November 08, 2009

On Sisters and Freedom for Girls

They want to be sisters, these two. But only temporarily, because whenever they spent more than 24 hours together, they end up fighting, and then they’re cured for a while. Until the next sleep-over, that is. And then they go out, and pretend to everyone they see that they’re sisters again.
Two little Dutch girls growing up in Lebanon. Both are in it for the long haul. They’re not expats children, who fly in for a 3-year stint and then out again. Lebanon is part of who they are. They learn Arabic at school. And we (the moms) sometimes wonder how that will go. Will they have the same freedom and opportunities we had when we grew up in Holland? Not likely. Freedom wise, that is.
Everyone is upset that Oprah Winfrey called Lebanon a deeply conservative society, and they’re all up in arms about it. But from a woman’s point of view, this society does not let girls get away with a lot of stuff. The ones with money are excluded in this debate, they can do anything they want, they have money, they don’t need anyone to depend upon.
But for the regular women? The middle-class? The not-so-well-off? You better watch every move you make, because once your reputation is shot, it’s mighty hard to find a ‘good’ husband, and in this society, like it or not, you’re only half-a-women if by the time you’re 35 you’re still single. You most probably will still live with your parents and will have to hide the fact you’ve got a boyfriend somewhere. Let alone sleep with him, because God forbid, you better go into that casket a virgin.

So I don’t know about this ‘deeply conservative’ debate. As long as the girls’ freedom and prospects don’t even get close to those of the boys’, that’s conservative to me. And I don't think it is a religious issue at all, because this attitude goes across all Lebanese sects.
But I am being side-tracked. We were at the beach. And I had this long thing about the garbage on the beach, but I’m afraid this post was getting much too grim, and so I deleted that part. So we hung out on the beach, all alone, not a soul in sight.
They were shooting a movie near us, and I tried to entice them to go see the actors and all that, because I was quite curious as to what they were filming. But the girls showed no interest at all. They just wanted to pretend to be sisters, and so I missed that movie.


Lauren said...

Lebanon is not exactly "deeply conservative," but rather deeply oppressive to women.

Josie Ensor has written a piece for this that will be published in tomorrow's (9.11.09) Daily Star on how Lebanon legislates women's oppression. A couple fun facts: a rapist can be acquitted for rape if he offers to marry the victim. Spousal abuse is legally justified if the man claims that the wife was having an affair.

I wonder if this extends to foreigners who marry Lebanese men?

Anonymous said...

You've nailed it, Sietske!

Anonymous said...

The rapist can be acquitted just by offering to marry, or does she also have to accept the offer? Just curious. Y.

nicolien said...

I wouldn't say the upper class girls are off the hook - the pressure to stay a virgin to be able to catch 'the right guy' is, from what I've seen, much bigger than with the middle class girls who mostly work (and expect to keep working) for their own living.

Tee said...

Don't worry, Sietske. I have seen enough middle class women, born and raised in Lebanon, live lives of their choice with a finger flipped towards the idiocies of society. Enough to know it is possible. With a mother like you, the young'un should face even less difficulties doing it.

Miss Footloose said...

You mention that the girls are not like other expat girls and will move on in a few years. They are in it for the long haul. So I imagine you and your family have made Lebanon your permanent home.

Yes, I can see how the environment will have an impact on the way the girls will grow up, even with your Dutch-mother-woman influence to counter-act some of it. Will they also go to university in Lebanon? Or go abroad?