All right, so I think that all Americans have this image in their head that all Arabs are super-religious. I think some points need to be clarified about this. It’s true that the majority of Arabs will define themselves as Muslim, even if they do not follow any of the teachings of Islam, simply because in the Middle East you have to be something. You absolutely have to identify yourself in some way (it’s information necessary for voting, taxes, etc.). So yes, much of Arab life does revolve around the teachings of Islam (for more information, see my post on Islam) but it is in no way like what you have pictured in your head (I can say this because I know that I once thought about the Middle East the same as you do now). Women are not helpless or oppressed in any way. In fact, women in Jordan are generally in a much better position than in the United States. They are self-confident, educated, sassy, and respected by men.
Ladies, have you ever had a man check you out in a way that disgusted you? Of course you have. I doubt I’ve ever met a woman who would say otherwise.
I want to share something with you about Islam which may go against everything you’ve ever thought about Muslims from what you’ve heard from our government on the news. The Quran intends women to be valued for more than just their beauty. It commands Muslim men not to look lustfully at women (other than their own wives). Female gorgeousness is tempting to men who might only see them for their looks and not for their personality. Islam claims that this is wrong because men need to respect women for more than just their physical appearance, they should appreciate them for their minds as well. Unfortunately, men are not always capable of this and so the Quran tells women to be modest by covering their hair and their body to their wrists and ankles. This way, men will not be overcome by a woman’s physical beauty and respect her more for who she really is.
I feel that many Americans pity hijab women. However, most hijab women actually feel sorry for western women because they know that men often treat us as nothing more than disposable, physical objects. In a culture full of one-night stands and strip clubs, I really can’t deny them this point. But here, women are generally respected and treated in such a superior way that I truly can’t describe it to you. And the hijab women here know that when a guy likes her, it’s because her really likes her for her personality and not just for looks. Imagine what it would be like if you met your next boyfriend, not while wearing heels and a miniskirt in a bar, but out in your ugliest clothing- and he was crazy about you anyway.
So the next time you see a women with her hair covered, don’t think that she is some creepy-religious, oppressed female. Most likely she has more self-confidence than any other girl you know.
PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF AFFECTION
People in Jordan aren't all being forced into marriages like a lot of westerners may think. In fact, learning about the dating scene here was some of the best times I’ve had in Jordan. Something that is different here though is that PDA is not allowed, which was really strange for me to understand. Getting caught making out in university could get you expelled, and a couple sitting alone in their car is likely to be interrogated by the police. Since all of my friends live with their families, they really can’t just bring their date to their house, and with school, cars, and all public places off limits, couples really have to get creative just to be alone. Hearing stories about this was pretty much the only time where I really thought: I’m so glad I’m American. Not that I think it’s a good thing that in the States you have things like middle school kids making out against lockers in the hallway left and right, but I just think that if you have two twenty-something year olds who want to share a nice cuddle, then no one should be able to tell them otherwise.
I've said before that only difference in appearance between Jordanians and Americans is that the Jordanians are much more stylish. I have to repeat it because I know that this goes against everything westerners have pictured in their heads about Arabs, and I believe that this is where stereotypes come from. Prejudice is created when we think that there is some sort of difference between types of people, that there is even such a thing as 'types' of people. So I want to make it very clear that if you took any one of my Arab friends here and put them with a group of Americans you would never be able to pick them out. Sadly, its only by talking to them and realizing that their English vocabulary and knowledge of U.S. history is better than your average American, would you realize that they were foreign.
Something I will miss about Jordan is being noticed for my eye color. I doubt a single one of my American friends could tell you I have green eyes, but here it's the first thing people notice. I'm glad I at least have this going for me because I certainly don't have the fashion to compete with any of the girls here. One of my Iraqi friends showed me a video of a comedian who joked that you can always tell who the American is in a group of Jordanians because he's the one who is dressed like he's homeless, and that's totally true.
Okay, this was probably the most difficult thing for me to overcome in Jordan. The staring- it never stops. Arabs simply don't have a taboo on staring like westerners do. They will gape at you, mouth open. They will stop what they are doing to stare at you. They will point openly. If you make eye contact, they will keep on staring. If you yell and scream and curse at them, they will keep on staring. It's really weird.
But now that I've lived here for a semester I've trained myself to get used to it. As I said before, men and women alike will stare no matter what you are doing. I found early on that even if I went to get groceries in boots, sweatpants, a hoodie with my hood up, a baseball cap and sunglasses, basically showing no skin but my jaw and looking as unattractive as humanly possible, I still got stared at. Back home, a butt-naked person walking around buying groceries would have gotten less stares than I did here (not an exaggeration).
So, since I was getting stared at no matter how I dressed, I did the only thing that made sense to me- rather than try to be invisible and avoid the stares I would just flaunt the hell out of being foreign and dress as blatant as possible. Pink dresses and blonde hair flying, I just wish I had brought an American flag with me cause I'd have worn that too.