When I heard that Queen Rania of Jordan appeared on The Oprah Show not too long ago, I was a bit skeptical. Don’t get me wrong–there isn’t much to dislike about Queen Rania. Oprah said it herself: Queen Rania is a “gorgeous mother of four” and “international fashion icon” whose mission is to “make the world a better place for women and children.”
I just had one fear: that the discourse of cosmopolitanism would take over, and a Muslim woman would, in fear of being marginalized, begin to undermine even those differences for which acknowledgement could breed respect and appreciation.
My fears were quickly dispelled as Queen Rania maintained that delicate balance between singing the “I am every woman” song, while still managing to highlight those things that make us unique and different.
Speaking about various topics, such as education, “the veil,” terrorism, women, and the relationship between Americans and Arabs, Queen Rania presents herself as a multi-dimensional woman. She identifies herself, in no particular order, as a Muslim, a woman, a queen, an Arab, an educator, and as a mother.
When speaking about women in her country, she said that Americans would probably be surprised to see, “just how alike we are.” Beyond language and the “cultural idiosyncrasies,” she claims, women are the same. Mothers everywhere just “want the best for their children.” Women want the same things and the same rights.
Early in the show, viewers were able to preview a segment titled, “A day in the life of women in Jordan,” which featured three women who explained their experiences living in Jordan. They cleverly picked a Muslim woman who did not wear hijab, a Muslim woman who wore hijab, and a Christian Arab woman. Beyond the differences in religion and practice, the segment also showed the different lifestyles of these women.
The first woman, who is Muslim but does not wear hijab, is a stay-at-home mother who loves to exercise and takes time out of her day to pray. She talks about her marriage and how her and her husband dated for a couple years before getting married. She says, “People in the United States think that Arabs only get married if it’s an arranged marriage.”
The second woman is a Muslim and wears hijab. She is a preschool teacher. She talks about how plastic surgery is a growing trend in Jordan, but she prefers to eat right and work out so that her girls do not learn to grow up being “crazy about dieting.” They show her buying American products and preparing lunch for her family. She says she cooks Arabic food, Italian food, and Chinese food but her kids–like American kids–love burgers and spaghetti.
The idea that the segment seemed to convey is that these women, although different from American women and even from each other in religion, practices, and lifestyles, basically have the same desires as other women around the world.
Small details in the segment, such as the image of American-brand foods that these women buy and the statements that their children “love hamburgers and spaghetti,” scream out “See, we are the same!”
Meanwhile, Oprah points out, “In this largely Muslim country, one religious tradition is becoming more and more a matter of choice. Latest statistics say that only about 60% of women in Jordan are choosing to wear the veil.” The discussion about the veil arises as Queen Rania tells the viewers why some women choose to wear headscarves and other women choose not to.
Then she drops one of her many novel quotes, saying “we should judge a woman according to what is going on in their heads rather than for what is on top of their heads.”
In addition to dispelling the misconceptions surrounding “the veil” and women in the Arab world in general, the show gave the viewer a chance to see that Muslim women are not a homogenous group, depicting the differences in the personal practice of Islam, in the attitudes towards marriage, careers, lifestyle choices and child-rearing.
At the same time it showed that women are women wherever one goes. We want rights, we want to be autonomous, we want to be good mothers and good wives, but the pursuit of these things looks a little different for each of us. Therefore, even while having the same religion, nationality, ethnic background, needs or desires, we will look and act like completely different people–like individuals.
Finally, airing that sweet indulgence enjoyed by women across the world, Queen Rania ends the show by stating that chocolate makes her “deliriously happy.” If this isn’t one of those pleasures shared universally by women, I don’t know what is!