To shield or not to shield? Only couples can decide

The social media reaction to a video of a man hiding his wife from view in a Saudi resturant speaks volumns, writes Rym Ghazal

‘Love sees sharply, hatred sees even more sharply, but jealousy sees the sharpest for it is love and hate at the same time,” says an Arabic proverb.

When it comes to matters of the heart, we have all been in situations where we have felt uncomfortable, insecure, anxious and even a bit jealous if someone attractive pays extra attention to our partner and that partner likes the attention. Some like that feeling when a partner gets jealous and does all that “Hey, you are mine!” song and dance. No one wants to be taken for granted, so it’s understandable.

A photograph posted on social media this week has sparked debate about what is OK and what is perhaps “too much” jealousy and overprotection. Said to be taken in Saudi Arabia, it appeared under an Arabic hashtag that translates to #husband-covers-wife-with-shemagh-in-a-restaurant. It shows a Saudi husband who used his head piece, the ghutra or shemagh, to cover a glass partition at a restaurant so that his wife was shielded from public view.

Some users supported this and said it was done to protect the wife from prying eyes, while others said it was too much, noting that the glass was already frosted.

One tweet said: “If you don’t want people to see your wife, don’t take her out with you.”

Some said the photo indicated overzealous behaviour and male chauvinism. But some female social media users praised the man, saying things such as “lucky woman” and noting that it feels nice to have a husband who is “ghayoor” (gets jealous), instead of one who “couldn’t care less” about his wife and is busy looking at other women. There were many who called him “a real man” for doing what he did.

Many users criticised whoever took the photo in the first place and posted it, deeming it a violation of privacy.

The best part about it is that the man in the photo actually ended up responding. A video he posted on You Tube had more than 200,000 views on Tuesday.

He said he did what he did “in accordance with Islamic and Arab traditions”. He said a wife should belong just to that one man, her husband, and he should feel jealous because a wife is “like a precious gem” to be shielded and protected.

I sent this to a group of women I know, and it struck a chord with many of them. Some said that today’s men are “spoiled” and don’t cherish or feel the need to protect a woman and her honour.

“Just because we are modern women doesn’t mean we don’t want a real man who makes us feel valuable and protected,” said a woman who is in her late 30s and heads a company.

Perceived gender roles and what is expected of each partner do play an important role in how happy some couples are. Culture and religious values play a big part in defining some of those roles.

I have been at several events where I overheard comments from women such as: “Oh, I can’t sit near men as my husband will get very jealous.” Others say their husbands don’t allow them to work because they don’t want them to mix with men, and others say they don’t go to mixed public gatherings.

There are different norms for different people of different backgrounds, and we shouldn’t judge anyone on their choices.

At one gathering, a group of women told me they were perfectly happy and actually feel sorry for women who don’t have husbands like theirs who not only take care of them so they never have to work, but remain jealous and protective of them – even after many years of marriage.

“He honours me, as I am part of his honour,” one lady in her 50s explained. But another said: “I don’t need a man to make me feel complete and valuable.”

Each to their own. The man who used his head piece to shield his wife is viewed as a hero by some and an antihero by others. And the world goes on.