This exercise was done for a university paper.
I’ve always gone home past my curfew but I’ve never left the house after it. For this assignment, I decided to do just that. I planned on taking my sister on a short cruise after midnight because god forbid I face the consequences of my actions alone. After dedicating hours to convince her to break curfew with me, we hopped into my car.
My sister and I were terrified for the first 5 minutes of cruising around, we could barely enjoy ourselves, but as time passed by and we assessed the level of anger we were receiving from my mother, we began to enjoy ourselves. My sister was mostly happy because she’s never been in a car that moved more than 80km/hr. The experience was liberating; the empty road, the speed, the music and our laughter offered a type of excitement that no party can provide. My sister talked about it for days. She was overwhelmed with happiness although all we did was sit in a moving car. I think we felt that way because it was something we both longed to do. That night, we were in a getaway car driving ourselves back to sanity. The fact that it was “rebellious” in some way played a role, but for the most part, I think it was just a craving that needs to be satisfied every now and then.
In addition to regulating who they can and cannot to go out with, many Emirati women have a curfew to follow, which is the norm. Seeing women out late, especially Emirati women has a lot of negative connotations that no one wants to be associated with. A homemaker, Hamida Sharmin, told Khaleej Times “In our society, we believe that only young women who are up to no good stay out late. I don’t want my child to be mistaken for a bad person.”
Despite arguments that the world is unsafe, even for men, in most cases, curfew is only applied to women. For instance, when my friend was only 19-years-old, he was not even expected to show up home; however, his working sister who was 26 at the time was expected to be home before 10 p.m. This is the case for many women, who are no longer children but are monitored as one. They watch their younger siblings and relatives live while they are confined within the borders of time.
In my university campus, formally, the curfew is midnight during weekdays for both genders; however, depending on the supervisors the boys have, they can get away with coming back at 3 a.m., which is impossible for girls, unless they want to be taken to judicial affairs and face further consequences.
I think having a curfew is another way for families to “control their women” because no one wants their daughter to become one of “Banat Jumeirah” or Jumeirah girls, who are known to stay out late with boys and sometimes perform sexual favors. These double standards root from sexist beliefs. In this region, the female carries the burden of being her family’s honor, thus, she must avoid bringing shame to the family. Due to honor being associated with the woman’s body, more specifically, her virginity, women face a lot of regulations and restrictions. For many young women, it comes in the form of curfew, etc.
When girls go out past curfew they face informal sanctions from their parents. In some cases, where their parents complain about them to the authorities for misbehavior, they may face formal sanctions where they have to sign a “Ta’ahud” (a pledge) at the police station. When I think of informal sanctions, I remember a rebellious friend I had when I was 16-years-old. I’ve never met an Emirati girl quite like that before and I was not sure if she was brave or suicidal. She used to sneak out all the time, sometimes with boys and other times to get McDonald’s from the gas station nearby. She always got caught and she would often get locked up, have her phone confiscated, or beaten up by her father. This is the kind of consequences a lot of women face, especially young girls, while their brothers do not come back until the late a.m. and still have their beds made-up for them.
As for me, breaking the norm was followed by a negative outburst from my mother. She was furious. Fortunately, I had my sister to share that with and lucky for us, our sharp tongues got us out of any real trouble. While we were cruising around and listening to my sister’s horrible music, mom sent us numerous messages telling us that it’s out of ill manner to leave at a late hour, we are daughters of well-known families, and that we must keep in mind what people will think of us. Once we got home, there were a lot of negative exchanges about the unfair double standard we have to deal with. Meaning, my mother and my sister argued as I watched from the corner of the room with a smirk on face.
A long conversation with both of them showed me the polarized opinions regarding this argument. I was hoping to see some color; however, all I received was black and white. My sister furiously discussed the double standard and how restricting women only leads to more deviance; “I do a lot of crazy stuff but I don’t regret it because I need to breathe. If they just let us live normally without guilt-tripping us for every small detail, we won’t have as many problems and open secrets as we do now.” To her, gender is a factor that suffocates a woman until she breaks free in ways that are culturally inappropriate. As for my mother, she spoke about the importance of maintaining a woman’s honor and the family’s reputation. She showed a great concern to people’s hearsay as well as the risk of getting harassed or raped. When told that boys can also fall victims to rape she simply said, “Yes, but a man can defend himself. A man is a man and a woman is a woman.”
Having a curfew is important for children; however, it should not be implemented to young adults. I find the factors surrounding curfew degrading and the obsession to regulate women’s actions bizarre. In addition, I think the extreme regulations, especially within the Emirati society, do not allow young adults to learn responsibility, decision-making, and self-discipline, as they should. For instance, when I enrolled into university and was able to stay out late under the pretense of studying, I barely stayed home and it took me a while to learn how to bring myself to balance going-out and studying.