I just returned to my office from a simple walk to the post office. Strolling to the post office half a mile away shouldn't be note-worthy, but here, for me, it is. My masculine clothing, my distinctly western way of walking, and my gender, all make a little neighborhood walk into an event. Today, however, was different. Although I still got the stares, the car honks, the confusion, I didn't take notice. I didn't look, I didn't react, and most importantly, I didn't care.
It was a moment of liberation for me, to be able to go about my business, as I am, and return to my office feeling refreshed and empowered, rather than tired and disillusioned.
I've heard many western women, both in person, and on blogs like mine, complain of feeling like a lab rat--being watched, tested, poked at. There is definitely an element of truth to this feeling. I've felt exactly the same. Nevertheless, today taught me a lesson that I already knew in theory: being a western woman in a conservative Muslim town doesn't need to be painful. People are people wherever they are. Men are men. Women are women, and people stand out everywhere. The person that attracts the gasps on the streets of New York may be rare, but it happens. In southern Alabama, who gets noticed? In small town Kansas, who gets stared at? In the Italian countryside, who do people whisper about? Maybe it wouldn't be me, but it would be somebody.
All over the world, people have learned to cope and act with confidence despite being scorned or isolated. And this is precisely what has authentically brought them into the society. I can't be an Omani woman, but I can become integrated as who I am--if I act like that's okay. Of course, this does not mean that I should go running in a sports bra and shorts because I think that's okay in America. By no means. No matter what, respect cannot be lost.
Combining that respect, however, with a no-guilt attitude about who you are and where you're from as a western woman will get you much more respect in return than hiding, apologizing, and fearing your daily interactions with the people around you.