But things are different here, and in a way that a lot of people would probably think are unfair. For example, men are allowed to have more than one wife at a time, and it is much easier for a man to divorce his wife than vice-versa.
But this is only seeing this from one side. While I was in the process of applying for this job, I read Writing Off the Beaten Track by Judith Caesar. She taught writing at the American University of Sharjah. She tells about some conversations that she had with her students about women's status in the Middle East and the West, including this one:
I thought about what a Saudi graduate student I knew in the United States had told his wife when she wanted to return to Saudi Arabia by herself. Away from her family for the first time in her life and knowing no English, she was lonely and miserable. The only other Arabic-speaking woman in the small town was an Egyptian graduate student who snubbed her, and it wasn't proper for her to talk to men. She didn't know how to drive and her husband wouldn't t teach her, so she was stuck in their small apartment all day with no one to talk to. Of course she wanted to go home.
"Go ahead and go home," her husband told her. "I can get an American girlfriend to come and live with me. She'll sleep with me and take care of the house and she'll be grateful if I don't ask her to pay half the rent. I can throw her out whenever I want and there's nothing she can do about it. The police aren't going to arrest me for living with a woman I'm not married to. Her parents aren't going to complain if I live with her and then kick her out. Women don't have any rights here and their families don't protect them. So go home if you want to. I'll have a good time." And unfortunately, he was probably right. I knew of several women graduate students who stayed with abusive boyfriends in part because they couldn't afford places of their own. There probably were many American women who would move in with a married man whose wife was away, especially if he were financially generous, as this man could afford to be. To both students, it was the American society, not their own, that abused and exploited women. Was the image of Arab misogyny really a way of avoiding an examination of the extent to which our society is patriarchal and misogynist? Certainly, American women usually had choices that many Arab women did not, and yet there was truth in what the Arab graduate students had said. Without financial security, a woman's choices are limited no matter where she lives, and without emotional security, it can be hard to make choices that are not self-destructive.
It was good to keep this in mind, but more important to remind myself that just as their view of the status of women in American society was incomplete, so was my view and perhaps any westerner's view of the status of women in Arab societies...
I think that this struck home with me because I want my daughter to be able to do whatever she wants, even if it is being an "astronaut veterinarian ballerina" as she told me at age four. But at the same time, I worry about her being respected and protected in a way that I don't worry about my sons.
I only know that I don't understand everything about the status of women here yet. I'm sure as I learn more, there will be things I'll like, things I won't, and things I won't understand. I just want to make sure that I understand before I decide.