Arab Women Live and Die Without Experiencing “Personal Space”

Saturday 12 June 202112:01 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

قد تعيش المرأة العربية وتموت من دون أن تختبر مساحتها الشخصية

After a marriage that lasted for three years, my husband had to travel by himself for the first time. It was at that moment that I had an idea. I was going to spend the time that he would be traveling in our own house instead of my mother’s. On the first day I spent alone in my house, I discovered something important. I discovered that, at this age — as I take sure steps towards the age of forty — and the moment my husband closed the door behind him and went on his way, it was the first time in my entire life that I had a home of my own, if only for a little while. It was a feeling that I had never experienced before in my life. My feelings were mixed between extreme joy and intense fear. Between wanting to do it all, and wanting to hide on my favorite couch at home without moving. This is my life, this is my personal space, and it was completely mine for an entire week, without any outside interference. What is all this vast comfort and personal space, and how have I been deprived of this feeling all my life?

I discovered something important. I discovered that, at this age — as I take sure steps towards the age of forty — and the moment my husband closed the door behind him and went on his way, it was the first time in my entire life that I had a home of my own, if only for a little while

During my childhood, within the walls of my family’s large house, my brother — who was six years older than me — and I shared one bedroom, albeit a large one. After I had grown old enough to an age that did not allow me to share a room with my male brother — “because, that's it, you are a young lady now,” as my mother said — the solution wasn’t to provide me with a room of my own. This was because the apartment’s arrangement and its “decor” would be ruined if we closed off one of its rooms, according to my mother’s wishes, even though we used to live in a spacious apartment that allowed for an extra private room for this “young lady” to enjoy her privacy. But the “sofa” was the chosen alternative. Yes, the sofa in the living room was my (non)personal space throughout all of my teenage years, until my father’s death when I began sharing the bedroom with my mother. A single sofa in the living room is what I got as a young woman during the most sensitive period of my life — adolescence — while my father and mother closed the door to their bedroom, and my brother did the same.

A single sofa in the living room is what I got as a girl during the most sensitive period of my life; adolescence, while my father and mother closed the door to their bedroom, and my brother did the same

My best friend at that time was suffering from the exact same thing. She even put up a sad curtain that barely hid anything of the place she was sleeping in, and where we used to study for our high school classes. I was a hardworking girl who didn’t seek out her own personal space to smoke or do anything else. I only wanted my space to study quietly. And yet, despite the lack of that space, I got high scores in high school, and so did my friend after we spent long study hours in my living room, in the dining room of her house behind that thin curtain, and on the sofa that opens into a bed where we would steal a quick two hours of rest between the hours of studying.

I'm not talking about some personal tragedy that I suffered and endured. Rather, I am talking about a general situation that most women live through in Egypt, perhaps even in the entire Arab world, where a woman lives and dies without ever experiencing her own personal space. She is a child in her family’s house, even if she has her own room. Closing the door of that room is considered suspicious, and suggests all that is wrong and rotten. Then, the woman leaves her family’s house to go to her husband’s house, where he shares her bedroom and the entire house. Usually, it is the man’s will when it comes to managing their day that is what’s imposed according to his work and his daily routine. This is not out of some injustice or ill-intent, but out of habit, since even if a woman wanted the day to go according to what she wants, she may not even know what she could do, after having lived for many years with every detail of her day and her personal space determined by others.

A woman lives and dies without ever experiencing her own personal space. She is a child in her family’s house, even if she has her own room, since closing the door of that room is considered a suspicious act

This is exactly what I realized after my husband closed the door behind him and went on his way to travel. I realized that I had no idea what I could do within such a vast space of freedom. The first thing that popped up from me was to talk to my friend on the phone and ask her to come over so that I wouldn’t be alone. It was not as easy as I had imagined. I had imagined that I would be over the moon in joy, I would dance around in the house, and I would stay up late outside. Those who raise birds are all well aware of the fact that a bird does not come out of its cage as soon as you open the door for it. It needs confidence. It needs to realize where it will go if it gets out. After spending two days with my friend, I decided to give it a try. After she had left, I had a whiff of this sweet nectar for the first time — the nectar of the small pleasures that personal space grants us with.

I took a leave of absence from my work so that all the elements of freedom and personal space would be available for me to fully take advantage of. I experienced the feeling of waking up on my own without anyone waking me up to do something. I experienced the feeling of lightness. The thing I had put on the table did not move until I later picked it up again. I will not think about food today, nor about cooking, and I will order any type of food over the phone when I get hungry. It might seem like petty and trivial details to you, but it was a whole new and wonderful world to me. I haven’t been out of the house all week, so that I could properly “roll around” in the comfort of my own personal space.

This friend of mine had to pay thousands of pounds after she and her husband separated to find a place for her cats to live, because her mother is afraid of cats. As for my teenage friend with whom I had talked to a few days ago, she was crying because after getting married and after having children, she cannot find enough space for herself, not even in the bathroom where her child would not leave her even as she uses the toilet or while taking a shower. Another friend of mine lived in Cairo with three other female students, where she was studying far from the province that she was born in. I would relive with her the memories of her friends’ bullying whenever she came in late at night because they were “devout” and didn’t want their apartment to have a bad name or reputation. My mother, who is now sixty years old, and who had five brothers, had never experienced what it meant to have a room that she could close the door of. And my seven-year-old niece sleeps with her grandmother in her room. Over the generations, and even with the changing social and economic conditions, believe me, the Arab woman may live and die, without realizing the meaning of the comfort of personal space.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22

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