I met a young Saudi woman who is studying medicine. She is forbidden to drive in her country, but she is not forbidden to become a doctor. She is married, with two young children. Her desire for a life in which her talents are appreciated and utilized is coming to fruition. It is only possible because of the support of her husband and family.
Her husband is the primary caregiver for the children while she completes her studies. Not exactly a traditional role for Western men, let alone Saudi men. I am struck by the contradictions in Saudi culture. The stereotype of the domineering, backward brute that so many Westerners have of Middle Eastern men has been challenged once again.
So many of the Saudi girls I have met are being encouraged to excel in their studies and in their professional lives. By their fathers. Excuse me, but I must repeat this: by their fathers. I have a difficult time reconciling these husbands and fathers with the traditional picture of Muslim men who have multiple wives and wish to keep them veiled, both literally and figuratively.
Either Saudi Arabian culture is changing at warp speed or these men have never been oppressors. Perhaps the 14th century Islamic view of women is not shared by every Saudi man, after all. Perhaps the extremists do not represent the views of everyone. I am hopeful for the future of the kingdom.
I’m sure that my own background informs my bias. My sister and I were raised by a single dad who was born in 1918. He never assumed that, because we were girls, we wouldn’t and couldn’t succeed in our educational or professional lives. In fact, it was expected that we would. I came to realize, as an adult ,that my father wasn’t typical. He was an odd bird and his view of women was only one of his many quirks.
It makes me smile to think of the radical clerics who would prefer to keep women unseen and unheard. Even in a vast wasteland, life will not be denied. The desire to grow, to rise up and feel the sun upon your face is universal. Sprouts refuse to remain buried beneath the surface. The tiniest bit of green, struggling through the cracks on hot, black asphalt is proof of the will to live, to grow, to reach for the sky. Watch out, Saudi Arabia. There is life under those black veils.