I have not read a lot of memoirs, and I think that limits my ability to evaluate this one.
With that limitation in mind, I found this book very touchinI have not read a lot of memoirs, and I think that limits my ability to evaluate this one.
With that limitation in mind, I found this book very touching and somewhat educational. Maybe if I had known less about bipolar disorder before reading it, there would've been more for me to learn here.
I came away with huge respect and gratitude for Dr. Jamison's decision to share so openly her experiences and struggles with manic depression....more
Notes written from memory, ~3 weeks after finishing the book.
This was a fascinating book, introducing me to a few things that I had no real idea aboutNotes written from memory, ~3 weeks after finishing the book.
This was a fascinating book, introducing me to a few things that I had no real idea about (what it's like in Mecca, especially during hajj; how the social/financial elite class in Saudi Arabia is exempt from a lot of interaction with the draconian religious policing), and giving me a new perspective on some things I thought I knew about (it turns out that at least some of the people dressed in burkas or traditional Saudi male garb are very much like me, in more ways than I expected).
My good friend, Tom, who gave me the book, said that he would be interested in hearing my thoughts about veiling and about why intelligent, independent women might be attracted to conservative/fundamentalist men. Here are some thoughts about those things, in particular.
I have some ideas/beliefs that are relevant to my interpretation of the book, which I will attempt to express, but not to defend, in order to give some general context/background before explaining my thoughts about veiling and attraction.
I believe that humans are evolutionarily adapted to getting by in small groups, maybe in the range of 15-100 people (but certainly not in the 10s or 100s of thousands of people). I believe small tribes of hunter-gatherers were the normal/average human social environment for hundreds of thousands or for millions of years of human evolution, and that it can be helpful to keep that tribal environment in mind when trying to understand contemporary social environments, paying attention to the ways they resemble and differ from each other.
To illustrate this kind of thinking, I'll use a concrete example looking at diet and nutrition. In the hunter-gatherer environment, concentrated sources of fat and sugar were hard to come by, and very important for survival. So, it makes sense that many humans find sweet and fatty foods to be compulsively attractive -- our ancestors would have benefitted from an overwhelming appetite for them, since it would have been important for our ancestors' survival for them to eat these foods with abandon whenever they were available. But in the modern nutritional environment, in which anyone with any resources at all can acquire a practically unlimited supply of hamburgers, french fries, and Cokes, this compulsive appetite for sweets and fats tends to lead to overeating and obesity, rather than to good nutrition.
I think this perspective can also help us understand something about modern social environments. As I said, I believe we evolved in small groups, groups in which a person would know and have a relationship with everyone they saw on a daily basis. A person in this environment would also know what his or her social status was, and what that meant about what kinds of interactions they would have with those they encountered. My current social environment is a densely settled area, where I spend a lot of time in public spaces like trains, buses, cafes, and sidewalks. Most of the people I see (and seeing, when it involves making eye contact, seeing one another's facial expressions, can be a significant and substantial mode of interaction) are people with whom I will never exchange so much as a single word, much less come to know them in any more meaningful way. I think that because these interactions are so different from what humans evolved to do, these interactions tend to be hard. People interacting this way tend to experience a wide variety of problems and struggles. This is not to say that no one is comfortable in social environments like that of San Francisco, or that we can't alleviate or solve problems with social interaction through thinking and talking about them together. It is only to say that I think most humans are not, by default, without thinking or working on it, good at interacting with a vast and anonymous social public space.
So. I have said that I think that many people struggle with modern social environments. How do these struggles relate to burka-wearing and attraction? Well, I think that many people experience difficulties with the appearance of attractive women in public. I know that attractive young women themselves often struggle with the quantity and nature of attention which they receive in public. Imagine that you were unable to sit on a train, or walk down a sidewalk, without literally turning heads, eliciting wolf whistles, noticing shy flirtatious smiles from strangers. When attractive young women appear in public, they are reacted to, visually and verbally, by many strangers, as physically attractive bodies. This is a complicated and potentially very troubling experience for a person who exists not just as a physical body (as observed from a sort of glamour shot perspective), but also as a quirky individual persona, as a character with hopes, desires, fears, interests, as someone who wants to talk and be listened to. If an attractive young woman appears in public often, and is not careful, she may accidentally begin to understand herself as just (or primarily) a glamour model, a physically attractive body, since this is the aspect of her more complicated self which is most often recognized by strangers in public spaces. There are many reasonable ways to push back against this tendency. The woman can think her way out of the problems, to some extent, remembering and noticing that the people she encounters in the world are often reacting to just one part of her. She can interact her way out of the problems, to some extent, by enjoying close personal relationships in which she shares all the other aspects of herself with people she loves and who love her back. She can also dress her way out of the problems, by clothing herself in a way that makes her less attractive to strangers. In my opinion, from the point of view of someone who might wear a burka, I can see positive aspects to the choice to veil, because veiling might help protect me from a certain sort of (often aggressive, and potentially hurtful) attention from strangers in public.
People who experience sexual attraction for beautiful young women also often struggle with their encounters (whether strictly through visual observation, or whether through eye contact or verbal exchange) with beautiful women. Since I am not strongly attracted to women, I will tell a story about something that happened when I was with a friend who is strongly attracted to women. I was in the car with my friend, and we drove past two female joggers in quick succession. I certainly noticed the joggers -- they were dressed in rather scant garments (a very reasonable choice for hard exercise on a hot, sunny day), and their bodies were nice to look at. My friend interrupted what they were saying to express anger and frustration about the joggers. I asked, "Why?" and learned that the friend was frustrated that the joggers' presence was stimulating their sexual interest. The friend was busy driving and conversing with me, and was annoyed that their attention had been distracted from these tasks and was instead being captivated and excited by some female bodies passing by. People who experience attraction for women can also mediate against these problems in a variety of ways. They can develop mental practices of focus, and an internal dialog to help them dismiss the distractions of female bodies when they appear. They can restrict their own path through public spaces to minimize the risk of running into attractive women in public. They could also have fairly sympathetic/positive reasons for wishing that attractive young women wore burkas. From the point of view of someone who experiences strong attraction for female bodies, I can see veiling as an appealing tool to preserve control, not over attractive women (though this of course ends up very problematically involved, since the situation I am describing is, in the best case, where someone is asking a favor from someone else, and can very quickly devolve into a situation where someone is forcing or demanding something from someone else), but over one's own mental activity and focus.
There are, of course, other tools than veiling that can help reshape the modern social environment so that it is easier for more people to get along in. One of the ideas I find most appealing in this category is the idea of socializing in self-selected small tribe-size groups. In groups where everyone knows each other and has some kind of relationship, I think expressions of interest or attraction can be much easier to talk about, understand, and manage, than in anonymous public groups.
Also, I want to explicitly note that in the Saudi Arabia as described in _In the Land of Invisible Women_, many of the motivations and manifestations of veiling were ones that are antithetical to my beliefs and desires about the best ways for humans to interact. In particular, I think there is a lot of use of veiling as a tool for control, by men, of women -- both of women generally, and of poor women in particular. I do not want my reflections on sympathetic aspects of veiling to be mistaken for sympathy with the use of force to control people; I find the use of force to control people's self-understanding and aspirations particularly sinister and repulsive....more