“Because he is a man, he will not say his mother’s name”.
I spend an hour a day as a conversation partner with the American Language Institute.The majority of the students this semester come from Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E and, aside from a few women, most are (very wealthy) young men. Through our conversations, I have learned a lot about what Ayman, Faisal, Naïf, and my other new friends hold to be deeply set beliefs concerning women, politics, and priorities.
From a western cultural context, some of the customs or traditional signs of respect described to me to be by these young men would seem like indications of blatant sexism. During one of our group conversations, I had asked Faisal for mother’s name and suddenly the entire group erupted in laughter. “Ana! Faisal will only say his father’s name!” I was shocked (discreetly and internally) that these boys would deny their mothers their identity but, after some explanation, I learned that traditionally, a mother’s name was not said aloud in public in order to safeguard her from name-calling or possible ridicule in the public eye. Specifically, men might not say their mothers name as it implies weakness. I could not get an elaboration on this point, however, the students did further explain to me that many of today’s young adults say their mother’s names aloud and, most importantly to me, are proud to do so.
In US and Latin American culture, someone’s name is a powerful and essential tool that establishes some identity. So I asked myself; is this change in the approach to a woman’s name altered because of natural liberalization over time or is it a western influence? Both? Regardless of their stance on the issue, the young men respect each other’s decisions about how they chose to honor their families. Learning about different cultural approaches to identity is vital to progressive feminist discourse.