A WOMAN IS NO MAN by Etaf Rum

I will admit, it makes me a little nervous to review a book that a) has been popular and critically acclaimed, b) promotes gender equality and c) (most importantly) is about a culture with which I have very little to no connection. So I step into my thoughts very cautiously.

A WOMAN IS NO MAN grabbed my attention very quickly and did not let go. Some reviewers have commented they thought it was repetitive, but I think the repetitivity was a significant part of the overall story. Two common phrases came to mind while reading this book: ‘The sins of the father shall be visited upon his children’ which is the biblical version of ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’.

Short review: I enjoyed the book and felt invested in each of the characters.

The longer version of my review involves a fair bit of cynicism (or is that discernment?) In general, any time I read a book that seems to rail against religious belief, I tend to wonder if the author is simply angry with the people involved in her particular religious story. Could the abuse in this book have happened in any familial situation? I think the answer to that is a resounding yes. We see this generational abuse evident in other cultures as well. But certainly, the Arab community has the reputation of patriarchal dominance and female submission – at any cost. This cyclical abuse is not something that is just portrayed in movies, but we have heard the testimony of it from many who have emerged from its conservative stronghold.

I am certain that many Arab women can identify with the stories of the women we are introduced to in this book. Isra, Fareeda, Deya and Sara lived in the same way their mothers did – in Palestine and even after immigrating to Brooklyn. Many of their customs are based in the pursuit of family cohesiveness. But many are also driven by pride and the protection of community reputation. In A WOMAN IS NO MAN, physical abuse of women is widely sanctioned for generation upon generation. It seems to be an accepted aspect of life for females – another responsibility like ironing, cooking, caring for their children and the occasional beating from their spouse. The yearnings of the female characters to want more for their life and the lives of their children, eventually led to freedom for some. Others, to a deeper understanding.

I would hate for readers to come away from this book with a distaste for the Quran or any form of organized religion and cultural traditions. Mostly, I would regret that any reader walk away with the idea that the traditional family structure is not enough to satisfy some women. And yet I also want to honor the inherent struggles of ancient customs and cyclical abuse. Overall, I hope a curiosity is raised in readers that would encourage us all to research further into what it means to be a Palestinian Muslim woman and or an immigrant from the old country, asking ourselves, Is this one woman’s story or does it mirror many Arab-American stories?

This felt like a quick read and one in which I was engaged to the point of thinking about the characters throughout the day. I applaud all authors that can foster that kind of relationship between reader and character. The book’s ending seemed abrupt. I was left with many questions about what happened after and did they survive. But that’s the point of a good story, right? Do we need to know all the answers? Is our imagination given the freedom to finish the story as we would hope to see it end? I commend Etaf Rum for championing women and allowing the reader to peek inside an unfamiliar world.

I’m glad these stories are a part of my understanding now. They have widened my worldview. I would recommend this book to others with the caveat that you read it as one author’s tale and not a collective assumption that all Arab-American families are the same. Rum will take you gently into a world you may know very little about. Let your curiosity guide you throughout the book and even more so after closing the back cover.

It Feels Like a Sad Day To Be a Smart Girl

Can we agree to lay politics aside just a minute?

Today was a difficult day (another difficult day) in politics. Elizabeth Warren dropping out of the presidential process was disheartening for her supporters I’m sure, but it was discouraging to watch as a women.

dem women

Again…laying politics aside…it is hard to challenge the fact that both Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren are highly intelligent women. (To say nothing of the other female presidential candidates.) They have been stalwarts in their fields and staunch supporters of both children and working class families. They have been willing to take on challenges and to do so publicly. They are both highly articulate and had detailed plans for how they wanted to change the ills that face America. Whether you supported or believed in those plans or not, I think we can agree that the plans were backed by thorough research and compassionate thought – not merely campaign rhetoric and catchphrases to win clicks and likes.

I recently finished reading Leadership In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin (which I will be doing a review on shortly.) While reading this book about Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson during the day, my hours were interspersed with cable news and Twitter updates. It was a strange dichotomy. In her book Goodwin talks about FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins. Roosevelt appointed her to his presidential cabinet in 1933. She was the first female secretary of labor in the United States.

I couldn’t escape the reoccuring thought that before my own father was born, we had a women in the cabinet and yet here we are today, 2020, 87 years later, unable to send a women to the White House.

Admittedly, I am probably too hard on women running for historically ‘male roles’. If a woman is too showy or too flighty or trying to get by on her looks and charm – I smell it immediately and dismiss her summarily. But Hillary and Elizabeth? Their political record is long, their successes many and their abilities unquestioned.

I do not know the solution to this stumbling block except to keep persisting as they say. But I sit in my discouragement this evening and wonder – when will a ‘smart girl’ be simply a ‘viable candidate’? When will authentic hard work and bravery be rewarded in females? In men, are such attributes merely assumed qualities?

During Hillary’s campaign and this current political campaign I have been adamant about picking a candidate that is qualified regardless of gender. It isn’t enough to send a woman to the White House simply because she is a woman – it must be the candidate that is the most qualified to lead our country and it’s many sectors.

This evening I watch another qualified candidate slip into the ether and ask myself if it will ever happen in my lifetime. Will a qualified, intelligent, articulate, thoughtful female ever make it to Pennsylvania Avenue as the leader of our country?

I have four more years to wait and see.