Monday, February 13, 2012

Confessions of a Privileged Arab-American Woman

Here's a sample from The Tattooed Girl (which you may or may not have already read) about Fadime Sahindal, whose death Stieg Larsson wrote about in his essays on violence against women:
On January 21, 2002, twenty-six-year-old Fadime Sahindal was shot to death by her father in Uppsala. She had left her Kurdish family after refusing to submit to their views on morality. Se had become a public figure after giving a speech to the Swedish Parliament about the plight of young women in many immigrant families. Her father said that she had dishonored her family by openly criticizing its morality and flaunting her independence, leaving him no choice but to kill her. Her murder was also a reminder of the 1999 killing of nineteen-year-old Pela Atroshi by two of her uncles.
Every now and then a news headline about the appalling treatment of women and girls in the Middle East catches my eye. They often involve honor killings, child marriage, women being forced to marry their rapists, women being publicly flogged or beheaded on suspicion of witchcraft; the list is endless. Besides making me sad and angry, stories such as those often make me ashamed of my Arab heritage.

Sometimes I wonder, how can I be proud of my origins while such things are happening in that part of the world? Who wants to claim an identity that’s long been associated with such savagery? Eventually I came to think that maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. Instead of being ashamed of my origins, perhaps I should be counting my blessings.

Compared to many other Arab women, I live a pretty privileged life. By assembling a list of said privileges, I hope to learn how to consider myself lucky, rather than be wholly frustrated with such injustices.

I am

…allowed to vote

…allowed to drive

…free to pursue an education

…free to pursue an education in the field of my choosing

…free to choose my own significant other without fear of being subject to an honor killing by my father, uncle or brother

…not expected to marry young, serve a man and bear sons for him

I can

…go out in public without being supervised by a male member of my family

…live on my own, without the help of a man, and not be branded a prostitute

…buy and wear the clothes I want

If I were raped:

I would not be obligated to marry the man

I would not be reprimanded for bringing shame upon the family

I would be given medical aid for my physical and mental state

Needless to say I have much to be grateful for. Obviously, since I live in America, I have no control over what goes on in the Middle East, and how women are treated there. I can write about it, I can spread awareness, I can donate money in an attempt to make it all better; but ultimately the best thing I can do is take pride in what I am and not take my privileges for granted, even while I struggle with a mixed sense of pride and scorn for Arab culture.

As we all know, Lisbeth herself is not the activist type. She's not likely to bother herself with the treatment of other women unless she's personally confronted with it. She focuses on herself, on surviving the life that she lives, and in doing so embodies the strength and independence associated with feminism. She becomes fabulously wealthy and isn't afraid to indulge and invest in her own well-being, hence the tropical vacations and the swanky apartment she buys. Certainly she's not so personally consumed with the injustices in the world that she lets it affect the way she lives her life. I, on the other hand, tend to obsess over the injustices in the world and end up neglecting myself and what's going on in my own backyard.

If you make it a priority to be aware of human rights violations on a global scale, my advice is this: don’t be so consumed with righting wrongs that you lose sight of your own life and neglect to take stock of your privileges. Balance your sense of justice with a sense of self, and realize that appreciation for what you have is more constructive than any righteous fury you may feel.

No comments:

Post a Comment