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On being an American feminist living in Kuwait


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I have not blogged in a while and it is because experiencing life takes up a lot of your time.  Since I’ve moved here, I’ve learned so much about Kuwaiti life, Islam and cultural norms.  I’ve also started a new relationship with a native black Kuwaiti so needless to say, I’m fully engrossed in the day to day culture of what it is to live in Kuwait.

As a woman and feminist, I find it hard to deal with the daily expectations of having to cover, even more so because of my vuluptuous body type and my ethnicity.  Black women here are assumed to Ethiopian, which is synonymous for prostitute.  I was never the type to have many clothes in my wardrobe, so to come here and face the fact that most of my clothing is inappropriate even for grocery shopping, is challenging.

Let me just begin by saying that I’m a women that does not wear jeans because I simply have an awful hard time finding a pair that fits me well.  So I tend to opt for cotton-based materials (stretch) that allow me to breathe and not force my body to conform into any shape.  What I’m finding is that it’s not my clothing that’s offensive in this society, it’s my body.

I have seen Arab women wearing hijab, with pants that hugged their butts so tightly that it creased under their butt cheeks.  I have seen women wearing abaya that had a belted waistline, accentuating their hour glass figure.  I have also heard stories from various witnesses of women who spread their legs when wearing abaya to show a man that they are interested, or who attend Kuwaiti parties where Western men are invited and remove their covering to show their skimpy outfits underneath, all to wear abaya again the next day.

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I want to be clear that this behavior is not seen as respectable under Islamic law and that all cultures stratify holiness regardless of the religion.

My Syrian friend is Muslim and she chooses not to cover.  She says that Islam is in her heart and not on her body.  She despises the covered women because so often in her life, she’s seen these women do the most sexual acts while demonizing women like herself who choose not to cover.  My boyfriend even, has told me stories about how some Kuwaitis go to bed with a man so fast, that the expectation for immediate sex exist here in this country as well.  Not to mention, anal sex isn’t seen as loosing virginity, so many women opt for this instead.

At work, I have been admonished for wearing clothes that were tailored to my body, while my less curvacious coworkers show cleavage, wear jeans and accentuate their figures freely.  It hurts me to see others being overlooked because of their thinness while I’m being scrutinized because I’m not.  This occurs in America as well, though.

I have also had a hard time dealing with the lack of wellness centers for women here in Kuwait.  Most of the gyms are for men only and women-only gyms are much more expensive with less spectacular facilities.  My boyfriend goes to a beautiful gym down the street from my house while I run in the construction site behind my home or run the stairs in my apartment building.  I subject myself to street harassment and traffic danger when I do so, but I have resorted to it out of sheer desperation for exercise.  I have almost been hit by a cement truck while running, but what can I do?

Kuwait spends a lot of time shielding it’s large homosexual population, particularly males, from the world’s eye.  The amount of homosexual men and transgendered people living in secrecy here will blow your mind, and you can find them in large numbers within the online community.  It’s sad, but my boyfriend tells me that the saying in Kuwait is that if you see a very attractive woman with a nice face and body, she was probably born male because the Kuwaiti women are typically overweight and/or ugly.

This obesity problem that he’s speaking of comes from the lack of wellness facilities for women and the childhood obesity rates, which is amongst the highest in the world.  There is no nightlife here, so people often spend their leisure time eating out.  Even the schools serve Dominoes Pizza as the main course everyday, with the majority of the lunches coming in a vacuum sealed package.

One of the things that brings my boyfriend and I together is our desire to be healthy and fit. We love each other and this is honestly the best relationship I’ve ever been in.  His priorities in his manhood are defined a bit differently than American men.  He is big on paying for things and will not allow me to pay for anything when I am with him.  If I do, it’s because he honestly doesn’t have it at the moment, which kills him on the inside.

His concept of “gayness” is different and the culture around the “No Homo” phrase doesn’t exist here in Kuwait.  For example, he was less uncomfortable telling me about his experience talking with a transgendered women online, only to discover her original sex upon meeting her, which he then ended the relationship.  But a black American man, in my experience, would not have even had the courage to tell me these things in fear of being called gay.  My boyfriend is extremely heterosexual, but he does not have the same dimensions for gayness as black American men do.  He also keeps pictures of topless men on his screen savers to remind him of his fitness goals.  Most men I know back at home wouldn’t be caught dead with such images.

The reason why I am speaking of black American males and not males in general is because of my own limited experience with males from other races.  So I want to be clear on the cultural dynamic.  Anyway…

Men here hold hands together while walking in the malls and it is seen as a gesture of friendship.  The first time I saw this, I wanted to stare.  It’s amazing how the constructs of “gayness” transform according to the cultural lens.

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With all of this being said, holiness is something that looks different all over the world.  This is a very conservative country, but once you see how these people live, it’s not much different than how we live in America.  You have your “holier than thou” people who wear dishdasha and abaya, some who even wear gloves and socks.  You even have some women who will not allow their husbands to see their faces during sex.  You have some Muslims who don’t listen to music due to their faith, just as we have orthodox Christians and Jews.  And within the same land, we have Muslims who drink alcohol, eat pork, have premarital sex and don’t cover.

What I have learned about holiness is that it resides in your actions.  My boyfriend swears that I will convert to Islam one day, and says that all great thinkers do eventually.  I know this is not true, but we agree to respect each others beliefs and allow God to deal with us.  What I do like about Islam is its willingness to deal with science and seeing science as the creation of God.  But as I have told him, I can never be in a place where I wont allow myself to question any holy book, especially if God has given me the brain and will I need to think.  I am finally comfortable saying that I do not accept Jesus as my Lord and savior.  It was a lot for me to say that the Bible is not my final answer and I explained to him that the Holy Quran will not be either.  God did not write a book for man; God speaks to our hearts.  He will have to go through this process for himself as a Muslim.  It’s a lot to rethink everything you’ve been taught since you were a child.  Who knows where we will end up in our spiritual journeys.  All I know is that I want my children to experience God on their own without having religion forced down their throats.

There is also much to learn from this society.  Yes, they have a “constitutional monarchy” but citizens here are very well taken care of.  They do not pay taxes and do not pay for any schooling, whether domestic or abroad.  I honestly can’t see the difference between their dictatorship and our own.  We aren’t any better.

College debt does not exist. I also like how the government prioritizes its citizens in business, forcing foreigners to have a Kuwaiti partner in order to open business.  I think America should adopt this policy.  Both societies have much to learn from one another.

So, back to living.  I will continue to keep you posted on this new Kuwaiti life I’m living.  Ttyl!

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One response »

  1. Great article…
    Indeed Kuwait is very liberal towards fashion especially woman, other part of the world does not expect women of middle east with such fashion thinking they are conservatives.

    And the part where you mention they take you as Ethiopian is a discrimination behavior which is very common in Kuwait, they discriminate among Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi…

    The reason there is no college debt and America does because, Kuwait does not welcome expats as much America does and you gain citizenship in America but not in Kuwait. So facilities are exclusive to Kuwaitis only. And after living 21 years in this country I am still an expat with no equal facility as its citizen does or importance…

    Reply

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