Words of wisdom from Baria Alamuddin, the mother-in-law of George Clooney, when I interviewed her for my book Women, published by Quartet Books in 1987. Here’s what she told me under the following headings:
THE EARLY INFLUENCES
Baria Alamuddin: My farther and my mother divorced when I was one year old, so the biggest influence in my life up to now has been my mother. She’s the image I always try to follow, because she was among the very few educated women of her time. She was a Palestinian Jordanian, and when she came to the American University in Beirut she was the first Jordanian woman to study there. I was always influenced by her beauty, her charm, her intelligence, everything she did. I don’t know that I still try, but I copied her for a long time, and I always stop and ask, would my mother like this, would my mother like that? There was no other person in my life.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
Baria Alamuddin: Sometimes I feel emotionally disadvantaged because I feel things differently from the way a man does. Sometimes I lie awake all night because of one word that’s been said to me, and the man doesn’t even notice what he’s said.
I always tell my daughters to enjoy their souls and their bodies, because I think at the base of all this repression of women in the Middle East are a lot of sexual and soul problems. The women in the Middle East are not sure of what they want to give, and what they have to give. Many people of my age who went to university with me wanted to have lovers, to have sex, yet inside was this tremendous struggle: what would society say, what would my aunties say, what would the man I love and marry say? There is a very strong struggle, and not everybody in the end wins, and this is why you see lots of complexes in our society. In the West, I see this to a great extent, too, because women are basically the same all over the world.
Baria Alamuddin: I am not a feminist. I don’t want a woman to be a fighter, or to rule the life of a man. I would still like the man to ask the woman to marry him, not the woman to ask the man to marry her. I still would like him to buy a rose and call her and tell her I love you. I don’t like the roles to be switched. In general, I think a woman is much more emotional, she is a softer person, she can live her emotions and her feelings a lot deeper, by the nature of her own being. Why do we want two creatures exactly the same? The world would be a very boring place to live in. But, to have a productive society, we should have equality between men and women. You cannot run the world with half its powers. In the West, I think it is slowly improving, although sometimes in the wrong direction, but in the Middle East, it’s taking longer because of different factors, basically the wars. People are not busy educating women at the moment. In Lebanon now, there is a whole new generation of boys and girls who have nothing to do with education and refinement or culture, and the same is true in many other Arab countries.
I think a liberated Western woman is a woman who can easily shed all the social factors and just walk away from them and go towards whatever she wants as a completely liberated individual, regardless of tradition. This is something that people in our part of the world can never do. I have often felt I am a pioneer of this in my society, because, even as a child, I always wanted to do things differently. I remember wanting to hurt society, to attack society and do things just to spite society because I felt it interfered in every single detail in my life. My God, society in our countries can even marry you off! There will always be a difference between the woman in the West and the woman in the East. A woman in the East has femininity which the woman in the West never had maybe, and will never have. Basically, I like the evolution in the Middle East, in the Arab countries, better than in the West.
Baria Alamuddin: Needs are basically the same in men and women, and sex is a matter of education and culture, upbringing and training. In our society, a man is brought up to be aggressive, to look for it, to go and get it; whereas a girl is not. She also has the need, but the application is different. Application is a very individualistic thing. I don’t think any two people can make love like any two other people. I always have the feeling that there is a misconception about sex in the world, both in the East and the West. I have personally interviewed people about marriage, and to some women it is just a means to get children. I interviewed one woman who had never even been kissed. I know women in the Middle East who hate sex, who think sex is dirty and not something you talk about. I am sure in the West, too, if you have a father attacking a daughter, then this girl’s perception of sex will never be the same. There are many elements involved in the application of sex. To me, sexual relations only make sense in the context of love. Any other time it is just like eating; you can go and get it in this restaurant or another restaurant. And I don’t believe a man can make love to another woman if he loves his wife.
Baria Alamuddin: I feel most comfortable with men by far. There is no comparison. Most women actually bore me, and most women I find unsure of themselves, especially in the Arab countries, and that really upsets me. They are not in control of their destinies or lives, and I feel they are just souls floating around waiting for things to take them away, here or there, and I find it a waste of time.
Marriage has all the disadvantages the world has. It is a very difficult institution. I think most people are married because they are scared of society, because it is convenient and they have a car, and they carry a name and the children are there. I know of hardly marriages that are there by virtue of love. I’m not talking about my marriage, because that’s another story. I look at my marriage differently. I work very hard at it and yet I am always afraid. Not of losing the marriage, no, but of losing me in the marriage, or of losing the marriage to me. I am scared.
For the world to be straightened out and for us to be able to have a peaceful, strong, productive society, the woman has to change her attitude towards life, and the way she expects things from herself. I think she controls society since she brings up the child. For example, my husband has two boys from a previous marriage, and I brought them up. It was a beautiful experience as far as I am concerned, and I think for them, too. While they were growing up, they started coming and saying to me, today I kissed her, or I did this and that to her. I used to say to them, it takes two to kiss, it takes two to make love, it takes two to love, to build, to bring up a child. Anything not done together with the same intensity is not done properly. You can kiss a wall.