When something like this happens in public in Amman, I think it highlights one of the main reasons why the so-called honour killing law has still not been changed. Family is turned on its head, and the reverence for family becomes a reverence for psychological and physical abuse.
Of course, the situation described is also very much gender-specific. I seriously doubt that a sister would get away with treating a younger, smaller brother like this. The violence of male relatives, however, is not an aberration, it’s viewed as something natural and right and, most importantly, it is supreme. “She’s my sister,” he says as he’s grabbing her, and we automatically think, “well, she must’ve done something to piss you off then, eh? None of my business anyway. Who knows what might happen to me if I get involved? Let sleeping dogs lie.”
The bystander effect only reinforces the given situation.
I wish I could tell you that the incident Luma has described is shocking to me, but it isn’t. After being in Jordan for more than a year, it feels oddly natural, the way a broken bone feels natural after a while, inasmuch as it’s still a part of your body. This is what happens in a society where women’s worth is tied to a completely arbitrary and convoluted idea of sexual purity, and men are meanwhile charged with upholding this idea of sexual purity at all costs. And don’t you dare interfere with their duties! These are all private matters! Look away, unless you want to get into trouble yourself. Don’t you dare question it! You just want to destroy the moral fabric of our society and turn all of our women into whores!
“She’s my sister” really means that “she is a thing.” The words are like a magic curse, turning a flesh-and-blood human being into a kind of rag doll you can publicly rip apart.
I don’t blame the male witnesses for upholding the brother’s “right” to publicly abuse his sister. It’s a survival tactic as much as anything. It feels better to look away and pretend as though the woman has earned such treatment. If you don’t look away, you might very well get into trouble. The brother’s right to harm his sister is practically sacred. After all, brothers are cast into the impossible and equally dehumanizing role of shepherding their sisters as if the latter are livestock.
I think that all of this warrants a closer look at to what being a part of a family actually means. Is in abusive family still a family? At what point do we say – “these are not the actions of a brother”?
Also a closer look at womanhood is needed. What defines a “good” woman? Is it her mind and her integrity, or is it her hymen? You can’t have it both ways.
4 thoughts on “What Luma witnessed: the sacred status of male abusers in Jordan (and how it hurts both men and women)”
Throughout history we’ve seen that an abused section of society can only be pushed so far before somebody says ‘enough’ and pushes back. I hope it comes soon for these women.
Can you get BBC2 on your TV or any version of it? There’s a fascinating series called ‘The Frankincense Trail’ where a presenter called Kate Humble is following the ancient traders route as faithfully as possible, carrying frankincense to trade with.
She started in Oman, passed into Yemen and has just crossed into Saudi Arabia. Before she went to SA, her female Yemeni guide took her to get the robes and veil she would need for the next part of her journey. The effect it had on her was quite profound. Yemen was quite relaxed, and SA was like stepping back 1000 years….until you go into one of their shopping Malls and suddenly you’re back in the 21st century (although women are still accompanied by males). It was fascinating and horrifying in the way a car crash repulses you yet you feel compelled to look.
Here’s the micro site for the series.
I hope you’ll be able to watch because it’s truly fascinating.
Jordan is very different from Saudi Arabia, though. Jordan is a fairly liberal place, all things considered. Which is why these incidents strike me even more than they would if I’d heard about them happening in Saudi (well, incidents of abuse should always strike us, no matter what, but you do become jaded at one point or another).
What defines a good woman? From this male’s point of view:
– Strength of character
– Hard-working (in whatever field she chooses)
– Independent enough to get by on her own
As per family, a brother should protect his sister to a point. But he is a brother, not a prison warden. A brother should realize his sister is a human being who is capable of making her own choices in life, and not treat her as a prisoner or a piece of livestock.
Oh wow, a reminder of the status of things I choose to forget for survival’s sake. Thanks for this!