Excellent Daughters Book Summary By Katherine Zoepf

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Excellent Daughters by Katherine Zoepf (2016) is an in-depth assessment of the lives that women and girls lead today in Arab countries.

It takes you on a journey full of obstacles, hardships and even discrimination as it reveals how young people are slowly but surely transforming these cultures, striving for more study and work opportunities while continuing to fight for their rights.

Zoepf has done her thorough research to paint a very accurate look into the lives of Arab women that typically go unnoticed.

She highlights both their struggles and victories in order to bring awareness about their stories and encourage readers to reconsider gender roles in this part of the world.

An excellent book, worthy of your attention!

Excellent Daughters Book

Book Name: Excellent Daughters (The Secret Lives of Young Women Who Are Transforming the Arab World)

Author(s): Katherine Zoepf

Rating: 3.6/5

Reading Time: 15 Minutes

Categories: Society & Culture

Author Bio

Katherine Zoepf is a well-known and respected journalist for the New York Times, as well as an author.

She has reported from numerous countries in the Arab world, having lived in Syria and Lebanon for an extended period of time.

She is highly educated and holds degrees from both prestigious institutions like the London School of Economics and Princeton University.

In addition to her journalistic success, she is currently a fellow at the New America Foundation.

With heavy experience living and reporting in the Middle East combined with a top level of education, Katherine Zoepf is certainly qualified to write her 2015 book entitled "Excellent Daughters".

A Portal Into The New Arab Woman: Exploring Freedom, Tradition And Individualism

Arab Woman

The Arab world has traditionally been one dominated by patriarchal values and practices.

However, what we are now seeing is a fast-approaching wave of modern women who are determined to leave a mark on society.

Many of them are taking up new professional roles, such as flight attendants, which allows them to literally fly away from the confines of their traditional lives.

Besides just being able to provide for themselves financially, these Arab women are also pushing for social change and reform.

They are not interested in just blindly adopting Western standards; instead, they strive to create something that belongs uniquely to them: an amalgamation of both Islamic tradition and modern-day individual freedom which together can propel their societies forward into the future.

We see this in how Saudi Arabian women are challenging conservative dress codes by selling lingerie in stores, how laws increasingly absolve brutal murders motivated by “passion,” and even Qur’an schools empower girls with religious education—all steps taken towards embracing progressive values while acknowledging traditional roots.

The Lifelong Responsibility Of Arab Women To Protect Men From Temptation

In Arab countries, women are expected to take measures to hide themselves from the male gaze.

This is seen as a moral duty that women must fulfill in order to avoid potential physical assaults or sexual crimes committed against them.

As such, once a woman reaches puberty, she is often forced–or allowed, depending on the country–to cover her hair with a hijab or veil and also will not be able to go out into public without supervision.

The objective is for women to remain shy and hidden away from society, with marriage often being seen as their only chance at gaining more freedom.

This expectation not only holds true for those living in the Middle East but also for those who have relocated throughout the world and maintain custom definitions of what it means to be an “excellent daughter”.

For Young Muslims, Marriage Is The Key To A Better Life

Marriage is a pivotal concern for young Arab women.

It’s considered to be the beginning of a better life and much is placed on the customs and preparations that go along with it.

Marriage will bring these young women into their new roles in society, where they’ll move into a shared home with their partner, have their own family to care for, and become close to someone who isn’t related to them.

However, there are certain expectations of the brides-to-be that make marriage difficult to attain.

Men will refuse to take brides who are no longer chaste or having any reputation that may be deemed as immodest — even something as simple as being witnessed talking to a foreign man may leave a blemish on one’s reputation.

This has left many young women desperate measures to protect their purity and any cases of perceived flirtation put marriage far from sight.

Using Shame To Create Valuable Working Opportunities For Women In Saudi Arabia

Working Opportunities

In Saudi Arabia, the worlds of men and women are strictly segregated – making it nearly impossible for those of opposite genders to even interact.

For example, if a man enters an elevator occupied by a woman, she may turn her head away from him in respect; and the man will quickly retreat to wait for the next elevator.

Similarly, when a woman sits down next to a man on the train, he will promptly offer his seat as to not — as it goes against their culture‘s notion of “shame.

It’s because of this segregation that there are few opportunities for women to pursue professional careers.

Thus, in certain situations it is unavoidable for women to have to interact with men they do not know – such as when seeing male physicians or speaking with male police officers.

But through creative means that speak to their cultural understanding of shame, women have recently made strides in entering the workforce — beginning with malls.

Historically staffed by men, lingerie shops led by female sales clerks have become increasingly commonplace – proving that it would be inappropriate for male representatives to assume customers wearing attire beneath their clothing.

The Rise Of Qur’An Studies Offers Arab Women More Opportunities And Freedom

The Muslim world has seen a resurgence in religiosity, and while this can be viewed with caution, it has actually brought some benefits to studious young women.

In places like Syria, the number of Islamic students is growing, with an even greater shift towards Qur’an classes for women than for men.

Rather than hindering them, attending Qur’an classes gives women an opportunity for academic excellence and professional advancement.

Enrolling in these courses from a very young age equips girls with the knowledge to recite the entire Qur’an by adulthood.

With this Islamic education comes the potential of entering universities and embarking on a career that respects their fundamentalism and allows them to remain true to their faith.

Moreover, when approaching Islam with a critical eye they can offer insightful interpretations of its teachings and rulings; allowing Muslim women to emphasize freedom and equal rights over religious oppression.

Ultimately, developing this attitude to their faith could create more opportunities for religious tolerance around the world.

The Fight For Educational And Financial Independence: Arab Women Call For Change

Arab women are increasingly rejecting traditional gender roles and opting for professional and academic success instead of marriage.

Traditionally, young Arab women were expected to bear children, care for their family, and live relatively modest lives.

But thanks to foreign television and the internet, they now know there is an alternative life beyond their own borders.

Therefore, growing numbers of these women have moved to places such as Lebanon, where female employment is more accepted.

Moreover, more and more of them have chosen to work abroad – in the office or aboard flight crews – thus gaining independence from their husbands and families.

Furthermore, university enrolment has disproportionately increased with regards to female students graduating in greater numbers than male ones.

Despite this progress towards gender equality, many Arab families still reject an educated independent woman as a potential wife due to blindly-held beliefs about her unfeminine nature.

Consequently, achieving education often means sacrificing a family life for some women who are then forced to choose between academic success or domestic duties.

Fortunately, though these men represent a minority population at this moment in time, an increasing number understand the necessity of supporting their wives’ ambitions.

The Tragic Consequences Of Arab Ideals Of Family Honor


Tradition in many Arab countries dictates that females who dishonor their families, through no fault of their own, must pay with their lives.

This is what happened to Zahra, a young woman who was raped by a friend of her father’s and then brutally murdered by her brother.

Her family celebrated her death as an act of restoring honor and pride.

In these countries, a family’s reputation hinges almost entirely on the behavior and “purity” of its female members.

If a woman is subject to any sort of shameful incident, then it is seen as a stain on her family’s honor that she must bear full responsibility for.

So when Zahra was victimized by rape, the shame was so great that it could only be rectified if the offending woman was removed from society.

Sadly, laws like Article 548 of Syria’s penal code allow this sort of injustice to go unpunished.

It states that any man can kill a female relative if he witnesses her “committing an immoral act.” Although there are many lawmakers attempting to reverse such statutes, hundreds of these horrific honor killings still occur each year across the Arab world–and all too often without legal consequence.

The Challenges Faced By Arab Women And How We Can Help To Empower Them

The Arab Spring may have been a revolution in many ways, but unfortunately it brought discrimination against women, which many hoped would be eliminated as a result.

Unnamed military officials reported that women were humiliated and subjected to disturbing virginity tests, while female protesters were often arrested without just cause.

Despite this added repression, there is still hope for change and equality in the region.

Asmaa Mahfouz set off a chain reaction when she posted an inspiring video message calling for political reform.

Women – side by side with men – joined forces to protest their rights, but ended up facing even worse treatment than before the revolt started.

But despite these unjust conditions, numerous young Arab women continue to make progress.

They reject marriage in order to further their education and seek employment opportunities in influential fields such as law or academia – dedicated not only to their own safety and future but also to creating a better life for their daughters; free from discrimination.

Wrap Up

The final summary of Excellent Daughters is that young women in Arab countries have made remarkable breakthroughs in terms of gender equality and gaining expanded rights.

This has been largely driven by their pursuit of academic education and independent careers, ultimately allowing them to break away from the oppressive gender segregation and violent cultural norms that had previously restricted their lives.

This book serves as an inspiring reminder of all that can be accomplished when women are given the freedom to make their own choices about how they will define themselves and lead their lives.

By highlighting the successes of these courageous women, we can find new hope for a better future.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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