Monday, January 18, 2010


An article on women's lives in Syria discusses the greater freedoms of women in the capital and juxtaposes it with the more traditional and confined lives of women elsewhere in the country. Then this:

Surprisingly, in patriarchal societies like Syria, it is often mothers who reinforce discrimination against women.

They tell their daughters, "You cannot do that, you are a girl!" or "You have to respect your brother, he is the man. What your brother says goes!"

For girls like Zainab, it is quite normal to do things their family's way. Any other way seems quite impossible.

I'm not sure who would find that surprising. First, it is the job of older women, after all, to bring up the children and to make sure that they will be safe in the society they are going to live in. A woman doing things which women "don't do" will be punished much more harshly later on. A woman not understanding that she is not powerful will be slapped down much more heavily later on. Those are just facts.

Second, anyone born into a sexist society will learn to regard it as "just the way things are" and the herd instinct will reinforce all those rules. Who wants to be the first person to raise her head above the herd when the vultures of norms, laws, rules and anti-woman religion hover above, ready to swoop?

Third, there are women who are like the Aunts in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, women who prefer the small amount of power they are given in that hierarchical system. We can all name several of that type in the U.S. media, but such women seem especially necessary to me in a society which is mostly sex-segregated.