Among many western misconceptions concerning the Arab woman, one of the most misleading concerns her role as a worker. For reasons that psychologists may one day dig out, our western imaginations instantly place the working Arab woman in a setting that is remote, poor and faintly Biblical. More often,, than not she is stolidly threshing wheat with an ancient flail, carrying a jug to the river bank or weaving cloth on a rickety loom. Her garments are shapeless and dark, her body is strong and her face is at once impassive and weary.
This impression is not entirely inaccurate. Up and down the banks of the Nile and the Tigris, in the Lebanese mountains, in the Jordanian deserts thousands of women plod silently, and probably contentedly, through the ancient patterns which history and harsh climes have imposed on them and which, I have no doubt, will endure long past their lifetimes.
Elsewhere, however, such impressions bear little relation to reality. In Cairo, in Beirut, in Amman, in shops, in factories, in schools, Arab women are working at a range of occupations that embrace assembly line, operating room and court room. In one Beirut factory young girls manufacture perfume; in another, cigarettes. In a book store a young woman arranges a window display. In a super market busy young things pack inventory on the shelves, wait on customers and click off totals at the check-out counter with the bored efficiency of any A&P. They are brisk, competent and attractive.
They are not, certainly, typical of women in every Arab country, but increasingly they are filling jobs and entering professions which were long barred to them by tribal, religious and familial custom. In so doing they are proving the emptiness of many of those attitudes and spawning even more opportunity for tomorrow's Arab woman.