— By: Alexandra Kinias —
Women in Egypt live in perpetual struggle , both internal and external. To explain the internal struggle she was going through, a young single woman borrowed the Cherokee tale of the two wolves to demonstrate her point.
The Tale of the Two Wolves
One evening, an elderly
Cherokee told his
grandson about a battle that
goes on inside people.
He said “my son, the battle is
between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.
One is evil. It is anger,
envy, jealousy, sorrow,
regret, greed, arrogance,
self-pity, guilt, and resentment.
The other is good.
It is joy, peace love, hope serenity,
humility, kindness, benevolence,
truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson though about
it for a minute and then asked
his grandfather:”which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied,
“The one that you feed”
The young woman replaced the evil and good wolves in the Native American tale by Egyptian and Western ones. Similar to many other women her age, she was torn between the social, cultural and religious values she grew up with, and the western values imported to Egypt via satellite dishes, and which have influenced, shaped, and often distorted the perception of reality of how the west lives in the minds of many. None-the-less, exposure to the western pop culture has opened the eyes of many to a simpler, freer way of living where women are independent and where gender equality is practiced.
The Egyptian wolf living within this young woman, and many others, and that abide by the social rules and values, fought a continuous battle with the wolf that wants to live a westernized lifestyle, have a boyfriend, experience premarital sex, drinks, travels alone, or openly admitting their sexual orientations.
Because of the shame associated with imported western values alien to Middle Eastern societies, women don’t have enough courage to stand up to the social taboos, and as a result, lead a confused double standard life where the battle between the two wolves becomes a part of it; it influences their views, decisions and mostly leaves them uncertain on which side they should stand. Despite their dreams of freedom and independence, breaking these taboos is challenging for some and impossible for many. Women are actually chained not only by social values, but also by religious ones.
Religion plays a powerful role in shaping their identities, protecting their virtues and honors and guiding them through life. It is the voice of conscience that whispers “haram .. haram .. haram..,” a constant reminder that enjoying life’s pleasures according to the western values is forbidden by Islamic law. So, in addition to the identity crisis many suffer from, they are also living in continuous shame and guilt. And no matter how fierce the battle between the wolves is, the Egyptian wolf wins. At the end of the day, they are compelled to live by the social and religious standards that have been drilled in their minds since birth, and which have been passed from generation to the other.
And while the wolves are fighting within, women in Egypt encounter another external struggle that is manifested in the pressures they are exposed to, to fulfil the social roles expected from them. In a society where marriage is glorified, girls grow up to believe that it is women’s ultimate dream. And when unmarried young women above the age of twenty five are pitied, mocked, gossiped about and labeled as spinsters, staying single is not a choice.
Many women marry, often incompatible partners, because of social, peer and family pressure. Once married, they are pressured to start a family or stay in dysfunctional marriages, which until less than two decades ago, had no right to terminate them, but most importantly because a divorcee in the Egyptian society is looked down upon.
Before the new divorce laws that were issued in 2000, which granted women the right to divorce and retain the house, if the kids are still underage, non-working women with no source of income stayed married for financial reasons and in fear to end up homeless. And with the loose alimony and child support laws, not all families were ready for the extra expenses of a divorced daughter and grandkids. The irony, however, was that even women who could afford a divorce, still couldn’t get one. It was a right granted only to men. And while some women couldn’t get a divorce, others were divorced against their wishes.
Society stigmatized and alienated divorced women. Viewed by many as loose and unrespectable women, friends avoided them to protect their husbands and their own marriages. Parents restricted their freedoms to guard their tarnished reputation, in the eyes of the society. The endless battles in courts over the alimonies, child support and custody dragged for years and costed fortunes. Divorced women were nothing but trouble, and families were happy to hand them over to another man to resume their responsibilities.
Add to that that women growing up in misogynist societies learn to cope with their husband’s polygamy and domestic violence; for they are permitted by Sharia, the Islamic law. In Egypt, unlike the civil laws the rule the land, family laws are derived from Sharia, favoring men’s interests over women, which adds more burden to women’s lives. So, while women’s struggle continues, meager changes for their status take effect, since such changes must be permitted by religious scholars, whom by doing so would be defying the Islamic law.
It is very stressful to be a woman in Egypt.