In the Shadows of Men: Determination



With determination, I decided to get a divorce. I believed it was my right as a free Muslim woman. I was told I was free, and I decided to regain my freedom at that moment. I didn’t realize, of course, that freedom for a woman in a patriarchal society is impossible. All I aspired to do was take a breath without a man watching over me. My heart was pleading for life. It was pleading to take a breath—a breath to make me myself again. A breath to free the soul I was created to be, not the creature enslaved by another, one devoid of mercy, feelings, or piety.

I held something inside, a dream created for me by Ahlam Mosteghanemi and her trilogy’s heroine. It was as if I recalled it by force and allowed her to flow inside me, carrying her dreams within me. I wanted to raise my children the way I aspired to raise them. I wanted to save them from an inescapable hell. I wanted to save them from that future at any price.

I thought the price, giving up money and glory, would allow me my freedom. And it did. After conceding all my marriage and work entitlements, my divorce from that egoist was easy. I gave him everything we had attained in our marriage, like someone throwing a dog a bone. And he soon woke to find himself alone in that spacious house with money he thought he’d gained by himself. A servant, a cook, and his mistresses could substitute for the wife he lost, he told himself. Until he found himself overcome with a loneliness he couldn’t comprehend.

How men resemble dogs in our patriarchal societies. A dog will discover his tail and immediately begin to attack it, trying to reach and catch. He turns around and around, circling aimlessly until he forgets why he was running in the first place. He continues in circles until he becomes dizzy and faints from exhaustion, only to wake and begin again.

Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs. We brought home two at my children’s instance in the years following the divorce. I feel guilty using them for such metaphors because I know dogs to be full of loyalty, dedication, sincerity, and real love. They only want a kind look, a little empathy, and access to your affection.

The moment my husband woke from the shame of his ignorance, he realized how much he had lost. He understood that money could never fulfill his yearning for the love of his son, and that  a wife cannot be replaced by a slave, a servant, or a mistress installed only to attend to a man’s wants and needs. I don’t know whether or not he understood that every woman is unique, even when he finds in her a resemblance to another woman. A woman is more than a beautiful body a man uses to fulfill his unbridled lust, and she is not an eternal fountain where the thirsty can drink. Nor is she a machine over which a man exercises his control, a simple appliance he uses to manufacture successors.

A woman is not a wife who meets demands. She is not a mistress with whom a man can extinguish his desires. A woman is not a servant created to fulfill his dreams of a sultan’s harem.

And not all women are purely feminine in their characteristics. Not all women are exuberant mothers just because they have conceived and borne children. Nor are all men the full expression of manhood.

The man continues to search for a real woman. He wants her to be real yet elusive. He doesn’t stop searching for her until he reaches despair and becomes satisfied with a woman who commends him for his exclusivity, strength, genius, and exceptional existence. How alike women are and how easy it is to read them, those women the man searches among. But…

How can a man see things any differently when everything is organized around him, when the world teaches him to see the universe in only one way—with himself at the center? His upbringing is no different than that of a girl, except he is brought up to be dominant, she submissive.

What is required of the boy is to be a man from the moment of his creation. He has to bear the responsibility of the females around him. He has to hold his father’s throne on his shoulders and carry in it his parents and his sisters and all of the responsibilities God gave him. Man must have adapted to these responsibilities over time until he became Samson the Invincible and sat on the majestic throne of the universe in all his masculinity. As boys in our society grow up, the whip of obedience and righteousness lashes at their backs. They must forge ahead in their path to return the favor, to become the deserving heirs to their parents’ fortunes.

And each bite of food we place in the mouths of our male children is an investment in the continuation of the cycle. But we feed our girls something different. The bite fed to the daughter is one of gratitude and charity. We raise her to be a gift, a donation to be given to a man one day. Whereas the investment in the boy is, by extension, an investment in a woman who will one day become his property.

The injustice of our patriarchal society is that the male receives a greater portion of the benefits as he grows older. Life throws him down its many ragged and thorny roads, while the girl is all alone or kept in the control of the man in charge of her. The man, as he comes of age, is now carried on the shoulders of his parents until they secure him in a wealthy life with a virtuous woman. Then they give their permission for him to proceed as his own man, though they never quite give up control, and, after that, he is the one who grants or denies permission, the one with the power to control.

The mother is a facilitator in this; the female is the one who helps reinforce the terms of masculinity in our societies. It’s as if the dreams she’s lost in her submission and the misery of marriage are erased by her son. Through him she fulfills herself and takes revenge for her lost dignity so that she may regain her vigor. She raises a male to become what she could not, and she is finally able to control others and make them submit to her. She reminds her son with each breath that she is the reason he is alive.

I might have realized this later in my marriage when I gave birth to my male child. I admit that my obsession with a male child came from my own family, who believed that only a boy would give meaning to life. The wife does not justify her marriage until she gives birth to a male child; he is the true validation of her existence.

I remember a moment when my boy was not yet a month old, and I felt hatred toward his future wife. I was overcome with jealousy and malevolence toward the woman who would come and take my love from me once he grew into a man. Suddenly, I understood the hatred my mother-in-law felt towards me. At that moment, I let go of my son and his future wife.

It was not easy to let go of that feeling of possessiveness that came over me so easily. I wanted my son to be everything his father was not, as a husband and as a man. At that stage, I wanted my son to appreciate me and understand me as an independent person with her own obsessions, feelings, and space. I started to turn all my energy toward my son, as if, with him, the scattered dreams could be achieved. I started seeing myself in the form of my mother.



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