When I moved to Qatar to become the marketing director for Carnegie Mellon's branch campus, I remember thinking I'd be a beacon on the road to empowerment for the young women of the Persian Gulf. Most of the women I met had been brought up in sex-segregated households and educated in sex-segregated schools. Prior to joining our co-educational campus, the only members of the opposite sex they'd encountered were relatives. I found their various attitudes about marriage quite jarring. Dating As A Modern Muslim Woman
"I'm getting married," one student told me. The look on her face told me she wasn't all the excited. She was just about to graduate from Virginia Commonwealth (VCU), the only all-female university that was part of our campus. I wondered if she might be a lesbian. I kind of hated myself for wondering, but it seemed fairly plausible.
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This is the stereotype of women in a harem, of women who might be one of several wives, and—in this case—of women who went to the only all-female school on campus. According to my colleague at VCU, the latter stereotype was not unfounded. But of course I couldn't ask something so personal, so I went for the roundabout route. After wishing a lengthy mabrook, congratulations, to her and her family, I finally asked, "do you find him attractive?"
"I don't know him that well," she said, tilting her head. "Even though he's my cousin. My mother picked him."
Ouch. How to respond to that one without getting too personal?
"Ah, are you worried about children?"
She looked at me and smiled. "That is for God to decide. But I was hoping to go to grad school. Insha'allah I will."
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