‘Girls of Riyadh’, by Rajaa Alsanea

Hijab. Islam. Polygamy. Shariah Law. Forbidden. Tradition. Patriarchy.

These are the words that come to our minds, generally, when we think about Muslim and/or Arab women. Their lack of freedom, the harsh reality that often imposes unjust practices and renderings of the law so-called Islamic. Who would forget the face of the defaced girl who made the cover of the Time magazine?

As we stand facing these horror stories, it seems as if a natural and casual conversation or depiction of the lives of these women would consist, in themselves, an insult. And so we try to come up with feminist theories, discussions on what is indeed Islamic law, debates on how to conjure an adequate discourse that would be worthy of these ‘victims’.

However, this act of rendering these women as mythical and inaccessible creatures, shielding them from everyday talk, and confining them within the boundaries of ‘poor victims’ is, simply, diminishing them and forbids us to see them for what and who they really are.

Who are we, in fact, to judge that the mundane aspects of our daily joie de vivre do not fit them? Who are we to attribute them only the most esoteric and convoluted theories and discourses?

Rajaa Alsanea may disappoint us if we think that the simple act of discussing about their love lives, their trivial concerns and their fashion is a degrading act towards these five girls. Yet, they are girls. Not Arab girls or Muslim girls. They may have to wear a scarf when they go out, or be accompanied with a male family member, or even be subject to ‘arranged marriage’, but beneath all that, remain the butterflies in their stomach at a phone number scribbled on a napkin, the shifting between this dress and the other, and the universal question of what to do with life.

Granted, these girls may come from a somewhat upper-middle class and may enjoy the luxuries of overseas trips and internships, among other opportunities, but the glance that Rajaa Alsanea offers in their daily lives and worries is a wake up call to the rest of the world who has been striving so hard in the past to install the notion of ‘equality’ when their foundation remained strictly superior.


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