Hysterical Woman Phenomena

Hysterical Woman Phenomena

Written by Stephanie Siam

man goes to the doctor complaining of stomach pains; gets Rx. Woman goes to the doctor with same problem; gets straight jacket
man goes to the doctor complaining of stomach pains; gets Rx. Woman goes to the doctor with same problem; gets straight jacket. graphic by Nicole Elmasry.

Let’s get ready to rummmmble!!!!!!

The late 19th century (probably before and most certainly until some point after) saw a Western cultural predominance of labeling people according to disorders. If you’ve ever taken a look at literature or societal psychology from this time period, you’re sure to be acquainted with ideas such as leeching or frontal lobotomies.

Of course, if you spent more than 3 seconds looking at the recipients of such pleasant treatments, you’ll notice they often have one thing in common: the “fairer” sex.

Ah, yes. Throughout history, women have continuously been dealt the bad reputation of being unpredictable and emotional. Therefore, we tend to be considered weaker and prone to act irrationally based on our feelings at any given time.

Unfortunately, though the West has (mostly) progressed past this deluded mindset, other nations are still far behind understanding how a woman’s body works for – or against – her.

Not only that, but when it comes to women’s rights and inclusion, many societies base their ideologies on misappropriated ayat (verses) from the Qur’an and/or ahadith in order to subjugate, dismiss and maintain the patriarchal status quo on the (irrational and idiotic) basis that:

Women are easily confused and should not be given full responsibility or choice due to their precarious emotional states.

Go with me now to the year 2012. . . . .

We are still in Saudi Arabia, but it is nearing the end of my contract. We will be moving soon, and as the end grew ever nearer, I realize I am happy to go. Our time has been pleasant, but it is finished.

My husband’s niece has gotten engaged, so we make a weekend-trip to Kuwait for her engagement party. Now, I’m no extrovert, and I hate parties – but, it is for family, so I have to go to show support.

On the way to the border, we stop and eat lunch at a Hungry Bunny (fast food burgers) with bathrooms so clean I would eat off the floors. We hit the road, and I grab a cup of ice to go (because I have pica, and I crave ice).

Once in Kuwait, we get settled in the hotel (apartment) with my sister-in-law, and then we head to my other sister-in-law’s (mother-of-the-bride) for dinner. I don’t feel too well, so I don’t eat much. I think I am just tired from traveling. It was a long week at work, and there are lots of people in the house. I nibble.

Change scenes. We’re at the mall. Everybody’s happy and laughing. I can barely walk. Once again, I attribute it to being tired, plus I have major back issues, so I thought, “Eh, figures.” I sit and watch them walk around, having a grand time. I’m labeled as unsociable.

It’s the night of the party. I get all dolled up, and I even do my hair (it was just for women at the beginning). Get to the party. Start to get a migraine. I’m thinking, “Great….perfect timing.” By the middle of the party, I have to leave and go sit in the car. I’m dizzy, my head is throbbing and I’m pouring sweat.

The next day, we go to the movies. I’m still feeling queasy, but I warrior through. Afterward, all the family wants to go out to do something (I can’t even remember, I was so sick). I said I couldn’t, and I asked my hubby to take me back to the hotel. I barely got back to the room before I was choking and throwing up. He said, “I feel sorry for you, but I’m happy because now I can tell them there’s really something wrong!” (It sounds insensitive, but I understood what he meant.)

We finally get back to Saudi, and I start feeling better. I thought it was just a stomach bug. Then, Laila gets sick. And mine returns.

So, we head to the doctor. While Hubby takes Laila downstairs to the pediatrician, I wait to be seen by the doctor upstairs.

Now, you must understand this: I have a laundry list of medical issues that puts me at the doctor quite often. I have several chronic conditions that require treatment and stabilization — and they have been. At one point in the past, however, I had some chest pain. I knew there was nothing seriously wrong, but when you present with chest pain, they do the heart tests and make you see the heart doctor for a follow-up.

While I’m waiting to see the doctor, the heart doctor is sitting nearby talking to a nurse. . .about me. They’re speaking in Arabic, but he keeps motioning toward me. She keeps looking. Then the nurse of the doctor I’m waiting to see comes by and joins in the conversation. They continue talking about me. The gist: I’m there all the time. . .or, I’m a hypochondriac.

When it’s finally my turn, I go in to see the doctor (whom I’ve seen before). I run down my list of symptoms: sweating, fever, nausea, diarrhea, pain, etc.

Again, please note: The nurse did not take my temperature, and even though my blood pressure was high, it wasn’t seen as important.

The doctor asks about my husband. Yes, that’s right. My husband should be there to verify my problem.

“He’s downstairs with my daughter,” I say.

“Oh, is your daughter sick?” he asks.

“Yes. She’s got like the same thing, but not as bad.”

It’s like a light bulb goes off in his gray-haired head. “Are you worried about your daughter?”

I’m confused. “No, I’m not worried about her. I mean, of course I’m concerned for her health, but I know she’ll be okay. . .”

“I think you’re a little anxious. You’re probably upset because your daughter is sick.”

“No, that’s not what’s wrong. . .” To prove his point, I start tearing up.

“I’m going to give you a shot of _________” (I don’t remember the name, but it was an anti-anxiety medicine….Xanax, maybe?)

“I don’t need a shot. . .”

He sends me out of the office to wait for the nurse.

In the meantime, my husband comes up to check on me. He finds me crying.

“What’s wrong?” he asks.

“He won’t listen. I told him what’s wrong, and he thinks I’m just worried about Laila.”

“What?” He goes inside and speaks with the doctor. “Honey, come inside. . .”

I go back inside the office, and the doctor breaks down and checks my temp (imagine the concept!). It’s very high. Suddenly, he realizes I am sick, and he hands out a list of various medicines to collect from the pharmacy downstairs.

Royally pissed, we go to get them and leave for home.

That night, I can’t sleep, and I end up in the bathroom for hours. Anything that goes in comes out five minutes later. I can’t eat, and all liquid makes me nauseous.

We go to the emergency room, where the resident runs a bunch of blood tests.

“I have an idea of what’s wrong,” he says, standing beside my bed. “But I’m waiting for the tests to confirm it. I’ve ordered a Widal test.”

“What’s that?” I ask, completely out of energy.

“It tests for typhoid fever.” He leaves the room.

“Oh, my God!” I’m terrified. I don’t know exactly what typhoid fever is, but I’ve heard of it. And I know it doesn’t sound pretty.

The doctor comes back and confirms the test is positive. I have to be admitted. And I can’t have any human contact except for those whom I’ve already been around.

What is typhoid fever? It’s untreated salmonella poisoning which, if left untreated, can result in death. It takes months to recover from completely, and it took me nearly ten days in hospital to reach a level of being able to be around people again.

I had a “Do NOT Enter Without PROTECTIVE GEAR” sign on my hospital door!!!!

That’s right. I came *this close* to death, and I was labeled “emotionally unbalanced”. . . a hysterical woman.

I had my husband go down to the doctor’s office who had written me off with a diagnosis of hysterics.

His response? “Oh, really?” No apology. No realization of what could have happened. Just an, “Oops.”

Alhumdulillah rab-il al-ameen! Thank you, God, for your unending protection! It was a long road, and I recovered.

And I’d like to say this was a one-off. I’d like to blame it on Saudi Arabia.

Unfortunately, I can’t.

The moral of this story?

When women are quickly labeled as emotional and, thus, not even able to appropriately gauge whether their OWN BODIES are acting erratically, it can be more than just a simple “oops” that results. To allow the diagnosis of hysteria to persist as a cultural norm only risks further maltreatment for women in those locations. To be frank, it puts them at a clear risk for death.

This is why careful study and interpretation of religious doctrine is necessary and why biased and flippant prose that condescendingly discounts a gender is dangerous. When such verses are misappropriated to serve a specific purpose, they propagate the stereotype that women carry too much emotional baggage to think clearly.

Of course, by saying that women are the “weaker” sex and inclined to hysterics, what’s really being said is that men are the opposite. That they’re not prone to emotions because they’re “stronger”. That their judgment is solid and unwavering. That they think with their heads, and not with anything else (like their HEARTS). That they’re not easily swayed by gossip and don’t make rash decisions.

Yet, in this story (as well as many, many others), we can see this isn’t always the case. At times, we are all led by emotions instead of logic and clarity. This doesn’t make us “weaker” or “stronger” than the other. It makes us human. And, as humans, we must respect each other to create a stronger, united ummah (brotherhood) and present a positive image of Islam to the world.

But unfortunately for me, it didn’t end in Saudi Arabia.

So, join me next time, when we travel to Oman, and I continue the story of The Hysterical Woman Phenomena.

Oh, and PS. . .wondering what caused the salmonella? I suppose those bathroom floors weren’t as clean as they looked. Never eat ice from a border-town fast food restaurant.

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Stephanie Clears the Air About Her Saudi Arabia Experience

Stephanie Clears the Air About Her Saudi Arabia Experience

Written by Stephanie Siam

First, let me apologize. This is NOT the Hysterical Woman Syndrome post  that was last promised. Insha’Allah, I will get to that next time (and I did. And that is here). Instead, I decided to respond to the comments and questions left on my previous post. As they appeared, I read them . . . and after a few, I realized it would be easier if I created an open-letter type response.

So, here goes . . . and here’s hoping this clarifies a few points left unanswered from these posts


My Saudi Expectations:

I can see why many may consider the previous post to be a little negative or pessimistic towards the Saudi culture or country, in general. I mean, hey, I start out by saying I NEVER, EVER wanted to go there. How can one make that decision without having any real knowledge about a place?

Here’s some backstory:

Waaaaay back in 2004, I married a Saudi and remained in this tumultuous marriage for 18 months.

So I married a Saudi

Through it all, I also garnered some information about Saudi culture and mindset. This particular Saudi considered himself “modern”. We sat with other couples (older than us, mind you), he cooked (for himself), and we split costs 60/40 (mostly he paid 60).

But he told me about Saudi, and he tried to teach me about Islam – despite not wanting to be married to me (long story for another post, so stay tuned). So, he had that going for him.

My best friend – and sister by another mister (brother/mother, pun, ah . . .) – was ALSO Saudi. And she was the ANTITHESIS of anything Saudi you could ever dream of – or so I thought. Until I moved there and learned she was pretty run-of-the-mill, modern-day girl (a few years younger than me). She also introduced me to Saudi mindset and culture.

So, I didn’t exactly move to Saudi without any knowledge whatsoever. I may have had prejudiced notions based on other peoples’ opinions, but I had a basic taste of what to expect:

1)      No driving for me

2)      An abaya would be necessary

3)      It was hot … always

4)      Everything closes during prayer times

5)      There’s no pork – anywhere

6)      Family is the cornerstone of civilization

Saudi Arabia Reality:

My other observations were made once I actually hit the ground running in the Kingdom.

It’s important to understand that several generalizations about Arabs can be considered correct.

For instance, in my history of knowing Arabs from all around the world – from different countries – of different ages – I’ve noticed that it is difficult – nay, near impossible – to find one who considers time important.

Except when it comes to salat.

Otherwise, time is fluid. Party starts at 8? Great, I’ll be there around. . .10:30. Class begins at 10? Is 10:20 okay to show up? I’m getting MARRIED! Come to my WEDDING! It’s at 9 pm! (But I won’t arrive until 1 am!!!)

Secondly, Arab hospitality is second-to-NONE on God’s green earth. There is no such thing as dropping by for a quick cup of coffee.

Hospitality is second to none

If you come for coffee at 11 am, you’re lucky to leave after dinner at 8. And the order of events, and the steps and. . .oh, it’s so exhausting to a Westerner who understands, “No, I don’t want anything,” as meaning, “No, I don’t want anything.”

However, the hospitality is usually localized to one of two kinds of people: a) Bedouins (in the country) or b) people who know you (in the city). You’re not really going to find a stranger at the supermarket invite you to their house for dinner. But you WILL find a stranger in the desert invite you into their home to sleep, especially if you’re a weird foreigner (hasn’t happened to me personally, but I’ve heard tales).

But, to each the good and the bad.


What the West gets wrong about Saudi:

Of course, many (probably most) generalizations are wrong.

  •  Arabs are not inherent terrorists.
  • They are not ignorant. While many may be uneducated, their knowledge of life far surpasses anything I know on most levels.
  • They are not scary. But their driving is.
  • They are not out to destroy the West. Indeed, they embrace the West and its traditions in many capacities.
  • They are not hell-bent on forcing others to conform to their ideals.

Blending In:

Ah, the concept of “blending in”.

It’s been mentioned that I should not feel weird being stared at because I am different. I should note my husband, who is only a shade or two darker than I am, was not stared at. He is clearly not Saudi Arabian, yet he seemed to blend just fine.

The idea of staring seemed less to be about confusion or interest in “different”, and more of a lack of manners. When a person glances at me and looks away (in America or otherwise), I consider that interest or curiosity. When a person plays the “no blinking game”, as noha called it, the intent seems to be intimidation and rudeness. THOSE are the prying eyes I want to poke with a pencil. But I don’t. Because I usually don’t have a pencil with me. Ha.

Frankly, gracielawrence and Corbin say it best, and I fully support their comments:

I think that the root of the problem comes in when people confuse their religion for their culture. When you see people trying to imitate a culture that you where raised in, it is only natural to feel superior because in a way the imitator is saying they think you are better (and if this happens we have to resist this urge to act on base instincts). And I think this is where some Arabs are confused (and the rest of us become infuriated). NO! we […] are not trying to be Arab or participate in Arab culture when we practice Islam. […] Islam is for all of humanity. Period. Once everyone understands that and leaves this clique-ish behavior in the past maybe then, Insha’Allah, we can start to resemble an ummah.Corbin

If you are wearing sunnah, but always look like you are going to eat my face, are nasty with your fellow man, or just have a negative and ugly personality….I am not buying […] gracielawrence


And finally, Toilet Paper:

I was raised using toilet paper. I know many Arabs were not. Once I was introduced to the water hose, or watering can, or bidet, I just didn’t find myself clean enough without it. But I don’t like walking around with the feeling of freshly-peed pants. So, I supplement with toilet paper. As do most of the female Muslimah converts I know.

In the end, I want to say my overall conclusions about Saudi were totally positive. In fact, had my job been a better place to be, we might have extended our stay. Unfortunately, my university and position there were ruining my health. I was truly going downhill on a bicycle with no brakes, and we had to get outta there.

Sure, there were negatives. There were annoyances. And there were things that made me want to pull my hair out and slap people silly (which, yes, I refrained from). But overall, the positive far outweighed the negative in terms of what I EXPECTED before ever moving there.

We had the chance to go to Medinah and Mecca for Umrah, alhumdulillah. We visited Riyadh a couple of times. I rode some camels. I ate some camel (and then made wudu’u). And I even drove a car. Up the street. By my compound. With the guards smiling and waving.

Ultimately, what I learned was:

Don’t have expectations. If you do, you’re only going to be let down. If you don’t, you can ALWAYS be pleasantly surprised.

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Stephanie Goes to the Magic Kingdom Part II: It’s All So Strangely Familiar

Stephanie Goes to the Magic Kingdom Part II: It’s All So Strangely Familiar

Written by Stephanie Siam

When I left off, I had just arrived in Saudi Arabia (read part I here)

to begin my two-year contract in a country I’d previously vowed NEVER to go to — except for the once-in-a-lifetime Hajj (and only then with very clearly made plans of day-to-day activities and contact information) … 

During the ride to the compound — which ended up looking like an abandoned concentration camp, replete with barbed wire fences and TWO guard booths — I noticed Saudi Arabia didn’t look as strange as I thought it would. I mean, sure, the airport bathroom had no toilet paper and I got my first glimpse of the infamous “squatty potty”. But the scenery was rather normal.

There were cars. A mall or two (oh, the Saudis and their MALLS!). Lots of highway and shops. There was even a Holiday Inn at the

Oh, those Saudi Malls

end of the street where our compound was located. It definitely wasn’t a desolate, barren wasteland that looked run-down and war-torn. In short, it didn’t look like the TV version of the Middle East.  And all of this was apparent at night.

Even the apartment was better than we imagined. While the exterior compound left a lot to be desired (think: absence of landscaping), the interior was pretty nice. We scored a 2BR/1BA apartment with a living room, dining/kitchen combination and SEPARATE laundry room with hook-ups for a washer AND dryer. Unless you’ve lived in the Middle East…or, frankly, outside of most Western countries (and even in some European ones), coming across a dryer is a rarity. Turns out, the compound we were living on had formerly been a military compound back in the…..70s? 80s? Of course, all of the pipes and walls were full of asbestos, but — HEY — they were getting rid of it.

So, we get settled in, and I report to work. The university was out in the middle of NOWHERE (now picture desolate, barren desert), surrounded by sand dunes. But it was modern. And pretty to look at. And I got my own office.

As the days, and then weeks, went by, Saudi Arabia started to kind of feel like home. We went to the supermarket, and we dined at

Can you guess what this is?

restaurants (family area only!). We visited the Corniche (waterfront, kind of like the boardwalk) and took our daughter to the park. After we got our multiple-visas, we even left on the weekend to visit Bahrain, which was only a short (not counting the traffic through the border) drive across the connecting bridge.

But there was still one thing that just didn’t fit.

I learned quite early people in Saudi don’t smile. Okay, sure, I don’t expect Saudi men (or Muslim men, in general) to walk past me, smile, and say, “Assalamu alaikum.” But I kind of thought that, you know, being in a Muslim country, I’d get a friendly, “Salaam”, from a sister as she floats by — wafts, in her abaya — STARING.

Yes, that’s right.


If there was ONE thing I’d looked forward to when we decided to move to the ME was the ability to blend in as a Muslim. For my fellow Western-based Muslimah reverts, I’m sure there has been at least one occasion where you just wanted to be invisible.

Maybe it was 9/12 (NO, that’s NOT a typo). Maybe it was at the airport. Maybe it was just at Starbucks, drinking your coffee like any other normal person.

I remember the time (in America) I was walking down an aisle in the grocery store, and an old lady walked past me. She caught my eye, and she tried to stare me into the floor. I could have averted my gaze, stared at the floor, made a cross-eyed, googly face. Instead, I just smiled at her and kept walking.

So, there I was in Saudi Arabia, thinking, “Dude, I’m Muslim. I’m wearing an abaya. I’m covering my hair. WHY ARE YOU STARING

What is she? American? Muslim? Some strange hybrid!?

AT ME???” And then I decided, “Try smiling.” And I did.

And they didn’t smile back. They hardly ever smiled back. And, trust me, even though the majority of Saudi women are niqabis, you can tell when they’re smiling. But they didn’t. In fact, their stares seemed to get colder as time went on.

I talked to my husband, whose only consolation was, “Honey, you’re just lighter. They can tell you’re not Arab. It’s different.”

“What’s different?” I asked. It wasn’t like we moved to the boonies of Saudi Arabia and I was the ONLY Whitey McWhitePerson. We lived in Al Khobar. Next to Dammam. Which housed Saudi Aramco. . .that’s the Saudi Arabian – American Coop for Oil. Al Khobar was built FOR Aramco. It’s full of white people. Non-Muslim white people. Non-hijabi white people. American white people.

“They’re just not used to it. You’re a foreigner,” he said.

Confused, I sat with my friend – the OTHER Whitey McWhiteMuslimah – and discussed the irony.

We leave the US – a country where Muslims are often ostracized as outcasts because they look different or act different – and move

Can’t a fish just live in the trees in peace?

to a country where Muslims account for 99.9999999999999% of the population (give or take a .9999999%). And what happens? I’m stared at and regarded as strange because. . .I look different or act different (yes, I bag my OWN cucumbers, thank you very much!).

It leaves me wondering. . .where can I go to blend in? Where can I go that nobody will stare at me because I’m different? I just want

to be me. To not be questioned by others’ eyes or regarded as an “outsider”. To just be one of the crowd.


Tune in next time to see how the “Hysterical Woman Syndrome” is still alive and kickin’ in the good ol’ Magic Kingdom!

Part I is here and Stephanie clears the air about this post here

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