Few days ago I posted a poll on my Instagram, to find out whether women -in Bahrain, and Bahrain Only- felt a difference in the way they were treated, based on whether they wore an Abaya or just regular western clothes. The reason behind my question, is that I did feel a certain difference, and wanted to see if other women felt the same. The response was overwhelming and shocking at the same time. It was an eye opener because: Yes most people felt there was a difference, however, different people had different reasons and explanations. So yes most women thought that people would treat you differently, at malls, in coffeeshops, and everywhere else in the island, but some thought that wearing an Abaya was a privilege, and others saw it as a curse. What was interesting however, is that some of the women who don’t wear abaya, thought of it as a privilege, and some of those who do wear it, thought of it as a curse.
Let me clarify: I never used to wear abayas before, I just never saw myself wearing them. However, my attitude changed a year or so ago, and I started wearing an abaya, from time to time, here in Bahrain. So here I am, the same person, frequenting the same places, the only difference is that now I would have an Abaya on. I sensed a little change in the way people were treating me. The difference wasn’t a favorable one though, I felt that the same people at the grocery store now smiled less, were less nicer, less helpful and automatically assumed that I spoke no English. Of course this wasn’t everywhere, BUT I have noticed this change in almost all places I was frequenting. It is almost like if wearing the Abaya made them look less of me.
Therefore, this became some sort of social experiment that I was now conducting. I added a scarf to the mix, and it ruined any trace of friendliness that there ever was towards any stranger, it simply made things worse. This was a shocking revelation to me, because we live in an Arab, Islamic country, and you would think it would be just the opposite. I am definitely not generalizing here, but this was my own experience.
When I asked friends and families about their opinion, I realized from some of their messages, that they actually felt just the opposite. They felt that women who wear Abayas were treated better than those who don’t. At grocery stores, at government agencies, at petrol stations …etc. They felt that wearing an Abaya was some kind of badge of reverence that women wore in the gulf, that immediately granted them RESPECT. Most of these women however, NEVER wore abayas, they were JUST assuming from what they have seen or heard.
I found this extremely interesting for two reasons:
1- I still can’t fathom why or how the abaya can determine how I am treated by fellow Arabs, in an Arab and Islamic country – or even expats for that matter.
2- No matter how strong and clear our ideas and opinions can seem to us, other people can have the exact opposite ideas, and that would be based on each one’s personal experiences and stories.
I am still not done here, and I would still love to hear YOUR experiences and YOUR opinions!!! Please spare some time to share them with me.