Mary Lee

As Interviewed by Veronica Ruth, March 8, 2015

Mary Lee: In Her Own Words

“I’m Mary Lee, my date of birth was 12/23/25, in other words, I’m 89. My hometown was Hornbeck, Louisiana, a small town, in about the central part of Louisiana. I graduated in high school. I have been active all these years in civic things, and with my husband at the university I was active in women’s club and things having to do with the university.

“We went in 1979, and my husband went there as a consultant. And we were there for two months. The person that sponsored it invited us to come over, arranged for us to have an apartment, which was very modern, just like an apartment here. And, I had a maid that came in, and he also furnished us a car, of the transportation. And, we had a driver. He would take my husband to work, and then he’d come back and pick me up if I wanted to go somewhere. But, I did not go outside the door of my apartment, even to go to the grocery store, which was a block away, while I was there. I didn’t go out the door unless [I had] the driver. Now, because he was my driver, I was permitted to go out with him. But, otherwise, it would be a husband, or a brother, or a man that was a relative. Women were not allowed on the street alone, because they are assumed to be prostitutes. And any woman that goes has to be accompanied by a man.

“And I wore long sleeves, and a skirt down to my ankles to cover the ankles, and I was not required to wear any of the traditional wear of the women. But, I did wear a kerchief over my head at all times. It was commonly that I wore sunglasses if I went to the “soup”, or the market. And we’d call them our “Western Veil”, the sunglasses. You are not supposed to look a man directly in the eye.

“And there is no freedom of speech, or freedom of religion, and a woman has to do, and be, and act, the way her husband wants her. He is her ruler. And some are more lenient than others, but they more or less mix and mingle with just their close friends. A woman cannot meet another person unless her husband knows the husband of that wife, and you are introduced through him. In other words, if I have a neighbor that lives next door, I am not free to go out and meet her, or certainly not talk to him.

“There was a program at Hyde Park Baptist Church, that they invite women, in the first of each semester in the fall, the foreign women to come there. It’s called “Friendship”. And I, being a member of the church at that time, I was a “Friend” to a woman from Saudi Arabia. You choose who you would like to be a friend to. So she invited me to her house one day. They do not have to follow the strict laws, [or] at least they didn’t seem to over here, that they would over in Saudi Arabia. But, I asked her, “Look, you’ve been here for, a year? And you’ve been free to do anything. You could even drive a car. How do you feel about going back to Saudi Arabia, where you don’t have these privileges?” And she said, “Oh, I felt like a queen.” You are brought up in a culture, and you don’t know any different, and you follow it. She said, “My husband goes to the grocery store, I don’t have to go get the kids, or do anything like that.” Because, of course she can’t drive. And he has to do all of that, so she feels like it’s a privilege to be a woman that is not allowed to go out. So it’s all in, you’re brainwashing them, I mean it’s the way of the custom that you’re brought up, and everybody else is the same way, so you don’t think anything about it. [That] is the way I got the impression from her. She didn’t seem to resent at all that when she went back home, that she couldn’t drive a car or she couldn’t get out to go like she was privileged to do here."