Let’s admit it to ourselves, women, that we’re scared of visiting Middle Eastern countries, not only from Westernized reasons but also because we’re afraid of how men will look at us there. I was no different but I have to say that Jordanian men shattered stereotypes, one by one. I expected to feel uncomfortable, but there’s one important thing: they know you’re a tourist. They notice immediately and suitably lower their expectations. Women in Jordan might wear the hijab or something even more covered, but that isn’t obligatory for a Western woman.
However, it’s still important for you to be suitably dressed, which in this case means no shorts, sleeveless shirts or exposed cleavage. Long unbound hair also isn’t appropriate if it reaches below your shoulders.* But more than that isn’t necessary, no matter how local women are dressed. It’s important to respect the other person’s culture, you don’t have to imitate it. Nobody expects of you to be completely covered, but you should definitely make sure to cover your shoulders before you step into any mosque. And when you’re beside the sea, don’t expect to be in a bathing suit unless you’re on some hotel’s private beach.
*This meant I spent most of the week with my hair in a braid, which is most convenient for traveling anyway because you can’t exactly wash your hair as often as you could at home.
Despite this, you can expect more long and evaluating looks, as well as maybe some loud compliments that are undoubtedly uncomfortable. More than once, it happened that they asked my brother if I’m his wife and then complimented my appearance when they found out I’m only his sister. But it stopped there, because they are smart after all and it’s self-evident that a woman won’t feel comfortable in face of immense compliments or marriage offers from a complete stranger. That’s more than what I can say for some drunk European guys you can find in clubs, who don’t leave you alone until they get a threat or two. Learn, boys, learn.
Another thing I noticed and didn’t bother me personally, but might bother some of you girls, is that I was often ignored in a conversation if my brother was present. They simply assumed that he’s in charge and they left me in the background. They also often didn’t shake my hand, but I don’t know if that was because I was too slow or because they found it inappropriate to touch an unmarried woman. Food and drinks were always offered to my brother first, and it was generally clear that I am more or less invisible.
There wasn’t a moment in Jordan that I felt threatened or like I don’t belong there. There was definitely a background feeling of inferiority that would probably seep into my bones if I spent more time there, and I won’t pretend that I like how they look at and treat women in Arab countries. But it’s definitely not as horrible as our imagination could lead us to believe and I’m glad that I experienced it on my own skin.