Hi, my name is Leila Khaled Matahen and I am a Muslim woman living in Tempe, Arizona and I am of mixed background. My father’s side of the family originally comes from a city in Palestine called Jenin. Aside from the extensive conflict in the region, its inhabitants (including my father and his family) are generally of a more modest and holy existence. Family values are important, and your reputation and the respect of your community are of the utmost importance. My mother, on the other hand, comes from Barcelona, Spain.... a place in which the people are festive and openly celebrate the beauty and luster of the human body.
I choose not wear hijab, not because I find it revolting or oppressive, but rather, I don’t believe I have the strength it takes to adorn one. My father never forced religion down my throat because, given my personality, he understands that the further I am backed into a corner, the harder I claw and fight my way out. Inevitably, he gave me the opportunity to discover my religion and my roots on my own, which I thank him for, primarily because I wasn’t given a standpoint on my religion from anyone’s perspective but my own and was granted the opportunity to relate to it as I saw fit, as well as fall in love with it with nobody’s appraisal.
Basically being a woman of both Arab and Western background, I’ve been on the receiving end of male criticism from BOTH areas on several occasions. From the Middle Eastern side, I’m perplexing to say the least... but I am most definitely the outcast because of my stubbornness, and because I’m outspoken and I keep in competition with men. Not saying that I’m necessarily told to sit down and shut up, but mainly that men are the ones that get to be argumentative and confrontational..... so when it comes from a woman, they find me funny and enjoyable, but very very abrasive. Nowadays, I’ve had the pleasure of encountering many women raised in traditional Arab homes that break the trend of breeding themselves to become the perfect Middle Eastern wife and mother and instead, celebrate their right to be on an equal playing field to men and their intellectualism and their capabilities.
From a Western standpoint, on the other hand, I am constantly defending myself as a woman, and the actualities of women within my culture and my religion. “Leila... you’ve stated that Arab men don’t sit well with you and don’t understand you... you’re already leading a Western lifestyle... come to the bar with us... lets go out for drinks...” No. I may not represent my piety like the typical Muslim woman, but I also don’t necessarily adhere to Westernized social norms either. I don’t drink, and I don’t believe my sexuality is open for discussion. Drink if you want, sleep with someone new every day if you so choose... it just isn’t for me.
Yes, women are typically not the breadwinners within a Middle Eastern family, but that is because they’ve made a choice to put motherhood before their education and