The shorts and the bicycle
She has been daydreaming about Tripoli for weeks now. Her new school, a chance to make more friends, the beach, the warm weather, tons of cousins her age; it was going to be so perfect.
K was thirteen, and along with her three other siblings had waited for their relocation back home for a long long time, fantasizing their house, rooms and all the treasures they would discover.
The first few weeks of euphoria passed by without a hitch and she knew by now her way around the neighborhood. So the next time she had to run some errands like buy fresh bread or milk, K found it natural to jump on her bicycle and pedal away to her destination. The weather was hot and humid so she went out with her usual cropped jeans shorts, sloppy T-shirt and sneakers, not realizing she had just created a scandal.
“Wow hold your horses!” you’re saying, what are you talking about? Where is the scandal ? A teenager, on a bicycle, you are a raving lunatic.
And I tell you no, not yet. This scenario effectively took place in one of the Tripoli posh residential areas in the early 80s. Around that time a wave of conservatism had started to blanket the country and the hippy years and wild 70s were fading away.
K was unaware how attractive she looked with those gorgeous slim, long and shiny white legs. The lighter your skin tone the more attractive you are here. She was oblivious to the wolf whistles and remarks because in her innocence she did not associate this with her presence. She did not think she was doing something ‘taboo’ all of a sudden especially that many people from her parents’ generation were attired in all sorts of ‘revealing’ clothing.
After a few trips like this, her grandmother took her aside and told her “K, sweetie you have to stop wearing those shorts outside the garden”, “but why grandma’?”. I assume the grandmother herself was embarrassed to tell this girl the reason, she did not herself think it was particularly wrong but her neighbours were complaining and she could not let her granddaughter ruin her ‘reputation’ unwittingly. Caving in was easier, plus not everybody was fashionably westernized/ trendy, and when in Rome you better do as the Romans do, ain’t that right? The men were oggling her baby as a walking vagina and she was ashamed to tell her this.
The constitution guaranteed her freedom to wear what she wants, Islamism was not on the rise just yet, it was simply the mentality of the majority. A ‘decent’ girl would not do this, especially if she was better endowed then her peers and stopped looking like a child.
So the grandma’ told her that it was 3ayb in Libya to do this, that Libya was not Europe. That was the last day K rode a bicycle.
When I heard this story, I could not help feeling sorry for K, yet sympathizing with her grandma’s dilemma. She was not going to reform the mentality of her society, nor the hypocrisy of women who had worn miniskirts in their heyday and now were lecturing a kid playing with shorts. It was illogical. Yet that is what happened.
You are welcome to discuss the relative merit of who is right or who is wrong and how it could have been handled differently, but let me tell you; twenty years ago a teenage girl may get away with such and act, but in this day and age she would not have even dared do this.
A colleague of mine was telling me today how his daughter asked for a bicycle on her birthday. R is 19, she wanted it to go to university instead of getting stuck in the traffic jams and at the same time it would be good cardiovascular exercise. He did not refuse but told her that he would have to get into a dozen fights everyday with perfect strangers because of how they would treat R on her way to college. So she agreed to use the bicycle on their property and in the compounds specially designed for foreign workers. Is that not pathetic ? I get angry when a society concentrates on trivialities and leaves the bigger issues unattended. Who cares what you drive, or how much flesh you show?
It seems the objection was more for the shorts than the bicycle or is it the other way around?