All my life I have been surrounded by powerful women and respectful men. I come from a family where the girls definitely outnumber the boys by a huge margin. My mother worked all the time I was growing up in different charities and foundations. Some she co-founded. My grandmother is a woman people go to when they need help or support (both men and women that is). My aunts and female cousins are entrepreneurs and business owners.
All these women around me travel when ever they want to. They make their own choices. They are usually the main decision makers in the family. We are free, we are self reliant, we are independent, and nothing can stop us.
Except that we are not free, we cannot be self reliant and there is no such thing as independent where I am. I am free but for the grace of the men in my life.
A friend of mine traveled with her girl friends to Dubai for a weekend last month. In her passport, stapled to the last page, is a little paper with her husbands signature on it that says he gives her permission to travel. This little paper was given to her by her husband a while ago, and she can forget about it easily when she decides to go away for the weekend. The fact that if she doesn’t have that paper she wouldn’t be allowed out of the country is tucked away in the back of her mind as it is in the back of the minds of all the women I know.
When the plane descended in to Dubai airport and my friend switched on her phone, she found her husband had sent her an image of a message he got by text informing him that his wife (his property, his goods, his thing) has left the country heading to Dubai. The insanity has gone high tech.
Not only can women not leave without permission from their men, but the men now get informed of when she left, where she left from and where she’s headed.
It baffles me… It leaves me speechless. I just add it to the list of things we as women cannot do without permission from our men. (Get surgery, open a bank account for our kids, buy a car to count a few). And all of these things are to protect us women. My question is what do we need protection from? I mean, what is this big bad thing out there to get us but not all other women on the planet?
As I said before, I can easily forget these things because the men in my life do not treat me as their property. I am a person just as much as they are and I have been since the day I was born. This is not the case with many people though.
When a boy grows up seeing that his mother and sisters cannot actually live their lives without the permission of the men how are they supposed to treat them like equals?
A woman I know lost her husband a few years ago. She also lost her father years before that and now has to get her 16 year old son to sign a paper giving her permission to leave the country. How is she in turn supposed to, for example, ground him the week after? If only on a subconscious level he knows his mother is not viewed as equal to him.
This all happens in the same country where women and men get paid the same for doing the same job. Where there are more female entrepreneurs than men. More female graduates that male. Saudi women have won multi-million dollar grants in the fields of science and health. In a country where there is no such thing as a meek Saudi woman! If you ever get the chance to meet a Saudi woman you will know this is true.
We are not meek, but we are not bothered by these things. Or bothered enough by them. Because if that woman who lost her husband and father didn’t have a son she would be in a kind of limbo. Who would be in charge of her? Who would sign her papers?
This is my reminder that it is but for the grace of the men in my life that I am free. I know for a fact that none of them will ever use this power to keep me from doing anything but the mere idea that they could if they wanted to is not OK.
In what subtle or unsubtle ways does your society send you messages about the role women should play? What would you change, if anything?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mama B from Saudi Arabia. She can be found writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa.
Photo credit to Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images from LA Times
Your post is really powerful and it raises incredibly important questions. It reminds me in some ways of the irony of slavery in the United States, where unless they escaped on their own, a slave had to be purchased by an anti-slavery owner, and then that owner had to execute the legal documentation need to free the slave. Obviously women in Saudi aren’t slaves, but the irony of the woman having to be “signed for” by her son… You do wonder what “they” are afraid of, because it’s clear that women don’t need protecting. It seems more that the men in power want to protect themselves from the power of women. If you had to predict, what would you say is going to happen over the next few years as more and more Saudi women start to say “ENOUGH”…
No women here are definitely not slaves thats the irony for me. We are progressing in many ways and ignoring these things. Maybe they seem small in comparison to the things we are doing now in Saudi but it’s the principle that matters. It is totally about not wanting women to be powerful you are right. After writing this article I found out that this is a service that is set by default but the MAN can ask for it to stop. Still, why have it??
Injustice. That is all I can say. The part that upsets me the most is: “When a boy grows up seeing that his mother and sisters cannot actually live their lives without the permission of the men how are they supposed to treat them like equals?” The culture is allowing these biases to exist in the minds of children in the future. And what about a girl, too? She has to see her father or brother is responsible for her mother, even if she is more responsible than both. It is totally unfair!
Profound post. So incredible reading from the Saudi woman’s point of view. And I love the facts about more Saudi being educated than men, etc. And soooo interesting about being paid the same wages for the same job. There is still a disconnect there in my own society in the US when it comes to equal pay. We can learn and debate so much when we learn about other cultures. Thank you for starting this conversation!
It is an injustice but if we don’t complain it won’t change. People view these things as small and say we should focus on the bigger picture but for women if we dot fix this small thing and the other small thing and the other one we’re stuck!
I have a friend who moved to Dubai a couple of years ago, and while she is reasonably happy there, she does report seeing a lot of things that make her very angry. Some of the things she has told me, and the things you mention in this post, make my blood run cold. To be treated as someone else’s property is incomprehensible to me.
Having said that, gender discrimination is alive and well in many parts of the world, including North America. There are daily reminders – subtle and not-so-subtle – that inequality still exists. Many employers practice wage inequity. TV commercials feature women doing the housework and cleaning up after the kids. In most households where both spouses work full-time, the woman still does well over half of the household chores. Some couples that I know personally operate on the principle that if the woman wants to do something, like travel or change jobs, she should first clear it with her husband, but the reverse is not true. A presidential candidate has made the remark that if he were elected, he would make sure women got home from work by 5:00 p.m. to cook dinner.
I am not suggesting that any of this equates in any way to what women go through in other parts of the world. I am just making the point that gender discrimination is so deep-rooted in most societies that it could take many more generations for men and women to be truly considered to be equal.
That’s very true. But we’ll get there I have no doubt.
I can’t imagine what that must be like. Stay strong!
I can’t imagine what living this type of life would be like. I live in America, where we pride ourselves on our freedoms. I may feel limited in some areas, but I cannot even compare to women who need a man’s permission to do anything. I am discriminated against for being a woman – and a single mother! – but it is nothing in comparison. I am thankful for what I have, and yet so stunned that discrimination this extreme still exists in the world.
Thank you for sharing your story. It’s certainly an eye-opener for me.
Thank you for sharing this. I am glad the men in your life are so supportive, but as you point out, that still doesn’t make this rule ok. I don’t have anything specific to compare it to, but I can relate to the importance of a supportive husband. My guy treats me as a true partner with respect, and our property is truly OURS, even though I’m a stay at home mom while he is the bread winner. We have never fallen into a patriarchal rut despite the roles we’ve chosen in our family. I have thought about, though, how my life would look if I wasn’t with someone who valued me as their equal. Your post gives me more food for thought.
The thing that bothers me over here is there’s never really that much of a fuss wen things like this happen. When they impose laws that have to do with money and people dot like them then letters are written, news articles in every newspaper, it’s the subject of te chat rooms and TV shows and they manage to get that law changed. But when it comes to women the men, even the ones who agree the rule is ridiculous, don’t really bother t
(Sorry it sent before I was done!) they don’t really bother to do anything about it. And Niether do the women!
Great enlightening post, thank you. When I visited Saudi Arabia last spring I was impressed by the new university under construction for women and that they provide higher education for all. At the same time I felt intimidated by not being able to go out on my own, or enter the Starbucks through the front entrance like the men. My American husband was quite amused by all this of course. I felt like is was a fear based “protection” by men from men, or the fear the woman may choose to leave her man.
If the women here were truly fed up with it I guarantee you it wouldn’t be happening. While you were here I’m sure you met many Saudi women and would agree that if they all really wanted it changed they could get it changed. So much to be proud of here in our country and so much yet to change! It’s frustrating. I wish I knew you were ere we could have met up!
Just a quick note because something amazing happened in Saudi today! 30 women were appointed to be part of the previously all male Shoura council (The Consultative Assembly). They are now 20% of the 150 members. You see what I mean by steps forward and back. here we go. Lets hope it’s always forward.
That you call what the men ‘give’ you “grace” is an interesting choice of the word. It is far too respectful for my taste.
The tide is changing. Women are rising and whether men like it or not, this tide will not fall. It’s time men start to support their women instead of being threatened by them and their sexuality.
Thank you for sharing this.