This post is about my experiences as a foreign woman in Jordan. As I mentioned in a previous post, I don't have to wear a hijab or a burqa. I am free to wear pants or a long skirt and a shirt that goes at least to my elbows. I generally feel very safe in the city as I go about my day. I am comfortable exploring new areas and having adventures with friends.
However, I am often heckled by men on the street. When I say often, I mean everyday. Usually they speak in Arabic, so I have no idea what they are saying. When they do speak in English, I pretend I don't hear them. I try not to let it bother me but, let's be honest, it really pisses me off. If I was in the US and this happened, I would either give the guy the bird or a lecture. However, that is not the cultural norm here. In fact making any eye contact with someone of the opposite sex can be incredibly suggestive. I walk through the city trying to look at everything yet avoid everyone's eyes. Suppressing my indignation and "assimilating" made me sick for my first couple of weeks in Amman. Now I've started to make what I call the "stank" or "bitch" face when I get comments on the street. I've found it a more effective way to convey my disapproval.
Many consider Jordan a very progressive and modern city and in many ways it is; there are abundant iPhones and Priuses. However, that doesn't stop it from being a male dominated society. All of the shop owners, taxi drivers, chefs, and waiters I have encountered have been male. I know from locals, however, that many women have jobs in the city and that many universities have more women than men because women are excelling in school. However, I only feel the presence of women when they are walking on the street, often completely covered and with their husband or children.
One of the place I've seen local Jordanian women with their hair uncovered is at the mall. I know that you are probably judging me for going to the mall when traveling, but it is actually one of the main places locals hang out. Malls are clean, modern, and, most importantly, they have air conditioning. In malls, women wear shorter skirts, shorter sleeves, have they're hair free, and have more elaborate makeup. I think many of these more modern women in Amman prefer to travel by taxi or car to avoid unnecessary attention.
The interaction between men and women is very different from Western societies (obviously). For example, some guys will brag about having their virginity and their lack of sexual experience. Still, a double standard exists where men who kiss or have sex before marriage are forgiven, whereas women who do the same are labeled "sluts". I hope to learn more about local women's experiences in the city.
In Irbid, a city in the north of Jordan that I visited two weeks ago with Kifah, the heckling was intolerable. All of the guidebooks and internet sources had said Irbid was more progressive and liberal than Amman because of the two universities housed in its borders. So despite the fact that I rarely wear make-up, Kifah and I both decided to wear lipstick. As we started to walk around, we had the startling realization that there were barely any women. The heckling, including many comments about red lipstick, was so intense we quickly became uncomfortable. After getting food and going to a cafe for a little while we decided to go to retire early.
On a more positive note, the reason we'd decided to go to Irbid was because it is very close to the ruins of Umm Qais. The ruins weren't nearly as impressive as Jerash's but the view blew us away. Umm Qais is a special place because you can see Jordan, Israel, and Syria simultaneously. Now don't get freaked out about Syria. We actually didn't encounter any Syrian refugees and Jordan is a very safe country that is determined to stay away from any conflicts with IS.
We spend hours wandering around the ruins and looking at the pits that remained from the archaeological digs. Here are the pics.
I went to the Dead Sea this past weekend and will post pictures soon!