Decisions in a closet

In a few days , I will be travelling to another Middle Eastern capital . Travelling is a pain - agreed.
But for an Arab woman , it is more than just a nuisance , it is torture .
Everytime , I am set to go to some Middle Eastern city , my mind gets into semi automatic gear and I am always amazed as to how I can process several thoughts simultaneously all at once .
One of my biggest obsessions when travelling to another Middle Eastern country is what shall I wear - I become totally fixated on this thought .
Some of you may think it is female vanity or simple coquetterie . I can assure none of that is true .
It goes beyond that . For a non veiled woman such as myself (rightly or wrongly) , what I decide to wear is of crucial importance these days . I say these days , because am old enough to know it was not that way before - before meaning in the early 80's and 90's .
Now , I have to be very very careful . My wardrobe has become a "lieu" for deep reflections .
Is this dress too short ? are these jeans too tight ? is this skirt wide enough ? what about this shirt , is it transparent by any chance ? and the t-shirt , make sure it has sleeves and it goes on and on ...
I can assure you that I am a relatively modest dresser and do not enjoy parading or exhibiting myself in public . Ok, I may be a little eccentric in my taste but there is nothing shocking or unpuritanical about it . Yet despite all of that , I am not at rest and there is no respite .
If I am to compare myself to the increasing number of women clad from head to toe , then I will invariably appear naked in comparison . There is no way I can win this battle .
I feel constantly judged when travelling alone in the Middle East . People are simply not used seeing a woman by herself . They almost always assume you mean business and men know what business I am talking about . A woman can have 10 phds and 20 years of work experience in her baggage but when she travels alone , she is immediately seen at best as an object of curiosity or at worst as an "easy target " specially if she happens to be an Arab like myself .
So I find it absolutely necessary to keep that "frigid death " look on my face so as to ward off unwanted predators. And needless to say that this put-on demeanor has to be crowned with a serious frown .
The most difficult moments when travelling alone is eating time . Eating becomes a torturous process. I find myself having to stick to the hotel restaurant because wandering alone , in particular during the evenings , in some restaurant is a definite no no .
I have had the experience of going out alone at night and I did mention one incident at this jazz club in Cairo but I have heaps of other incidents I can share with you .
Everyone stares at you , women think you are after their husbands/boyfriends , men think you are a hooker prowling for a client , even the waiters try to hit on you . I feel so uncomfortable that I always gulp my food down , my stomach in knots , pay my bill in a rush and head back to my hotel room . Many a times I have cried myself to sleep from sheer frustration .
A woman cannot reclaim the night alone in this part of the world . She has to be accompanied . And if she happens to be alone , then she has no one to blame but herself . She should either be with her family or husband . And if she has neither , then ....then she sits in her hotel room and eats cold sandwichs watching Al Jazeera . Do you understand now why most Arab women are desperate to get married .
Marriage is the passport to civil society , it procures you a place , a space to move , a title of respectability . And if you happen to be unmarried like myself , by choice , then you are doomed forever . You are neither a mother , nor a wife - you are just a woman alone in a wild world .
Freedom has always a price and sometimes a costly one and It seems that I will not stop paying its dues .
Ok , so I was saying ...ah right , my clothes ...So what do you think I should wear ?


M. Shahin said…
When we were traveling back to the States, we also had to decide what we were going to wear. It was quite a hassle, figuring it out, but we decided against wearing black.

I wore a flowery abaya and matching scarf and my sister wore a jean skirt. We just didn't want any trouble at the US airports, and taken in for questioning, which recently happened to Iraqi Americans, and they were not even wearing scarves.

I understand how you feel about being targeted when alone. I was never alone but with my sister in a gulf country and we were followed by men. Even when we were in a group, men still had a hard time leaving us alone.

It is sad that this was happening in a Muslim country. You should feel safe around Muslim brothers, but Muslim a lot of times is only in name.

I think the 'look' is a good weapon to carry :-) Also try carrying pepper spray, and if you can travel in a group with other women if you can. They are less likely to do anything serious if there is a group.

And as for what to wear, just wear something that won't attract to much attention or that will help to blend into whatever environment you are going to be in.

Have a safe trip....
Anonymous said…
How utterly sad.
Do you notice any difference in university towns or academia in general?
Layla Anwar said…
Frankly , it depends which capital you are in . But over all I would say the sexual politics are overall the same , within varying degrees .
Anonymous said…
i know its a little late but i think u shud have wore black pants, low to medium heels, a pink sweater and a black business-style type jacket
Anonymous said…
i think u ignored "m. shahin" once 2 often.....

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