Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The DaVinci Code 

This older, distinguished woman in my building stopped me yesterday to talk to me for 15 minutes about, of all things, the DaVinci Code. She, by the way, has never gone out of her way to be at all friendly to us but instead complains that we are just more tenants who don't speak Arabic.

So she stops me all excited and asks me if I had read the DaVinci Code, which I have. And then proceeds to go on a diatribe (and I mean a diatribe, I might have gotten in about 2 words the whole time), about how she loved that the premise of the book. How we should all realize that religion isn't in the details. How she actually believes the church might have suppressed women deities in order to suppress women. She went on to she said she didn't mind if Jesus married, that people got way to carried away with details. Basically, she gave a very interesting and intelligent review of the book.

That in itself may not seem to strange, except that I heard from another neighbor that the DaVinci Code is "forbidden" here and this distinguished older woman randomly decides to discuss its most controversial aspects in the hallway with me. More interesting yet, was the way she ended the conversation. After she was done reviewing the book she says to me "Did you think an Arabic woman would talk like this? Or did you think we would all be quiet and acquiescent?" What do you say to that question?

Well, I told her the truth. No, I did not expect the kind of fiery, strong women I encounter every day here. I have met with quite a few women marketing directors and managers, and know women doctors and architects. Some wear veils, most do not.

However, there is a big income gap here and I feel comfortable saying that the acute inequality of the Arabic world harped on by the western media is relegated mostly to the lower echelons (not like that makes it less important but it should be put into a context). Although the women in my office admit that a "women's movement" has only begun to take hold in the past few years, they are also surprisingly optimistic about the direction it is heading. They do lament that even though consumerism and globalization have begun a tide of "modernization," western policies and mandates against Arabic countries/Islam have also made the culture retreat into it's more traditional ways which include more traditional gender roles.

It's all very interesting. Especially coming from the states where women my age have forgotten what it means to be a feminist, and what it is like to have fight for equality....Certainly makes me appreciate even more the strife of generations of women before me...


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