Discover more from Love & Literature
Shame and Loathing In Dubai
FEAR OF FLYING: CHAPTER 3
Written by: Nada Chehade
Hi, my name is Nada; I’m too much, too little, not enough.
All I wanted to do was get divorced, but it was more shameful to leave a shitty marriage than remain unhappy for the rest of my life.
Divorce was taboo in my community; I had to sit through hours of gaslighting until I developed a whole new kind of anxiety problem — the one where the woman never made her husband a hot meal, so she got hit by a bus. Yeah, I’m scared of buses now. I hate them so much.
The town made it seem like I was unable to decide I wanted to leave my marriage all on my own. Everyone felt compelled to give me their unwarranted opinions and judgments. I wasn’t thinking straight; I was letting my feelings get in the way of a marriage. So for ten months, it was a never-ending cycle of gaslighting with him and the whole community.
No really, he would call me a seven, and the town would tell me it’s because I wasn’t good enough, so I would go back and be good enough, and then, they’d tell me you’re too much, so I would be too little, and the cycle went on and on. Fuck, I was so good at acting little. It’s probably where all my self-doubt comes from.
During the period where I was campaigning heavily for the town’s approval to divorce, I heard it all. Men will be men like it was biology to be an asshole. Who will take care of you once your fazer is gone? From Viking raids, I would presume. The divorce process sucks; you might as well stay; deal! Once you reach the wall, it’s over. Ugh. The wall, the wall!
Did I tell you about the fucking wall? That’s when women reach thirty and disintegrate into dust. Oh yeah, we just shrivel up and become useless. Everything goes downhill, especially our boobs, and we have to succumb to tucking them into our jeans pockets for real support. So better nab you a man before you get there, or stay with the one you're already with. Oh, and thank him for it too.
What a fucking lie that turned out to be.
I’ll tell you a secret; women never reach the wall. They just become more fabulous.
The community of Palestinian moms was part of the marriage propaganda police, and you bet my aunts headed the brigade. Yeah, those helpful ladies had no problem gaslighting us into marriage while being gaslit A.F. It was what we were supposed to do. They didn’t even try to make it sound appealing.
Whenever my aunts mentioned their husbands' names while they were not around, it was usually followed with “ Allah yakhdo," which means may God take his soul. I’m serious. Especially my grandma, wow, she continued saying it even after my grandpa died.
My aunt would be like, “Remember when baba was young….”
And my grandma would cough up all the phlegm she left hanging in her throat for a week just to chime in and say, “Allah yakhdo!” And then the conversation would continue. The guy was already dead. She just hated him that much. Noone ever flinched. It was an understanding between the ladies.
My aunties played “whataboutisms” when it came to my marriage. They couldn’t fathom the idea of me just going off and doing my own thing. They never heard a fairytale about it either. Fuck, they sent my aunt Fareeda to knock some sense into me about trying to get divorced. These were her two cents, or shall we say three. This is what she said:
Your uncle, Allah yakhdo, throws the remote on the wall whenever he’s angry, but never did he lay a hand on me!
Like it was something commendable.
And I was like, haha, the bar is not low; it’s in Jahannam el Hamra, which means perpetual hell.
It was never about happily ever after, it was about Ahmad ever after. That’s it.
Despite how obvious it was that none of them could stand the sight of their husbands, they were more concerned we stayed on the right path rather than helping us create our own, which stems back to this idea suggesting that women can’t think for themselves and need validation from the collective.
Someone always knew better than us, and the advice was dipped in it’s what’s good for you, too. We were not empowered as women to make our own choices, and I believe I represent most Arab women when I say, I’ve always — for the most part—done what I was supposed to do. Women could be deciding factors as grandmothers; that’s how long it took us to prove ourselves, and by then, no one’s home to listen.
Shame, shame, shame.
We were shamed for the most basic things.
It’s a shame to get your period. A shame to lose it. A shame to reach puberty. A shame to grow old. A shame not to marry. A shame to get divorced. You’re just a big shame. You’re born a shame. Just existing is a shame. It is how the men kept us in place.
I felt dirty loads of times growing up. I’ll never forget the grown-ass woman who yelled at me for distracting a bunch of men. I was around thirteen and doing a cartwheel when my shirt went up for a brief moment and these nasty older men got excited.
She screamed at me to cover myself. She made me feel so dirty. I felt so disgusting. I felt like a piece of meat. I wanted to die. She blamed me for five grown men acting like perverts. She slut-shamed me for simply existing. I carried these things with me for so long, the self-blame. And it happened over and over again. Of course, now that I look back at it, I realize how fucked up the entire thing is.
These men had no decency towards children or women, and this woman felt like it was my place to ensure their decency, a whole thirteen-year-old, instead of dealing with the real problem, which is nasty ass men and their pedophile tendencies. That’s how I became allergic to chastity culture.
Chastity culture reduces girls and women to pieces of meat, and you can’t blame the hyenas for coming for it. It revolves around depraved men while repressing your own needs to cater to their overinflated egos. It’s so fuckin debilitating to live like that.
Our chastity was tied to some huge, important thing called honor—A social construct that men use to measure how big their dicks are. You would think honor was measured by empathy, loyalty, kindness, tolerance, equality — but no, leave a bunch of dicks together, and they’ll come up with a way to shit on someone else to feel big and pat themselves on the back too.
The men made the rules, but I’ll be damned if they ever followed them. The double standards were painfully blatant too. All the men drank, smoked, and played poker in my family, while their wives were mostly veiled. The women were so much more indoctrinated than the men.
Their honor as men was tied to how honorable their wives were because God knows if we held them to the same standards, they would fail miserably. I guess it’s easy to control someone else instead of yourself. That’s what they prided themselves on, how chaste someone else was. What a joke. They were a bunch of glorified incels.
Fuck your honor.
I’ll be damned if I have to measure my honor by some man’s fragility.
As kids, we were adultified, and as adults, we were infantilized. I couldn’t divorce without 100 people’s approval, but as a 13-year-old, it was up to me to control the depraved male gaze. Of course, that self-blame manifested in many ways. I doubted my own decisions, made way too many impulsive ones, and constantly felt like I’ve done something wrong.
It was so easy to call a woman a bitch in my culture and disrespect her for the most trivial things. Fuck up her whole life and rep because she bruised your ego. If any woman dared to stand up for herself, she would be shamed to hell and back. It’s probably why the men in my community felt so threatened by the notion of feminism.
Feminism was the most hilarious thing the men in my family ever heard of. No, seriously, my uncle laughed so hard when a woman got elected into parliament in the region, he had a heart attack, and everyone tried to revive him. When he finally opened his eyes, he squealed, “a feeeemale?” and went back into a laugh-coma.
Fuck, he was so weak.
This dude couldn’t wrap his head around why women were calling for equality while prancing around in skinny jeans. Yeah, he would say things like, give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile, but his version was, we let them wear skinny jeans, and now they want to get into politics!
I know the number of things wrong with a statement that starts with: We let them. Also, men like my uncle truly believed feminism, aka equality, was a ploy from the west to erase our “traditions and culture.” Upon further examination of this statement, I finally understand what men like him meant when they said feminism threatened their bullshit traditions, you know, their rights to abuse women — what a fucking conspiracy! Boohoo.
The right to shove them and hit them. The right to swear at them. The right to slut-shame them. The right to control them. The right to own their bodies. The right to blame them for their bad behavior. They had no idea feminism encompassed equal pay and voting rights. They focused on how short our skirts were now. It’s so fragile.
As a woman, you were judged for being strong. It was promiscuous to want attention. Fucked up to stand up for yourself. According to the patriarchy, the more docile, meek, and invisible you were, the more “valuable” you were, but it’s a lie.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, spared you from the judgments of the patriarchy. You could follow all the rules to the T and still get blamed for a man’s shit behavior.
The women had no idea how oppressed they were and perpetuated chastity culture to remain “valuable” to the men. Their internalized misogyny always shocked me. It’s sad how they can’t see it. What is sadder is that I know how strong my aunties were underneath their meek judgey facade. My aunties lived through refugee camps, wars, massacres, and poverty — they were not meek and submissive. They were fucking strong. If shit hit the fan, these women were ready to use their veils as boxing wraps and fight.
Their fire was always buried behind some man’s ego.
A thief once tried to break into my aunty Rima’s house in Lebanon; she beat him to a pulp and laughed about how he ended up paying her to let him go. I’m telling you this woman was a beast. She told her husband a completely different story so that his ego wouldn’t be bruised because if he realized she didn’t actually need him, he would throw a man-fit. What an emotional little creature.
The wall, the wall…my uncle was the whole damn wall.