The Greater Freedom | Alya Mooro

Summary of: The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes
By: Alya Mooro


In ‘The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes’, Alya Mooro provides an insightful view of the struggle for identity faced by many immigrants and their children, especially Middle Eastern women. Drawing from personal experiences, Mooro discusses various themes such as racial and cultural stereotypes, body image pressures faced by Arab women, the hardships of adolescent experiences in different cultural contexts, and the challenges surrounding marriage, religion, and feminism. The summary takes readers on a compelling journey of self-discovery and makes them question what defines an individual’s identity and sense of belonging in an increasingly interconnected world.

Defining an Arab Identity

Growing up in the UK, Alya struggled with defining her identity as an Arab. The lack of representation in mainstream media made it hard for her to find role models that accurately portrayed Arab characters. Additionally, Arab girls were often forced to choose between identifying as white or black. In highly segregated schools, “Arab” was often not even an option on official forms. This lack of representation and acknowledgement of the Arab identity can be harmful, especially for children who may internalize negative stereotypes.

Arab Women and the Pressure to Conform to the Standards of Beauty

Arab women face higher standards of beauty from society, family, and themselves. The pressure to conform to European physical traits is intense, leading to painful and sometimes dangerous beauty practices such as chemical hair straightening and hot wax hair removal. Body image also plays a role, with the cultural shift towards celebrating diverse body shapes and colors only recently beginning through icons such as Kim Kardashian. This pressure also affects Arab women’s sexuality, leading to unhealthy choices.

Sexuality and Society

Alya’s experience growing up in the Middle East and the UK highlights the stark contrast in societal attitudes towards sexuality. In the Middle East, women’s sexuality is policed through gossip and Arab societies can be stifling, but the tight-knit community can provide a sense of safety. As Alya navigates her dual cultural identities, she struggles with the shame and guilt associated with exploring her sexuality in the Western world while feeling judged by the invisible jury from her Middle Eastern upbringing. This thought-provoking memoir sheds light on the complexities of navigating societal expectations around sexuality.

Alya’s Sexual Liberation

Alya’s journey from feeling guilty and ashamed about her sexuality to finding liberation and enjoying casual sex is not uncommon in Arab societies. Women face impossible expectations, and Alya’s mother’s response to her liaison with her friend’s boyfriend demonstrates how ingrained these societal norms are. Although Alya had trouble enjoying sex even after she had consented to it due to years of being taught that sex is dirty and wrong, she found liberation through hypnotherapy and has been able to build a satisfying and lasting friends-with-benefits relationship. Alya’s story serves as a testament to the challenges that many Arab women face in coming to terms with their sexuality and enjoying casual sex without the feeling of guilt, shame, or fear of societal retribution.

Arab Women: Struggling Against Societal Pressures

Arab societies have unrealistic expectations of women when it comes to marriage. This includes marrying young, marrying the right person, and upholding the marriage for the rest of their lives. The societal pressure also extends to interfaith and interracial marriages. Alya, the writer, gives a personal account of how she faced racism while in an interracial relationship. Arab girls and women are expected to adapt to their future husbands even before getting married. Furthermore, divorced women are usually blamed for failed marriages by society. Alya realizes that the longest relationship one will ever have is the one to oneself and is worth putting in efforts to make it a good one.

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