When Alya Mooro wrote her book The Greater Freedom, it was immediately well-received. Many women, Middle Eastern and otherwise, could relate to the book’s narrative. The Greater Freedom explores Middle Eastern women’s lives outside of the stereotypes and molds they are forced into. We sit down with her to talk about her experience as a Middle Eastern woman who grew up in the west, as well as her book, and of course the stereotypes Middle Eastern women face.
Tell us how your book The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes drew upon your personal experience as an Egypt-born, UK-raised woman.
The Greater Freedom is part memoir, part cultural commentary and explores themes including beauty ideals, pressures to marry, expectations surrounding work and desire and more. In each chapter, I use my personal experiences to illustrate my point. This is then supported by research and interviews with other Middle Eastern women from across the diaspora.
No matter where we live these days, we are all a part of a shared global culture, one that is definitively American
Do you believe that globalization has played a part in the cultural confusion that many Middle Eastern women face nowadays?
For sure. I think as a result of colonialism, and globalization, there has been massive deculturation across the world. No matter where we live these days, we are all a part of a shared global culture, one that is definitively American. This definitely has a role to play in our cultural confusion. That said, the Middle East is a region which has had massive displacement and therefore there’s a huge population of Middle Easterners in the diaspora. This also has an impact on the cultural confusion people may feel, in particular in the West post 9/11, where it’s become even more difficult to feel “welcomed” or “at home”, despite how long you’ve lived there.
To what else do you attribute this identity conflict which many young Middle Eastern women experience?
Despite this not being historically accurate, there are set behaviors that are categorized as “Western”, and others that are characterized as “Eastern”. So-called “Western” behaviors are often things like placing emphasis on work rather than marriage. I think the dichotomy between these expectations and assumptions can lead many Middle Eastern women to feel torn. One thing I realized while writing TGF is that woman all over the world are living under patriarchal structures. The patriarchy is what has defined these “acceptable” things for us, not any particular culture.
It’s easier to be yourself if you can see yourself
Do you believe there is not enough representation in the media of Middle Eastern female characters who do not exactly adhere to all the Eastern stereotypes?
Growing up in London, I felt this deeply, and it’s one of the things that most made me want to write my book. I felt it was important to provide an alternative narrative, for those outside the culture, too, but mainly for the younger version of me and for the many girls and women like me who don’t adhere to Eastern stereotypes. I always say “it’s easier to be yourself if you can see yourself” and the impact that can have on our self-esteem and sense of self is not to be underestimated. I recently launched my newsletter The Greater Conversation, which, each week, features a guest piece from a different Middle Eastern woman on a variety of topics. I launched it in an effort to continue providing these narratives.
This is your first book and it has been quite successful. Did you expect this kind of success?
While writing the book I really tried to just be as honest and raw as possible and to not think too much about what the outcome would be. I’m so happy to see that it has been resonating with so many people and I’ve been receiving the most amazing messages from women from all over the world. That, for me, is the biggest measure of the book’s success.
The patriarchy is overarching, and I think Middle Eastern men very much suffer under it, too
How, in your opinion, does this identity crisis manifest in Middle Eastern men?
The patriarchy is overarching, and I think Middle Eastern men very much suffer under it, too. The patriarchy tells men that they need to be the breadwinner, that they need to be strong.
The more honest we are, the more honest it allows other people to be
What can society do to make life easier for women who are struggling to figure out their true identity?
The more honest we are, the more honest it allows other people to be. It also means we are less likely to judge others for their choices. The less we judge others, and ourselves, the more we are able to figure out what our true identities are.
How can women who are struggling with such identity issues confront these issues and resolve them?
I think different viewpoints and experiences really help. At the end of the day, there is more we have in common as humans than we do different. The more we understand that, the more we are able to step into our own power and not allow ourselves to be bogged down by questions of identity.
What is your next project?
I’m working on a number of exciting things at the moment, and feel very compelled to continue providing these alternative narratives, across mediums.