Women in the Middle East
Although there rights have been changed throughout the centuries they were never really compared equal to men or no one really accepted them. Especially for women in the Middle East, they barely had any rights in culture, education or other aspects of their lives. In the book, Women in the Middle East, a Saudi Arabian proverb states, “A girl possesses nothing but a veil and a tomb” (Harik and Marston 83).
The key words, “veil” and “tomb” lend evidence to the fact that many Middle Eastern women lack identity symbolized by the “veil” and lack the right of ownership except for their veil and the tomb. This statement further enforces the notion that many women in the Middle East are expected to serve and tolerate the oppression of the men in their lives throughout their lives on this earth. Moreover, it confirms that many of these women do not get the opportunity to obtain education, join the work force, and even participate in the political affairs of the country.
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This arrangement further helps the Middle Eastern men to view women as their properties, servants, or even as slaves. Ultimately, there are three main reasons why Middle Eastern men engage in the act of oppressing their women. One primary reason why Middle Eastern men oppress women is their deeply rooted belief system as well as their needs. For example, their belief that the Middle Eastern woman’s duty is being a dedicated homemaker encourages them to disallow her from seeking an education. Ramsay M.
Harik and Elsa Martson, revisit this concept in their book, Woman in the Middle East, as they state that many males convince their women that education is neither unnecessary nor relevant to their household responsibilities. “The girl will spend her life cooking and having babies, why does she need to read or write? This was a common attitude in much of the Middle East until the last fifty years or so” (24). The common consensus was that once educated, these women would question many of the injustices suffered, would demand better treatment and probably overcome the odds.
For example, an educated woman can convince her husband that she can handle both household tasks and work responsibilities simultaneously. She can argue more effectively with her husband by showing him that she can cook before she goes to her job, or work while her kids are at school. Another belief that many Middle Eastern men possess is that women would be more passive if they are uneducated. Hence, they invest a great deal of energy in ensuring that their women are out of school and uneducated.
The cycle of oppression is sustained as the oppression of women continues; women are kept ignorant, while men continue to feel unthreatened by the possibility that their educated women might demand freedom and equality. The belief of Middle Eastern men viewing their women as nothing but servants, expecting them to clean, cook, and raise children seems to be the driving force behind keeping women from achieving their educational potentials. The Middle Eastern men’s beliefs exemplify Fredrick Douglass’s experience with slavery. For example, in the essay “Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass,” Mr. Auld did not allow Mrs.
Auld help Fredrick Douglass, who was a black slave, learn to read and write because he knew that education would break the chains of slavery and lead Fredrick Douglass to desire freedom. As Mr. Auld states “A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master — to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world… if you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave” (160). In other words, education is a path to freedom and equality because education enlightens people and encourages them to oppose injustices and fight for their own independence.
For this reason, Mr. Auld did not want Fredrick Douglass to learn how to read and write. Similarly, Middle Eastern men prevent their women from obtaining education because they believe that this would make them resent their responsibility as housekeepers. In addition to the men’s beliefs in the Middle East, their needs play another major role in women’s oppression. For example, an educated woman may choose to seek employment and this idea frightens many men who fear that their wives are not going to perform their household tasks.
Therefore, men continue to oppress women in order to ensure that someone would be available to clean, cook, and raise children. In the book, Veiled Threats, Mary Armstrong states that a father does not treat a girl child equally as a boy child because he thinks that a boy child provides more than a girl child. “In many countries [Middle East], the girl child is denied education and saddled with the responsibilities of household chores, while her brothers go out and play” (84). Parents allow only their male children to play because they want girls to perform household tasks, so that they would not resent the responsibilities of housekeeping.
Therefore, men oppress women and prevent them from obtaining higher goals, such as getting education and pursuing a career, so they can perform household tasks. The idea of oppressing little girls and giving freedom and opportunities to little boys relates to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s views: “He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men—both natives and foreigners” (205). This quote supports the idea that men would rather give the most ignorant man a chance to achieve than offer the same opportunity to a single woman because in view of the fact that women are expected to be housekeepers only.
Furthermore, the cycle of oppression continues, especially in countries such as the Middle East, as a way for men to dominate and have their needs met. Another reason why Middle Eastern men oppress women is their desire to stay in power. They achieve this objective by keeping them in total ignorance and by physically abusing them. So they can be the only dominant figure in their families. In the book, Women in the Middle East, Ramsay M. Harik, and Elsa Marston state that parents value and respect their sons more than their daughters because their sons support their families financially.
“Although girls work at least as hard, sons are valued for the muscle power they can provide in the fields. In both urban and rural societies sons are expected to provide for their aging parents. Sons may also work in the city or a foreign land and send money home” (18). Parents value their sons more than they value their daughters because the former provide financial support to their families. Despite their contributions to the household chores and responsibilities, girls continue to be unappreciated by their families.
This financial status encourages further oppression of the Middle Eastern women and avails dominance to their male encounters. Physical abuse of the Middle Eastern women is yet another tool that men use to ensure the dominance in the family. For example, many women fail to stand up for their rights in order to avoid being physically abused. Many men beat their wives or daughters to keep them oppressed and keep themselves in power. In the essay “Shakespeare’s Sister,” Virginia Woolf, states how men used violence to oppress women.
“The daughter who refused to marry the gentlemen of her parents’ choice was liable to be locked up, beaten, and flung about the room without any shock being inflicted on public opinion” (841). Parents physically abuse their daughter to make her marry the man of their choice. This practice, which ensures that the cycle of oppression is continued into the married life, is supported by the notion that if unmarried a woman may seek education, justice, or freedom. Therefore, men neither continue to oppress women by physically abusing them, so that they may not stand up for their rights, express their opinions, nor take any corrective action.
Women fail to stand up for their rights because they lack financial support. Many women depend on their husbands and fathers for financial security because they are not allowed to work and have an income. For example, a woman who relies financially on her husband will not be able to stand up for her right because when she does, she will end up being divorced. However, when her husband divorces her, a male member of her family might kill her for dishonoring her family. In the book, Veiled Threat, Sally Armstrong explains how a man can legally kill a female member of his family when she tarnishes her family’s honor.
“Women living on the west Bank in Jordan or in other countries where the law says that killing a wife or female relative is justifiable if she brings dishonor to the family” (86). Women cannot fight for their rights or disobey their husbands because they fear death. However, tragedy follows these women even when their families are lenient and spare them from dying, society will mistreat them by depriving them from the opportunity of holding a job and providing for their own needs. For this reason, women live with the burdens of male oppression and obey their husbands to live an undisturbed life.
This practice will keep women under oppression and keep many men in power. The women’s acceptance of oppression exemplifies Mary Wollstonecraft’s idea: “I have seen her prepare herself and children, with the luxury of cleanliness, to receive her husbands, who returning weary home in the evening found smiling babes and a clean hearth” (804). In order to have a peaceful and tension free life, women put on smiley faces to meet their husbands and make sure that they do not complain to them about their oppression.
This practice ensures that men continue to oppress women and stay in power by using violence against women, promoting ignorance, and ensuring dependency on their husbands or families. The third reason that instigates the oppression of Middle Eastern women are the laws that the governments of those countries create. Governments seem to support not only the oppression of women but also pass rules that make their abuse legal. In Saudi Arabia, government prohibits women to testify in criminal proceedings because of men’s beliefs toward women.
In the book, “Veiled Threat,” Sally Armstrong states that “Women are emotional than men and will, as a result of their emotions, distort their testimony; Women do not participate in public life, so they will not be capable of understanding what they observe” ( 270). Therefore, governments do not consider women to be useful and valuable witnesses because they believe that they are emotional creatures. Furthermore, since lawmakers are all male and the laws that they pass are anti-feminine, therefore the oppression of women is sustained and continuous.
This quote exemplifies the American citizens voting rights. For example, the United States Constitution extended voting rights for all men. However, it did not guarantee women’s right to vote. In the book, Introduction to Criminal Justice, Larry J. Siegel states the fifteenth amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (695). A citizen is someone who is legally recognized as the member of a certain country.
However, it is obvious that the fifteenth amendment clearly excluded women’s right to vote. It is apparent that women were not viewed as citizens because women could not vote until the enactment of the nineteenth amendment. As Larry J. Siegel states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” (696). Even though women were the citizens of the United States during 1870’s, they still could not vote until the passage of the nineteenth amendment in 1920.
This is similar to the concept of the Middle Eastern governments that do not consider women as valuable witnesses even though they are the citizens of their county. In addition, laws oppress women by legalizing many of the evil actions performed by men. In the book “Veiled Threat,” Sally Armstrong states that when a female member of a family brings shame and dishonor to her family, a male member of her family kills her. However, a woman will be a candidate of the “honor-killing” when she dresses inappropriately, communicates with men, seeks education, or disobeys her father or her husband.
“Honor-killing—when male relatives kill women who are perceived to have the family’s reputation—is another widespread example of misogyny” (86). People get the respect of others only when they respect and value other people’s opinions. Conversely, many women in the Middle East are being victims of this cruel crime because by committing these crimes the family is thought to have regained its honor. However, people cannot gain respect and consider honorable when they do not respect other people’s opinions.
Furthermore, “honor-killings” continue because these crimes remain unpunished by the laws which fail to safeguard women. As Sally Armstrong continues to argue that “Women living on the West Bank in Jordan… where the law says that killing a wife or female relative is justifiable if she brings dishonor to the family” (86)… Many women do not stand up for their rights because they are scared from death; since many men killed women without feeling sympathy or without fearing from the consequences of laws. Therefore, laws are just another cause of the oppression of women.
Middle Eastern women need to stand up for their rights and get educated to reverse the notion that they are servants and properties of their men. Furthermore, they need to rise up to their potentials and prove beyond doubt that they are equal to men. This practice would lead the path for future generations to follow and protect the inalienable rights of women. Finally, these women need to break the cycle of oppression by addressing these deeply rooted beliefs, gaining the tools to fight back, and joining forces to make lifelong changes.