I had to throw in a funny girl reference! Anywho moving on…
Though Oman is anything but a misogynistic society with often more women attending higher education these days than men, women are far more protected here, and for an American like myself, this can feel very different and a tiny bit stifling. Back home I am able to go out freely on my own accord, to visit a friend, pick up some groceries, stop by my grandparents, or even go jogging. Here these activities are not always culturally appropriate. Women are respected here. No matter what you believe, women are valued as integral members of society. In Oman, they vote, are represented in politics, and in some cases even bring home the brunt of the family’s earnings. It is also true that Islam designates a patriarchal dominated family order. Call it what you want, but it is in this context, men often see it as their duty to protect the women in their lives from any unwanted attention and other dangers outside their control.
I never found myself especially independent and self directed, but it was after I came here and had to adapt many of my prior habits to integrate more effectively into an Omani family, that I came to this conclusion. For example, there are many unpoken levels of restrictions which impact our cultural understanding of freedom. Women are expected to avoid large, sprawling places alone like a beach or an open road. Here, these are often associated with promiscuity and looseness. Even if I have different expectations from the society around me right now, for the time being, I’m doing my best to accept these new cultural norms.
These cultural norms placed on women also affect their relationship to men as well. Women here are much more vigilant around unfamiliar males. Public transportation is not widely accepted, and taxis are viewed as quite dangerous for women. It is the mentality that even an innocent stare can never be taken lightly, as you will never understand the attitude behind it. The Gulf has evolved to essentially limit the need for gender to gender contact and to make this separation possible, so when paths cross your intentions are always questioned.
These customs have evolved within Omani society as a means of protection. After all, in such a family oriented place it make sense that your closest friends are most often related. Tribes are set up to protect each other and these family orders have been around for many, many years. I have been really trying to examine my identity as a woman in general here, while simultaneously trying to see the world from specifically an Omani woman’s eyes.