When I lived in Saudi, all I longed for were simple freedoms in an Arab culture. The ability to just be who I am, without having to conform to social standards and expectations. I didn’t care about not being able to drive a car and I still don’t.
All I wanted to do was breathe. To be able to just leave the house whenever I wanted to. To get back whenever I liked. The reason my parents were overprotective and controlling is partly because of society. They were constantly worried about what others thought. Since we lived in a highly conservative country and society, they gave unnecessary attention to what the extended family, community or society would think. They knew how they would scrutinize and judge every move.
However, what my parents should’ve done was to be stronger and more confident. They should’ve been strong enough to tell everyone that it was none of their business. Instead of taking the conservative society’s side against mine they could’ve stated that they are different and not allow a third party to dictate their lives and their children’s lives.
I know that it’s easier said than done. We don’t come from a liberal family. But I still believe that it was doable and that it would’ve been a reasonable way to deal with the cultural and social situation.
Today, despite not having to conform to a certain dress code when leaving the house, I still face situations on an almost daily basis where I’m being judged for being a modern woman. Most of the negative stereotyping comes from Arab or Asian men.
Every time I meet with women from Arab and Asian culture, I realize that I’m not alone. That most of us are constantly being subjected to unfair prejudice from others. These others aren’t necessarily from the opposite sex – they can be other women too.
When different members of the same family don’t think alike, we are immediately faced with judgement. We were all conditioned by our parents or environment to think in a certain way. So, when some of us decide to think differently and not follow the standard path, we are faced with strong opposition from everyone else. That’s simply because we were brave enough to explore our options and to decide on what fits our personality most. Regardless of whether our choices match the standards of society or not, we have the power to stick to what we believe in and to fight for it all the way.
As if living in a restrictive culture and society isn’t difficult and stressful enough for a woman, we are left to deal with strong opposition and harsh labeling from our own families and (sometimes) friends.
Simple Life Freedoms
The simple life freedoms that I used to seek during my years growing up in Saudi are numerous. Being able to walk to the nearest coffee shop to get myself a honey latte on a Saturday afternoon. Then, walking straight back to my apartment to write this post. I’m not asking for much. All I want is to be given some space to think for myself, to make my own life choices and career decisions and to gradually evolve into the person that I was born to be.
Simple freedoms mean not having our parents decide our career choices for us. Like choosing to get into a creative field, to spend my days writing and taking pictures for a living. The journey will be longer and certainly more challenging than if I had chosen a non-creative career path but it’s also more rewarding and aligned with my life purpose and nature.
Not all of us dream of working for Saudi Aramco – as my dad believes this is the best future for anyone who lives in Saudi. Some of us want to lead more creative lives and work in more fun and interesting professions.
Let’s promote individuality in Arab culture and specifically in the Gulf Region; while at the same time banishing restrictive views, opinions and limiting thoughts and lifestyles.