Tuesday 21 July 2009

Controversy No.1

I have two controversial topics, I feel like writing about. One is motherhood/or on being a mother and the other -- male polygamy. I am not sure if they are related or not and I am not sure with which one to start.

Both are controversial. Well, I make them controversial...or I believe that they can lead to controversy. Hence I have titled my post - Controversy no.1, assuming it will be followed by controversy no.2.

Let me start with motherhood or on being a mother.

I noticed something quite strange - well maybe not so strange, and I found it particularly noticeable in this part of the world. I am not quite sure if it is due to some "Semitic" predisposition or it is some end result from an accumulation of cultural, political, economic, and social turmoil that this region has witnessed since...since ever, come to think of it.

There is something about Arab mothers and am sure it is applicable to Jewish mothers too, except this latter I find to be highly more neurotic...Ask any shrink.

Seriously now, there is something about Arab mothers, and I shall focus on this group, Jewish mothers don't interest me much. After all, they lost the milk of human kindness - ask the Palestinians.

Today I was in some public transport, and across me sat a woman around 40 who looked 70, with her son. She looked so depressed, so heavy with sadness, so unhappy.

She is no exception. I have noticed this over and over in many other Arab mothers, be it Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese...etc and of course Iraqi.

I can understand Iraqi and Palestinian mothers, but all the others - there is something more to it than just ongoing wars of occupation.

Frankly, most of them look so bloody unhappy.

But it is progressive...I noticed that too.

Since am happily single, I can afford to notice these things.

To resume it in simple terms - this is the progression :

First there is the dating/engagement period. The woman looks her best, she smiles, she takes care of her appearances, she looks full of hope...

Then there is the marriage/post marriage years until the birth of the first child.
She still seems to be doing okay. Maybe looks a little more tired and slightly more frantic, but still in control...

Then comes the birth of the first, second, third child and about 7 years of marriage have elapsed...and oh boy, the transformation. The signs of depression are written all over. The signs of anxiety, worry, frustration, control freak...if unaddressed they become psychosomatic symptoms - she somatizes everything and the final stage is martyrdom.

Martyrdom - damn it, women are so good at playing that role.

Martyrdom is expressed in sentences like the following

Al Hamdullah for everything, what can I do ?!
As long as they are happy, am happy.
This is my fate and destiny.
A woman has to sacrifice so much.
Motherhood is so painful and so rewarding.
My life is for my children.
I worry about them so much.
- mind you, each one of her kids is by now around 20-25 and above, in good health...probably married with kids.

Oh but no, the martyrdom goes on and on...and since it is not socially acceptable to call things by their names in such societies - depression, it is called martyrdom instead. And a whole panoply of psychosomatic illnesses follow faithfully in the steps of this unexpressed misery...

Really it's all about being unhappy. This is what it boils down to.

This state of chronic unhappiness is enhanced and glorified by cultural myths with religious flavors - that of the virtues and glories of the all self-sacrificing woman.

Motherhood becomes synonymous with self sacrifice - sacrifice of self.

Now the interesting observation is that women belonging to different social categories - internalize this self sacrifice/ this martyrdom differently.
They all psychosomatize the unhappiness. But the more affluent ones, exhibit histrionic characteristics and the less affluent ones - a sluggish despair. Flips sides of the same coin. And some, a mix of both.

Of course, any woman/mother reading this, would say that is not only Arab mothers, I am the same or my mother is that way too.

Sure thing. I am not excluding that very likely possibility. But I am focusing on Arab mothers because this is a part of the world I know best. And of course, you are free to disagree. This will not make my observations any less accurate.

Is this progressive unhappiness due to an essentially patriarchal culture that sees no role for women beyond motherhood, or is it due to a combination of cultural/religious...socialization that glorifies martyrdom and self sacrifice as an absolute. Or is it due to a history of political, social, economic hardships and struggles and an accumulation of losses, both personal and collective. Or is it due to a very stringent monotheistic view of God the Man/the Male, to whom the Feminine needs to absolutely submit and erase herself - her sense of self for the "higher good", for the "collectivity"-- in the process...Or is it a repressed/thwarted, sexuality/desire that finds no one, no echo to dance with ? Or maybe just chronic abuse, sexual and otherwise - and the anger has no way to vent itself ?...

I have no answers. It is probably a combination of all of the above...and more...

All I know is that, that mother sitting across me looked terribly unhappy, reminding me of hundreds of others I have come across...and I just wished it were not so.

I am just thinking out loud now - if women in general, and Arab women in particular, screamed in the right direction more often, voiced the cause of their unhappiness, expressed their deepest selves with more candor and courage, maybe, just maybe they will not need to be and remain martyrs no more...