Dubai-based Purva is a journalist and the best-selling author of She, a celebration of life as a woman.
A question a woman is often asked — more than what you’d assume or can imagine, which even exceeds ‘what’s the time?’ or ‘how old are you?’ (and the latter is considered impolite) — is ‘how does it feel to be a woman?’
Now, if you’re an expat woman like myself, who calls Dubai her home, then the question has probably been thrown at you like confetti, especially from the ones who don’t live in the region. And no answer would have proven good enough for the curious, especially if your reply happened to be interspersed with words like normal, comfortable and safe; an existence full of opportunities, freedoms and honours. After all, where lies the drama?
Apologies for disappointing you, but after having spent ten years (and counting) in the region and incidentally written and released a book called She, a celebration of what it means to be a woman — oops, no female empowerment, male-bashing or bra-burning issues in the pages — I can safely say, of course, I am in love with my existence, and I will not trade my position with anyone, a fellow girlfriend, or a fellow male friend. Am I grateful? Oh, yes. Am I exhausted? Yes. Am I wiser? No. Am I ready to give up? No.
I don’t have a goosebump inducing, solid backstory. The simple fact is that I don’t have an extraordinary life just because I am a female in the region. I run my errands, hail a cab at any hour. I attend to my job, cook and eat meals. I take out time for Ladies’ Nights and staycations. I go for a run, I slip into sneakers and stilettos with ease.
Just as I pick any outfit from my wardrobe and flaunt it, without giving ‘it’ much thought. I take breaks, just as I suffer breakdowns. I make the bed, set the alarm and then wake up the next morning and follow the same routine. I do all the things, ordinarily, just as my male counterpart does.
So, when asked how it feels to be a woman, geography aside, I stay bemused because I don’t know how to be anything else, except being one. So, I’d say it feels pretty normal. And well, the region only nourishes that comfort.
It’s here that I’ve walked home, alone, post-midnight, after having watched a movie. It’s here that I was nominated and granted the UAE Golden Visa for ten years under the Class of Creators from the People of Culture and Art; and encouraged to tell more stories.
It’s here that I applaud as loud as the men when I read about the works of the likes of Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri, UAE Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology, Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency.
It’s here that I’ve witnessed little girls dress up in blue for birthdays (thanks, Elsa!) and little boys have ‘make your pizza’ parties.
And yes, it’s here that I make a secret, selfish wish that soon enough a question in the GK books in the classrooms and adult quiz nights is based on the factoid that the team behind the UAE’s Hope probe comprised 34 per cent women, who served as engineers, scientists, and academic researchers, and were involved in all stages of manufacturing and design.
It’s here that I feel like how any human, gender aside, should feel. Normal.
Do I believe in gender stereotypes, then? I know not. I know that men and women both have goals and grievances, loans and lessons, responsibilities and rewards, and ambitions and adversities.
I do get upset when headlines scream of an achievement with the stress on ‘how it was led by a woman’ and puts the woman on the pedestal versus the skills and challenges of the task. I also do feel that we need to be attentive and respectful of the colour we drape this change in – pink may not be the only hue, and March may not be the only month for making the noise, asking the question.
So, if you ask me again, how does it feel to be a woman in the region? I’d say ask a man how he feels to be a male in the region. Our answers would probably match, for here, we all share the same space, and work relentlessly and passionately towards bettering a destination, which we call home. Can we do more? Yes. Can we push the set boundaries further? Oh, yes.
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