Gender Normalization: I Reject the Gender Status Quo (Part 1 of 2)
“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”
- Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women
For most Palestinians, myself included, we encounter regular frustrations and discrimination from the occupation, and that, along with our jobs and other concerns, take most of our time. When we want to be concerned about a communal or national issue, the occupation is first to take the stage. The problem with this way of thinking is that it assumes that other forms of frustration and discrimination do not require attention, and we fail to make our country a better place while we wait for Israel and our leaders to figure out whatever it is they figure out.
I live in a society that respects women, but not as equal to men. I am not even sure if respect is the proper use of this word. We are valued for our roles and contributions, primarily as mothers and wives. Are we valued as women, half of humanity? Perhaps, but not when it comes to rights and responsibilities. In this two-part series, I will emphasize a few of these uncomfortable areas that indicate our inequality along with some suggestions to rectify it.
We have many traditions in our society that can be mistaken as our culture. We no longer distinguish between the two, but we need to. Just because things were done a certain way in the past does not mean we need to continue. For example, women take care of everything at home, and men do nothing, some boasting that they never changed a diaper or cleaned a toilet. (Imagine if I went into work boasting about the skills I don’t have and have never tried. Do you think my colleagues would join me in a jolly laugh and pat me on the back?) At the same time, these very women are working outside the home, earning money, and sometimes their husbands are barely managing one job. Yet men make the decisions and dictate what the family will do -- whether they should go on a trip or buy something new.
Our society defers to the older generation, and many times, the husband treats his wife the way his father treated his mother. My friends, what was done is not always best! Just because certain things were done this way in the past does not mean we need to be okay with it and enable this behavior to be our culture! We need to speak up and say, “Not this time!” I know we carry many responsibilities, we are busy caring for those around us, and we go to bed exhausted, thinking that we will leave the gender issue to other women “who have time.” This is gender normalization, and I invite you to stand with me and reject it.
These days our government is encouraging people to register their property to ensure its inclusion and security as Palestinian land. This is the time where fathers are passing their inheritance on to their children after them. If you get a chance to walk down the streets of Bethlehem, Nablus or Jericho, you will see big signs declaring “Women have the right of inheritance, and the law acknowledges this.” But is it applied? Not equally. Fathers will not acknowledge our rights of inheritance as women because we will likely marry and we will “belong” to our husband’s family. Many times Palestinian fathers who seek to leave something for his daughter will give her cash, but it isn’t much, and definitely not equal in value to the land our brothers inherit. Included in this is the assumption that Palestinian land belongs to Palestinian men, and women’s connection to the land is never on her own terms -- as a proud Palestinian woman who cares for the land -- but instead as a daughter or wife who co-labors without joint ownership. I understand that this is rarely malicious, just “how things are done,” because it’s “how things were done.” When a father gives his land to his son, he hides behind the fact that it is only land he received from his father to give to his son, and the son to his son and so forth, so the land will not be sold out of the family; he fears that if he passes it on to his daughter, she will pass it on to her son (or worse, her daughter) who is no longer part of the family. I understand this is an ancient tradition, but do we need to continue to accept this? I suggest we be vocal and say “Not in my time!” and make our case as equal members of the Palestinian people. Again, just because this is how it was done, does not mean this is how it should be done. We do not cede our identity as daughters when we become wives, and we need to contest the injustice of old traditions that dictate current culture.
In short, I ask my fellow Palestinian women and those of you who support us to reject the gender normalization, the status quo that assumes we should forget we are unequal and that there is ongoing injustice. Here are a few suggestions for us, and feel free to add your own in the comments!
Be aware of your rights.
Be aware when your rights and your reality are different.
Question the way things are.
Be vocal when you disagree. If you can’t do this with your husband or colleagues at present, find a supportive group of women to discuss these issues with.
In Part 2 I will share a few reflections on gender normalization in Palestinian politics and the Palestinian church.