The status of women in the Arab world is one which is still undergoing a long process of slow transformation and development. Lebanon, a leader among Arab countries in this domain, is still ages behind equality between men and women. It is true that Lebanese laws are continuously changed and updated now, in order to become compatible with the international criteria set by the United Nations, but in reality, many Lebanese women, even among the highest ranks of society, are still at severe disadvantage in comparison to the status of men. In this paper, I am going to discuss the situation of a young Lebanese woman who has undergone major difficulties in her life due to the restrictions set by society on women. The name of this woman shall not be revealed because the story is very recent, and the events are very shocking and may thus lead to the recognition of this woman.
The story started in 1995. Rania was then a 24-year old student at LAU, and was considered to be one of the brightest student in her classes. She was quite pretty and attractive, and had many friends. She was studying business management and scored very high grades in comparison to other male and female students alike.
Rania also came from a very rich family, although the wealth of this family was not very old. Rania had two sisters and a brother who was studying in the United States. Being the eldest at home, she had her own car, was free to go and come with her female but not male friends, and eventually, her father purchased her a cellular phone so that she would remain in contact with the family wherever she went.
It is during this period that I met Rania, when she was in a position which many other Lebanese girls would like to be: money, car, family, happiness. Two and a half years later, we met again after a very long separation, but this time, Rania was totally changed, and I would even say destroyed.
It happened that Rania had two problems at the same time. Her first problem was that she was sexually demanding, which was a disaster for a woman like her, since her family was very conservative, and at the same time, she was not willing to marry any man who proposed to her. She wanted to marry the man she really loved, who happened to be Mohammed. The second problem that Rania lived was that she had faith in people and in the world around her, making it easier for her to believe what is said to her.
Mohammed graduated in 1995 whereas Rania still had one year to go. Leaving to Africa to attend to his father’s business, Rania felt a lot of emptiness, to the extent that when he returned, she cried for him not to leave her again. He told her, however, that he had to build himself, and that he was not going to marry her with his father’s money. Mohammed spent the summer in Lebanon, and during this period, the two met each other almost daily, but the idea of his leaving her at the end of the summer did not leave her mind. At the same time, Mohammed was assuring her that their marriage would take place immediately after her graduation, since by then, he would have managed to build a career for himself.
Taken by his promises, and infatuated by his love and words, Rania slept with Mohammed. She took great many risks by doing that, but she obviously had a lot of trust in him. According to Rania, she spent “the best summer in her life.” But this was not the problem. Mohammed left to Africa at the end of the summer, and Rania went back to her college. Rania then met a new friend at college Lina, and the two started to get closer. By mere chance, Rania was shocked when she found out that Lina was getting married next summer to a person called Mohammed, who ended up being Rania’s lover.
Had it been a normal love shock, Rania would not have suffered much, for she had a lot of self-confidence. However, the shock was double-dose because she was no longer a virgin, which in terms of her society, meant that she was a second-hand woman, a woman who will not have good chance in getting a good husband, but rather, “would be sold to the first to accept her” as she said.
Rania immediately called Mohammed and tried to find out what happened, but he kept evading her until she finally lost hope. She had one of two choices: either to suffer in silence and to avoid marriage altogether in the foreseen future, or to tell her mother. Without any support, she was forced to tell her mother who turned the world upside down around her. Rania was forced by her father to quit college, to give back her key cars, and stay in her room as a prisoner. The rest of the family was not to say a single word to her. This went on for about a month and a half.
During this period, the parents did not waste effort. At first they sought help from a relative who contacted Mohammed and tried to find out what his intentions were. Realizing that he was a hopeless case, the father immediately contacted one of his cousins and discussed with him the possibilities of marrying Rania to the nephew Mohib. The father made his point clear from the beginning: money in exchange of marriage. Rania, of course, knew nothing until the arrangements were finally done. She was not even asked whether she agreed or refused. She was not even allowed to continue her education and earn the degree, although she only had two courses to finish during the summer.
Rania’s marriage to Mohib was a total disaster. He was educated with a degree in accounting, and he had an acceptable job, but he had two problems with his wife. First of all, he had the feeling that he was in a better position, since it was he who sacrificed and married her; and secondly, he could never trust her or even respect her, and the word which he used to call her whenever they argued was “bitch.”
Mohib of course ignored the fact that he got a new car and a new apartment from Rania’s father. Nor did he remember the allowance he was paid on occasions to support their marriage. This was normal, since her parents did not even bother to remind him or to pay her proper visits.
Unable to live with her shame, Rania finally started to quarrel with her husband everyday, and in the end, she even locked herself up in her room and refused to see him. Divorce was inevitable, and Rania went back home.
At first, her parents treated her in an extremely bad manner. Both her father and mother insulted and beat her. Her brother refused to talk to her, and her sisters did not show respect any more. She was like a pariah at home.
However, the situation eventually changed when the parents discovered that now they had a divorced daughter, which was in a way better than having a unmarried daughter who had lost her virginity. This eased the situation a little for her, but all in all, it did not enable her to live the life she had before. Her father allowed her to finish her education, which she did immediately, and then she got herself a job at a reputable bank.
Rania does not have the same fears and feelings of shame and horror which she lived in the past two years. Yet, she is no longer the same person. In just a few weeks, she had discovered that her real situation was less than she expected, and that as a woman, a slight mistake could be worth her happiness for a life time. Very few people can really know or imagine what kind of damage was done to Rania’s character and personality, for those who knew her before cannot believe that it was the same person. She had lost her humor, and had become pessimistic, not to mention that she had lost faith in almost everyone and thing. Rania believes that it is because of her gender that she suffered all this, and she still believes that her mistake did not deserve this. After all, she was not what her parents thought she was.
Rania’s case may be much commoner than any of us can imagine in a country and a society which is built on oppressing women and keeping them in cocoons. By analyzing this case, we can come out with the following conclusions:
First of all, Rania believed in what her lover promised and was ready to give in everything for him. At the same time, his concern was for having fun and tricking her, which he did without a feeling of remorse. She had to bear all the consequences, while he got away with it, without the least concern or bother. This shows that in such a patriarchal society, the blame and responsibility are on the woman for mistakes, whereas males are exempted from such responsibilities and even the feelings of guilt.
Secondly, Rania’s parents were concerned about the reputation of their daughter, not as “their daughter,” but rather, as “a daughter” or “a bride to be.” They were concerned about the honor of the family and its members, even if sacrificing the happiness of the daughter. The hypocrisy is obvious: the family prefers a divorced daughter to an unwed daughter who had lost her virginity. This means that the social perspective emphasizes on appearances, not on realities. Rania is not judged for her mistake, but rather, for what she appeared to be in society, that is, “a bitch” as her mother, father and husband called her.
Hypocrisy is also obvious in the way the parents changed their thoughts about the status of their daughter when they accepted her as a divorced woman, for in such a case, her honor is not as exposed as it is when she was not a virgin and at the same time unwed. This hypocrisy is not characteristics of this family, but rather, of many conservative Lebanese families which care for appearances at the expense of their daughters
We can also notice that the typical Lebanese male, Mohammed, was not blamed by any side. He did not have to share guilt with Rania, and all that he had to do, was to avoid her phone calls. For society, Mohammed’s behavior is acceptable, but not Rania’s. For society, Mohammed is a man and carries no shame, but the whole shame falls on the woman. This makes it clear that still in this society, modernization is only restricted to appearances, to women in their dresses, cars, cellular phones and other modern-life facilities, but not to the mentality of society and the way it deals with women.