We used to play at my aunt’s garden when we were younger -- girls and boys, there was no difference. We grew up together, we used to race, play, laugh. Sometimes we would fight playfully.
We used to watch TV together, cry at the end of sad cartoons together, and we grew a bit older, we began to study for our classes together. Whenever we’d fight we used to threaten the other that we’d tell on them to the teacher. We used to play practical jokes on one another, we’d laugh with all our hearts.
Now my cousin and I are staring outside the window. We are looking at the garden where my male cousin and his friends are playing. This is the garden where we used to play together. They used to be our friends once upon a time, these are the boys we used to play with. But what happened? Why are we prisoners at home, while they play ball outside with all freedom? What did we do? Did we grow older? Did our bodies change? Did we become an object of temptation that needs to be covered from people’s eyes? Aren’t those the boys we knew since we were children? What changed? Why are we strangers? Why do I run and hide whenever I hear one of their voices? Is it just because the pitch of his voice changed? Is that why we aren’t friends anymore? Are we supposed to act differently towards one another? Different to how we acted just yesterday? We started to act shy and anxious whenever we’d speak and we stopped playing with one another. My cousin and I began spending our spare time watching Mexican soap operas, as if we were in our 50s.
I am at school and we are learning about what a woman should cover. Her hair is temptation, her eyebrows are temptation. I remembered my favorite male singer -- his eyes were beautiful too. His hair is beautiful -- but why doesn’t he veil? I asked myself this question, but I couldn’t find the answer. I remembered that I was banned from playing in the garden because I hit puberty. However, my male friends weren’t. Didn’t they hit puberty too? Why weren’t they imprisoned at home? I also couldn’t find the answer.
I hear it all the time: “A woman is a jewel that needs to be protected (i.e. covered),” and sometimes it is even said that a woman is like candy “if you remove the wrapper (i.e. the cover) the flies will swarm around her”. I turn on the TV and find that favorite male singer that I am so fond of brushing his soft silky hair and flaunting his handsomeness: his arms are bare, his chest is bare -- why isn’t this object of temptation covered? Why isn’t he imprisoned at home? Why aren’t women tempted by him? Some might claim that a woman shouldn’t look at this… then shouldn’t men shield their gaze when looking at a tempting female “object”? I couldn’t find the answer.
I am at university. I see some people distributing a small religious book: Temptations of a Woman. Her hair, her feet, her eyes, and “Thus, a woman must cover one of her eyes as both of them together are tempting.” I swear this is what I read in this book!
It’s as if there is nothing left in this world to talk about and scrutinize other than a woman and how she is a temptation. I decided to observe men’s looks. I wanted to know which women would attract men with her temptation. In front of me walks a woman wearing a tight Abaya (long black cover). "Aha!I found her," I thought,"She is an object of temptation."
I continue watching. In front of me walks a woman with a baggy Abaya, however, with an uncovered face. The man stares at her. "Aha! So her face is also a temptation!"
A third woman walks in front of me, her face is covered and she is wearing a baggy Abaya from top to toe. The man is staring at her! "Huh? I don’t understand. What is so tempting about a black Abaya? No eyes, no feet… What is this man staring at?
At that moment I realized that clothing has nothing to do with it. Men would stare on all occasions. However, he, with his broad shoulders and his hair, eyes and lips isn’t considered an object of temptation, even if all the women in the world started at him. He is a man, he shouldn’t hide in his home. No one calls him a 'jewel'. At that moment I wished I wasn’t a jewel. I wished to be a free man.
I am in a Western country. Women are walking around me: one is wearing pants, the other is wearing a short skirt, another wears shorts. Men and women are walking side by side. It is strange -- no one is staring. Why don’t I see the looks of men I saw in my country? Those looks that made a woman feel naked, those looks that I hated -- the ones that made me hate being on this earth, and hate being born a woman. Those looks that deny me my humanity. Why don’t I see those looks here?
All the women are dressed up. Why don’t I see those looks even though all the women are attractive here? I saw one women run and laugh. I remembered that I wasn’t allowed to run once I hit puberty. I remembered my aunt’s window. I remembered I was an object of temptation that must be covered. I remembered that a man in my country wears white, while I am covered in black. I asked myself, "Why don’t men wear black? Why don’t men cover their faces?"
And I couldn’t find the answer.
Hind Aleryani is a Yemeni journalist and blogger. This story first appeared on yourmiddleeast.com, republished with permission. You can find Hind on Twitter @HindAleryani and read her blog here.