The other day I went to my teenage son’s soccer tournament, and because his game was delayed, I watched a girls’ match finish on the other field. Actually, thanks to the British history in Abu Dhabi, I should say that I went to the “football fixture,” watched the girls play “on the other pitch,” and then at the end of the day took my son to the sports store so he could buy a new pair of “boots” (not cleats). Who knew when we moved here five years ago that one of the ways we would adapt is learning to speak a different version of our native tongue?
As I watched the girls’ match, two girls maneuvered the ball across the pitch, their teammates shrieking encouragement. One girl—a headscarf covering her hair, and leggings under her athletic shorts—passed the ball to her teammate, whose long ponytail was streaked light blue. They brought the ball down the pitch—passed left, passed right—and then Ponytail shot for the goal. The ball bounced off a goal post, looked like it was going to go wide, and then sank into the back of the net past the goalie’s outstretched hands.
“Nice shot,” murmured my son. “Really good pass, too.” Neither of us knew the girls who were playing, but his comment made me happy nevertheless. As the mother of sons, I collect “girl power” moments like this one to remind my sons that they do not have the market cornered on sports excellence. Now that he’d seen for himself, I wouldn’t have to risk being Tiresome Mom by pointing out that those were girls playing pretty kick-ass football.
It’s easy to see in this little episode a lesson about hijab not being the symbol of oppression that so many non-Muslims are quick to assume it is. This girl left her opponents in the dust as she raced down the field, and she pounded her thighs in elation when the ball went into the net. Her war whoop as she ran to the sidelines to celebrate with her teammates would be recognized anywhere as the screech of a happy athlete.
But that’s not really the point. The point has to do with the fact that my fifteen-year-old son didn’t notice the headscarf or the leggings—or the blue ponytail, for that matter—he noticed the football. He noticed what the girls were doing, not what they looked like. As my son moves closer to manhood, a process that seems to be unfolding faster and faster despite my attempts to keep him “my boy” as long as I can, I wonder if my feminist politics have rubbed off: will he become a man who sees what women can do rather than how they look or what they’re wearing?
Isn’t that the question we ask ourselves as our children—those firm little packages of flesh that seemed at one point soldered to our hips—move out into the world: we want to know if our lessons have sunk in, if they’ve been listening even as they seem glued to the Snapchat world in their phones. Does my darling son talk about girls as “hotties” when he’s with his buddies; does he chime in when the conversation turns to which girl has the best body and why?
I don’t know. All I can know is that the other day, what he saw was two people playing great football.
Who knows. Maybe if enough children grow up appreciating what people can do, rather than what they look like or what they do (or don’t) wear on their heads, the world might become a more level playing
How do you create awareness about gender equality for your children?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Deborah Quinn, Mannahattamamma of the UAE. Photo credit to the author.
“My grandmother told me that a woman is like the neck and the man is the head,” my student said. “Important but supportive.” The rest of the students in my class on “Global Women Writers” nodded their head in agreement. None of the students is from the same country—in fact, their nationalities pretty much span the globe—but apparently they’d all been given similar sorts of instructions. One girl had been told that she should plan on being an accountant because it would be easy to quit when she got married; another girl said that her mother worried that her brains were going to be threatening to her potential husband.
It’s been interesting to listen to these girls—young women, really—explore history and culture through our readings: we’ve spent time in ancient Japan with Lady Murasaki and Sei Shonagon, visited 17th century Spain with Sor Juana, bounced around the 19th century with Mary Shelley (and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft) and Charlotte Bronte; read Chimimanda Adichie’s TED Talk “We Should All Be Feminists,” and then traced Adichie’s ideas back to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own—and back again to Sor Juana.
The list of readings is longer than what I have listed here—we will go to India, New Zealand, Egypt, Nigeria, and the UAE before the term is over—but the students have already noticed a pattern. No matter where we are in time and space, we find variations on the same theme: lack of access. Lack of access to money, education, safety, autonomy—the particulars may change, but always the obstacles seem rooted in the material reality of being female, and how the category of “woman” has been valued (or devalued) through the course of human history.
Sor Juana joined a convent so that she could pursue her studies instead of being forced into marriage and motherhood; Jane Eyre famously declared that women “feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint … precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings…”
“I love Jane,” exclaimed one student when we read that passage in the novel. “It’s like she’s speaking to me!” When students respond to ideas in the course, I am always delighted, but in this instance, I had to pause.
What does it mean that the struggles of an early 19th century heroine still resonate with a 21st century reader? I know, of course, that men struggle with feeling limited in their choices—as I remind my students, “gender” is something everyone has (although I’ve noticed that when students talk about “gender roles” they mostly talk about women). All the same, however, wouldn’t you have thought that by 2015, we would laugh at the attitudes Jane complains about because they seem so old-fashioned? Instead we experience a flash of recognition that in Jane’s world, as in our own, society insists on placing boundaries around women’s lives.
When I proposed teaching this course, a colleague asked why I had to specify “women.” She wondered why I didn’t just teach a course called “The Global Novel” or something like that. It’s a reasonable question, I suppose, but I think the answer connects, in a way, to why the United Nations decided, two years ago, to declare 11 October the International Day of the Girl: “Empowerment of and investment in girls are key in breaking the cycle of discrimination and violence and in promoting and protecting the full and effective enjoyment of their human rights.” (Click here to see how World Moms Blog celebrated this day.)
Don’t get me wrong – I am the mother of two boys (and no daughters) and while I know that my sons face gender-related struggles, I also know (because I was once a girl, and am now verging on “crone”) that men have not been as systematically pushed to the margins of history. It’s why we have “Secretary Day,” in the U.S., rather than “CEO Day.” We create formal occasions to notice those who would otherwise be silenced, overlooked.
I teach “Global Women’s Writing” because we live in a world where “woman” gets all too easily pushed out of the picture. Ironically, I teach the course in hopes that one day I won’t need to. Perhaps my students–our children–will inherit a world where we don’t need “International Day of the Girl” or a course in “women” writers. Do you think we’ll ever get there?
This post is original to the World Moms’ Blog. Deborah Quinn occasionally blogs at mannahattamamma.com and writes a regular column for The National, the English-language paper of the UAE. Her most recent column can be found here.
Photo credit to the author.
Recently, my boobs took a trip to Jordan. At least it seemed at the time that the rest of me was just along for the ride. Never had my cleavage gotten so much attention; never had it occupied my thoughts so completely.
Having lived in Morocco for almost a year, I thought I knew how to strike the proper balance….somewhere between my usual, US appropriate signature style and a more modest décolletage that I felt was an appropriate concession to my host country’s social norms.
This balance was clearly off-kilter for Jordan. My ensembles were getting more attention from the male Jordanian population than a Britney Spears get up. Given that I have been a little sensitive about my dwindling cup size since giving up nursing my son, I was momentarily flattered….before being sincerely uncomfortable and confused.
I knew in theory that one country in the Middle East or North Africa would not necessarily adhere to the same standards of dress for women as the next, just as various areas or social classes within Morocco dressed worlds apart. (more…)
As I write this post, it’s International Women’s Day, which is both a good and a not-so-good thing. If everyone in the world spent an entire day thinking about issues relating to women (education, health, environment, economics—pretty much everything) that would be great. But then again, think about it: do they have “CEO Day,” or “Take Your World Leader to Lunch Day?” Nope. Commemorative days (weeks, months) belong to those who have been, historically, pushed to the margins, which means we should all be crossing our fingers that eventually this day will be obsolete.
Yesterday in class, I was talking with my college students about Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, a book that I loved as a child (I was Meg Murry, people, except for the whole genius-brother and time-travel thing). When I’ve taught this novel in previous semesters, students—male and female—generally like it, but not this term. “The ending—all that love, love, love—it’s totally cheezy,” complained one student.
You remember the end of the novel, right? Meg’s little brother Charles Wallace has been absorbed into IT, the huge brain that controls everyone on the planet Camazotz—a nightmare of totalitarianism fueled by Cold War fear. Meg realizes that the only weapon she has against IT’s strength is the love she bears for her brother and so, yes, she stands in front of IT and “loves Charles Wallace.” When I read this section, I get a little choked up, but my students apparently are made of sterner stuff. (more…)
It’s 2013, a new year and of course the air is full of portent: new beginnings, fresh starts, gleaming resolutions to become perfect by February, March at the latest. Gyms throng with new devotees, yoga classes bulge with folks suddenly in need of a little down-dog enlightenment.
2013 marks the beginning of our second year in Abu Dhabi: we moved here in August 2011, so we are slowly becoming accustomed to the rhythms of expat life. My younger son, for example, when we returned to Abu Dhabi after spending the holidays with family in Manhattan, said “basically we just have two homes even though we only have one apartment.” That’s as good a summary as any: we no longer have an apartment in New York, so we’re always sort of perching–a rental, a hotel, someone’s house–and yet New York will always be “home.”
I’d thought that by now, sixteen months into our Abu Dhabi adventure, I’d have gotten further below the surface of this city but I still feel like I’m floating. It’s a city that allows the float: English is the common language, there are people from every country imaginable walking the streets, I don’t have to cover my hair or my skin to go outside, bacon and liquor are readily available even though they are forbidden to Muslims.