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Sara Almheiri: Emirati Feminism 101
June 13, 2014
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I sigh audibly, no longer caring how rude I am acting. No, I begin to explain, I do not have to wear a burqa. Nor am I flogged if I show a bit of my ankle or wrist.

I know that I am making that poor American, who should honestly be blaming the media for his ignorance, feel like a complete idiot. I know that. Yet at the same time, from the first day I landed in the US, I have constantly been bombarded with the same questions. Do you cover up? Why are you dressed like the dementors from Harry Potter? How come your English is so good? Are you going to have an arranged marriage?

If I have time to Google something as ridiculous as hamsters in hats then I am sure they have time to educate themselves about a country that has been stirring up the media with its sudden rise to fame.

In the beginning, I would patiently listen to their ridiculous remarks and try to educate them about my culture. All for the slightest hope that I could erase the image of us, Emirati women. You know what image I’m talking about. The one where we are trapped in our houses, fully covered, sorrowfully gazing out of our barred windows at the men as they march whistling to the beat of freedom.

Replaced is the image of strong, individual women who are perfectly happy wearing what they want and doing as they please. I personally feel as though our ‘patriarchal society’ does not shove us into the suffocation of the black mass called an abaya, but instead gives us the strength to push the boundaries. Just this weekend, I met a beautiful young Emirati woman, who just graduated as an engineer. Until I met her, I didn’t even know they existed! (Hypocritical, I know.)

The average expat sees a group of women forced by their fathers, brothers and uncles to be wrapped in black and hidden from society. I see a group of strong individual thinkers who use their mind and personality to showcase themselves. Not their bodies.

Furthermore, men have a greater appreciation for the little things such as the kohl on our eyes and the bracelets dangling from our wrists.

People’s first thought of ‘what is sexy’ is the bikini. Not an abaya! I am not discouraging the bikini, but to be able to effortlessly seize the attention of everyone in the room wearing an abaya is something extraordinary.

I remember as a young girl, I refused to wear the abaya because I wanted be more Western. Now I gaze at it longingly. Not because I want to fit in with the rest of the Emirati girls or finally put an end to my grandmother’s brooding disapproval. But because of the power an abaya has.

This is not because of its ability to make a wrist look tantalising and taboo at the same time, but because of the women who wear it proudly. The female engineer, the CEO and the proud mother of five. They breathe such life into that simple piece of black material with nothing more than their personalities.

When I go to Ras Al Khaimah on Fridays, I prefer sitting with my young female cousins. People laugh at me, why is a grown woman sitting with these nine-year-olds? Stop mocking and take a step closer towards us. I guarantee you would not believe your eyes.

I am sitting amongst these girls crying. Not from sadness but from laughter. Oh their wit! They are incredibly observant, witty and put my nine-year-old self to shame for being so lame.

When I show my friends in America pictures of Ras Al Khaimah, more than a few comment on how they seem to be ‘poor girls, trapped in the middle of the desert.’ I beg to differ. Just because they don’t live the Western lifestyle, doesn’t mean that they are doomed to a life of misery and suffering.

In fact, ask any of them if they would like the opportunity to move to London, New York or Paris in a heartbeat, all expenses paid and they would scoff at your face. They love their country. It is this place that gave these girls such intellect and maturity. How and why? Well, I’ll tell you now, it’s no thanks to our nonexistent celebrity Emirati role models. It’s because of our aunts, mothers and let’s never forget to thank: our grandmothers.

Sara Al Mheiri is a young Emirati woman who is currently living in Boston, USA, where she is specialising in media studies with a focus on women's studies. Sara is the ultimate nomad who flits between countries observing new societies and their cultures.
 
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