I have never really thought of myself as a conservative person. Not because I’m not one I probably am in the traditional sense of the word but life seems to be all about labeling people. Sorting them and stacking them into neat little sections. We are obsessed with it.
We talk to people and get to know them just enough to label them something and keep that label stuck to them regardless of whether it actually fits them or not. Sometimes we skip the getting to know all together and slap the label on based on first impressions, on the way they dress or talk or the job that they do. Some labels are good, some bad, but all have the same effect of flattening a person out till they are barely one-dimensional. So I don’t particularly like labels. And I don’t feel comfortable committing to one adjective for the rest of my life
Now as an Arab, Muslim woman from Saudi Arabia you can imagine I have been labelled many things based only on one of the afore-mentioned facts (Arab, Muslim, female and from Saudi). You can also imagine that many of these labels are not particularly nice ones. For example “oppressed” is one I have slapped on me simply by being an Arab woman. Add the other two parts (Muslim and Saudi) then that label is practically tattooed on my forehead.
If I dare to say I am not oppressed then the other label is pinned to me; “Brainwashed.” I remember when I got engaged while I was studying in London one of my professors called me into his office to ask if I was okay and if I had a choice in the matter. The fact that I was studying in London, living on my own, and that he had known me at that point for two years didn’t affect how he saw me. I was still an oppressed little Saudi girl to him.
I know people have certain preconceptions about women in Saudi and it is very difficult to convince them otherwise without them coming to see for themselves. A British woman who recently moved to Riyadh said “I have yet to meet a timid Saudi woman! I expected the women here to have no say in all that happens in their lives and homes and with their families. I was so surprised to see that they are in charge.”
I think people have a need for others to be one thing or the other. They cannot be undefinable, un-categorisable. So it always throws my more “Western” “liberal” friends (might as well join them if you can’t beat them!) through a loop when I don’t fit into the category they expect me to. They are surprised by how “conservative” I am when it comes to certain matters concerning my children. For example:
1- I don’t want my son to be in a co-ed school after the age of 12. It is not because I want to segregate him completely from women. On the contrary I want him to have, hopefully, the same female friends he has now at 10. The reason is all the co-ed schools here are international ones with a majority of ex-pat students. Our religion and culture mean that there is no dating and no premarital anything. That is why I think it is unfair to put him in an environment where dating is the norm. Kids will be having crushes, and first kisses and so on and I will then expect him not to do it. I’m not delusional, I know boys will be boys. I just don’t want to put him in an environment where everyone else is going in one direction (the more exciting, fun and hormone filed direction) and I am expecting him to go in the other.
2- I don’t want my 7-year-old girl to wear bikinis or short shorts or off the shoulder clothes. This is not because I think there’s a pervert around every corner or anything like thatay. It’s because I want her to be more modest and to grow up feeling like wearing crop tops is not okay. It may be cute at 7 but at 17, not so much. Having said that, I think people really over reacted to the pictures of Jessica Simpsons baby in a bikini last year. Had she had a picture of her in Pampers only people wouldn’t have had such an issue. She was 4 months old people. It’s cute!
3- I don’t want my daughter to take hip hop classes. Her personality is a huge factor in this because if there is music and table she can stand on she’ll be on that table dancing her little tush off. I think a lot of the dances that are taught in these classes are inappropriate and too grown up. Also, whats the cut off age for this? I don’t want my daughter to start something she really loves, get really good at it and put all her energy into it then say: Fantastic! Good job! Stop doing it now. And “professional dancer” is not a career option for her.
4- I don’t like the kids listening to songs with mature themes or words in them. I am not talking only about swear words but content that is not something a 7 or 10-year-old should be listening to. So I opt to go for the watered down versions like the songs by Kids Bop. They take all the top hits and make the lyrics child appropriate. So it’s the same songs but kid friendly! My kids love it.
5- I don’t let them watch Disney channel because I saw one of the sitcom episodes where the plot was about two girls seeing who could kiss one boy first. Not okay in my book.
So if those things slap the label conservative on me then I guess I am.
Then there are the people who are surprised by how “Western” I am in certain things about my parenting. Most of the people who label my actions “Western” are Western themselves, and what they label as (quite condescendingly) are any good parenting traits I have. They assume that because I value early bedtime and healthy diet and love to encourage my children to read and put a high emphasis on being polite and respectful to all people, that I MUST have that from studying in London. Or from having a Western nanny when I was a child. To these people I tell them to look at my mother and grandmother and they can see where I learned how to raise my children with values we already have.
I know I have gained a lot of parenting skills from books written by Western authors, but the common sense was there to begin with. I did need a book to tell me what fruits to put in my children’s morning shakes to get the healthiest option. And a book did help me learn how to help motivate my children with reward charts and such.
I have learned a lot from my little (large) collection of parenting books just as I have learned from how my grandmother raised her children into adulthood and how she respects their life and their decision and didn’t raise them to be extensions of herself but rather self-aware, resilient, independent human beings who also didn’t fit into any particular label.
I am personally uncomfortable with either label. Conservative because it is stifling and Western because it’s condescending. I am me. I have been influenced by my Islamic upbringing, my Bedouin grandmother, my British nanny, my hundreds and hundreds of books, my friends from different countries and religions and by life!
I think, because people seem to have a need to sort others out into neat groups, I will have to find a new label. Maybe “Islamic, Conservative, liberal, free-spirited, regimented, modern, temperamental, Arab, world mom”?
What do you think of the 5 points I listed earlier? Do you agree with them? Are you a “conservative” parent? Do you think you fit into a label?
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 _nyem_who holds a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license.