The dictionary broadly states patriarchy as control by men of a disproportionately large share of power. Personally, I’ve found it to be the power a man exudes simply because of his gender, and because society has allowed him to.

Growing up, I didn’t know the meaning of the word patriarchy. 

Except that I was living and breathing in a patriarchal community, without even knowing it.

I wasn’t aware of the ill effects it had on my upbringing – and those of children in my community. I wasn’t aware of how damaging it could be to future generations if we don’t educate ourselves and rid ourselves of this system that is so deeply embedded in our everyday lives – it is sickening.

I wasn’t aware of the perceived normalcy.

I am an expatriate who grew up and will always feel at home in the United Arab Emirates. The culture is such that regardless of faith, nationality or gender, everyone is treated with kindness. Women, in particular, are given a lot of respect, even more so for those who are out and about wearing the traditional abaya. 

However, this respect does not pepper the everyday streets.

 That’s because there aren’t many locals you meet on a daily basis, from whom the majority of the civil behavior can be expected. More than 50% of the population in UAE are expatriates from different countries.

I am always accompanied by someone when I go out of my house. 

When I say always, I mean, always.

 My mom never lets me go out alone, always stating that two are better than one. I’m more than happy to comply because the truth of the matter is, she knew it always bothered me beyond belief how shamelessly men stared at all the female passers-by.

It was an accomplishment to avoid men’s attention.

It helps when I am with someone else – even more if I am with my father or brother. When I was a child, I used to wait for the school bus to pick me up from my building. I began noticing a chilling trend: there was always a man who walked by me at the same time, every single day, as I was waiting for my bus to arrive.

 I told my mom about this, and the next day, my dad accompanied me in my wait for the bus. Sure enough, the man walked by again – but this time, he saw my dad.

From that day forward, he never showed up again. I never understood why. I just accepted that this was the way it was always going to be. I noticed firsthand that men don’t stray too close to you when you have a male member by your side. 

How is a woman’s dignity magnified, or worse, acknowledged, by having a man by their side? I have yet to discover the answer.

I always used to ask my mother: “Haven’t they ever seen a woman before in their life?” She never had a response.

It is embarrassing to explain how much I celebrate the short walk from my apartment to the car, having avoided the watchman’s brazen stare and no men in sight. My bated breath comes out in a whoosh, my shoulders releasing the tension I didn’t even realize was there.

It was an accomplishment to avoid men’s attention.

Once, my sister and I were on our way to the parking lot, and found a group of men by the trees who looked like they had just been interviewed – they were in formals, and didn’t look like they’d do anything. They started catcalling.

 I quickened my pace – walk calmly, Naureen, don’t trip, walk, and be quick. I was so appalled – so angry. 

I allowed myself to feel this way when I finally reached the safety of my car. I was so taken aback because in all my years living here, their catcalling had never happened before. This isn’t prevalent in the culture and atmosphere of this country. People stare, sure, but nobody crosses that line in public. 

 Why is the blame on women for bringing on men’s unwanted attention?

Did they feel empowered to do such a thing, because they outnumbered us, 5 to 2? Or rather, because they felt that their gender warranted them the license to do whatever it is that they pleased?

And why me, of all people?

 Did it bother you that I was looking down at my feet as I walk, trying to avoid any form of awkward eye contact? Was me being fully covered from head to toe a provocation? The people who preach hijab sometimes tell you that if you cover – people won’t stare at you. 

I remember pondering over this fact in my pre-hijab days: that if I felt more covered, maybe I’d feel more protected. I feel whole now, but that’s because I’ve never felt so good about honoring a commandment. I, however, don’t entirely do this out of religious compulsion – my relationship with the hijab holds a deeper meaning, and is a manifestation of the guidance and love that God has blessed me with.

Yet I was catcalled while wearing the hijab, and that, if anything, just showed me that no amount of exterior coverage can mask a man’s disgusting mentality in a patriarchal society.

Why are we taught that a woman needs to observe the hijab to reduce the chances of harassment because “men will be men” and are too obstinate to change their ways?

 Why is the blame on women for bringing on men’s unwanted attention?

I shouldn’t have to feel this way.

I shouldn’t have to feel targeted.

 I shouldn’t have to feel guilty for attracting unwanted attention. I shouldn’t feel so overcome with anxiety just for walking down the street. I shouldn’t feel victimized, even after following all the unwritten rules of modesty.

I noticed firsthand that men don’t stray too close to you when you have a male member by your side. 

Growing up, I didn’t know the so-called ways of this world – how men could so frivolously capitalize on the use of their gender to cause unsolicited second-degree embarrassment. 

And how women would most often choose the path of least resistance because it was easier to passively endure.


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Naureen Salman

By Naureen Salman


Muslim men , The Tempest , patriarchy , Catcalling , living abroad , The Tempest fellowships , The Tempest Media , United Arab Emirates , write for the tempest , Naureen Salman , expatriate in UAE , sexual harassment muslim men , muslim men hijab , dealing with hijab , Muslim men bigotry , young women muslim , marriage at young age , catcalling statistics , catcalling meme , patriarchy examples , catcalling in spanish , patriarchy definition , patriarchy sociology definition , catcalled meaning , catcaller , catcalls definition , catcall whistle , catcall a girl , catcalling a crime , catcall buzzfeed , The Tempest Studio ,


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