Given the cold shoulder.
And every time… it was for a woman.
Anyone who finds out that I live in the Middle East usually has a few questions. One or more of those questions generally has to do with women.
“Why do they have to wear those coverings? Isn’t that oppressive?”
The ideas we have about areas of the world we have spent little to no time personally investigating are endless. So with that in mind, let’s delve a little deeper into the topic of women. And while I will save some more sensitive conversations for face-to-face encounters, here are three areas in regards to women where the UAE got it right.
My wife has it easy. She takes public transportation frequently and she is 100% ok with that. Why? Preferential seating.
In the front of every bus, they have reserved seats for women. Women walk on and sit down. Why else does she have it easy? Lines. She doesn’t wait in them… at all.
Where the average wait time for manly me may sometimes be upwards of an hour and a half, for her, mere minutes. I went to take care of a run-of-the-mill issue at a local business a few months back and as I sat there with ticket in hand, I watched as woman after woman were seated, served, and satisfied within minutes.
Am I upset with either of these? Not at all. I am actually thrilled by the notion that my discomfort and inconvenience would increase the tranquility and comfort of the opposite sex. My pain would decrease theirs. This is noble. Not that I myself am noble, no, not in the slightest. The act of serving the women in our lives is noble. Whether mother, wife, or stranger, men should strive for such acts of nobility.
During my trip home this summer, there was an ongoing discussion on one of the radios I listened to. The debate? In some European countries, there existed parking spaces that were deemed “Women Only”. They were larger than the average parking space and significantly closer to store and business fronts. Critics argued the spaces were discriminating against women. They said women were just as capable of parking in regular size spaces as men and were similarly able to walk. They didn’t need the help of the municipalities to ensure their commuting ease. And for the most part they were right, women don’t need those seemingly trivial accommodations. But it speaks to something greater, something the UAE demonstrates abundantly – protection.
In the UAE, and especially in the older generation, there exists a level of joy and desire for the men to WANT to care for women. It is not about a superiority complex, or a belief that women are less, but rather the belief that it is ok to care for women and children.
I know my wife can take care of herself. She is as fierce as she is loving. She could chew this world up and spit it back up if needed to. Now, I on the other hand could be blown away with a stiff breeze. My best defense growing up on the streets of Philadelphia was a quick pace and fake twitch. This is the man my wife chose to marry. She could easily run the show, and I’d probably let her. But for some unfathomable reason, she chooses to let me protect her. She defers to my judgment on many things and she highlights those times when I act as the almighty protector of her universe. And it brings me joy to be that protector. As we each fill that role more deeply, we grow together.
That is what exists in many parts of the UAE – an arena for growth. They long to protect, and the women allow it. This is what builds stronger relationships, dependency on one another. As that relationship grows, it gives way to some thing greater
My wife was walking back from the mall last year in the middle of the day. It was mid- October, and if you know Abu Dhabi in October in the middle of the day, you know it is hot. As she was about to cross the street, a local Emirati in a massive Land Rover, pulled up beside her and pleaded with her to get in the car.
Now, hold on! For those of you that live in any major city, your first instinct might have been to run in the opposite direction, screaming wildly of kidnap. Thankfully, for me, and for the sake of this story, my wife did not jump to such conclusions. She simply listened to the man’s attempt at English.
“Come. Please. Very hot. VERY hot. Cool. Cool. I take home. No walk. Very hot. Please.”
His demeanor, she recalls, was not in the slightest bit aggressive or predatory. It was of a heartfelt desire to help. My wife politely declined and continued to walk.
The man swung back around the block and once again tried to shield her from the heat. After a few more polite refusals, the man drove away slowly and seemingly grieved in his spirit.
When my wife got home and told me this story, I was amazed. This was like no other “pick-up line” tale I’d heard before. From the way she described the man, he was either the most deviously glorious actor or he was a man with a caring and profound respect for my wife.
Respect is much more than just tolerance. We sometimes teach in our schools a watered down version of respect. It goes something like, “You don’t have to like the person but you should respect them”, which translates to, “They’re annoying. We know. But you have to put up with them nonetheless.” This is not the view the UAE takes on women. The respect for women I see on a day-to-day basis is one where women are unequivocally valuable and integral to life. It is the kind of respect that demonstrates more than equality, but of inherent worth.
But back to the original question of oppression. How could a country respect women and yet dictate what they have to wear?
To answer we must look at the understanding of the questioner. To think that every woman who follows a certain religion is FORCED to wear a certain type of clothing is at best, naïve, and at worst, terribly insulting. There are millions of women, and men, all over the globe that CHOOSE to wear certain clothing out of respect and obedience to their beliefs. These intentional believers are not ignorant of why they wear what they wear, nor do they think it “oppressive” for their creator to have a say in how they should live their lives.
In reality, their choice to live out their faith should inspire all of us to reflect on our lives and assess whether we are truly living out what WE believe. As Americans, it is shouted from the rooftops that women should have a choice. Yet when some women’s choice is to humble herself and allow others to comfort, protect, and respect her more deeply, it is seen as ignorance and helplessness. Or even, stupidity by some.
It is refreshing to walk on a bus and see a women’s only section in the front. I welcome the custom of allowing women to be attended to first in line rather than ‘waiting their turn’ like the rest of us. And I long for the day when women feel so protected and respected by men that they willingly accept the shelter of a cool car on a hot day, because they trust the men in this world to take care of them. That is the world I long for, and I believe the UAE agrees.
So in the end, here’s the dilemma. None of this should be necessary.
The UAE shouldn’t have to insist on any of these things. Men should willingly and joyfully take on these burdens. Men around the world should go above and beyond to sacrifice their convenience and ideals to provide comfort, safety, and security to EVERY woman.
Treating the woman who brought you into this world and the one you are married to well is good. It is very good. It is VERY VERY good. The UAE takes that same level of familial regard and expands it to all women. We allow ourselves the blatant disregard for those in the outer edges of our world while we have such high regard for those on the inside. And this gives us comfort. Basically, we are ok with inaction to the many because of our action with the few.
If all men, right now, took up the mantle of treating every woman like they should treat their mother, sister, or wife, we would cease to need government regulations to encourage such sacrifice.
Sadly, that is not this day. So in the meantime, bravo UAE. As for all you men… move it on back, to the back of the bus.