Monday, December 9, 2013

Kindly remember that you are a second class citizen

I am the kind of person that will defend Dubai to the hilt to those who criticise it. This is the kind of thing I will say to people who say it is a revolting capitalist plastic hell hole full of Porsche-driving idiots with empty lives:

"The climate is great from October to April, you can enjoy a good quality of life, yes there is the fair share of complete materialistic plonkers that you would expect in a rich country, but I have made great friends here. And, as a woman in Dubai, I have always been treated with respect, it does not have the unreconstructed attitudes you might think, and, I know that as long as I remember I am in an Islamic country and do not do anything silly like be horribly drunk in a public place and otherwise live within the law, I will be fine."

Unfortunately, this week, I was given a rather stark reminder, courtesy of my landlord's agent, that despite the fact that I am as educated as my husband, have just landed a job that is nearly as well paid as his, pay my share of the mortgage on our property back home etc etc etc, in the eyes of some, the fact that I am a woman means my opinion matters less and that I should not argue and listen respectfully when a man is talking.

To cut a long story short, the agent had originally agreed to fix our broken washing machine, even gave us the cash up front without seeing a quote, but went back on this when the technician who came to fix it told us it was going to be twice as expensive as originally thought.

When I tried to disagree with his argument that he would not fix our six-year-old machine because "the apartment had been delivered to us in good condition" (it really wasn't, but that is another long and boring story) his words were something like:

"This is Arab country, here a man can do something very bad to his wife if she speaks against him."

At this point, I thought there was little point trying to argue with someone who is going to disagree with me because he believes that his being a man means he has an automatic right to make the decision, and the fact that the fact that I am a woman means I have no right to disagree with him. So, I have had to go against every single one of my feminist instincts and ask him indoors to deal with him from now on.

I moved here with my eyes open, I knew such attitudes exist here, but I found it pretty shocking because it was the first time in nearly three years that I have come up against it. In many ways, the UAE is very forward thinking. The Minister of State and leader of Dubai's recent successful Expo bid is a woman, for example, and there is broad recognition that equality for women is vital.

And, I know I should not let this man upset me, but, I did find it pretty shocking, particularly as it is the first time I have experienced this kind of attitude head on, and, I think I had started to believe that such ignorance did not exist here. Silly me, it would seem it does not take much for certain people to resort to it if a woman is behaving in a way they do not like.

It caused me to do something I have never done before, and went running to the forum on where I found some good advice about reporting him to the landlord regulator RERA. As is often the case, I am not sure I can be bothered with the bureaucracy. Perhaps I will, but in the mean time, the priority is to just get the flippin' washing machine fixed. I am aware of the somewhat pointed symbolism of a broken household appliance being at the root of my pondering of perceptions of gender roles in the UAE. Perhaps I should get back into the kitchen and get on with trying to get the bloomin' thing fixed rather than rambling away on my blog.

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