which predominately deal with the medical field, or mathematics fields. It is hardly perceived that young Middle Eastern women engage themselves in a college career dealing with communication or creative arts. Perhaps the reasoning behind this is the idea that women are taught to not be very expressive, or speak up. This brings me to discuss my own experiences in the classroom, and as an educator in the communication field.

Experiences Highlighted as a Student and Educator in the Communication Field.

Being in a field that allows one to explore new ideas and enhance my social skills, has been one of the most pleasant experiences. However, before becoming an educator, I had my previous perceptions of how to act in the classroom as a young Middle Eastern woman. A few years ago in 2004, when I first entered a college classroom, I still had my notions that I should not really speak up during class discussions, or be the social type. This is mainly due to the way I was brought up, and how a young lady should carry herself in public. I definitely had to hold my comments, and bite my tongue, because I was trying to avoid saying something inappropriate. This method of social skills still stood with me through most of my college experience.

Firstly, being in the communication field was questioned by others. They had no idea what field that was, and they didn’t know what kind of job I would be working in. Most of the time fields such as biology, math, or medical fields were accepted among Arabs. I chose a different route, and engaged more and more in the communication field. I was able to understand how much more interaction I needed to have, in order to succeed. What the communication field did for me is something I probably wouldn’t have learned in any other field. It taught me to speak up, and to rationalize my thoughts, and voice my opinions the way I wanted. This is something that many young women like me do not experience, because they are afraid of reaching out, and learning something such as communication studies. It isn’t that they can’t do it; it is because they are afraid to do it.

Speaking in front of large crowds, or even small crowds becomes a hassle, because women like me should be more reserved in my language choices, and seem more passive aggressive in situations. I have learned to still be reserved in certain situations, and I have not let loose completely. However, indulging into rhetorical theories, and interpersonal theories, has taught me how to be ambitious, and speak up in times I wouldn’t have spoken up.

Being an educator in this field is a bit different than being a student. I am a different person when I stand in front of the classroom, compared to family, and certain friends. I feel this sense of empowerment, and allowing my students to see who I have longed to be. However, I have experienced some Middle Eastern women in the classroom, who are very compassionate, and reserved. It has been apparent to me that these Middle Eastern women come from the Middle East, and are extremely timid in the classroom, but have very good writing skills. Their ability to express themselves is more on paper, rather than in person. They are reserved because of cultural reasoning’s, which really limits their interaction with people they do not know, or male counterparts.

Taking an introductory level speech course, and being new to the United States is a challenging experience for many international students. However, when women are in these groups, they are usually distant, and when they speak it is hard to hear them because they are afraid of saying something wrong. This method of communication that these women use remove them from decision making methods during group projects, deny authoritative roles, or do not give any input or suggestions to others. This will then affect their behavior in the work industry, if they do not allow themselves to integrate in a working environment. I have never dealt with an Arab woman who wasn’t international, however, I am sure that more (not all) do not like to be engaged in more communication, and creative arts sects. The Arab men that I have dealt with are opposite, and become more dominant with education, and sharing comments. However, this isn’t always the case given the fact that having English as a second language is a barrier for some. But there is definitely a difference between the way men socialize, and the way women socialize.

Experiencing the communication and creative arts department more in-depth has helped in many aspects. It has helped me tremendously when interviewing others, job interviews, professional portfolios that highlight my work experience such as, teaching, public relations, writing and editing, and public speaking. Being an Arab woman, has been a struggle to try to be all this because there are set traditions I must fulfill such as marriage, and family. However, I have been able to move past that to make me a better person. So since I have done this, and have gained success, I will now offer some strategies and solutions to how women like me, whether from the Middle East or from the United States.

Strategies to Help Middle Eastern Women Progress in Education and Career

The point of these strategies is not for women to rebel their culture, but to slowly integrate themselves in courses that will allow them to have a different perspective on education and careers. There are many Middle Eastern feminist groups that fight for these women’s rights; however the conspiracy of silence has left women in a position to not speak up when they see something wrong. Middle East versus the U.S. should be given different strategies, because the Middle East population has stricter policies, and prohibit womenfeminism_definition from engaging in social settings, even if it is education. The improvement of certain areas in the Middle East that deal with women and education has changed. But there are still women who are left alone, and not given any attention. Women first need to accept the fact that they are useful in academia, and labor force.

If women continue to believe they are useless in these types of situations, then they will have their mind set on the stereotypical ways women should be treated. Middle Eastern women’s liberation is quite harder than most liberation movements, because the government holds these strict laws and codes that prohibit women from working, and being more socialized in the labor force. This should not just be a Middle East problem. Feminist Movements and Human Rights Organizations need to consider this specific issue as a human issue, rather than a cultural issue. As an Arab American feminist I find it difficult to reach out to certain Arab women, who deny or resist taking action to become educated because they are afraid of the consequences of speaking up. From a financial standpoint, women who are educated and work, allow for a second income in the household, which could be a benefit for them.

Women who reside in the United States find it a bit easier to take on different roles, and become independent. However, their voice is not fully heard. These young Arab women need to include themselves in more communication, and creative arts. This will enhance their social skills, become more determined to be successful, engage in public speaking with confidence, and articulate better in more oral and written situations. This is not to say they are not intelligent, it is to allow them to be more open-minded about making a difference in their lives, and to help other Arab women, who find it a struggle to be educated.

I am beginning to notice a lot of women who participate in social movements, such as protesting for their right to achieve and be successful, similarly to a man. These ways will help women become more liberated. The following strategies listed are suggestions women can take, in order to find better ways to be successful, rather than see success as just marriage and family.

Strategies

1. Women need to start a dialogue with other women in their position, to begin to feel more comfortable stating their issues, so that they can hear it at loud, instead of holding it in. They need to come to terms with their issues such as gender inequalities, and not deny that there is a problem.

2. Arab families need to be exposed to more educational and career opportunities for women. They need to understand that these opportunities create a quality of life for women, and not the exaggerated assumption, that they will be more Westernized, and lose their values in the process of educating themselves.

3. Women need to get more involved in politics, whether local or national. The more they understand what is happening in their country and other countries, the more they will communicate to others about the issues happening. This opens a lot of doors for them to be educated in various issues that matter to them.

4. If women are in educational settings, they need to take more communication, history, and cultural courses that help them become more diverse in their thinking skills. They shouldn’t drop their field of choice, but to explore different departments, and have a broad perception of different studies.

5. If women are in educational settings, they need to join or attend university meetings for various organizations. This could be their student government organization, women organizations, religious organizations, or department organizations. This will help them network better with people similar to them, and allows them to have a broader perspective on communication. Along with university meetings, they can attend community meetings about the economic and political standings of their community. They can be more active, and approach situations differently.

6. Young Arab women, who do engage themselves in the communication and creative arts programs at their universities, need to pave the way, and inform women in their family, friends, and other peers about the benefits of these programs to their lives. We need to be able to make an awareness of the different opportunities for success, rather than hold it in to ourselves.

7. Married individuals who are having trouble accepting new traditions need to begin to dialogue about different needs, and wants. If couples are able to discuss future plans dealing with education, and careers, this will open the door for them to understand what needs to be done. Women need to talk to their husbands about their future in education, and have a set plan about what they want to gain from being educated. If women continue to see themselves as weak, and uneducated, then they will not have any confidence in speaking up.

8. Women should remove themselves from any situation that brings their value down. They need to surround themselves around positive people, who do not consistently tell them how to act and who to be. The more they are around successful women, the more they will want to strive to be successful.

9. If women find it hard to find ways to do all of these, perhaps using technology such as computers, smartphones, or local newspapers to find out more about current issues. If having technology is accessible, then they can allow themselves to read, and write more frequently. This will also help them become more open-minded to being successful the right way.

10. If women are having trouble finding ways to explore, then Feminist movements, and educators from all over the world need to see this as a problem that needs to be taken care of step by step. Using educational tools and techniques can help these women better themselves. Women like me should teach them, and get more involved, by exposing them to a better lifestyle, rather than see themselves as invaluable.

11. Middle Eastern men need to understand the value of women in this culture. There also needs to be educational tools to help men accept the idea of women becoming educated, and working in a field of their choice. Men need to learn to dismiss the idea, that women are inferior to them. Even though not all men behave this way, they can be the ones who support women rights movements, and create a positive outcome for women in education, and the labor force. They too, are part of the issue, and can be part of the solution as well.

Conclusions

This discussion on the issues of women who are from the Middle East, or are Middle Eastern is an issue that needs to be solved. There are many different social movements who bring up the question of women who are not educated. Even though many countries, including the United States deal with gender discrimination within universities, and workplace, there are women who are not given the same opportunity at all to even become educated or work. This does not mean their issues are more prominent, but it does mean that we cannot ignore the rights of these human beings, who deserve a chance at success. There is also the issue that people think because it is “cultural” norms, that we as Americans do not have the right to help alter the perceptions of these individuals, because it is none of our business. However, these should be natural human rights that women should attain. Let us not look at this issue, and count it off as an irrelevance to us. There are many global issues that arise in many different parts of the world; however, I find education to be something very valuable, that it would be a shame to dismiss it as important.

I have met many women in my life, who tell me they can’t because they have kids, or they can’t because they have marriage duties, or they can’t because their father does not accept it. I have come across many instances in my life where I was told I could not do something because I am a woman. As a Master’s degree recipient from the communication and creative department, I realized that it is definitely not impossible to achieve, because I have built a plan for myself, and did not allow others to intrude on my educational background, and work experience. It was hard for me at first to accept diversity, because I always assumed my culture is the only thing I can go by. Meeting people and networking with others who are different than me, has taught me a great value. It has also allowed me to articulate, and write well about subjects that I am interested in. It allowed me to be a more socialized person in different settings.

Being an Arab feminist is also not an easy thing for people to see. Conversely, because of education, and working with others, it has allowed me to verify myself as a feminist with no doubts. Being a feminist, has also allowed me to venture out, and find ways to give the voiceless a voice. I am glad to say that my academic ventures and career choices have influences my younger sisters, and various female cousins to want to be successful in either academia, or career wise. I hope to make a difference in something so dear to me, by allowing myself to engage with other women, and become an advocate for their well-being. This is something I have been working on, and doing for the past year, and will continue.

References

AbuKhalil, A. (2005). Women in the Middle East. Retrieved fromhttp://www.fpif.org/reports/women_in_the_middle_east

Baker, K. (2012). Why aren’t educated Middle Eastern women joining the workforce? JEZEBEL. Retrieved from http://jezebel.com/5914988/why-arent-educated-middle-eastern-women-joining-the-workforce

Davies, C. (2012). Mideast women beat men in education, lose out at work. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/01/world/meast/middle-east-women-education

Faisal, S. (2003). Muslim girls struggle for education. BBC News. Retrieved from

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3130234.stm

Guarneieri, M. (2013). Women and the Middle East part II: Jordan- on gender education and the limits of the western imagination. Retrieved from http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php?id=1329&fulltext=1

Hassan, K. (2007). Iraq: Women forced to give up their jobs, marriages.Retrieved from http://www.irinnews.org/Report/72451/IRAQ-Women-forced-to-give-up-their-jobs-marriages

Humanitarian News and Analysis. (2007). Iraq: Women forced to give up their jobs, marriages. Retrieved from http://www.irinnews.org/Report/72451/IRAQ-Women-forced-to-give-up-their-jobs-marriages

ListVerse. (2008). 10 extreme examples of gender inequality. Retrieved fromhttp://listverse.com/2008/11/20/10-extreme-examples-of-gender-inequality/

Population Reference Bureau. (2003). Empowering women, developing society: Female education in the Middle East and North Africa. Retrieved from

http://www.prb.org/Publications/PolicyBriefs/EmpoweringWomenDevelopingSocietyFemaleEducationintheMiddleEastandNorthAfrica.aspx

Rushworth, P. (2013). Women in the Middle East. Retrieved from http://www.al-bab.com/arab/articles/text/women_studies.htm

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Feministtalk Celebrates One Year Anniversary of Publication: Middle Eastern Women Making A Difference

By: Rhonda Nemri

Achievement is one of the things that stick with us for a very long time. We strive to be successful, and be seen as successful. Being a Middle Eastern woman who is educated with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations, receiving my Master’s of Arts degree in Communication (focusing in Women’s Rhetoric and Rhetoric) in May of 2013, and Teaching Fundamentals of Speech Communication at Purdue University Calumet, has opened my insight on what it means to be successful. Teaching a communication course for the past three years, has opened my eyes to how important it is to work hard, and how easy it is to lose focus. I have dealt with many students of many different backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions. Having this diversity has helped me grow as an individual, and have an open-mind about embracing the differences around us.

Rhonda Nemri

Rhonda Nemri

I am proud to announce that I have been given the 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year Award. Which I will be thankfully receiving in April.

Being a Middle Eastern woman can be challenging at times inside the classroom, and outside of the classroom. However, I know that the obstacles that I go through as a young Middle Eastern woman, has made me want to strive to be successful, and empowering.

I have done numerous research on the treatment/mistreatment of women in many different cultures. I mainly focus on the Middle Eastern culture, and historical background to help me as a credible scholar. There are many double-standards in society that prevent women from trying to succeed. This then creates the stigma of how we should portray ourselves. Feminist theory, and research has enhanced my knowledge on feminists/cultural issues, helps open the internal, and external issues of myself, along with trying to help women like me see their strengths. It is not easy for some women to be heard, and express themselves. Articulation is one of the many things I try to achieve, and I believe education is key in a woman’s life. Many women see the difficulties of trying to become educated, or successful because of the social construction of roles. Women tend to be seen as the future wife, future mother, and future house wife. These roles are not wrong, however this is not the only thing women can do in their lives to be seen as successful. Education can be empowering, and it has empowered me. As a college educator I saw many women (in any culture) struggle with trying to stick out, or be seen as a powerful entity in the classroom. I root for those young women from all over to find their niche, and to strive to do things that makes them happy. I hope that young girls, and women see that they can do things other than being what others expect from them. My goal is to continue to teach, and empower women like myself to see their worth, and their strengths. I hope to achieve giving the voiceless a voice, and breaking the conspiracy of silence, when it comes to women who are afraid to speak up, due to family values, and morals.

I have the pleasure of knowing some of the greatest, and successful Middle Eastern women. I encourage women to be in the medical field, psychology field, communication field, teaching field, science feilds, performance arts field, etc. Women need to see that there are not limited job options for them. That they can be in male-dominated fields as well, because they do have an input, and strength to be in those field.

I would like to introduce to you the three women that have made an impact in society through their educational backgrounds, and careers. I will provide you some background information on each of these young Middle Eastern women. This also is the one year anniversary of FeministTalk. I hope to enlighten my readers with more topics to discuss. Congratulations ladies on your success, keep up your enthusiasm being successful, young Middle Eastern women. You are inspiring to me and other women.

Diana Hegazin

Diana Hegazin

Where are your from? 

I am a Chicago born native and originally of Jordanian decent.

Age? 25

What is your educational background?

I have a B.S. in Biology with a B.A. in Chemistry and Biochemistry from Lewis University.  I am currently in my last year of pharmacy school at Chicago State University

What do you do now? For how long?

I am a 4th year pharmacy student and I have been a pharmacy intern for Walgreens Pharmacy since 2008.

What are your goals for your career?

I hope to pursue a residency in clinical pharmacy and specialize in critical care. Eventually, I plan on completing my MBA and obtaining a position within the management of inpatient pharmacy.

What has been the toughest obstacle for you when trying to have a career, and being a Arab woman? Explain briefly.

The toughest obstacle has been being able to go after a long-term goal knowing the expectation that I should be married and having a family concurrently. With my goals and expectations for myself being set so high, it has been an internal battle for me as to how I can balance both while not compromising too much of my career aspirations.

What obstacles do you still face as a Middle Eastern woman?

I feel like the race has become much more accepting and progressive with education for women. However, there is always a stigma with women who don’t fit the traditional role by a certain age. It has been a struggle for me to be able to ignore those judgments and focus on what is truly important in my life.

How has education helped you shape your identity?

My education and clinical training has allowed me to grow more confident in myself as a provider to others. I am able to see my worth in the field to others and I was able to recognize my personal and professional strengths and weaknesses. I affiliate with other medical professionals and have shaped myself within that niche.

What is one thing you would tell young girls/women when it comes to education, and having a career?

My advice would be to thoroughly explore yourself first. It is crucial to make your decisions for yourself as well as take others into consideration. However, it is ultimately your mind and your career. Make sure you are knowledgeable and aware of the long-term benefits, downfalls and opportunities that you create for yourself with the completion of your training. Your hard work, persistence and dedication will definitely pay.


Where are your from? 

Chicagoland suburbs, Lansing and Jordan

Age? 24

What is your educational background?

Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education from the University of
Illinois at Chicago; with endorsements in Middle School,
English/Language Arts, and ESL/ELL Education.

What do you do now? For how long?

I am currently an ESL/ELL teacher for 2nd and 3rd graders. I have had
this position for 3 months.

What are your goals for your career?

Now that I have achieved one of my goals of getting a full-time
teaching job, I plan to gain some experience in the classroom for a
few years then go back to school to get my masters in elementary
education or ESL/ELL education.

What has been the toughest obstacle for you when trying to have a career, and being a Arab woman? Explain briefly.

The toughest obstacle now that I have started my career is the
pressure to get married and start a family. My family has been
extremely supportive and encouraging throughout my years of education
because they understand the importance of a college degree and a
career. They have also been supportive with my job search. Now that I
have begun my career, I feel that there is an automatic need for me to
start the next step in life, which is marriage. This is especially
true since I am an Arab woman. Since I have, literally, just started
my career, I would love to take time to enjoy and experience it
without needing to worry about the next big step in life so soon.
Unfortunately, in our culture, that idea is not very welcomed because
we have this imaginary expiration date which increases the pressure
even more.

How has education helped you shape your identity?

Education has definitely shaped who I am today. I have learned many
life lessons and experienced things that I know I would not have been
able to if I did not complete my education. As a college graduate, I
have been able to achieve something that many Arab woman are never
able to do and that is something I value.

What is one thing you would tell young girls/women when it comes to education, and having a career?

I tell my younger girl cousins all the time that they would be making
the biggest mistake if they decide to not continue their education
after high school. It is one thing to have a job at the mall or at a
restaurant, but when you begin your career and are working in a field
you’ve spent years studying, it makes it all worth it. There is a
sense of personal value that automatically increases. You become part
of a population that people dream of being in. No matter how hard it
may be, how long it takes, or how many obstacles come in the way, keep
your eye on the finish line because once you get there all the
struggles and stress becomes a blur. Do not let something like gender
or culture stand in your way of reaching your full potential.

Dina Nemri

Where are your from? 

I am Jordanian-American, born and raised in Chicago.

Age? 24

What is your educational background?

I have a bachelor of science in biotechnology and minor studies in psychology, from Purdue University Calumet.

What do you do now? For how long?

I work as a quality assurance analyst. Company is based on food manufacturing and I ensure safe and quality food. I’ve been doing this for about 1.5 years.

What are your goals for your career?

My goals for my career is to advance to a position that highlights my strengths and allows me to utilize my full potential. I would like to gain more experience and conduct research in my field. I hope to further my education as well, so that I may launch myself into a career that is more advanced.

What has been the toughest obstacle for you when trying to have a career, and being a Arab woman? Explain briefly.

As an Arab woman trying to have a career, I feel very limited. There are so many opportunities out there to better myself and my craft, but not being able to reach out to those places has kept me within limits. I desire the freedom to make my own decisions and not be judged for them, wherever they take me. I aspire to travel and communicate with all different types of people without thinking twice about how others will perceive me for doing so

What obstacles do you still face as a Middle Eastern woman?

I face being judged for just about anything; from the clothes that I wear to the people who I choose to be friends with. It is difficult to form bonds with people and experience new things on my own when others make decisions for me. I often become consumed with desires to be able to do things that everyone else can. It creates a caged feeling.

How has education helped you shape your identity?

Education has empowered me. It has given me an unshakeable foundation. I draw my confidence and self-esteem from countless years spent in formal schooling. It has given me the necessary tools to become the person I want to be.

What is one thing you would tell young girls/women when it comes to education, and having a career?

I would tell them that anything is possible. Anything can be achieved. Nothing is too out of reach and no one can take anything from you. I would tell them to not be afraid of taking risks and doing what it is that makes you happy.

‘Hello My Name Is Bride’: An Analysis of Weddings, Gender Roles, and Marriage

By: Rhonda Nemri

In our society today, we focus on the many things that seem important to us. One main thing that most people see as a natural process during life is marriage. Even though the marriage process is different now than ever before, we still have some historical background as to why we do the things we do, and how significant or insignificant it is when getting ready to become a married couple. As a young woman who has grown up in a Middle Eastern culture, marriage is one of (or supposed to be) the most important aspects of a woman’s life.

With the many reality televisions shows, books, and magazines, wedding planning has become a significant role for some women who plan on being married. During a graduate course that I took a couple of years back, I was involved in a research project that tailored around reality television shows such as Bridalplasty on E Network and David Tutera’s My Fair Wedding. These shows represented the many reasons why weddings have become so popular. My Fair Wedding focused on changing women’s own wedding plans into

My Fair Wedding With David Tutera

David Tutera’s vision, because her ideas were impractical to begin with, and not up to the expectations of what a perfect wedding should look like. Those women who have applied to become a part of this reality television show have agreed to let go any plans they initially had, and give up any right to say what color schemes to have, wedding themes, bridal gowns, reception hall, and bridesmaid dresses. All of this is done in order to capture a perfect wedding through the lens of a man, who seems to be popular in his career path, and one who knows more about style, and the perfect wedding. Bridalplasty focused more on altering women’s body or face so that she becomes the perfect bride. Women on a weekly basis in this show competed for a closer opportunity to get the whole package of getting plastic surgery done on her body and face before the wedding. Although this show doesn’t exist anymore because of the damage it was doing to the E network, these are the common things we see women doing when wanting to fit into their “perfect dress”, and have the princess-like fairytale wedding. After completing the rhetorical analysis and research for

Allyson’s Wish List on Bridalplasty

these shows, I have not stopped examining and looking into the wedding process and how it has changed our social lives and societal roles when it comes to weddings and marriage. In this discussion I will focus on the historical background of marriage and weddings, and how society views women and men when it comes to marriage through my feminist lens.

Historical Background of Weddings

Understanding the historical wedding traditions is something one must consider giving the fact we still practice the same views and traditional values from centuries ago. According to Simone de Beauvoir, “Modern marriage can be understood only in the light of a past that it tends to perpetuate in part” (De Beauvoir 426). Here are some things that we commonly do for weddings (These are things that I pulled from my research with my good friend/colleague Lisa Glancy (She does analysis’ on Women’s Rhetoric, and General Rhetorical Analysis’):

  •  1. During Ancient weddings couples that were to be married was not important event. Men would visit different villages to capture a woman to marry. “Wives were desired for sexual release, procreation, and household labor.” (Here Comes the Bride: History of the American Wedding). Women were often exchanged for cash or livestock for thousands of years.
  • 2. Early weddings in America were often private affairs within the families. They were held at home either at the bride’s house or the grooms (Here Comes the Bride: History of the American Wedding).
  • 3. By the 1820s and 1830s upper class weddings began to evolve and became recognizably the modern American wedding. These weddings had dinner, cake, receptions, and a toast to the bride and groom (Here Comes the Bride: History of the American Wedding).
  • 4. The phrase “Let’s Tie the Knot” or Let’s Get Hitched” is western slang about ‘hitchin’ up yer gal like a horse (The History of Wedding Traditions).  This term hitching was a process used for tying up horses.
  • 5. Bouquets and Flower Girls were symbolic meanings for the couple’s future life. Originally brides would carry wreathes and bouquets that were made up of herbs (Brideandgroom.com). Garlic was used to cast devil spirits, sage was used to bring wisdom, and dill meant that the bride was to become lusty (Brideandgroom.com). Flower Girls held sheaves of wheat that represented “growth, fertility, and renewal” (Here Comes the Bride: History of the American Wedding).
  • 6. Giving away the Bride symbolically means that the father gives her away to represent that she is no longer belonging (property) to her father. Also representing the price the groom will have to pay before taking away their daughter (Here Comes the Bride: History of the American Wedding).
  • 7. Shoes tied on the back bumper this symbolizes authority and possession because the brides shoes is taken away from her when led to the wedding place, and given to the groom by her father. This transfer means that her husband is now in possession of her and could not run away (Here Comes the Bride: History of the American Wedding).
  • 8. Veils represent virginity, innocence, and modesty. Also in Middle Eastern and Asian countries women were to wear veils so that their groom does not see them.
  • 9. Wedding dresses in biblical times were the color blue which represented purity not white. White wedding dresses became popular in the middle ages by Anne of Brittany in 1499 (Here Comes the Bride: History of the American Wedding).
  • 10. Wedding rings in medieval times had the brides three fingers bound to represent the father, the son, and Holy Spirit. (Here Comes the Bride: History of the American Wedding). Wedding rings came from the idea that women were wrapped around in chains and ropes, to ensure her spirits do not leave her (Here Comes the Bride: History of the American Wedding).
  • 11. Bridal Showers rooted back in Holland. If the father did not approve of her husband-to-be, he would not give her a dowry. Therefore her friends will then shower her with gift to replace her father’s dowry. The bride will then be able to still marry the man of her choice.

Marriage through My Feminist Lens

For a while now, the thought of marriage has been roaming through my head. It isn’t the fact that I am not married yet; it is the fact that women have taken marriage to a different level. I shouldn’t just state that only women are like this, it is all genders, cultural backgrounds, and different generations. Looking at the historical backgrounds of each traditional aspect, as a society today, we have definitely taken those traditions and have expanded on things that are not really necessary, or valuable to us. I am not one who is opposed to marriage, because I want to be married someday, however as I fully get exposed to the marriage process, I have come to the realization that a lot of these traditions are non-sense, and take away from the actual reasoning of marriage.

When looking at the traditions such as giving away the daughter from one man to the other, this is quite present in our society today. We can notice that we hardly ever see the mother playing as one of the major roles in giving her daughter away. Some have stated that they have involved their mothers in the wedding planning, but we can also state that the father is ultimately the one that gives his daughter’s hand away. It is also a symbolism that the father (patriarchy) will pass off his daughter to the next patriarchy in her life (her husband). According to Simone De Beauvoir, “what bourgeois optimism has to offer to the engaged girl is certainly not love; the bright ideal held up to her is that of happiness, which means the ideal of quiet equilibrium in a life of immanence and repetition” (De Beauvoir 447). In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir described marriage as an “obscene bourgeois institution” (Wolf). Women inessential and man is essential. Women are the other whereas man is the absolute. “All love requires the duality of a subject and an object” (De Beauvoir 629). A woman is seen as just the other in the relationship. The subject of her life is her man, her husband, and her soul mate.

Men and women are placed as the subject/object when they form a union. It is not commonly based on love, however based on the economic decisions that the couple makes. People get married because this is society’s expectations. Often times women will escape their father and mothers household to become free, yet she is not really free once married. She will take on the roles of wife and mother, by cooking and cleaning, and taking care of her children and husband. “Marriages, then, are not generally founded upon love…the husband is, so to speak, never more than a substitute for the beloved man, not that man himself” (De Beauvoir 434). Even though some men don’t view themselves as domineering or taking control of the marriage, the socially constructed norms of how a marriage should be is that the man is always the “man of the house”, and the women negates herself for her man so that he can feel whole (hence women stay home cook, clean, and raise the children). I can see a lot of people being open-minded about marriage these days, but I feel that what happens before the marriage is what intrigues me as well.

Since women are commonly seen as the other, she is also seen this way before she is even married. For instance, Something’s I have noticed lately in my culture is that a young lady/woman is always looked at as a future bride.  In the Middle Eastern culture even when she is not with a man or not even getting married she is still referred to as a bride. In Arabic this is known as Ahroose (Ah-roose). She is constantly referred to as the bride because in the eyes of the Arab society she will one day be the wife of a man. Also generally speaking, women when engaged are always referred to as the bride. If you notice in some television shows such as Say Yes to the Dress, she is always referred to as the bride and not her name. In my culture even after she has gotten married, she is still referred to as the “bride”. She holds the most prestigious role, and that means she is now married and responsible to take on her life, and to finally be recognized as a woman. The bride must always be beautiful, perfect body shape, perfect dress, perfect make-up, and perfect hair. All of this is lovely; however, the grooms’ roles are very much different. Even though some grooms are included in the wedding planning, he is still just seen as a man/groom and not ridiculed for how he looks on the day of the wedding by the guests. The fact that grooms are rarely involved in any of the production (frequently only appearing in the ceremony and reception after all arrangements have been made); it would be easy to paint them as subjects, who anticipate the coming of their objects of desire. Women have the capability to exceed any oppressive situation that they are in, but they reject this choice – either because they believe there is no other way out, or because they are content with adhering to traditional societal expectations.

Another aspect of marriage I want to focus on is the idea of women changing their surname. Even though it is a never-ending cycle of using a man’s surname, women are often joyous and exhilarated to take their husband’s surname. Since women often take their fathers surname, it is quite evident that using a man’s last name is something that we cannot rid. However, the idea that society sees when changing the surname is to make the marriage official, and connected to the man much more. Some women choose to hyphenate their names using their last names and their husband’s last names, but legally, she is always expected to have her husband’s name, never the other way around. For example, we may often hear (example name), “I would now like to introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Johnson. You hardly ever hear a woman’s name included when presenting both couples, because it is now the man who represents her. From my perspective, I believe keeping a last name is more of an identity that you choose to maintain in your life because as a person you have established your life with that name. Whether good or bad experiences occurring, that last name has gone with us throughout our lives. Ideally I would like to keep my last name, however both parties must be willing to compromise and see the reasons why a woman would want to keep her name. Nonetheless, the changing of the surname is a significant process in the marriage to conclude the bonding stage of the couples.

Seeing it that there are many different cultures who have different traditions for their ceremonies, I will talk about the American/Arab culture who mainly derive around Christian-like traditions. The ceremony being a huge part of the wedding, it is also apparent that the father walks his daughter down the aisle. However, the ceremony is usually concluded with a phrase “I will now pronounce you man and wife”. In this situation some ceremonies have changed a bit and state “man and woman”, or “husband and wife”, however the statement “man and wife” very much occurs during the conclusion’s of the ceremony. Women are still seen as the wife, because that is ultimately her role, while the man is just a man, who will always be a man and nothing else. He is a husband; however he is only referred to that label when it is convenient. He is the provider, man of his house, the one who works, while he expects his wife to be at home and take care of house duties and cooking. I know the controversy behind all of this is that not all men are like this. I agree, they aren’t, but in my perspective the majority is. I have analyzed a lot of things lately and have just heard women say that it is our “job” to be in the house and have kids. I don’t necessarily see it as a job, I see it as a natural human obligation to take care of their home, not because of our gender but because it is our priority, and not an expectation. I believe when it comes to marriage or any relationship, a man shouldn’t expect his wife/ woman to do house chores; this is something that must be 50/50 between the two.

“The tragedy of marriage is not that it fails to assure woman the promised happiness-there is no such thing as assurance in regards to happiness-but that it mutilates her; it dooms her to repetition and routine” (De Beauvoir 478). “As long as the man retains economic responsibility for the couple, this is only an illusion. It is he who decides where they will

Sarcasm

live, according to the demands of his work; she follows him from city to country or vice versa, to distant possessions, to foreign countries; their standard of living is set according to his income; the daily, weekly, annual rhythms are set by his occupation; associations and friendships most often dependent on his profession” (480).  The women must basically give up her identity and alter it to her husband’s identity. It is she who must change not the man, because ultimately he is the” ruler of his kingdom”.

Conclusions

Weddings are occurring in every possible culture, it is the bonding of two people who will remain together and hopefully forever. A society begins new traditional values of weddings and marriage, and the old ones still very much occur in our lives. As a we can see women have these roles that they must go by, and same for men. I believe that because women are so used to these roles, they believe that these traditions are the true meaning of happiness and love. Women will always dream of that day when she wears the dress, and becomes the center of attention. Nonetheless, women should also focus on not being labeled always as bride, because the label bride becomes an identity that she must fulfill, when she shouldn’t. The wedding planning, colors, dresses, make-up is an inevitable process for wedding planning, and is something I am sure I will come across when I get married, however, women shouldn’t just focus on fulfilling the brides image, and what societies expectations of her should be. We should be involved in becoming subjects, and connect with our mate on a deeper level, and not just focus on the petty things like colors, food, music, etc. These are important to consider for a lovely day, but shouldn’t be the reasons why we lose our minds just to become a perfect bride. When we try to be the perfect bride, we lose sight of who we are because we then become too focused on changing our appearance for others, and not for ourselves. Shows like Say Yes to the Dress, are shows that market and sell what a bride should have, and how she should look. The more we watch these shows, the more we begin to want something we can’t have, or want something that is only fitting for others.

Surely the wedding industry will continue to make their money, however if one chooses to create the perfect wedding, choose it to be your idea of what perfect is, and not what some else’s idea of perfect is. Finally, in a marriage it should not just focus on duties, and expectations of each other. Women should not always be associated with roles such as wife, or housewife. Indeed, these are things that a women becomes when she is married, however, let us not focus on the fact that she is a servant to her husband. A man shouldn’t expect his wife to be the one to do everything for him just because he makes the money and provide, he should allow his wife to be herself, and explore all possible opportunities that she may have. Opportunities such as educations, working, traveling, etc., and not just feel that when she gets married her aspirations and wants in life diminishes for the sake of her marriage. Let’s not focus on just the man having a job to support, and focus on both being able to be successful, and supporting each other. This is something that has been roaming through my mind, and has been something I have always wanted to bring up. Not only does this occur in the Middle Eastern cultures, it occurs in a lot of other cultures. I have been watching young women (even older) talk about these things that bothers them about marriage and their potential future. Struggling with their thoughts of whether to not go forward with their education or to stop their education for marriage. I have also seen women who focus so much on becoming perfect and not accepting herself, only because she has societal expectations to fulfill. It is hard for one to remove their mindset from something they are so used to. But the more we start changing our mindset on things that may or will better us, the more we have a healthy and positive traditions that we pass on for the future. Working together, and helping others see that their life is valuable, is something that is much-needed.

References

Bride and Groom. Retrieved from http://brideandgroom.com/

De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Vintage Books: New York, 1989 .

Here Comes the Bride: History of the American Wedding. 2007. 5 April 2011
<www.randomhistory.com/1-50.009wedding.html>.

The History of Wedding Traditions. 2006. 20 March 2011 <www.brideandgroom.com>wedding-
articles/wedding-traditions-2.asp>.

My Hair, My Identity, My Security, My Protection: The Veiled and Unveiled Symbolism of Hair and Image

By: Rhonda Nemri

Since the day we are born, we either have a full head of hair, slightly full, or barely any hair. Ultimately we have hair. Our hair is symbolic to us. Virgin or pure hair, meaning never been touched by hair dye or chemicals infused to either make your hair flat, wavy or curly, is what makes your hair labeled as natural. “In simple terms, the average speed of hair growth is roughly 1.25 centimeters or 0.5 inches per month, being about 15 centimeters or 6 inches per year” (“How To Make Your Hair Grow Faster”).  Our hair is a valuable part of our body that we hold on to, whether we are male or female. Men are known to have receding hair lines, go completely bald, or have grey hair when they age. It is quite possible that men and woman can get grey hair at a young age due to genetic or stress levels. Women also lose their hair definitely during stress, use of products, pregnancy, or illness. It is not likely to see a woman going bald in comparison to a man, but it definitely occurs.

In order to fit the image that the top hair product corporations portray, you must purchase items such as relaxers, shampoo, conditioner, organic serum that nurtures the hair to bring back its natural oils, hair gel and mousse, hair growing kits, so on and so forth. There are many items to choose from and different brands that all promise you the same things: soft, unfrizzy, less splitends, and volume. But it is up to the customer to decide what brand fits them best. Advertisements on television, in magazines, and billboards portray the very images of how to sell their products using the very obvious advertisement technique; models. Advertisements make you feel like there is something wrong with your hair so that you can purchase your own hair regimen to improve the texture, softness, and shine, the same way as the model with perfect hair. Hardly you see women who have short hair advertising shampoo, hair spray, mousse, or gel. It is always women hair models (usually celebrities) with long, beautiful hair, in which their hair is most likely video edited to look natural and healthy. These very images that we see in ads, are the very images that affect are ways of thinking when it comes to how we should have our hair, and how we should take care of it in order to look beautiful. Which brings me to discuss the importance of hair and its symbols in culture and religion.

Cultural and Religious Symbols of Hair

The reason why I chose to write about this is because I see my hair as something very valuable, secure, and my protection. I see hair as something that is beautiful, but something that is symbolic for many reasons in society. From when we are young, we are familiar with what makes a man and what makes a woman. However, as a child you don’t really understand or grasp the full concept of the physical and biological factors of what makes a man and a woman; children just notice hair being a key factor. Boys have short hair, girls have long hair. In many cultures hair is very valuable, and we can definitely see the symbolism of hair through different cultures and religions. In Christianity, Islam, Hindu and, Buddhism both women and men cover their hair; however, it is much more likely to see a women covering her hair for religious, or cultural purposes.  In both Westernized and modern days the hijab/veil is quite familiar, and is used to cover a woman’s hair. In Christianity we see this with nuns who show their purity and commitment to God by abstaining from modernized clothing, and covering their hair and body.  Hair is also a symbolic treasure when a child gets baptized in the catholic or orthodox church. “After confirming the child, the priest cuts three locks of hair from his (or HER) head. This is an expression of gratitude for receiving God’s blessings in baptism and confirmation. Having nothing to give in return, the gift of his (or HER) hair is a symbol of strength like Samson) is a promise to serve God with all his strength” (“Baptism in the Greek Orthodox Church”).  Through Islamic traditions the hijab is seen in a different light, however does represent some similarities. According to Lane, the meanings of the word hijab are: “a thing that prevents, hinders, debars, or precludes; a thing that veils, conceals, hides, covers, or protects, because it prevents seeing, or beholding”. “The hijab also means a partition, a bar, a barrier, or an obstacle. In the Qur’an, the word hijab appears seven times, in five instances as hijab (noun) and twice as hijaban (noun). Neither hijab nor hijaban is used in the Qur’an in reference to what Muslims (and non-Muslims) today call the hijab, that is, a Muslim women’s dress code. In most cases, the Qur’an uses the word hijab in a metaphysical sense, meaning illusion or referring to the illusory aspect of creation” (Ruby 55).

Of course in different religions and cultures, the veil/hijab has its own connotation to some.  People view the hijab or veil as something that covers the woman’s hair in order to remove the male gaze. Perhaps it is to also remove one’s ability from seeing one of the most purest component of a woman or girl; her hair. However, I do have my questions and opinions about one’s idea of purity and sacredness to God is through a piece of fabric that covers the head of a woman or girl from the outside world. I believe that every woman should be able to choose who she is, and how she wants to be. Whether covering her hair or not. The controversial issues of oppression behind the covering of one’s hair are often portrayed through scholarly works, media, and books. I do not know what it is like to cover my hair, because I never tried it, but I often question why one chooses to cover something that is so beautiful, and have to feel they have to hide something in hopes of removing the chances of a man viewing you as a sexual object or gaze at you. I tend to believe with or without the veil the male gaze is quite present, and probably won’t go away. Some women, whether Islamic, Christian, Hindu, etc., have their own purposes of choosing to wear the veil for either religious purposes or their own personal choices. It could be their own protection and valuable entity that grants them piece, purity, and a closer connection to their identity and God. However, this is not why I am writing this piece. I am writing this to highlight what my hair means to me, how it is part of my identity, and what it means to others/society.

My Hair, My Identity, My Security, My Protection

I tend to look through old pictures of me and family members when we were children, and I noticed that I went through many phases with hair styles. I had very long hair that reached the bottom of my back, shoulder length hair, and even hair to my ears; the very famous bowl haircut. Although I didn’t understand that my hair was part of my identity, therefore if someone cut my hair really short, I didn’t care. I remember at a young age, probably 5 or 6, my cousin who is a year older than me was going to the salon to cut her hair very short; what I like to call the “boy haircut”; short and very easy to manage. I wanted to come along with her to the salon, and while I was there, I decided I wanted the same exact haircut. I don’t remember the exact reasons; however, I did know I wanted to be like her. When you are around the same people constantly at a young age and play with them, you tend to want to pursue and obtain the same things that they have to feel complete or significant. I don’t think I really understood what it meant to have short or long hair, I just wanted short hair.

After that part of my life, my hair was whatever my mother wanted my hair to look like, or if I needed a quick trim. Either bangs, short, medium, or long hair; this is what I had. I did at times have a say in what I wanted, but when I got to high school, I started experimenting with my own hair. I felt I needed to look a certain way, and hold this image that I tend to see other girls in my high school have. I never accepted my hair the way it was. I always dyed it lighter than what it naturally is, got a perm my junior year of high school, and somehow accidentally managed to dye my hair the color reddish/orange by my senior graduation. The girls I went to high school with had always dyed their hair or had curly hair. While in high school I believe whether boy or girl, we tend to go through the many phases when trying to fit in. I tried to be my own person especially through my personality and character traits. However, it was always about hair and image that I always tried to change to fit societal expectations. My hair however, was long in high school. I remember getting asked a question by a classmate, “Is your hair real?” I was taken aback by this question, and thought to myself, “Now why in the hell would my hair be fake?” I was naïve to even think that it was possible for women to add extensions or wear a wig. I just generally thought my long hair was easy to obtain. Of course that arrogance was soon diminished and I realized that hair is something important to one, because so many women try to add in hair that isn’t theirs to feel some security and fitting to what society expects from women.

As I mentioned, my hair after high school was always long. It was my shield, my protections, and my security. I remember in my first year of college I went to get a haircut, and it went all wrong. She cut most of it off. It went from my lower back to my shoulders. I didn’t quite understand why she did this to me, because I never asked for a short haircut, just a trim. As I ran my fingers through what I thought would be long wavy hair, it was gone. I cried for days trying to find ways to cover myself, and explain to people this wasn’t what I wanted, so that they don’t think this is how I wanted to look.

In present day, my hair is long and has its natural brown hair color. I get it trimmed every 6-8 weeks or whenever I have time to go get it cut. I usually maintain my hair certain ways. I don’t usually use a straightener or blow dryer unless I need to. I tend to let it air dry, and it has a little natural wave. I get numerous compliments on it a lot, or asked if it is real. I’ve even gotten offers to cut it all off and sell it. Some people tell me to never cut it, some tell me I should be in hair commercials, and others tell me to cut about 5-6 inches off. I appreciate the compliments, and try to be humble about it. I am known as the “girl with the beautiful long hair.” However, what really puzzles me is that people see my hair as who I only am. They believe my hair is a part of me and only me. If I were to shave off my hair, then I am no longer the person they seen before, If I cut it to shoulder length then I am still looked at differently, and if I kept it long, then this is the most accepting look for me. I tend to get people who tell me to chop it all off, and get a new style. However, as much as I do want to chop it all off and donate it; I can’t seem to mentally get myself to do it. It has become a part of my identity that I can’t seem to let go. It is my protection when I cry, it is my protection if I break out, and it is my protection from others to not ridicule me for having short hair. My dream is to cut it short without someone judging me for it being short. I tend to believe that without my hair, it is what makes my face look the way it is. Society tends to believe that hair is what makes beauty and that if you have a beautiful or well-structured face; then this is when short hair fits properly on you.  This comes to my question of the veil or hijab that one must think about. If a woman has a beautiful face (or what your own definition of what beautiful is), yet covers her hair, isn’t she still attracting the other sex? I often believe that the hijab is becoming part of our socially constructed society, and a fashion statement for some. One can appreciate the beauty of the preciously woven fabric that a woman puts on her head, however if she takes the time to properly place a beautiful piece on her head, then that contradicts what the hijab is stating. With these last few statements I am not demeaning the hijab/veils purpose, I am simply questioning why cover something so natural and beautiful with something so fashionable and beautiful? This then should go back to my statement of feeling some identity or connection with God, which is fine, however it is still amusing and very interesting to see how societal norms have pushed women to be and act a certain way to fit in the expectations of what a woman should look like, whether covered or uncovered.

The process of self-objectification is something that women tend to go through when trying to feel and obtain the image that society is expecting from women. “Self-objectification may be conceived of as one consequence of dominant sexist ideologies that justify and preserve the social status quo by gaining the compliance of women, despite the fact that gender inequality inflicts significant costs upon girls and women as individuals and as a group” (as seen in Calogero and Jost 224). Women will somehow feel they have to conform to societal roles and what each gender characteristic should entail. Since girls or woman should have medium to long hair, then this makes her a true woman. Anything shorter or comparable to what a man’s hair length should be, she is not seen purely as woman, she is seen as woman wanting to be masculine, because of her choice in hair length. I still struggle when trying to make the decision to cut my hair shorter than what it is. It will definitely be my choice if I want it short, medium, or long. It is part of my identity because I have made it part of my identity. I envy those women who do cut their hair short. I am sure it is an experience that is life changing for some, and it could be an empowering moment for them. This is something I am not sure why women do it, though, I want to do it because I want to be known for something else more than my hair, and perhaps a new look for me. I want to feel that whatever decision I made with my hair is because I want it, and not what society wants.

Women in the Middle Eastern culture (including myself) are often known for their dark, wavy, and thick hair. It is an attribute that should stick with them. One of the main desires for a man is for his wife to have beautiful hair. A woman’s soft, long locks bring a sense of security for both men and woman. It is fulfilling to have something wave from side to side and get blown in the wind to resemble the soft seductiveness of her persona. Trying to fit into something you are just not quite for is a hard thing to do. The statement I often hear is “why fit in, when you can stand out.” Which has some truth to it. As women, we need to find ourselves not condoning the patriarchal ways of what a woman should be. Though image is one of the most important aspects of our lives, and I am one to admit that I do have insecurities, however, I do realize that the insecurities I have are through the self-surveillance that I have about myself. Though each day I become more and more authentic, I believe women can be too, if they allow themselves. I don’t claim I know everything, but I can claim that these ideas and opinions that I pointed out do occur. There is also more to understand about the hijab/veils and religious values that I have not covered in here.  My hair is me, but not only me, it is my identity, but not my full identity, it is my security, not my insecurity. I do appreciate beautiful hair, whether long, short, medium, buzzed, curly, wavy, covered, and uncovered. I will continue to appreciate the compliments given to me about my hair, and think of it as something that is partially who I am. We all have something beautiful about us that we must appreciate. Appreciate it because you do, not because someone else appreciates it. Until then, I will continue to walk through the aisles of cosmetics stores looking at comparisons of shampoo, and continue to ponder the idea of cutting my hair short in the future.

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References

Baptism in the Greek Orthodox Church. Webhttp://www.kimisis.org/Orthodoxy/Baptism.html

Calogero, Rachel, M., and Jost, John, T. Self-subjugation Among Women: Exposure to Sexist Ideology, Self-objectification, and the Protective Function of the Need to Avoid Closure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. (2011) : 100.2, 211-228.

How to Make Your Hair Grow Faster. Web. http://www.howtomakeyourhairgrowfast.net/how-fast-does-hair-grow.html

Ruby, Tabassum , F. Listening to the Voice of Hijab. Women’s Studies International Forum. (2006): 29. 54-66.

Middle Eastern Culture & Feminist Views(April 18 Article)

By: Rhonda Nemri

We hold on to things that are valuable to us. The means of those things can stick with us forever, or they can be reconstructed into things we don’t want to be a part of. Our identity is shaped throughout our lives. Identity is everything to us. However, what happens when you want to reject the identity that has been ascribed to you since you were born? Culture plays a huge role in our lives, whether we like it or not, it is and always will be around us. As Simone de Beauvoir stated:

“One is not born, but rather becomes a woman. No biological psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine” (The Second Sex 267).

Biologically women are seen as the child bearers, but socially, we our females, wives, mothers, and the other. Culture is not only based on whether you belong to an ethnic background, culture is the definition of your life through social, morals, values, norms, etc. We all have some sort of norms that we go by, whether it is norms we learn from family, friends, our careers,or societal norms. I will discuss the double-standard in general and then apply it to the Middle Eastern culture, how the double standard affects women today, and what it’s like being a Middle Eastern feminist in a male dominated culture.

One might think, “well the double standard occurs in all different kinds of cultures, including the American culture.” Yes, this is very true and sadly it does exist everywhere. As much as we can say women are equal to men; they work, go to school, they get to vote, etc. However, there are still societal issues that deal with a women that stops her from really indulging in the things she wants to do in her life and not what society wants her to do. The double-standard, is a standard that when comparing a man and woman, there are things that women can’t do, or get judged on because they are a woman, while the man is free to do whatever he likes without society pressuring him or judging him on his actions. We live in a socially constructed society, where men make the money, run the household, pay the bills, and there is no real biological factor for him other than procreating with a woman.

One of my favorite quotes by Simone de Beauvoir has a similar approach to the double-standard. “Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female-whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male” (Brainy Quotes, 2012). In other words, anytime a woman wants to step outside the box, in a socially-disruptive society, then she is acting like a man and not ladylike. In my personal experience, whenever I had an opinion of some sort or show any anger, I was told “all of a sudden you want to speak up and act like a man.”  In this patriarchal society that has been constructed on the bases that men are in control, it is hard for women to match up to a man. Women don’t want to be men; we just want to be recognized as equals to men. When growing up girls have always been told to act nice, sweet, pretty, play with dolls and act ladylike, while the boy is a rough, dirty, acts out, and should like cars and play with firetrucks. Anytime this girl acts like a boy she is considered what society calls a “tomboy.” If I were to ever play sports or act rough, then I was automatically considered a tomboy, but could never be androgynous, because girls should always act feminine and not both feminine and masculine.

A woman is to be looked at as honorable and no flaws or faults, where a man can have as many faults as he can and not be ridiculed the same way a woman has. Men having hectic sexual relations with many women make a man to be honored and accepted within the society. However if a woman were to do the same thing, then she is dirty, used, and will never be an honorable woman. Hardly ever men’s irresponsible actions destroy his social image: he is forgiven easily. A woman’s image at the same time is fragile and can easily get destroyed. This is painfully true, especially in my culture. 

Metaphorically speaking, in the Middle Eastern culture, a women is very fragile and if she breaks she cannot be fixed.She is just like a glass fixture. Therefore, if she does anything wrong she is doomed. In the Middle East, honor is on a high pedestal. This does go for both men and women, however if a man and a woman were to do the same exact mistake, the woman will be scrutinized and is dishonorable because she is a woman. Just recently, I read in an article about a woman in Morocco, who was raped by a man, despite the fact she was sexually abused, her family forcefully pushed her to marry the man who raped her. She had no choice, but because she dishonored her family the only thing left to do was marry him or be killed. Unfortunately, she committed suicide because of the fact that she was about to have a forced marriage. The problem with this is, the man would be let free if he were to marry her, while the woman is forced in a marriage because of something she had no control over. The word honor has been misused. It has become something where if a woman does anything to dishonor her family, she is then the shame of the family. While the man is allowed to be aggressive or sexually aggressive because it is the “man’s nature” to be this way.

The Middle Eastern culture has a set of norms, values and morals. A lot of Middle Eastern countries encompass Islamic doctrines. Christian Arabs have used this religion as their foundations for cultural norms.  From my personal experience, not all are this way, however most Arab families have strict tendencies and close knit traditions.  Religious and cultural values have a big impact on the Middle Eastern heritage.

A woman in this culture has a set of duties that she must fulfill in her life. This in-tales marriage and having children. She is also expected to be married by the ages of 18-24. If she is not married by this time, then something must be wrong with her. It is easy for her to be judged because she is not married. Often you may hear “No man will want her if she is old”, “She will not be able to have kids if she marries old”. But because it has been socially constructed that women must marry and bear children, then she must follow this. If these norms are not met then something is wrong with her. When I reflect on my life, I know that being married at a young age does not make me a woman. Because women in my family married before 25, this means I should too. I know that what I have chosen is not based off of my inabilities to be married or find someone. It is because I know that I want to fulfill my destiny by accomplishing my wants and not everyone else’s wants.

Men have their moments of being pushed to marriage, however not for the same reasons. When a man gets married it is so that he can come home to house that is clean with his wife standing there waiting to greet him at the door with dinner ready on the table. This doesn’t mean I have to do this, however, these are the reasons why many men are pushed to get married, so that their mothers can stop taking care of them, and their wife can. A man can get married at 35 and this is normal, while a woman who gets married at 35 is not accepted.

Even though this is occurring in other cultures including the American culture, in the Middle Eastern culture, marriage for a woman, is the definition of being a “real” woman. It is not until marriage that she is able to be rationale, make decisions, and go out when she wants to. Even though this type of freedom is given to her, she is still under the patriarchy when she marries her husband. Once she leaves her parents home, her parents are no longer responsible for her, and the decisions that she makes. It is now the husbands duty to take “care” of her. When we look back at the marriage process, for hundreds of years it is always respectful to ask for the woman’s hand in marriage. The groom to be must go to the father, and then when the wedding day comes it is the father who is giving his daughter away (hardly the mother). She goes from one patriarchy to the other.

There is this community of women who are married, who feel that they have something in common with each other. Whereas the single woman in the background has no idea how to wash dishes, make dinner, or make decisions of their own because she is not married. The sad part about all of this is that these are woman who think this way, because they have internalize the patriarchal ways of knowing as their own ways of knowing, and have rejected their own view of the world. These women only add to the double-standard that society already creates. 

The double-standard affects women because society has created this standard for how woman should act and be. If we continue to perpetuate these standards, then how is it that women are gaining rights and freedom? Why must a women be dishonorable if she is at fault? She is not allowed to make mistakes, while the man is able to make mistakes and it’s okay. We should be allowed to both be able to make mistakes and learn from them, and not be tormented and scrutinized for our mistakes. Yes woman can be doctors, lawyers, professors, etc. However, these women in these jobs are still discriminated against and still are in this box where they should act a certain way. Even though we are in these prestigious jobs, these jobs STILL pays us (women) less than a man.

Me being a Middle Eastern feminist has created issues for some. Because I do not follow the socially constructed ways a woman should be, then I am wrong. A lot of times I would be talking to people from my culture and the moment they find out I am a feminist, they have their opinions (which is fine) however they try to warn me to be careful when I speak up because if I do it the wrong way then I am acting masculine. This is the problem, and not only is this coming from men it comes from women also. I need to act feminine, so that I can find a man and get married. Because since I am a feminist, then it is going to be harder for me to be accepted. But why wouldn’t a man want a women who thinks, is intellectual, and wants to be free from anything that oppresses her? It is the fact of being empowered, and strong to face those who have little to no confidence in you.Yes, it is hard for my family to understand my motives, but it is only hard for them because they are only used to what they know, and what they want to know. Don’t get me wrong, I am respectful, open-minded to other views, caring, and loving. But, being a feminist shouldn’t be an issue, being a feminist made me a better, open-minded, accepting of others views, and empowered person. One needs to be open minded and not controlling of others lives. If women do not speak up whether they are middle eastern or any other culture, then they will always be stuck in what society wants them to do, rather than women deciding what they want to do. Since the Middle Eastern culture is rather dominated by men, it is always harder for me to reach those men to understand what I believe in. Since I am a woman, then I do not know what I am talking about. I believe that I have not rejected my culture completely, however I have rejected the ways that this culture thinks what is best for me. I do enjoy the music, poets, family gathering, food, etc., however this is not whats making me reject the culture, it is the socially constructed norms that I reject.

*Note: Anything italicized in this blog is taken from an article I wrote that is published in the  Communication journal called Pastels (Purdue University Calumet). I will give you the website of the Pastels to read the full article on the double-standard and also other articles written in this journal. http://pastelsjournal.org/third-volume/

Please take a look at these websites that offer many author’s on Feminism in the Middle East.

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/jor.html  Feminism in Jordan

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/egy.html Feminism in Egypt

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/pal.html Feminism in Palestine

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/ira.html Feminism in Iran

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/isr.html Feminism in Israel

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/sau.html Feminism in Saudi Arabia

http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/leb.html Feminism in Lebanon