Queen Bees: Queen Rania on Oprah

Queen Rania and Oprah. Image via Oprah's website.

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 third woman shown is a Christian Arab woman. She is the owner of a trendy boutique. She says, “Women here are very modern here in Jordan. We do wear a lot of jeans during the day.”

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!

  • LOL Rania

    “More and more a matter of choice?” 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago hardly ANYONE wore the hijab in Jordan. That 60% (supposedly) are now wearing it means it’s becoming more and more omnipresent. Of course, a lot of women wear it bc it’s trendy or their family thinks they can’t get a good husband without it, and a lot of women put it on and off for a few years.

    I would have liked to see some typical Jordanian women on here, rather than wealthy English speaking western Ammani women. Even many college educated professionals squeak by on 200 jd a month, not buying American foods that are grossly overpriced and only available to the wealthy elite.

    >>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. <<

    You know what I want as a Jordanian woman? The right to make fun of the queen and her husband, or crack jokes about them without a jail penalty, and speak my mind on the royal family and the funny way money is allocated, about nepotism from the family and their friends, the government, Jordan's part in the Iraq war, Jordan's part in rendition, the issue in Palestine and so on. Yet I cannot, because we do not have this right in Jordan – in Rania's Jordan. And my children cannot and so we are here where we can do these things. Al urdun awalan? La Rania, al hurriyah awalan.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-28727-Woodside-Family-Examiner RCHOUDH

    I think this tendency to want to “normalize” Muslim women is something people of many cultures not deemed “white, West European, Christian” have to do in order for Westerners to “see” them as normal. And unfortunately this one segment on this one show won’t be enough to drive that point home for many people. Frankly I’m tired of having to “prove” my humanity to people. If people don’t realize after getting to know me that I share just as many commonalities with them and other human beings as any other the problem lies with them not with me!

  • Diana

    @RCHOUDH: I think to “normalize” can be problematic. It is good to tell people look, we are not barbarians, we are not oppressed, we do the same things you do…but for me it gets dangerous when we start to tout this “world citizen” mantra. Its a great idea in theory and at first seems to promote equality and fair treatment; I mean what is wrong about this message that we are all humans, part of humanity, right?

    But I personally find when it is overused we begin to strip people of their autonomy, we begin to say, “you are not different and I like you” instead of “you are different and I recognize that and I respect you”.

    Its a delicate balance :)

    The other problem is that we need to deconstruct these terms: “normal”, “mainstream”, “modern”…etc. Who is constructing this discourse and for what purpose? It really is problematic when we use these relative terms to categorize people.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-28727-Woodside-Family-Examiner RCHOUDH

    @Diana

    You make a good point about the “world citizen” mantra! Thanks I didn’t realize that. And you’re right it’s more important for people to respect each other’s differences than to expect them to be “normal” in a white Western sense (shopping for overpriced American foods, loving chocolate haha!)


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