A Woman Is No Man absolutely broke my heart. In the novel taken place from two points of view, family is harrowed by traditional beliefs that hinder the advancement of women. In the past (1990s), Isra is a young woman from Palestine whose family marries her off at age thirteen, who becomes a mother of three, and who only ever dreamed of true love. As she moves to America with her new husband, Adam, and is overseen by her mother in law, she learns that despite the promises and opportunities of America, a Palestinian woman will always be held to their customs.
Years later, Deya is about to graduate high school, and all her grandmother plans to do is marry her off in the traditional Palestinian manner. However, young Deya is eager to continue her education, praying to go to college in the fall. Yet, Deya knows what is expected of her, and her grandmother is relentless. One day, Deya uncovers a secret, and it leaves her torn between finally escaping the oppressive traditions and pursuing a future of her own.
Author Rum bravely tackles the cultural repression of middle eastern women. In a culture where men are valued more than women, and women are considered a financial burden unless they produce male heirs, she gives her readers four Palestinian women whose roles display the variations of opportunity possible for women.
Throughout the novel, the refrain of securing future by marriage (and not encouraging women to be independent) was stated. I kept asking myself, ‘Why is marriage more secure for a woman than being on her own?’ Other than the idea of two is better than one, there is no guarantee that the man is going to be able to support his wife any more than she could- and if she has dependents, as often these young brides do, then there is even greater stress on the marriage for the man to provide for them as well. This is a universal, traditional role for the men to play, as breadwinner for the family. But what if he does not? How is that better for the woman in this oppressive culture in which she is only expected (and often allowed) to be a housewife?
Rum’s novel leaves the reader with the experience to understand that traditional ways are not always the best- that respectful change can born something better for the younger generations of women- both of and not of Palestinian decent. I would highly encourage anyone to read this novel. Though devastatingly heavy, this is a respectful, eye-opening read.