Short Story Month, Day 29: Rasha Abbas
I hadn't heard of Rasha Abbas until I went looking for this story. Or, rather, I went looking for a short story from someone of Arabic heritage because I realized I had none, and I found this. In reading "Statement of Absolute Hatred," I came to realize that I sometimes harbor the same expectations that other readers do when reading about a culture I only know in stereotypes. I expected this to be rich with details about life in Abbas's homeland of Syria. I expected to learn something. Instead, I was reminded that some stories are universal, and I appreciate that.
If anything, "Statement of Absolute Hatred" reminds me of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's classic story "The Yellow Wallpaper" in that we get the sense that men are controlling and judging women, and that sense of control exacerbates a mental health spiral. In this case, the issues don't stem from the mistreatment of postpartum depression or from a continued confidence by and in men to do the right thing for women. Instead, there's a sense of fear, starting in the first paragraph: "I’m only smiling because I’m frightened that if I don’t you’ll sense how weak I am and do me even more damage." This calls to mind that famous quote attributed to Margaret Atwood: "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."
Of course, in her mental state, the narrator doesn't realize how the smile makes her look: malevolent and without remorse. And the desire to punish rather than understand is strong, especially when it comes to mistakes made by women. She's clearly not in her right mind, but she's abused and judged rather than helped. As I think about this story, it occurs to me that people are more unified in their condemnation of women for just about anything than they are about white men who shoot up schools and churches. The hatred in this story's title isn't about the woman's hatred of men; it's about men in their hatred of women.