AlRawabi School of Girls show the untold realities of women living in the Middle East
Netflix’s drama series tackles patriarchal structures and misogynistic viewpoints by addressing controversial subjects.
Spoiler warning: this article discusses the ending of the series.
Directed by Tima Shomali and Shirin Kamal, AlRawabi School for Girls is Netflix’s latest Arabic series about a young group of girls attempting to navigate adolescence within a patriarchal society. To establish a connection with the audience, the limited series explores various themes that address the experience of countless women living in Middle Eastern countries.
Taking place in Amman, Jordan, the series addresses sensitive subjects, such as honour killings, and portrays them in a suspenseful yet brilliant manner. The show also does a great job of highlighting social issues that are not only relevant to Middle Eastern women, but to all women across the globe.
Starring Andria Tayeh, Noor Taher, Rakeen Saad, Joanna Aride, Salsabiela and Yara Mustafa, the Netflix original follows the story of bullying in an all-girls high school. Portrayed as the outsider, Mariam (played by Tayeh) plans to get back at her tormentors after being beaten then shamed in front of the entire school.
The show takes on a typical narrative where the bullied individual becomes the bully to teach a lesson. Though several films have pursued a similar plot, this show differentiates itself from others by depicting the experiences of the six main characters, rather than focusing on the victim’s story to show that, in the end, everyone has a lesson to learn.
Though the producers could have trimmed some sequences to quicken the plot, certain scenes are drawn out to establish a connection between the audience and the characters. This technique not only pushes us to the edge of our seats in anticipation, but it also entices the audience to keep watching.
As another clever tactic to grab the audience’s attention, the show insinuates growth in the vengeful characters, rather than displaying them as hypocrites. The producers do an incredible job of executing suspense with the sympathetic victim turned antagonistic villain as Mariam adopts a mob mentality and dismisses all rational thoughts.
Throughout the revenge plot, AlRawabi School of Girls astonishes audiences by illustrating cultural norms and the importance placed on family honour, as well as how they affect the behaviours of young girls. As per traditions in the Middle East, the girls in the show suffer major consequences if found interacting romantically with the opposite sex. Though romantic relationships are nothing unusual in Western societies, this is not the case for most Middle Eastern women.
Mariam’s bully, Layan (played by Taher), often sneaks out of school to meet with her boyfriend in secret. In the end, Mariam uses this knowledge to once and for all ‘destroy’ Layan’s life, as Layan ends up doing, by anonymously forwarding the location of the secret rendezvous to Layan’s brother.
While there is a twisted sense of justice achieved for the victim, the show shifts its focus from bullying to representing the experiences of women living in misogynistic communities.
The show ends at a scene where Layan’s brother, Hazem (Sari Silawi), finds her in a bachelor’s pad with her boyfriend wearing his clothes, while her school uniform hangs on a rack outside. Though the couple refrained from any sexual interaction, Hazem is led to believe otherwise. The final scene fixates on the drying rack outside and the sound of a gunshot.
The ending may seem open-ended to Westerners, but it is clear for several Middle Easterners. AlRawabi School of Girls taps into the microaggressions and social expectations that many women encounter all over the globe, especially within the Middle East. The ending represents the massive issue of honour killings that occur almost every day, in which individuals are killed by either their family member or an outsider to eliminate shame in a family household. In this case, many believe Hazem kills Layan as a result of her ‘shameful’ actions.
Though the media uncovers several stories of these crimes, many women’s stories are left untold, as honour killings are a cultural norm in numerous Middle Eastern regions. Systems of patriarchy are deeply embedded within these areas and result in the killings of countless innocent women across the globe. Women are taught that their behaviours are wrong, and by engaging with members of the opposite sex, they must be punished. AlRawabi School of Girls does a brilliant job of addressing this issue by showing the audience what many women experience but also by shifting the blame on the man, rather than the woman.
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Going into her third year, May is currently completing a double major in Sociology and Criminology. Before becoming News Editor, May contributed The Medium for two years as a Staff Writer and Associate Features Editor. One of her biggest goals is to launch a nonprofit organization that mediates humanitarian crises around the globe and that supports children living in third-world countries. When she is not writing or studying, May spends her time working with canine coaches to provide supervised fun to four-legged furry friends at Dogtopia Applewood.
Thank you for your article. I am a western woman and, while I was raised in a “conservative” family, as I watched the show I could empathize with the characters at times but also frequently felt that their experiences were very foreign (or at least much more constricting and dangerous than the world I had to navigate while going through my teen years). By the 3rd episode I felt that the show was more about patriarchal oppression than “mean girls”. However, as a westerner I think it is important not to always overlay my values and norms on the media of other cultures. Thank you for confirming my observation, but also drawing my attention to other subtle themes I overlooked. I hope that media can be a toll for women to celebrate our commonalities, appreciate our differences and learn from one another.