For more than a decade, Katherine Zoepf has lived in or traveled throughout the Arab world, reporting on the lives of women, whose role in the region has never been more in flux. Only a generation ago, female adolescence as we know it in the West did not exist in the Middle East. There were only children and married women. Today, young Arab women outnumber men in universities, and a few are beginning to face down religious and social tradition in order to live independently, to delay marriage, and to pursue professional goals. Hundreds of thousands of devout girls and women are attending Qur’anic schools—and using the training to argue for greater rights and freedoms from an Islamic perspective. And, in 2011, young women helped to lead antigovernment protests in the Arab Spring. But their voices have not been heard. Their stories have not been told.
In Syria, before its civil war, she documents a complex society in the midst of soul searching about its place in the world and about the role of women. In Lebanon, she documents a country that on the surface is freer than other Arab nations but whose women must balance extreme standards of self-presentation with Islamic codes of virtue. In Abu Dhabi, Zoepf reports on a generation of Arab women who’ve found freedom in work outside the home. In Saudi Arabia she chronicles driving protests and women entering the retail industry for the first time. In the aftermath of Tahrir Square, she examines the crucial role of women in Egypt's popular uprising.
Deeply informed, heartfelt, and urgent, Excellent Daughters brings us a new understanding of the changing Arab societies—from 9/11 to Tahrir Square to the rise of ISIS—and gives voice to the remarkable women at the forefront of this change.
Zoepf, a journalist who has covered the Middle East for the New York Times, fluidly merges memoir with reportage while showing the Arab world from a unique perspective: that of an American woman who managed to win uncommonly intimate access to urban Muslim women in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates between 2004 and 2011. Zoepf's Arabic, along with her "glimpses behind closed doors" of women's spaces, lends authority to her lucid accounts of Islamic history, practices, and controversies. Though she covers some widely publicized events, such as the 2007 "honor killing" of a Damascus woman and the 1990 protests in which Riyadh women defied Saudi law by driving cars, her focus is on day-to-day aspects of women's lives: the showfa (the "viewing," literally, of a newly engaged Saudi woman), the hijab, the Qubaisiate (a fundamentalist women's prayer group), the difficulties of finding employment, and the obsession with female chastity (including forcible "virginity testing"). Mindful that "strange as I'd found it at first, life in this women-only world must have its own consolations," her work acknowledges that some women accept and find value in strict traditional mores. In her absorbing, window-opening book, Zoepf reveals the variety of women's lives and interests away from political headlines and conventional stereotypes, and their power, often by small steps, to transform their world.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Never came full circle
The author is a talented writer, but this read too much as a collection of unrelated feature pieces and not enough as a cohesive book. Also thought the author could have offered more of her own insight or synthesized some of the information better.
Intellectual treatise on women of the mid eastern countries
Well written but expected it to be more of a novel than a treatise on the impact on women and by women on society in countries such as Syria,Saudi Arabia and other surrounding like countries. Insightful writing!