Alienation in the lives of Arab Women
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Alienation: al·ien·a·tion ( l y -n sh n, l - -) n. The act of alienating or the condition of being alienated; estrangement; isolation or dissociation.
Alienation is a concept that is universal to all people of all cultures in the world and throughout all time periods. These feelings of alienation, in some form or another, have affected every human begin that has ever taken a breath and will until the race is extinct. It is these feelings of alienation that influence so many of our activities, our thoughts, and the way we shape our lives and the manner in which we form our societies. It is these reactions to alienation that have played such a large role in the shaping of cultures and societies and for this reason it is important to study the alienation that is being discussed here. It is necessary to choose a group first of all and for our purpose here it will be women in the Arab culture. This is a very diverse culture and therefore we cannot deal with any specific society too in depth and so therefore we will look at examples provided from Arab women’s novels as well as look at the culture as a whole and over a large geographic region. We will be primarily concerned with the sources of alienation that bring these feelings and/or situations of alienation about and focusing on a socioanalytic evaluation of these sources. Also important in this discourse are the situations of the present that we will examine by looking at a few examples from the Arab women’s novels, but also the in-depth analyses of the situations and experiences. Finally, we will look at what these situations and analyses mean for the future of Arab women and the circumstances they may be provided with in years to come and how they might deal with new forms of alienation and at the same time different forms of dealienation or situations of being able to enter parts of society and the world that they have not been able to for numbers of years, and in some cases parts they have never experienced—historically speaking. In short, the purpose of this discourse is to understand the alienation that is a part of the lives of Arab women. This is not supposed to be a definitive analysis, but rather the introduction
of a topic, the opening of a forum, or even the conglomeration of ideas to stimulate further discussion and research of this subject and simply get people interested in why there is so little written and explained about these mysterious and often romanticized women. A more complex purpose may be to categorize these types of alienation as a means to further understanding how the women interact in closed forums and in their private space which may be one day compared to the same or similar circumstanced forums of western and European women or even women of a more closed and remote society (of which parts of the Arab culture may very well be the most restricted, e.g., Saudi Arabia). In the realm of political and social justice this and further studies may be used to examine the place of women in certain Arab cultures on an empirical level and compare them to certain standards of human rights that world organizations use to ensure that people world wide are being given equal opportunity and afforded the freedoms that they should be afforded under proper governance. It has been argued by many scholars, political leaders, and human rights activists that women in some Arab cultures (and not just Arab cultures, but this is mentioned as it is relevant to this topic) have been and are being currently mistreated and abused in regard to their civil and human rights and that the states, societies, and cultural norms under which they live are flawed and must be dismantled and rebuilt to a standard that is adequate to protect women’s rights and place as human beings. I do only mention some of these in passing, as there are many other reasons this study and studies similar to this are valid, but there is not enough time to discuss or even mention them all. Therefore to move into a better understanding of this alienating principle we will first shape a definition of alienation that will be functional and necessary through the examination of Arab women and the alienation they experience in their lives.
Alienation, as defined in the quote above, is that feeling or act of isolation, estrangement, or dissociation. This is the basic definition, but is not useful in that it is too vague and can be applied to so many situations that one could say alienation, as a concept, can be applied to every situation everywhere involving any and everything (which is a paradoxical statement in itself, as that implies inclusion, the polar opposite of alienation). Because it is so broad a statement we must limit it so it can be practically applied to the Arab women and their lives that are being examined as the empirical subject of this discussion. Therefore we will note alienation as the estrangement from prior conditions where the individual had been included, be it culture, family, or even the individual him/herself. When the individual is estranged or alienated he/she is unable to conceive of the prior circumstances or is able to understand those circumstances and is unable to access them due to physical, mental, or social barriers, or as we will denote them, devices of alienation. It is these devices of alienation that are most intriguing when it comes to Arab women and the worlds that they live in as the devices vary so widely from woman to woman from family to family from culture to culture. For this reason and other more minor ones that will surface as we go we will now look at the Arab women and the alienation they may experience in each part of their life—we will not be able to cover every aspect of their lives, but we will focus on the most important. Again, it is impossible to create a single model of the empirical Arab woman because the culture is so geographically, socially, and traditionally diverse, but we will look at the circumstances presented to us in some of novels written by Arab women and circumstances explained in other texts on the women of the Arab culture.
I. Alienation from herself:
First we will look at the alienation of the Arab woman from herself or from her own consciousness. It is limited what can be said specifically about the experience of any individual’s self-alienation, but from what has been recorded it is apparent that all individuals experience some form of self-alienation or another. This form of the experience can be explained as an ignoring of personal desire or want or perversion of the individuals needs—be they physical as in necessity to eat (in its extreme form this is known as anorexia nervosa), or mental, such as the necessity to interact with other people on a regular basis. Refusal or renouncement of the capabilities and natural desires alienates the mind or the person from their body and/or their personality. It becomes quite heavily psychological when dealing with self-alienation (as all types, but very much so with this form) and so therefore we will not go too in-depth, but it is necessary if we want to combine psychoanalysis with the Arab women’s experience.
An example of this principle of alienation from the self occurs in Ahdaf Soueif’s novel, In the Eye of the Sun. The main character Asya goes through a period of personal torment after being involved in a somewhat perverse situation in Italy while on vacation/an internship. She is very close to becoming sexually involved with a man who is not the man she plans to marry and after resolving with him that she will not sleep with him, she continues to cavort around at his side pretending to be his mistress (so as he does not lose face with his friends). One night when she is with him at a party the two end up in a room with an orgy going on around them—not the greatest situation for a young virgin who wishes to remain as such. During the night a man described simply as ‘the boxer’ is on top of her preparing to penetrate her and while preparing to do this he fondles her. She knows that she does not want to have sex with him and is disgusted that he is on top of her and is clawing at her Italian male friend so as to wake him and get ‘the boxer’ off of her. Simultaneously she is moaning with pleasure and not stopping the man from touching her and is on the verge of allowing him to have sex with her. This paradox provides us with a prime example of alienation from the self and the body.
Asya’s primal urge is to have intercourse with the man and indulge what Freud named the pleasure or ‘sex drive’ (also linked to the death drive, a sublimation of the pleasure principle), but by having the man thrown from her by her more rational and social self she alienated that part of her that wanted the sex. This is common to most people living in as complex society as she, but what is even more interesting is the repercussions it may have had if she had slept with the man. In her home culture she would be viewed by her family and the man she is in love with (if even the situation she had been in were known to them) as less of a woman and somehow dirty. They may disown her and take further action, but this is a subject that will be discussed later. Consequences appropriate to the subject of personal alienation are personal repercussions: Asya here feels dirty herself and is torn apart mentally by the situation she experienced and by the thoughts and desires she had had during that situation. She only feels more detached from her rightful self when she loathes her behavior and decides to never mention the situation to anyone.
In Fatima Mernissi’s novel Dreams of Trespass: Tales of Harem Girlhood, a situation of self-alienation occurs when the main character Fatima (loosely based on the author just as Asya was on Soueif) becomes so intrigued by the stories of Scheherazade and the tales of A Thousand and One Nights that she loses some touch with her actual situation. This is a form of escapism that many of the women in her harem and in the harem culture utilized, but it was also a form of alienating her consciousness from the reality in which she lived. Her slight obsession here is due to her desire to escape the reality or the actual situation she lives in. The desire to escape is usually linked with fear or distaste for the current situation under which the individual lives and by escaping the situation through fanticization or daydreaming or obsession over folk tales, the girl is losing touch with the part of herself that is forced to live in the harem situation and deal with all that that encompasses. The question arises ‘whether it is then a negative element to use such escapism?’ There are two ways of looking at it: first, yes, it is negative because she is not dealing with the reality and not focusing on trying to change the situation if she is inherently unhappy; second, if it is not a positive enough or stimulating enough environment for her to have to fantasize then perhaps it is better that she goes with her imagination. It is this form of self-alienation that is still debated today as to whether it is better for a child or any person to want to escape and maintain a certain level of creativity or deal immediately and only with the present and in all probability be sucked into a world of monotony and traditional values, but to have had that chance to change things.
Liyana Badr’s novel, A Balcony over the Fakihani, contains the most forms of alienation of the novels read for the class and in terms of self alienation contains one striking and powerful example that is relevant in more ways than one to this discourse. The character of Jinan, during the constant air-raids, and specifically the one in which her husband is killed, is concerned only with the safety of her husband and children the entire course of the bombing. Not once does she place her personal well-being above that of others. This is recognized as a person who is very kind and caring, but it is also a form of severe self-alienation. Jinan has lost or is refusing to recognize her personal need for safety or desire to fear her own safety and is thus alienating her person from her own conscious fears and worries. This is useful when living in a society such as hers, or lack of society, as it was more a state of war mongered chaos—but it can also be very self-destructive or even suicidal (not in the intentional or classic sense of the word) in that she may die directly due to the fact that she was more concerned with her husband and child and was therefore placing their safety and well-being above her own. This instance of self-alienation is interesting in the way it protects her family in an almost instinctual way, but also because it has the potential for self-destruction.
Nadia, the main woman in Leila al-Atrash’s novel, A Woman of Five Seasons, is in a state of almost constant alienation from the beginning just up to the end, where she is finally freed of all forms of alienation, including a great deal of self-alienation. The alienation from herself she experiences occurs mostly in the early chapters where she is still unsure of herself as a woman and is not in any way confident. She allows her husband to dictate her wants and needs and is therefore not in control of herself and her needs as an individual and as a woman and this is what alienates her form herself. It can be blamed on her husband as the factor that is alienating her, but her alienation is different in form and will be discussed later. Because she allows herself to continually have her life dictated to her she lives and exists mentally in a detached state of incomplete self and she is essentially unhappy. What is so useful about this novel is that as this Arab woman realizes herself as more of and individual woman and individual in society she beings to become less estranged from herself and in the end she is, not necessarily a complete individual, but has accepted herself and is no longer codependent on Ihsan, her husband.
In the first novel read this semester the best example of self-alienation is probably established as a motif throughout the novel and is represented in a way that can not be ignored and is recognized by the reader whether they are looking to find forms of alienation (as we are) or not. In Fadia Faqir’s novel, Pillars of Salt, this means of self-alienation noted here involves the two main women in the novel, Maha and Um Saad, and the fact that they are in a mental institution but constantly tell stories to one another as a means of overriding the cold and sterile environment they exist in. This example of personal alienation is necessary to the two women due to the fact that it keeps them both occupied and probably keeps the two from actually going insane, as ironic as that is. These stories they project are the only form of entertainment the two have and is also a means of saving themselves from the alienating aspects of the hostile and non-stimulating environment in which they live. Alienating the consciousness from the body as a survival mechanism is something that many women write about in one form or another and is prevalent in all the novels we read, but is best described and created though the use of the mental institution as the motif of a prison with walls to contrast the prison without walls that the women could create with their minds and had had set prior to entering the mental hospital, and now that they are there, have broken those mental walls down so as to interact with one another. There are many other examples of alienation from the self that occur in these five novels but it is impossible to look at them all in a broad and experimental study such as this.
II. Alienation from her family:
The estrangement from the individual’s family can be the limiting factor in how the individual, and especially a woman living in a patriarchal Arab society, conducts her relationships with other men and with her own family when or if she is married. Alienation from the family can be one of the most traumatic events in the life of the young woman and can have long term developmental effects, but is a necessary event for the woman or girl (depending on what age she leaves home). This raises the question of what alienation from the family consists of. The woman or girl can be alienated in physical terms by marrying and moving out or going off to school or simply being away over long periods of time or distances—or both. In the non physical sense of alienation the Arab woman can be estranged from her family due to emotional barriers such as animosity between certain family members and each other may affect her relationships or animosity between her and another or multiple other family members. Death as an alienating barrier is also relevant in these novels and very often in the lives of the women living in Arab cultures. When one family member dies—aside from the fact that the rest of the family, including the woman herself, are physically unable to interact with that person—there is a void left by the lack of their presence that often times forces another family member to fill the role or is a permanent gap that none of the family can fully recover from. These are all circumstances of alienation and estrangement that the women in these families must deal with.
There are a number of excellent examples of the woman being alienated from family in Pillars of Salt. The situation between Maha and her brother Daffash is one of extreme alienation in that Maha despises him for his qualities and tendencies as a rapist, destroyer of her family, and a man who sells his country to the British. The first exposure the reader has to Daffash is when he is being dealt with by Maha for raping her friend. She is immediately seen as distant from her brother because she does not accept his behavior towards other women. She has been alienated from her brother by circumstances and through her own efforts. She does not want to associate with a person who would commit such acts of sexual violence, but she also does not want her father to have to deal with him either. What is most alienating about this first mention of Daffash is the fact that her father does not immediately attack Daffash, but chastises her as well for trying to kill her brother. This semi acceptance (certainly not total, but any acceptance is a permissive signal) or at least not full chastisement of Daffash is ridiculous to Maha, but is also a part of the society in which she lives and fact she must accept. Women are not as privy to the rights and powers that men are and are therefore in a position to be mistreated and when they are mistreated by the men the consequences are less severe; this is another form of alienation, but not one directly linked to the family, although family and culture are oftentimes one and the same.
Maha’s relationship with her brother is alienating throughout the story. Another instance shows Daffash basically selling all their possessions so he can buy a car that he only wants so he can impress the British—this itself is an act of alienation, Daffash is removing himself from his family through destruction of the household (the household being a sacred symbol of family). He goes further to destroy Maha’s fathers home by not caring for the land and allows the father to live in a state of utter filth in a closet, but this is also an experience of severe alienation from the family for Maha. The final days of her father are distancing for her. As he slowly decays and dies in a pile of his own filth Maha loses touch with him as her father. She tries hard to keep him alive, but in the end he dies anyway as he is convinced he must, leaving Maha with a void in her life that is now filled with solely the son she bore Harb—her dead husband, who raises questions of alienation in and of themselves that we will touch on later. Another form of familial alienation that Maha experiences is the loss of her mother: because her mother is not a part of her life for such a long period of time Maha does not have much of a role model for being a mother herself. Also, the closeness of her relationship with her mother prior to her (Maha’s mother’s) death left Maha with a huge void in persons she loves, and in her culture family is an essential part of life, so the loss of such a close and loved family member is not only traumatic, but a new stage in the life of the family—in that is affects Maha’s dependence on her parents—and even more alienating in that she is more alone in the world. These are only major circumstances of familial alienation in Faqir’s novel.
The circumstances of alienation from family in al-Atrash’s novel are the most severe of any of the five Arab women’s novels read. Nadia rarely mentions her family (the family that raised her not the family she has with Ihsan) and is therefore almost completely alienated from them. The geographic alienation is apparent in that they are not physically present in her life; the psychological alienation from them is also quite obvious as it is clear she has little desire to interact with them and simply the fact that they are rarely mentioned gives the reader insight into the mind of the author and character, telling them that Nadia is not attached to them and was or has been independent from them for a long time. Other forms of estrangement from or between family members occurs with Jalal and Ihsan (two brothers) and is another good example of alienation, but not necessarily relevant to this discussion as we are focusing on Arab women specifically.
The character of Yusra in A Balcony over the Fakihani has an experience of intense familial alienation when her father dies. She had been waiting at a faucet all night long for the water to come on so she might be able to fill jugs for her family, in the meantime her father had been hit by a piece of shrapnel that kills him in just a matter of hours. Yusra knew none of this until she returned with the water. The alienation she experienced begins with the delay in the knowledge that the rest of her family did not experience: this delay sets her off from them in that she was not allowed the time to reminisce that they were, also the fact that she is alone in finding out last-- isolation is a primary principle of alienation. The death of her brother is an experience of estrangement from not only family but custom in that she is not able to see him buried when he is shot and simply left to rot in the middle of the road. Also, her and her mother’s inability to mourn immediately due to the fact that they had to hide their reactions—physically as her mother did by rolling into a ditch to cry, or mentally, as Yusra looked down and walked on—for fear of being murdered themselves. This is both alienation from their lost family member and alienation from their emotional selves. This is one instance where multiple forms of alienation are all experienced simultaneously and all in a negative light, each complicating and expounding upon the others.
In Mernissi’s novel alienation from the family is not as apparent, but is still there. The main character experiences a type of isolation from the rest of the children as she grows older and also feels a distance from her parents that is not expected in the typical nuclear family. Because there are so many more people that live together, at least in close quarters, Fatima is apt to receive less individual attention from her parents and other adults and is therefore forced to rely on herself more and more. This alienation is counteracted, however, by the fact that there are more adults in her life and she is not forced to rely strictly on her biological mother and father to gain life experience and other experiences and advice that are necessary to the development of a girl such as her, a young girl living and growing up in the disintegrating harem culture that she does. This is most likely a positive form of alienation in that the more independent she feels the more self-reliant she becomes.
The alienation that Soueif’s main female character Asya experiences in relation to her family is somewhat different compared to those experiences of the other Arab women. Asya grows up partly with her family but early in her life she goes off to boarding school and after that goes off to live in London. The fact that she lives so far away from her family along with her lack of correspondence with her nuclear family is resultant in a loss of inclusion in the family matters and a form of alienation that is both geographic and psychological. This is a type of alienation that is more prevalent in western societies therefore leading the reader to pickup on the strong influence the western world has had on the author, but also on the character (the author and Asya being essentially the same person).
The circumstances that lead to alienation from the family are diverse in origin and complex in the playing out of event in these Arab women’s stories and portrayal of characters. Strikingly similar to these situations of alienation, estrangement, and isolation described above are those circumstances by which the husband/lover is alienated from the woman in Arab societies and by which the woman and her children can become alienated from one another.
III. Alienation from her husband and children:
The husband and the children of the women in these five novels are sources of other types and complicated forms of the aforementioned types of alienation. The interactions between a woman and her husband in Arab society are private in comparison to those of western cultures (some Arab societies being more extreme in privacy matters than others). It is these interactions and issues of power that help shape the overall society and culture that these women live in. Alienation from the husband can be one of if not the most traumatizing or long effecting events that may happen to a woman in Arab society. The reason for this is that it is an inherently male dominated or patriarchal society, because of this presupposed social condition the woman is probably dependent on her father or another male relative for the first part of her life and then moves on to marry a man she will depend on until her death. When a woman’s life does not follow this empirical patter she is subject to different forms of alienation, some physical some psychological, both resulting from the lack of a man in her life (this is not always necessarily the case, but in Arab societies it is more often than not). When it comes to alienation from the children there are more emotional ties than physical. The physical presence of the child is oftentimes outweighed by the emotional presence it has and the bond between the mother and child. As we will see from examples below the alienation a mother can experience from a child is often the most isolating form of alienation a woman in Arab society can face, as a child is not only one of the only sources of power that the Arab women hold, but one of the only products (in the Marxian sense of the word) and when the child leaves the woman is alienated from her labor.
In Soueif’s novel there are a number of strong examples that illustrate the alienation a woman can experience from her husband. The reader must keep in mind though that these are less typical forms of alienation to the Arab woman, as this novel is very westernized in form, content, and context. The relationship between Asya and Saif begins in such a manner that it is hard to believe what eventually happens to the two. The love between them is strong and passionate, but is forced out over a long period of time.
This period of time between the two’s falling in love and their marriage can be considered a form of alienation. Asya wanted desperately to please Saif and eventually wanted gratification herself (sexually, but also in terms of their relationship) and was forced to abstain on both accounts. This wait alienated her from Saif in a manner that was physical, in that they were not sexually active, and also in a manner that is more psychological or even spiritual, in that they had to go all the way to London to spend time together, creating obvious rifts in the relationship and setting up boundaries that the two would have to deal with and eventually fail to overcome. The estrangement from Saif that Asya experiences when she begins seeing another man is also paramount in the understanding of husband wife relations and alienation from these (again, keep in mind that this is a much more westernized Arab woman and these circumstances are probably quite unique). By beginning a relationship with another man while married to Saif, Asya is furthering the divide between the two and is sliding shut the door of opportunity for reconciliation. The alienation between the female character and her husband go on and on in this novel, but due to the fact that it is not as steeped in the Arab culture as the other four we will focus on those examples more thoroughly.
In Dreams of Trespass the opportunity to understand husband-wife alienation is unique in that the harem culture is more of a rare occurrence and specific to this geographic region of the Arab world. The example of the woman being alienated from her husband we will focus on is the alienation that Fatim’s grandmother experiences while living in one of the more traditional rural harems. At one instance the grandmother has to deal with a new wife that her husband marries as she is the second highest ranking wife. The simple fact that this woman has to compete with other women for the attention of her husband is an experience of alienation. The grandmother has to wait the number of nights equivalent to the number of other wives to even sleep with her husband in the same bed, let alone the fact that when she falls into an argument or dispute with another of the wives—such as the example with Lala Thor and the duck—she must go to her husband to mediate the situation, and if it turns out not in her favor she may feel even more distant from her husband. Also in this novel are excellent examples of how the mother can become alienated from her children in the context of the Moroccan harem. This was already partially noted when we looked at the alienation of the woman from her family and it is essentially the same idea here. Fatima’s mother was not able to spend as much time with her children as she may have wanted to or as she may have been able to if she were living in a nuclear family unit. She cannot do this because she is busy taking care of so many adults who have to eat, and because she is busy with running the compound, as that is typically the responsibility of the women as the men take care of business and are the bread winners in the family. The women are, however, able to interact with more children as there are typically more around when living in the harem situation, but in terms of caring for their own children they are not fully responsible and there is something of a loss in the bond between the mother and child due to the distance of the psychological relationship. This is essentially the situation of alienation when considering the woman and her child or children in the harem.
In Badr’s novel the alienation between a woman and her husband is employed in a new context we have not yet explored—the context of war. The novel itself begins with a woman visiting the grave of her deceased husband. This introduces immediately the image of a land torn by war. The breakdown in relations that is essential to the outbreak of a war is in a strange way symbolic of the alienation from the husband that this woman is experiencing as she stands solemnly above his grave contemplating a time when the two of them could not be separated by any means. The scene itself is one of isolation as this figure above the grave is solitary, now alone in a world where no relationship is safe and the husband who was there one instant is gone the next. Another example of the alienation an Arab woman during this war may have felt in relation to her husband is when Umar, the husband of Su’ad, is crushed by the rubble of a bombed building while attempting to save others in the building. The physical loss of Umar is alienating and isolating as her soul mate has been taken from her, but she is also alienated in a way that is unique to war. She was prepared for death as it was all around her and she had experienced it numerous times and is already living in a somewhat dream state: so many people she has known have died, but she is snapped back into a cold and hostile (i.e., negatively alienating) reality when her Umar dies. The mother being alienated from her children is not really existent in this novel; in fact, the war does a great deal to de-alienate the mother from her children and brings them closer together. The only real circumstance a mother child relationship involves Su’ad and her child. There is a strong bond between the two and the experiences that the two go through together, along with her husband, only serve to strengthen her love for the child as it is all she really had in the world aside from Umar. This opens a new topic for debate, whether the materialism that exists within everyday society is lost during a war and if it is does that lack of possessions serve to strengthen relationships between family members—however, it is apparent that the alienation from material goods is existent during a war, but this is not entirely relevant to this topic so let us leave it at that, simply note that war is an experience of alienation in and of itself.
The best example of alienation or estrangement from the husband occurs in A Woman of Five Seasons. In fact, it could be argued that this is the main theme of the book due to the fact that in each chapter the main female character Nadia is growing more and more independent of her husband Ihsan and is finally completely free of him at the end of the last chapter. It is this methodical alienation from her husband and him as an oppressive force that drives the story line. In the beginning the reader sees Nadia as a quiet and submissive wife who will do anything and act in any manner that her husband—an up and coming Arab businessman—tells her to. As the novel progresses we find Nadia gaining more and more independence from Ihsan, i.e., she is becoming more and more alienated from him as a husband, and dominant force in her life. A large shift of marital power occurs when Nadia and Ihsan are arguing over whether she is to have land or gold. When Ihsan says he will give her gold, she declines and says she wants land. When he finally agrees she declines and states she will have both and he gives in; this is a significant moment in the novel for Nadia and pushes her and Ihsan further and further apart. It is here that Nadia recognizes that she can probably live a life of her own, completely independent and separate from Ihsan or any man. This alienation from her husband and men in general breaks the traditional gender role assigned Nadia by the particular Arab culture that she lives in. In the end of the novel the reader sees Nadia break completely away from Ihsan and realize herself a fully independent woman, economically, socially, and emotionally. It is this breakaway that completes her alienation from Ihsan. This is a case of empowerment through alienation, a much more rare form to occur in the Arab world.
We will look at only one brief example of alienation from the child in Faqir’s novel, as the other aspects of this subject have already been covered. Toward the end of the novel when the character of Maha is forced to run away she begins the alienation from her son. As she moves further and further away from home she alienates him more and more because she able to provide less and less for him. As a mother her natural position is that of a provider and as she loses her ability to do this the bond between her and her son disintegrates and she becomes alienated on the provider level. Her love for him takes a new shape as she moves more into the position of an observer. This processes of alienation is finally complete when she is taken away to the mental hospital where she is not only physically detached from her son, but begins to lose emotional ties and her love morphs into a sorrowful mourning—Maha is now completely alienated from her son.
The alienation experienced by the woman in Arab society in relation to her husband and child/children is arguably the most potent form. The woman loses two of the most important parts of her life. On the other hand as seen with Nadia, alienation from her husband was a freedom gaining experience. It is this category of alienation that is the most diverse in context and consequence in the lives of Arab women.
IV. Other forms of alienation for the Arab woman:
There are many other types of alienation that the Arab women can and does experience, but they are more general and the qualities of which are obviously defined and it would therefore be simple repetition to include them all here. However, it would be presumptuous to leave off with no mention whatsoever therefore we will note each briefly.
Alienation from her state is prevalent in almost all Arab societies when considering women. Laws often favor men and leave women to fend for themselves in a legal spectrum that is already weighted against them. This is often due to the fact that the woman is not usually recognized as a full member of society, a second class citizen and at times not even that.
Alienation from her culture is tied in heavily with the structure of the family as noted above. The woman is often expected to rely heavily on a male of some relation or another to care and provide for her. This alienates the woman immediately in that she is not able to produce (the prime example of Marxian alienation). She is expected to stay at home and be a mother and keeper of the home. She is alienated from the rest of the society and knows few if any other women from outside her direct kin group and social strata.
Alienation from her religion is an important and blatant aspect of the Arab women’s life. She is not allowed to enter the mosque (place of worship) in many countries and is therefore alienated from the ability to worship God (Allah) in equal circumstance. Also, in some parts of the Arab world, because the woman does not spend as much time in public, or when she is in public must be covered, she must pray in a private space, whereas the men pray where they choose.
There are other much more minor types of alienation that the Arab women experiences, however, they are more universal types that are experienced in almost all culture worldwide and are not necessarily unique to the Arab world.
Alienation as an aspect in the lives of women in the Arab world is paramount in understanding their current situation and circumstances. It is used a means of oppression by the men, a way to keep the women in their culturally and historically assigned gender roles; it is used by the women as a way to rebel against the status quo and as a means of empowerment, but this is to much less a degree than women in the western world, who invariably posses more individual rights (on an average basis). We can only hypothesize as to where alienation will play into the lives of these Arab women in the future, but hopefully it will be in a way that allows them to realize themselves and be recognized by the whole Arab world as independent and equal human beings.
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