I realized I do not actually know what makes me feel the way I do about this certain behavior. The behavior is common to all Arab societies.
It is called “chivalry”. And I hate it.
Going to Egypt to visit family over the summers, my sister and I always felt awkward having someone carry our backpacks. “You don’t need to do that…?” or “I can carry it myself.” We would say in protest. In my day to day life, it is a shame if I can not carry my own bag. It is embarrassing, and it means I am lazy.
Here in Qatar, I am experiencing this on another level, my professional life. There is much upheaval anytime I lift a finger. I find it frustrating and at times, insulting. Operators will say things like “Laila, no. You may hurt yourself.” or worse, “Lady must not lift anything.” I understand not lifting something which is too heavy. The nature of my job is both technical and involves physical labor. When I want to get something done, I like to help in lifting, carrying, and assembling pieces. Doing simple work here tends to take more time, as we will wait for someone else to come lift something in my place. In Houma, I carried my bags offshore. I lifted tools with my crew members. I did a fair, though never excessive, amount of physical labor. I did it because it taught me about what my crew has to do. As the supervisor of the job, I must know what my crew is doing and HOW they are doing it, even if I don’t have to do their work all the time. Additionally, it shows them my support and builds a bond between us.
My new friend in Qatar, Eleanor Roosevelt! She is Colombian. We are here to conquer the oilfield!
I am noticing some oddities in everything here. For example, I went out to eat with five co workers. Our server wrote down our orders, placing a number assignment beside orders indicating their seat position. Next to my order was not a number, but rather just the word “lady”. It’s as if the number may have been confusing and the food runner would think…. Why does the lady have a number assignment? Is this not actually her food…? Though this is my instant reaction, I know the reality is that my order is marked “lady” so that they bring me my food first, which they did.
I really dislike being treated differently than my co workers because I am female. It means less work for me- I equate this to respect. I resent having my food served first because I am female. It just doesn’t make any sense. I hate having someone carry something as simple as my back pack. I packed it myself; I have the straps adjusted so that it fits my back perfectly. It’s all very intimate and I feel like someone is forcing me to let them carry my sweatshirt even though I’m cold and I want to wear it.
All feelings have a reason. I tried to pin point what makes me so uncomfortable with the chivalrous society here.
On the surface, it is easy to assume my feelings are a testament to how Americanized I am compared to my heritage; but that can’t be it. I think it has everything to do with MY heritage. I come from a family of strong, independent women (throw your hands up at me…) I won’t elaborate too much on these amazing women, but just an idea…
My mother’s family immigrated to the United States from Egypt when my mother was a young girl. While both my grandparents were doctors, it was my grandmother who moved the family to the US for her to pursue her career. She published several papers, has a brick in the UT Southwestern Medical Center library, opened her own practice in East Texas, and was still very well respected in her field when she died in 2007.
Like my grandmother, my mother is also a lady of science. She is a professor of chemistry and worked to support our family while I was growing up. She taught me and my sister to be independent, productive, and respectful people. Most like my grandmother, my sister is pursuing a PhD in medicine. She attends UT Southwestern Medical Center, and makes all of us very proud every day. My sister was the muscle in the family. No physical task was carried out without her blessing. I remember an occasion with the whole family moving a refrigerator from the kitchen, out the front door, across the law, around the back and into the garage- all with my sister doing the bulk of the pushing.
I could go on blog post after blog post about the impressive strong women in my family. The point is:
I wonder if it is my actually my family which makes me hate the chivalry of our Arab origins, or does that feeling come from growing up American? Maybe it’s both….