Book: She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement

I came across this book on actress Hayley Atwell’s Instagram account and decided to pick it up. Boy, I couldn’t put it down. The book is about the three year journey of two reporters: Jodi and Megan, who spent hours and hours investigating, cross-checking and writing about the sexual harassments by powerful men towards women.

Reading the book, I came to know the challenges and difficulties the victims of sexual harassments had to encounter whether they came forward. If they don’t, they have to live with their nightmares for the rest of their lives and watch the culprits go unpunished. If they do, they have to face death threats, disruption into their job, life and their family’s.

Over a long dinner, she made clear why she was so scared to travel to Washington. Her family had been forced to hire twenty-four-hour private security. It was uncertain when it would be safe for them to return home. Ford had already experienced enough disruption and danger.

She pressed Play on her phone at the dinner table. “You lying fucking cunt!” came a voice from her phone. The lawyer told Ford she was right to be frightened by the messages and encouraged her to share them with the FBI. “You’ve got three months” another voice said. Others repeated similar phrases and sounded like they might have come from the same voice-altering machine, making her think they were somehow coordinated. “Don’t be messing with my boy, Brett”. “Don’t be messing with my boy, Trump”

I have been so baffled and stunned by the length by which people are willing to go for something that is not related to them personally at all. How can you threaten a stranger’s life for something that is not related to you?

It’s also inconceivable to read what powerful men like Harvey Weinstein could get away. Non-disclosure agreements were signed, inflicting acute restrictions on the victims who, in some cases, didn’t even have the copies of the NDAs. Here is an excerpt on Harvey Weinstein’s behavior

Each morning, Perkins, or whichever assistant from the London office was on the early shift, had to rouse the partially or fully nude Weinstein out of bed in his hotel room, and turn on his shower, as if he could not rotate the handle himself. Sometimes Weinstein tried to pull Perkins into bed with him, she recalled

Last but not least, I appreciate and admire the tenacity of the authors, their colleagues and editors for pursuing the stories despite the intimidation, intricacies and difficulties. At one point, the story was going to collapse since evidence was exceedingly hard to secure while there was no victim going on the record. Massive massive appreciation towards Ashley Judd and Laura Madden for taking the leap of faith to be the first women to go on record, paving the way for many others.

It’s sad and disappointing to see that despite advances in so many areas, we, as a race, still have sexual harassments all around the world. I am sure what is covered in the book is just the tip of the iceberg.

Book: Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber

Having a lot of time on my hands during bus and train rides to Chicago and back, I decided to read this book. It turned out to be a really interesting and good book about Uber’s history and the list of events that led to where it is now. The growth at all cost mentality and the toxic culture both catapulted Uber into the stratosphere of startup valuation and cost the ride sharing company millions of dollars and a litany of problems. Uber was drowned in so many scandals that it was mind-blowing to see how the governance allowed that to happen. The part in which Benchmark and its allies did everything they could to oust Kalanick was fascinating. If you are interested in one of the most interesting startups of recent times, then I highly recommend it

At the end of the week, Uber’s finance team added it all up. The entire “X to the x” celebration cost Uber more than $25 million in cash – more than twice the amount of Uber’s Series A round of venture capital funding.

The reality was much less noble. As Uber’s insurance costs grew exponentially, the “Safe Rides Fee” was devised to add $1 of pure margin to each trip, according to employees who worked on the addition. That meant for each trip taken in the United States, Uber took in an extra dollar in case. The drivers, of course, got no share of the extra buck. That number added up to hundreds of millions of dollars over years of operation, a sizeable new line of income. After the money was collected, it was never earmarked specifically for improving safety.

When Uber cut rates in 2015, rather than worry about the effects lower income would have on drivers, Kalanick was giddy. To Travis, lowering prices meant raising demand. Growth would explode again, and growth – not the concerns of his drivers – was Travis’ top priority.

It didn’t matter to Kalanick that drivers were logging more trips and picking up more people – basically doing twice the work – to make the same amount of money. It didn’t matter that drivers were commuting absurd distances to busy cities like San Francisco – often from places two hours away, but occasionally as many as six hours away – sleeping in their cars overnight on side streets and empty parking lots for the chance at more rides per hour. It didn’t matter than San Francisco lacked sufficient public bathrooms for drivers, forcing them to find coffee shop bathrooms, or, more often make do elsewhere. And it certainly didn’t matter that drivers pulling dayslong shifts were overworked and under-slept.

Most importantly for Son, SoftBank would purchase those shares at a steep discount from Uber’s valuation earlier in the year. Son and Khosrowshahi settled on a purchase price of $33 per share, pegging Uber’s valuation at about $48 billion – a steal for SoftBank. That meant that the scandals of the previous twelve months had knocked about $20 billion off Uber’s private market value.

To keep the price propped up on paper, the investors did some sleight-of-hand maneuvering. SoftBank would purchase $1.25 billion in additional, newly issued shares at Uber’s previous existing valuation of $68.5 billion. The premise was absurd; the secondary market clearly valued Uber’s shares at far lower than they were before Uber’s 2017 from hell. Yet in the eyes of the market, the maneuver worked; Uber’s valuation would remain at $68.5 billion.

One particularly raucous evening, a bunch of Uber Thailand employees, were up late drinking and snorting coke, a semiregular occurrence at that office. One female Uber employee with the group had decided she didn’t want to do drugs with her colleagues, and tried to abstain. Before she could leave, her manager grabbed the woman and shook her, bruising her. Then he grabbed the back of her head and shoved her face-first into the pile of cocaine on the table, forcing her to snort the drugs in front of them.

The New York office was largely defined by its machismo, sexism and aggression. Sao Paolo saw angry managers throwing coffee cups across the room or screaming at employees when they weren’t happy with results.

Books – All five of The Song of Ice and Fire series and favorite quotes

Disappointed with how the final season concluded, I launched myself into reading the series of The Song of Ice and Fire again, for the 3rd time. I love GRRM’s writing. Below are my favorite quotes for different reasons. It can be just good writing in my opinion, or some interesting details about some characters, be it their sass or their stories, or just some good life lessons.

Game of Thrones

The blood of the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die

Death is so terribly final, while life is full of possibilities

“Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?” he heard his own voice saying, small and far away.

And his father’s voice replied to him. “That is the only time a man can be brave.”

A Clash of Kings

“They will garb your brother Robb in silks, satins, and velvets of a hundred different colors, while you live and die in black ringmail. He will wed some beautiful princess and father sons on her. You’ll have no wife, nor will you ever hold a child of your own blood in your arms. Robb will rule, you will serve. Men will call you a crow. Him they’ll call Your Grace. Singers will praise every little things he does, while your greatest deeds all go unsung. Tell me that none of this troubles you, Jon…and I’ll name you a liar, and know I have the truth of it.”

Jon drew himself up, taut as a bowstring. “And if it did trouble me, what might I do, bastard as I am?”

“What will you do?” Mormont asked. “Bastard as you are?”

“Be troubled,” said Jon, “and keep my vows”

He who hurries through life hurries to his grave

Bear Island is beautiful, but remote. Imagine old gnarled oaks and tall pines, flowering thornbushes, grey stones bearded with moss, little reeks running icy down steep hillsides. The hall of the Mormonts is built of huge logs and surounded by an earthen palisade. Aside from a few crofters, my people live along the coasts and fish the seas…

At sixteen, he was cursed with all certainty of youth, unleavened by any trace of humor or self-doubt, and wed to the arrogance that came so naturally to those born blond and strong and handsome

The wind cut like a knife up here, and shrilled in the night like a mother mourning her slain children

A Storm of Swords

Old stories are like old friends, she used to say. You have to visit them from time to time.

Bronn gave out with a chuckle, but Oberyn only smiled. “We might never have seen you at all but for your sweet sister. You were never seen at table or hall, though sometimes at night we could hear a baby howling down in the depths of the Rock. You did have a monstrous great voice, I must grant you that. You would wail for hours, and nothing would quiet you but a woman’s teat.”

“Still true, as it happens”

This time Prince Oberyn did laugh. “A taste we share. Lord Gargalen once told me he hoped to die with a sword in his hand, to which I replied that I would sooner go with a breast in mine”

He rode till dawn, while the stars stared down like eyes

“…The north will go to your son by Sansa Stark…if you ever find enough manhood in you to breed one. Lest you forget, it is not only Joffrey who must needs take a maidenhead”

I had not forgotten, though I’d hoped you had. “And when do you imagine Sansa will be at her most fertile?” Tyrion asked his father in tones that dripped acid. “Before or after I tell her how we murdered her mother and her brother?”

Dawn stole into her garden like a thief

A Feast for Crows

“I am not Cersei. I have a beard, and she has breasts. If you are still confused, nuncle, count our hands. Cersei has two.”

“Lancel, Coz. I wanted to congratulate you upon your marriage. I only regret that my duties do not permit me to attend.”

“His Grace must be protected”

“And will be. Still, I hate to miss your bedding. It is your first marriage and her second, I understand. I’m sure my lady will be pleased to show you what goes where”

Together, they shoved the dirt on top of Nimble Dick as the moon rose higher in the sky, and down below the ground the heads of forgotten kings whispered secrets

Needle was Robb and Bran and Rickon, her mother and her father, even Sansa. Needle was Winterfell’s grey walls, and the laughter of its people. Needle was the summer snows, Old Nan’s stories, the heart tree with its red leaves and scary face, the warm earthy smell of the glass gardens, the sound of the north wind rattling the shutters of her room. Needle was Jon Snow’s smile. He used to mess my hair and call me “little sister”, she remembered, and suddenly there were tears in her eyes

“Lady? I’m no lady. I’m the queen.”

“My sister will be surprised to hear that.”

“Lord Ryman crowned me his very self.” She gave a shake of her ample hips. “I’m the queen o’ whores.”

No, Jaime thought, my sweet sister holds that title too.

A Dance With Dragons

On starless nights the great cliff was as black as stone, a darkness towering high above the wide world, but when the moon came out it shimmered pale and icy as a frozen stream.

The dwarf rolled over, pressing half a nose deep into the silken pillows. Sleep opened beneath him like a well, and he threw himself into it with a will and let the darkness eat him up

“You should thank the Father Above. He gives gifts to all his children.”

“He does,” he agreed pleasantly. And when I die, please let them bury with me a crossbow, so I can thank the Father Above for his gifts the same way I thanked the father below.

On moonless nights the water was as black as maester’s ink, from horizon to horizon. Dark and deep and forbidding, beautiful in a chilly sort of way, but when he looked at it too long Tyrion found himself musing on how easy it would be to slip over the gunwale and drop down into that darkness. One very small splash, and the pathetic little tale that was his life would soon be done.

The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. Snowflakes drifted down soundlessly to cloak soldier pines and sentinels in white. The drifts grew so deep that they covered the entrance to the caves, leaving a white wall that Summer had to dig through whenever he went outside to join his pack and hunt

The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. The days marched past, one after the other, each shorter than the one before. The nights grew longer. No sunlight ever reached the caves beneath the hill. No moonlight ever touched those stony halls. Even the stars were strangers there. Those things belonged to the world above, where time ran in its iron circles, day to night to day to night to day.

Once outside the godswood the cold descended on him like a ravening wolf and caught him in its teeth. He lowered his head into the wind and made for the Great Hall, hastening after the long line of candles and torches. Ice crunched beneath his boots, and a sudden gust pushed back his hood, as if a ghost had plucked at him with frozen fingers, hungry to gaze upon his face

Let them laugh. His pride had perished here in Winterfell; there was no place for such in the dungeons of the Dreadfort. When you have known the kiss of a flaying knife, a laugh loses all its power to hurt you

In the godswood the snow was still dissolving as it touched the earth. Steam rose off the hot pools, fragrant with the smell of moss and mud and decay. A warm fog hung in the air, turning the trees into sentinels, tall soldiers shrouded in cloaks of gloom.

Alys Karstark leaned close to Jon. “Snow during a wedding means a cold marriage. My lady mother always said so.”

He glanced at Queen Selyse. There must have been a blizzard the day she and Stannis wed

Summer friends will melt away like summer snows, but winter friends are friends forever.”

“For the Watch”. He punched Jon in the belly. When he pulled his hand away, the dagger stayed where he had buried it.

Jon fell to his knees. He found the dagger’s hilt and wrenched it free. In the cold night air the would was smoking. “Ghost”, he whispered. Pain washed over him. Stick them with the pointy end. When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold…

Book: Wandering by Hermann Hesse

Wandering by Hermann Hesse is a short yet fantastic read. When life’s uncertainties keep piling up and your mind is exhausted by all the distractions, it is a surreal feeling to read this book and imagine being open up to the nature the way that the author was. His lyrical writing is magnificent.

But I smile, and not only with my mouth. I smile with my soul, with my eyes, with my whole skin, and I offer these countrysides, whose fragrances drift up to me, different senses than those I had before, more delicate, more silent, more finely honed, better practiced, and more grateful. Everything belongs to me more than ever before, it speaks to me more richly and with hundreds of nuances. My yearning no longer paints dreamy colors across the veiled distances, my eyes are satisfied with what exists, because they have learned to see. The world has become lovelier than before.

The world has become lovelier. I am alone, and I don’t suffer from my loneliness. I don’t want life to be anything other than what it is. I am ready to let myself be baked in the sun till I am done. I am eager to ripen. I am ready to die, ready to be born again. The world has become lovelier.

Wandering – Hermann Hesse

Soft rain, summer rain

Whispers from bushes, whispers from trees.

Oh, how lovely and full of blessing

To dream and be satisfied.

———————————

I was so long in the outer brightness,

I am not used to this upheaval:

Being at home in my own soul,

Never to be led elsewhere.

———————————

I want nothing, I long for nothing,

I hum gently the sounds of childhood,

And I reach home astounded

In the warm beauty of dreams.

———————————

Heart, how torn you are,

How blessed to plow down blindly,

To think nothing, to know nothing,

Only to breathe, only to feel.”

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Book: Ego is The Enemy

It’s an amazing book. I read it this weekend and couldn’t put it down. The concept that Ryan Holiday discussed isn’t new. If you read enough self-help, chances are that you must have come across what he has to say before. Nonetheless, his writing is so good, clear and easy to digest. I took a lot of notes and below are just a few of them.

I learned about the detrimental influence of ego before. But over time, I drifted back to its claw and let it consume myself again.

I resisted silence. I succumbed to having to speak something all the time.

I based my happiness and self-esteem on the recognition, not the work itself.

I found myself lazy and complacent

I found myself in the “imaginary audience” like Ryan described.

This book is a timely and needed wake-up call. I am under no illusion that I’ll keep my ego in check from now on. I’ll need to revisit this book again in the future for sure. “Every day we must sweep”.

The performance artist Marina Abramovic puts it directly: “If you start believing in your greatness, it is the death of your creativity”

When we remove ego, we’re left with what is real. What replaces ego is humility, yes – but rock-hard humility and confidence. Whereas ego is artificial, this type of confidence can hold weight. Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned. Ego is self-anointed, its swagger is artifice. One is girding yourself, the other gaslighting. It’s the difference between potent and poisonous.

In fact, many valuable endeavors we undertake are painfully difficult, whether it’s coding a new startup or mastering a craft. But talking, talking is always easy.

We seem to think that silence is a sign of weakness. That being ignored is tantamount to death (and for the ego, this is true). So we talk, talk, talk as though our life depends on it. In actuality, silence is strength

If your purpose is something larger than you – to accomplish something, to prove something to yourself – then suddenly everything becomes both easier and more difficult. Easier in the sense that you know now what it is you need to do and what is important to you. The other “choices” wash away, as they aren’t really choices at all. They’re distractions. It’s about the doing, not the recognition.

Passion is form over function. Purpose is function, function, function. The critical work that you want to do will require your deliberation and consideration. Not passion. Not naïveté.

It’d be far better if you were intimidated by what lies ahead – humbled by its magnitude and determined to see it through regardless. Leave passion for the amateurs.

We don’t like thinking that someone is better than us. Or that we have a lot left to learn. We want to be done. We want to be ready. We’re busy and overburdened. For this reason, updating your appraisal of your talents in a downward direction is one of the most difficult things to do in life – but it is almost always a component of mastery.

As the psychology David Elkind has famously researched, adolescence is marked by a phenomenon known now as the “imaginary audience”. Even as adults, we’re susceptible to this fantasy during a harmless walk down the street. We plug in some headphones and all of a sudden there’s a soundtrack. We flip up our jacket collar and consider briefly how cool we must look. We replay the successful meeting we’re heading toward in our head. The crowds part as we pass. We’re fearless warriors, on our way to the top. That’s ego.

Living clearly and presently takes courage. Don’t live in the haze of the abstract. There’s no one to perform for. There is just work to be done and lessons to be learned, in all that is around us.

You will be unappreciated. You will be sabotaged. You will experience surprising failures. Your expectations will not be met. You will lose. You will fail.

How do you carry on then? How do you take pride in yourself and your work? John Wooden’s advice to his players says it: Change the definition of success.

In the end, the only way you can appreciate your progress is to stand on the edge of the hold you dug for yourself, look down inside it, and smile fondly at the bloody claw prints that marked your journey up the walls

He who will do anything to avoid failure will almost certainly do something worth of a failure. The only real failure is abandoning your principles. Killing what you love because you can’t bear to part from it is selfish and stupid. If your reputation can’t absorb a few blows, it wasn’t worth anything in the first place

He explained that training was like sweeping the floor. Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep

Book: Retail Disruptors: The Spectacular Rise and Impact of the Hard Discounters

For the past two months, I lost interest in picking up a book for some reason. Nonetheless, the streak ended today as I finished this book.

The book offers a detailed and insightful view on hard discounters which usually act as disruptors in a local retail market. The book defines hard discounters as follows:

Hard-discount retailers offer basic goods and daily necessities at the lowest possible prices, while maintaining high-quality standards. A hard-discounter store differs from discount supermarkets or hypermarkets like Asda, Kaufland, or Walmart. Hard-discount stores are typically about 8,000-15,000 square feet, less than one-tenth the size of a Walmart Supercenter, with probably lower staffing levels.

To reduce costs, hard discounters often display items on shipping pallets and in the boxes in which they arrive. The store is minimally decorated and offers a limited assortment of consumer packaged goods and perishables – typically less than 2,000 stock-keeping units (SKUs). In contrast, the average US supermarket carried 40,000 to 50,000 SKUs in 2017, while a Walmart Supercenter sells over 100,000 grocery and non-grocery items.

Here is what I learned from it

Beware of potential threats in the market. The book told stories of retailers around the world that paid the price for under-estimating hard discounters. They dismissed the arrival of hard discounters at first and when they realized the threat was real, it was already too late to stop the hard discounters.

Benefits of offering a limited assortment of SKUs. I am usually overwhelmed by a plethora of choices at restaurants or supermarkets. As the book says, to shoppers who are under time pressure or who intend to buy rather than browse, a better shopping experience is to be offered streamlined options or a limited range of choices. Plus, retailers who sell a limited assortment, especially private labels, can negotiate a better economic deal with suppliers due to economies of scale. A better deal will help the margin of hard discounters. Additionally, a limited assortment of goods means smaller stores – lower rent, saved costs on logistics and staff.

Go-to-market strategy. Hard discounters tend to enter a new country through a specific market first. Get the foot in, the logistics and operations in and then expand. Also, each go-to-market strategy varies from one country to another due to a host of factors such as household income per capita, economic growth, shopping preferences. Blindly adapting a blanket strategy to different markets may lead to failures.

The book offers a comprehensive view on different aspects of hard discounters and retail in general. It confirmed my belief that a competing strategy can be made up of so many factors that are intertwined together, including to not limited to:

  • The size of assortments
  • Whether a retailer carries more private labels or national labels
  • How man perishable items a retailer carries
  • Whether it has a good brand name
  • Whether it has economies of scale
  • Whether the shopping preferences of local shoppers are a good fit
  • How much a retailer spends on marketing, promotions and discounts; and for how long it can sustain the effort.
  • A retailer’s culture

After penetrating a market, whether a retailer can survive the competition depends on the retailer’s ability to carve out a niche in the market where it can be competitive, using a combination of the above factors or more.

A few notable stats

  • Private labels account for somewhere between 70-90% of hard discounters’ assortment
  • In 2017, middle-class shoppers in the UK account for 60% of shoppers at Aldi and Lidl
  • In Germany, hard discounters accounted for three out of every ten euros spent on grocery purchases or 60 billion euros in 2017
  • Aldi entered Australia in 2001, and by 2017, had cost conventional retailers like Woolworths and Coles AU $16 billion in lost annual revenues
  • Trader Joe’s offers around 3,500 different items, Lidl between 1,500 and 2,000 while Aldi carries between 1,200 and 1,400 products
  • In Germany, Lidle was the largest advertiser among grocery retailers in 2017 (almost 280 million euros) and the sixth-largest advertiser in the country ahead of McDonald’s, Daimler, Unilever and Samsung
  • Trader Joe’s sales per square foot is $1,633, twice that of Aldi and Lidl, four times that of a Walmart supercenter and 8 times that of Dollar General
  • In Australia, 26% of Aldi shoppers were from high-income families in 2006. The figure shot up to 50% in 2014
  • For the average US grocery retailer, a loss of 1% in sales leads to a loss of 17% in operating profit

Book: Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening

This book is an honest account of the life of the author, a Saudi activist – Manal Al-Sharif. The first chapters of the book tell the story of how she was thrown in jail for driving in Saudi Arabia. The following sections detail her life from childhood up to the time of her imprisonment. The last legs of the books are about her release from detention and life as an activist. I was a little bit impatient to read about her growing up as I wanted to know how she would fare after her incarceration. Nonetheless, it was mind-blowing to read about the horrifying treatments of women in Saudi Arabia through Manal’s struggle through education, marriage, career and life. Kudos to the author for being honest about her time as an extremist and how she transitioned from that period of her time to being a leading voice for gender equality and other causes in the country.

Some interesting details and quotes from the book:

The system says that no one can be arrested for a minor crime between the hours of sunset and sunrise

In Saudi society, a woman needs her official guardian (usually her father or husband) or a mahram – a close male family relative whom she cannot marry, such as a father, brother, uncle or even a son – to accompany her on any official business.

Even a woman in labor will not be admitted into a hospital without her guardian or at least a mahram. Police cannot enter a home during a robbery, and firefighters are forbidden from entering a home during a fire or medical emergency if a woman is inside but does not have a mahram present.

In my world, physical activity – running, jumping, climbing – was forbidden to girls because we might lose our virginity. The only games we were permitted to play involved nothing more than singing songs and holding hands.

At that time, there were no personal computers for typing my story, no home printers to print it. Since all the riyals I’d saved from my pocket money during the year went to buy books, I didn’t have the money for a new notebook, so I started tearing out the empty pages from the notebooks I had used at school the previous year. I carefully cut out the subject and date line at the top of each page. I drafted each chapter in pencil until I was satisfied and then carefully wrote over the words in blue pen. And because I loved drawing, I began to create cartoons of the people and events in my story. My greatest moment of pride was when I set down my pen after writing “The End”.

While the traditional niqab left a slit for the eyes, we were now supposed to lower our head scarves to block out this opening entirely. It was hard to get used to it on my journey to and from school. The full face covering made me almost blind, and I stumbled every day on the steps of our building. One time when I fell, our neighbors’ sons watched and laughed.

As teenagers, we also heard extensive preaching on the requirement to obey one’s husband. This, we were informed, would serve as one way that a woman could guarantee her entry to paradise. Preachers stressed the necessity of women gaining their husbands’ permission for everything, whether visiting family, cutting their hair or even performing voluntary religious fasting. They emphasized the need for women’s complete subordination to their husband in all facets of life. As one Saudi sheikh said during a lecture, “If your husband has an injury filled with pus, and you lick this pus from his wound, this is still less than what he can rightfully expect”

A young man could talk on the phone with a girl for months without even knowing what she looked like.

I couldn’t believe this was happening in Saudi Arabia. If a girl in Mecca was found to be conducting a romantic relationship – even if it consisted only of phone calls and messages – she would face severe beatings from the men in her family, not to mention very likely risk a lifelong confinement inside her home

And he said the words “You are divorced”. Under Islamic law, uttering those words is all that is required for a man to divorce his wife

In 2007, when I got divorced, the policy was for children to reside largely with the mother until they turned seven. At age seven, a girl would then be taken to her father’s house to live. A boy, however, would be asked if he wished to remain with his mother; the choice was his. Once he became a teenager, that boy would often become his mother’s male guardian. He would have the final say over whether she could work or go out, or must stay in. If a woman remarries, she immediately loses all custody of her children….A man, however, can remarry at will or even take a second wife, with no impact on his claim to his children.

The rain begins with a single drop