We could also call this post, “My True Life: AlRawabi School for Girls Mirrored Some of my own Experiences,” because, yikes!
Photo Cred: Dorothy Attakora-Gyan
A few weeks ago, I finally finished watching the Netflix series, AlRawabi School for Girls, which was created by Shirin Kamal and Tima Shomali. I'm still shook (read: shaking or shocked) from the realness. Everything about it reminded me of Accra, Ghana, or Toronto, Canada, or Ottawa, Ontario. A reminder of our global connections when it comes to human nature around issues of intergenerational bullying.
There are a lot of other themes that we can deconstruct in the series. From intimate partner violence, youth/high school/boarding school culture, class privileges, Muslim girls in sports, perceived stereotypes of Muslim women and girls, stereotypes of Muslim men of colour, internalized girl-hate, femicide, physical, mental, emotional, and psychological violence, lying on others, narcissistic cultures that make lying and bullying others normal, status quo culture, purity myths, competition, addiction, the rebellious teenager, and other such issues that intersect with race, class, religion, and more.
Because my air sign brain already over-functions on excessive mind chatter and judging and being critical of everything, I’ve been trying to not critically review shows that entertain me recently. I literally just want to laugh and be entertained or to see what other creators are working on, how they are writing their scripts, and the type of acting it takes to bring their stories to life. That’s it, that’s all, though it never works out that way, and I always have a lot to say about the things I consume. But having no one to dive deep and interrogate with, I’ve been keeping much to myself, which I’m sure makes a lot of those who pree very happy. Finally, she’s shutting up.
But not so quick, I have a few thoughts about this series (and others).
First, can we talk about how the "popular," "cool," "normal," "rich," "able-bodied," "heterosexual-cis,” girls who are some of the meanest, most oppressive, and most likely to bully and bulldoze over others? Christian girls in this category can be especially mean, I know because I am one, and speak for myself and those like me. But as this show explores, it can be similar in the Muslim context, as with any other category of girlhood.
That’s the point, there are systems that we're all a part of that shape us into these same templates, regardless of geographic location, creed, or race. We all look alike, even if differently.
These themes that the show explores actually do show up in the research. From psychology to sociology, anthropology, to feminist literature. White feminism for example often gets accused of this, of being the mean girl bullies of feminism. I wrote about this in Nice Nasty White Feminism. With the exception of working-class poor white women (and even they can be mean; I’m poor and can be mean too, the two are not mutually exclusive), most white women tend to have the power, resources, wealth, capital, and support to be, "the queens of the castle, na, na, na, na boo-boo, you can't catch us." While the rest and other feminists, (Black, Indigenous, non-white feminists of colour, poor white women) are seen as “the dirty rascals,” (yes, race and class dynamics implied). These latter communities are seen as disrupting and causing tensions and divisions. Wouldn't you?
AlRawabi School for Girls is set in high school. Karma's World’s, another Netflix show directed by Bronagh O'Hanlon and Pete McEvoy, inspired by Chris Ludacris Bridges, was geared toward a younger audience, children in primary and middle schoolers specifically. But I saw adult themes in both these shows. Like father, like son. Like mother, like daughter. The old generation looks like the new generation, only in new ways. Both claim to be nothing like the other, while both are exactly the same.
I was especially grateful for the themes around the invasion of privacy, stealing and publishing people's journal entries, the weaponization of technology to destroy one another, spanning from leaking private photos to stalking people's social media accounts, or hacking into their phones and what's app messages to watch/read their conversations/text/audios with others. Even Karma's World’s explored themes of Karma’s rhyme book getting stolen and plagiarised by her bully and competitor, a boy at her school. Literally my true life.
Because of these shows, I got a little inside peek into what no one else can directly tell me in real life.
Some will say that they tried telling me, forgetting that the truth can be quite hard to tell, even for them. Others are afraid to say, "we didn't actually care about you, or love you, we quite enjoyed playing you for a fool. We think you deserve to be brought down and did all we could to bring you down." I might struggle to hear that truth, but if it's the truth, then, it's the truth. I know now. Most will say, "I was just minding my own business, you should have too." This is why I refuse to make any meaningful relationships with people who can't tell me the truth, or who I can't trust, which is everyone. If I die alone, you know why. Tell them my story, the true whole and full version, including my side, the good, the bad, the ugly. Like in both series, all of it was telling. Scary. Sad. Especially when it ends in death/femicide or broken homes.
I've been dealing with many of these same themes for almost a decade, and everyone in my circle denied these things could happen. I often wondered how things would unravel if the same thing had happened to superstar celebrities we love and care for and who value their privacy. "How would Beyonce navigate this," I've often asked myself? (I think we all know better than to do this to someone like Beyoncé who is loved and respected, and valued as a hard-working human being with self-respect, worth, and something to offer us). It's the poor disabled trouble-makers we don't give a f*ck about and love to see in the struggle. "They deserve it," we think.
That was pre-COVID-19, when people didn’t think it could ever happen to them, or that it was only happening to me. Thankfully, I'm an energetic and can sense and tap into a lot of subtle energy that give these dynamic away. My issue is I never trust myself, and always put my trust and hope into human beings, giving them the benefit of the doubt then setting traps or getting bamboozled and played, publicly humiliated and demolished. Only to get back up each time, for the same patterns to happen again and again. (Still trying to unlock the cheat code and learn from these lessons).
I walked away from a lot of people for not telling me the truth, though I understand they have their own reasons for not doing so. Maybe it was an NDA. Maybe they really did believe the rumours and thought that I was evil and needed to be surveillanced for public safety. To which I ask, after all those years of watching and judging, what conclusion did you come to? Many others walked away from me thinking that they were finally, “seeing my true colours.” These invasions are quite good at that, exposing us as we are, which is why my experience has informed a lot of my research on shame, trauma, and other emotions. I’m grateful for some alchemy in it all.
I also know that I felt so small and powerless for years and years, as others watched my pathetic attempts to escape a life I never wanted or chose but found me. It’s a maddening thing when you are being watched, it is denied, and folks will be so quick to punish or cut you off, laugh, and share your humiliating moments, sometimes, rightfully so. But are slow to reward, extend support, or positively affirm you. To know your well-being and livelihood means nothing to them, is painful. That they can sit around and watch as you overdose on prescription medication in an attempt to die, and never once reach out, or help, is horrifying, especially when you would never do that to another. It’s a lonely experience that is at once, a deeply spiritual one. Humbling at best. Though I would never wish this on my worst enemies and still find sites of gratitude.
I would have loved to see what some of those dynamics play out in the shows. Because subversion is possible. I remember in 2018 when I heard about South Korean women protesting privacy violations. I remember being so fed up in my own life, and acting out and turning on everyone for the same, burning all the bridges, screaming, "no justice, no peace," though my own protests weren’t seen as such. Disrupt and protest anyway.
Asking for help is also necessary, even when it falls on heard ears that care not to hear you and pretend they don't know you. Who do you go to when the police have been known to murder people like you with impunity? Who do you ask for help when you’ve already asked everyone you trusted and loved? I want a show to explore that, and I’m too traumatized to share my own, for now. Intense, but I think more and more people will know the realities of such violations in the near future, if not already. No one tried to listen to me in 2015, never mind 2009 or 2013. I have so much to say about technological hacks and violations, but no one asks, and I’m tired and learning to mind my own business and not give unsolicited advice, so, there’s that.
Watch both series' if you can. Use it as a teachable moment. Have uncomfortable conversations. Speak up. Tell others when they are in danger. Look out for one another. Choose tenderness if you can. The world is going through a lot right now. For me, the future arrived around 2014/2015 and I wasn't ready, I've been struggling to keep up ever since. Good luck out there.
All to say, listen to your intuition and choose those you surround yourself with carefully. And also, can we talk about bullies and how they manifest differently at different stages of life?
I'll start, I see myself as the bullies in both these shows. I'm also triggered by how they remind me of the very same ways I've been bullied myself. I've also been oppressed while being oppressive to others. I find myself located at both sides of the spectrum, different faces of the same coin. I'd like for my children when I have them, to do and be better. I'd like for generations to come to not be bullies, to bully less, to not bully at all. But I haven't been that yet, so I'm not sure how I can expect that from any generation, lest the younger generations. Each one, teach one. Start with self, first, then try to fix others.
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Until next time, in solidarity.