Excellent daughters : the secret lives of young women who are transforming the Arab world

by Katherine Zoepf

Hardcover, 2016




New York : Penguin Press, 2016.


Politics. Sociology. Women's Studies. Nonfiction. HTML:For more than a decade, Katherine Zoepf has lived in or traveled throughout the Arab world, reporting on the lives of women, whose role in the region has never been more in flux. Only a generation ago, female adolescence as we know it in the West did not exist in the Middle East. There were only children and married women. Today, young Arab women outnumber men in universities, and a few are beginning to face down religious and social tradition in order to live independently, to delay marriage, and to pursue professional goals. Hundreds of thousands of devout girls and women are attending Qur'anic schools�??and using the training to argue for greater rights and freedoms from an Islamic perspective. And, in 2011, young women helped to lead antigovernment protests in the Arab Spring. But their voices have not been heard. Their stories have not been told. In Syria before its civil warshe documents a complex society in the midst of soul searching about its place in the world and about the role of women. In Lebanon, she documents a country that on the surface is freer than other Arab nations but whose women must balance extreme standards of self-presentation with Islamic codes of virtue. In Abu Dhabi, Zoepf reports on a generation of Arab women who've found freedom in work outside the home. In Saudi Arabia she chronicles driving protests and women entering the retail industry for the first time. In the aftermath of Tahrir Square, she examines the crucial role of women in Egypt's popular uprising. Deeply informed, heartfelt, and urgent, Excellent Daughters brings us a new understanding of the changing Arab societies�??from 9/11 to Tahrir Square to the rise of ISIS�??and gives voice to the remarkable women at the forefront of this change. From the Hardcover edit… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Beamis12
Their lives are so incredibly different from ours, it is hard to comprehend. The author takes us to various counties in the Middle East, talking to girls and women in these places and though different supposed freedoms vary in different countries, most are at the mercy of the men in their lives.
Show More
Female circumcision, so hard to read, but the one that really got to me was the story of the young girl killed in a honor killing, absolutely heartbreaking because what happened to this girl was not her fault. Other girls at risk for honor killings are put in prison for protection until they are eighteen, shelters for abuse victims do not exist.

Although I found the title a misnomer, small strides may exist but I only found larger differences in the Persian gulf. There woman are working though many still follow the strictures from their home societies but do find when going back that even these little freedoms are hard to give up. Many defend the systems they are raised under, considering it disrespectful and against their religion not to do so. Many cannot conceive of any other way. The men seem not to take responsibility for anything, they are allowed unlimited freedoms though some are more tolerant and lenient than others.

A very eye opening book, one that is timely with all the attention that has been drawn to the Muslim religion as a whole. Change if it comes to this region will be slow and will have to gain the support of more of the male figures, I fear.

ARC from Netgalley.
Show Less
LibraryThing member BettyTaylor56
Katherine Zoepf, a journalist, has had the wonderful opportunity to live and travel throughout the Arab world. She has seen many changes in the area of women’s rights over the past few years. She shares her observations in this book.

The region has had to adapt to social changes involving young
Show More
unmarried women, something totally foreign to their culture. In their society a woman remains at home with her parents until she marries and moves into her husband’s home. However now there are numerous unmarried women who are going to university and have entered the workforce, whether through economic necessity or their own wishes for an independent live. They are delaying marriage and sometimes rejecting the institution completely.

Her early reporting from Syria reflected an innocence no longer found there due to the civil war. It was interesting to read of the logistics of living a life under the veil. For example, women have curtained off sections of a restaurant so they may uncover their mouths to eat. Little details we would never think of having to deal with. Women express their resentment of how the western world seems more interested in their hijab and restrictions on their lives rather than what they think, what they believe, what they feel. The outer garb is of more interest than their inner beings. How sad, yet how true!

While some governments throughout the Middle East have tried to outlaw “honor killings”, due to the tribal nature of the societies this barbaric act still exists. The honor of a family rests on the reputation of their women. If the honor is blemished the women must die in order to restore honor. Many young girls are held in prisons to protect them from their families. Syria still has penal codes that state “that if a man commits a crime with an honorable motive he will go free”. Restoring the honor of his family is considered an “honorable motive”. Another says that is a man witnesses a female relative in an immoral act and kills her, he will go free.

The chapter on Beirut was quite interesting. The title for the chapter is “The most promiscuous virgins in the world”. That should get your attention! Lebanese woman are known as some of the most beautiful women in the world. But how do they balance the pressure to be beautiful with the requirement of virtue? This chapter discusses how the women manage to perform sexual favors in order to keep their men yet maintain virtuous. It also discusses circumcision of women – and hymenoplasty (the restoring of a woman’s hymen in order to pass as a virgin).

Saudi Arabia expends great resources to keep a strict separation of the sexes. Parents still choose their daughters’ husbands. But the girls do hope for a husband that will allow them to obtain an education. I did find interesting that in June 2011 King Abdullah issued a ruling banning men from working in lingerie shops, ordering that all the jobs be given to Saudi women instead. This was then broadened to include shops selling cosmetics, wedding dresses, abayas, and more. This opened up many jobs to women.

Unmarried and working women receive much criticism from their families and friends. In Saudi Arabia the phenomena of spinsterhood is a frequent topic in the news. Young men are asked are told “please don’t neglect women and do what you can to save them from spinsterhood.” There is criticism for women who “lose track of their age”. (I liked that one! As if…)

In her book, Katherine Zoepf has given a voice to the young women in the Arab world who are dragging their countries into the 21st century. This is a region of the world that I love and respect and I was glad to see that she pointed out how some countries have made great strides in women’s rights, while sadly others are still in the Dark Age. Change comes slowly to this part of the world, but the people still maintain hope.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Susan.Macura
This is an interesting look at young women and how they are making steps, however minor in some ways, in becoming more independent of the men in their lives. The author looks at honor killings, female circumcision, guardianship, early marriage, dress and religious practices. This is a wonderful
Show More
look at what these women deal with and how they live in the Middle East today.
Show Less


Society of Midland Authors Award (Nominee — Adult Nonfiction — 2017)


Page: 0.5254 seconds