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Excellent Daughters

The Secret Lives of Young Women Who Are Transforming the Arab World

By Katherine Zoepf
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Excellent Daughters by Katherine Zoepf

Excellent Daughters (2016) is an inside look at the lives that young Arab women lead today, marked by restriction, segregation, violence and discrimination. These blinks also point out the signs of a slow but steady change in Arab countries, as young women fight for their rights to study, work and look toward a promising future.

Key idea 1 of 8

In Arab countries, it’s a woman’s moral duty to hide herself from the male gaze.

Imagine you meet a beautiful man or woman and feel immediately attracted to him or her. Who’s responsible? You might think that both are, or that it’s just magic. But in Arab countries, when such an encounter happens, only one person is responsible: the woman.

From a young age, women in Arab countries are taught that it’s their responsibility to prevent their faces, hair and bodies from tempting men. A woman’s features are seen as so seductive that they would cause nothing short of chaos if exposed on the streets, driving men to commit physical assaults or sexual crimes. Women thus have a moral responsibility to prevent these crimes from happening.

This is the reasoning behind the hijab, a veil worn to cover a woman’s hair. The hijab has recently been the subject of much religious and political debate in the Western world. But in Arab countries, it’s a given that once a girl is old enough to be physically desirable, she is able to choose – or in some countries, will be forced – to cover herself.

This isn’t the only way Arab women are expected to hide themselves from a man’s gaze. While women in Western countries are free to go out and party, have male friends or boyfriends and attend college or university, it’s a different story in Arab countries. After a woman shows the first signs of puberty, she is often treated as someone who shouldn’t be seen in public or even interact with males at all, unless they’re part of her close family. Generally, women are expected to be shy and hide away from society.

For many women leading these sheltered lives, marriage is their only shot at getting some degree of freedom – but this doesn’t always play out as they hope.

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