The Daughters of Abdul-Rahman
During a conversation with my mother in 2009, a look in her eyes made me think: My mother is a content woman, mother, and wife, but is that all she wanted? Did she have dreams and hopes that faded away under the social pressure to be the good big sister, the good wife, then, the good mother? I began to wonder how many women in Middle Eastern societies actually make their own major life decisions, and how many of these women are genuinely happy. Curiosity led me to start carrying around my notebook in Amman, Jordan, observing traditions, analyzing behaviors, interviewing women, and reaching a level of trust where they were willing to tell me their intimate stories of life, love, and career. In 2010, these women became the inspiration for a story of magical realism about four sisters and their father; a film in-the-making that I call the Daughters of Abdul-Rahman.
Daughters of Abdul-Rahman is a dramatic comedy about four estranged and very different sisters. Following the mysterious disappearance of their father, the eldest sister, Zainab, must now reunite with her three sisters at the family home to find their patriarch. Only by coming together will they be able to locate their missing father, and, in the process, overcome their differences and realize who they truly want to be. A drama with a unique, Jordanian sense of humor that is full of light heartwarming moments, Daughters of Abdul-Rahman is natural and organic. Yet, the screenplay tackles serious issues and taboos in a poetic, dark, but still comedic style.
The four female leads of Daughters of Abdul-Rahman loosely represent the wide spectrum of women in Amman while their old traditional father represents the patriarchal structure in Jordan. Given the endless list of differences between them and their divergent social lives, the four sisters do not choose to embark on a journey together to find their missing father, but they must. The sisters’ journey creates a whirlwind of fear, tears, new discoveries, and laughter. Through difficult times, the daughters find their inner voices, not only as individuals, but also as a union of women—sisters.
On a grander scale, Daughters of Abdul-Rahman explores a patriarchal society enforced by both men and women. The film emphasizes the importance of women’s ideological and social liberation in the Middle East and is meant to empower its viewers. From my conversations and interactions, I have seen that women in the region still have a long way to go toward gaining real independence of heart, mind, and life. I believe when women break free from the shackles of tradition and patriarchy that shape their lives, then the cycle of oppression that passes from one generation to the next will end.
GENDER ROLES IN JORDAN
Women in Jordan deal with several challenges to gender equality on a daily basis. The average Jordanian woman experiences limited economic participation, inability to pass on Jordanian citizenship to her children if she is married to a non-Jordanian, underrepresentation in parliament, and unequal treatment in the judicial system. Beyond these practical struggles is the pervasive, underlying tone of defeat with which most women in Jordan subconsciously live. In Daughters of Abdul-Rahman, I address this ever-present sense of defeat.
Control of women in the Middle East, both institutionalized and informal, is unreasonable. Cleverly, it is always placed under the umbrella of “honor” and “manhood.” Today in Jordan, being a man and having honor means showing respect and kindness and other good things, but it also includes creating certain rules that apply only to others, especially females; men commonly demonstrate their masculinity through these problematic relationship dynamics. It is important to mention, however, that the social pressure on men to act in this way is also a burden on men, and hinders their growth and enlightenment.
PIECING THE STORY TOGETHER
To prepare for the film, in the last few years I sent out 300 surveys to women of different social, economic, and religious strata in Jordan. I wanted to get their feedback on how they live: their hopes, dreams, and disappointments. One intriguing thread of thought pervaded the majority of surveys. One married woman stated this best (age 39): “Men are not the road blocks, men are not our enemies. But the real threat for women are [sic] other women.”
Indeed, my surveys indicate that women tend to pass on gender-related oppression to their daughters, female neighbors, and even successful women in their communities. Commonly, women are fast to judge other women who have chosen a different path than theirs. Or perhaps it is also a subconscious thing: “I couldn’t have it, so no other woman should.” This destructive cycle is fed by the general “understanding” that women are jealous of each other. Although men, too, are jealous of each other, the reality is that we live in a man’s world where men have the upper hand and the freedom to compete in any way.
Looking at the history of oppressed minorities around the world, whether for reasons of race, gender, sexual orientation, or some other classification, revolutions only happen when there is unity. Unity and mutual understanding between women and men is essential for social progress; but, what is more necessary—and perhaps more overlooked—is unity among women. A female revolution is long overdue in the Middle East, but that will not happen unless the female struggle becomes one for all women of all socioeconomic, ethnic, and religious persuasions. Every March 8, International Women’s Day, I emphasize: On this day, women should celebrate each other.
Many of us accept living in a man’s world, but I know we can we reach a world that exists for everyone, equally. Unlike many films of this genre, Daughters of Abdul-Rahman does not condemn the man and victimize the woman. Rather, the goal is to provoke local and international audiences to take a moment and think: How does the formula of social acceptance affect me? My sister? My daughter? My neighbor? How do we end the cycle of oppressed mothers?
In making Daughters of Abdul-Rahman, I aspire to create a bold, female-empowering, artistic film that approaches Arab cultural taboos with serious thought and a forgiving heart. I want to tell stories of love, life, careers, and dreams. The four sisters may or may not find their father, but they will understand why their lives are the way they are now, and will realize their rights and the real meaning of finding their personal voice.
I am a strong believer in the voice of women, the strength of women, the freedom of women, and the much-needed intellectual liberty of women and men in the region. If I wish for something, it would be that this film contributes to a larger movement for women’s liberation in my own country, or even in the Middle East. And when that happens, I will be there, with my mother.
Watch Abu Hamdan’s Academy Award shortlisted film, Bahiya and Mahmoud below:
Editors’ note: Women’s Voices Now is the fiscal sponsor of Daughters of Abdul-Rahman. If you are interested in supporting this film and helping the team reach the $75,000 goal for completion of the project, a tax-deductible donation may be made to Women’s Voices Now, which will be allocated to this exciting and essential project. To learn more about the film, send an email to Zaid Abu Hamdan at FundingDaughters@gmail.com, and visit the film’s site: igg.me/at/Daughters.