The random thoughts of an architect-turned- lawyer from the deep south living in Washington, DC...

Monday, November 27, 2006

When a legal analysis turns personal

In order to graduate from law school, I must fufill a "writing requirement". A lot of my friends did this in their second year, but I put it off. It was just so intimidating and long and legal and I was really dreading it. I heard about a professor who was helpful in paper writing. Although I really had no interest in Feminism or Gender Discrimination, I needed to write a paper in my third year, so I signed up for her class then I headed off to London for my summer. I had no clue what would be in store for me.

From the day I met my man in London, people around me questioned "how a man treats a woman" in his culture (read: Muslim). One girl swore to me that he would shove me in a kitchen. Another girl actually said to me "yeah, it's all fine and dandy until he comes home with another wife." I was just naive enough to not understand this. I mean, I know there are stereotypes out there, but have you SEEN how this guy treats me? At the time, I wasn't sure how his "culture" would have him treat me, but I surely knew "Ben" treated me like an Angel. Not a single person on the London trip this summer would disagree with that.

When I got back to school I was faced with my gender discrimination class and that dreaded thirty page paper. Very early on, I went to the professor to talk to her about my paper topic. The class is based mostly on US Constitutional law. I was wondering if I might be able to go outside of the norm and write about "how a man treats a woman" in the Muslim culture. She loved the idea, but warned me that it would be an enourmous undertaking, I should really think of narrowing it down. I figured that narrowing would come in due time. Considering I didn't know the first thing about this religion or legal system or anything, I had to start broad to get a baseline understanding. Looking back, I can honestly say I had no clue what an undertaking it would be. I didn't really care though because meeting Ben had given me desire to learn and understand and educate myself. Little did he know, by treating me so well, he inadvertently gave me a paper topic, one I was passionate about.

This paper has become much more than just thirty pages to me. It has become a journey that has opened my eyes to a culture I never knew. It has also brought forth some of the most kind giving people I have ever come across. When you take people in a culture that is so often stereotyped and misunderstood, and you let them know you are interested in learning, you meet some of the most amazing people. I have spent time almost every single Monday this semester in my professor's office discussing what I learned the previous week. She has been just as eager to learn with me. I sat for hours sipping coffee at a Cosi down the street with a gal who found my blog and is extremely knowledgeable on my paper topic. In fact she even lent an ear through some recent family stuff. I also contacted a lady who was a former Taliban captive who writes columns on my very paper topic. Not only would she like to read my paper when it is complete, but I hope to meet her while I am in London.

The people I have met along the way continue to become more and more inspiring. While I was on a plane from Atlanta to New Orleans, the gentleman sitting next to me was reading my paper over my shoulder as I was proof-reading. After about five minutes he finally got the nerve to strike up a conversation asking if I was taking an anthropology class. I gave him a quick rundown of what I was writing about thinking he would turn back to his book. Not only did he never turn back to his book, but we spent the entire flight discussing my paper. This guy was Muslim and had a fascinating story (born in Iraq, came to America, wanted to help his people in Iraq so joined the Marines and fought as an American helping to oust Saddam.) We had a very long discussion about Islam and where women fit in. A discussion in which I could easily hold my own. At one point, he said "but you have to understand, so many of the things you hear are misconceptions." I told him that not only did I agree with him, but that I was writing my paper to prove that very sentiment. He told me with the utmost sincerity how much he appreciated what I was doing. It was as if my writing on this topic directly affected him. We walked and talked the entire way off the plane and through the airport. I said my goodbye as I saw my dad sitting there waiting for me. This gentleman from the plane walked right up to my father, shook his hand and said "sir, you have the most amazing daughter I have met in a very long time. She is intelligent and openminded and you should be very proud of her. I am honored to have met her."

Today, as per my professor's request, I will stand in front of my Gender Discrimination class and give a presentation on Women in Islam and misconceptions about "how a man treats a woman." I have done things in my life that have made those around me proud but I have rarely taken the time to stop just be proud of myself. Right now, I am very proud of the amount of research and learning I have done this semester. I am even more proud that I can stand in front of a room of people who probably know little to nothing on this topic and hopefully get them to understand.