Sunday, April 8, 2007

Cultural Crap

As a Saudi citizen, I’m a stakeholder in the future of this country. Unlike some critics who criticize this country from an outsider’s perspective, change- or rather lack thereof- directly affects my family’s lives. Many things I try to point out in my blog are things that some Saudis have become complacent about and don't question the logic or the why's behind it-they just go along with it. That's not OK with me. Having grown up outside of the culture, I'm able to distinguish between cultural Islam and real Islam immediately. No one can pull a fast one on me by giving me the answer "haram" and I consider my culture-free insight into our religion a blessing. I’m not the only one with issues about this topic; what is Islamic and what is Saudi- they’re not the same after all. The Saudi blogs are full of people, some more constructive intentions than others, with similar issues (read comments too). Many of us (not all of course) criticize because we want our country to improve so it can realize its glorious potential, as a truly Islamic nation.

Whether or not I can go to the fruit market may seem insignificant in comparison to the issue of forced divorces…but it’s one of those small cultural issues I’m faced with on a daily basis which add up and build up. Another example from many, some try to argue that riding 4wheelers isn't something that girls should do. They say ridiculous things like "maybe the wind will blow her veil or abaya and she'll be uncovered" or my favorite, "it's undignified". Oh, for God's sake get over yourselves. No, riding a 4wheeler isn’t a necessity of life but, why not? Was it a necessity of life for our Prophet (PBUH) to have a footrace with his young wife Aisha (RAA) or a food fight with his wives? Fun’s a part of Islam too.

I’ve seen women on TV in Iran, covered properly, doing everything from sliding down enormous inflated slides to engaging in sporting activities. Iranian women really seem to be go-getters and I want to know more about them. It may just be a faulty observation by a Sunnia, but it looks like Shia women don’t have as much cultural BS to deal with as we Sunnis do. They appear to have more freedom of movement and go about their business normally. I need to ask my Shia friends about this. Comparing notes is a favorite activity between me and a Shia lady from Qatif. What we’ve found is there are more similarities than differences, and the differences are not so important to cause the huge divide that exists between the two groups in this country….but that’s another post. They’re usually the only ones I see out on their own and in places I can’t go because it’s a ‘shame’. You go Shia girls!

The funny thing is it’s not just the men, women too are limiting our activities with similar arguments. I went 4 wheeling with several of my teenage nieces, my sister-in-law, and my two daughters at a popular spot on the edge of the city. We went when it was almost dark and to a location which wasn’t full of men and during the work week when there wasn’t a lot of people gathered there. We had a great time and I’m glad my husband isn’t of the ‘stick-in-the-mud’ variety of men who would dismiss our desire to go and play. We all remained covered, our laughter was unheard by any men, and my husband was the only male in the bunch. What did my mother-in-law have to say about our activity, “qalilat il adab! (we don’t have good manners)”. There was a whole piece in one of the Arabic newspapers here about women 4wheeling last year- I can’t remember which one though. The gist was when men were interviewed and asked whether it was OK for women to go 4wheeling, many of them responded “yes”. Then the interviewer asked if it was OK for their sisters, mom, wife, etc to go and almost all of them said “NO”. hmmmmmm.

It's amazing how almost everything fun here that involves outside your house has to be an issue of indecency. They have no religious basis for most of it, it’s a tool of repression used by feeble men who aren't respected outside their own households so they have to lord their 'authority' over their womenfolk.

Real men are willing to challenge the status quo if something isn't right and especially if it means standing up for someone other than themselves. If it were only African Americans and women standing up for their rights, their rights would have never been granted to them. It's because people outside those groups could recognize the unfairness of their treatment and joined the bandwagon. One must pick one's battles carefully. Even if men aren't willing to challenge the status quo head on, they must be willing to at least consider the prevailing opinion's absurdity. We’re not to the point that my husband is willing to take us 4 wheeling on the busiest days with a lot of men passing by us in cars but, he’s willing to take us. That speaks volumes here.


Sand Gets in My Eyes said...

SSW - Thank you for writing this - for saying this - for sharing this with me and all the others out here. Thanks for not being ok with complacency and blind obedience. I am so glad you are a stakeholder here!

Margrave said...

It might be for different reasons, but I'm with your husband on the issue of quad biking when it's busy.
My wife and I quad bike regularly with friends but we've only gone once when it's busy and we won't go again. It was an act of severe self restraint on my part to not punch every idiot guy who thought that doing doughnuts around the women in our group in his 4x4 was cool.
Fathers (and mothers!) please educated them better.
By the way - you have an excellent blog, I will certainly be back!

Nzingha said...

I go 4 wheeling all the time, granted when it isn't busy because I don't do well with crowds to begin with. I call this a phobia of the hymen and it isn't just about 4 wheelers, look at the idea of wome exercising on a bike. Even small girls are forbidden what I consider normal. This ties into virginity and the need to sexualize every single act of a woman. As if there is some sexual sensation from riding a bike or 4 wheeling. Or some obsurd thinking a woman will loose hear virginity when riding.

RIDE ON I say.

saudi stepford wife said...

Well, I rode bikes from an early age and still got married...apparently it's not THAT much fun;P

If you look back at western history, bikes and driving cars/buggies were masculine activities as well. I was reading in one English newspaper a couple of years ago, an avid lady cyclist, 80something, recalling how in her youth it was improper for a young lady to ride bikes. Apparently a natural societal evolution needs to take place here too.

Anonymous said...

I read this and laughed, although maybe a bit hollowly. You see, I asked my husband (read:begged) if we girls could ride the family horses, out on his farm by Al Wafra (on the KSA border, as it would be).

His response? "In jannah insha Allaah".

I pleaded, I begged, I offered to borrow one of his thawbs and ghutra and put on a white niqaab..(I was joking but you get the idea) just so I wouldn't be "marked" as his majnooni wife. no go. 5 minutes later I gave it up - for now - because his arab temper was rising.

Some things I have to accept because I married a Kuwaiti - it's that simple. And complicated, sometimes.

Same as taking a walk in my neighborhood. It's completely bedu, women go from house to car. That's it. no walking outside.


Sometimes don'tcha just wanna scream??

His answer? to get me a home gym.
Sigh. At least he has a sense of humor - he bought me the movie "the black stallion" to watch while running on my new treadmill. :Þ

I would imagine four-wheeling it would get me a toy one to zoom around on the roof. In my niqaab and abaya, with the 8 foot walls because "someone might see you somehow".

A revolution? Yeah, I'd say so.

saudi stepford wife said...

Wow, your husband seems uptight enough to be Saudi! I thought Kuwaitis were more laid back.

Even some of the girls I taught here were proud to boast of their driving skills aquired within the walls of their family's farm.

Anonymous said...

About half of my husband's tribe still IS in Saudi...Madinah area, where they originally are from.

I think only some of the hader Kuwaitis are more laid back...I've been in KSA and how I live, how you live, I'm thinking it ain't that different, yanno? :)
It's not just the society, it's the family.