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Al-Rawabi School for Girls | (dot)gender

(dot)gender | A space by LORENA STELLA MARTINI

Al-Rawabi School for Girls is a short series produced by Netflix and set in Jordan, written and directed by the Jordanian Tina Shomali and Shirin Kamal and characterized by a mostly female cast and crew. This teen drama depicts life in a female high school attended by upper-class girls in Amman; the plot revolves around the plan operated by Mariam and her two friends Dina and Noaf to take revenge on the school bullies – Layan, Rania and Ruqayyah. 

The series, which has sparked debate in Jordan as well as elsewhere, is worth watching for some reasons which have pushed me to choose it for this (dot)gender.

First of all, Al-Rawabi School for Girls is a successful attempt to bring young women on scene and create a script entirely based on them, their lives and perceptions. And this, as explained by the director herself, is not something common in the Arab panorama –  especially if coupled with a still mostly unexplored theme such as bullying.

The school is a small universe where these young women are real agents: they appear – or in some cases struggle to appear – strong, resolute and independent, and make fun of the stereotyped values that the school would like them to interiorize. In spite of its pinky atmosphere, this universe is far from being a fairy-tale: bullying is a daily practice, and it reproduces toxic, violent mafia-style power dynamics within the school, where the girls’ self-affirmation is often the result of the humiliation of the others. 

What happens at school is influenced by the more general socio-political environment: girls need to pay attention not to spoil their so-called honor and their – and their families’ – social reputation, and some of them also have to deal with abusive family members. Indeed, while the main theme of the series is bullying, the show also touches upon other major issues and topics such as gender violence, patriarchal norms, mental health issues, honor killings, sexuality and sexual abuse. 

What is interesting to notice is that many of the girls’ attempts to take revenge on the others involve putting them into trouble for having disobeyed patriarchal norms dictated by society or by their families. This is indicative of how pervasive the socio-political structure where they live is and how much they are influenced by it: while they silently struggle against it in the first place, at the same time these girls exploit it against their “enemies” – without understanding , or at least not until the end, and not all of them, that they are all victims of the same logics.