Tuesday, May 29, 2012
American Chick in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson
You’ve imagined it of course—wearing a black abāya, the robe that covers a person from head to foot with a cloth screen where one’s eyes are. And you’ve thought about black in all that Mideast heat. It almost seems, doesn't it, that the men are afraid of women, that they have to tie them up so and put every obstruction in their way? After all, [some sarcasm here] what mightn’t these pesky women get up to if they weren’t thoroughly hampered? It would be laughable if it weren't so ridiculous. I can't help but get the niggling notion that those men that insist on such restrictive clothing for women must have so little control of themselves that they are more afraid of what they themselves would do when presented with feminine beauty than they are afraid of what women would do.
Sasson, perhaps best known for a number of books about prominent women in Muslim countries, has cleverly taken advantage of electronic formats to give us a taste of her own personal history. In this 78-page installment, she tell us of her early years in the Saudi kingdom when she recognized the constraints under which women there lived and when she developed her determination to form bonds with women of all backgrounds who wanted a free-thinking American friend.
We are invited to view the life Sasson experienced in the late 1970’s, and are treated to remembrances of events and reconstructions of conversations which bring home to us the realities of life in Saudi. Sasson bravely reveals her early naïveté, and shares with us her dawning realization of what it would take to change the attitudes which constrain women: women must have their own support groups but men must also be a part of any changes that take place. And now, thirty years later, the resistance to giving women a measure of freedom lives on, lessened only a little.
Like all good memoirs, this is open and candid, revealing as much about the author as about the country she seeks to unveil. This segment covers Sasson’s first years in Saudi. Later segments should address her extensive travel throughout Muslim countries, and the writing of many biographies. I’d known of Sasson for many years before picking up Growing Up bin Laden, a truly remarkable look inside the marriage of a man known throughout the world for his single-minded and bloody pursuit of his beliefs. What struck me then was the access Sasson enjoyed, and the detail she chose to share with us. In her memoir, we see the younger version of the woman who was later able to write that book.
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