A Lesson in Middle Eastern Feminism With King Deco
Indie pop princess, King Deco, flexes her distinctive songwriting skills and seraphic vocals on tracks such as “Read My Lips” and “Castaway”. She has polished her prowess and is undoubtably a rising star who has landed on our radar time and time again.
Nevertheless, when MILK.XYZ sat down with the singer, her talent is not what took centerstage.
“It’s an issue everywhere,” King Deco states. The issue of gender inequality. Hailing from the Middle Eastern country of Jordan, but now residing in Brooklyn, King Deco has experienced such disparity both locally and overseas. She continues: “The Middle East and the States are so different from each other. Then, there’s the music industry. The fact that women have to fight for their place in all of these environments is crazy to me. It overlaps in conversations with my Arabic girlfriends and my female friends in music. There’s always this ongoing conversation about how things aren’t totally balanced.”
Here, King Deco sounds off about feminism in the US versus the Middle East. Get acquainted with the songstress and get woke on the issue of global gender equality, below.
In what ways was attending college in America a bit of a culture shock for you?
At Duke University? Definitely the drinking culture. Jordan is an Islamic country. So technically there isn’t a drinking age because you’re not supposed to be drinking at all. My friend kind of jokes and says, “You just have to be old enough to reach over the bar.” [Laughs] So, the drinking culture was definitely a bit strange. You definitely saw some racism and the whole white male thing was introduced to me at Duke. I didn’t really get that before. In Jordan, there’s definitely gender inequality, but it was just very different.
Speaking of which, I read an essay that you wrote. There were a couple of things that really stood out to me. You mentioned that only 14 percent of the women participate in the economy. Can you give me a breakdown of how that works in Jordan?
Women’s roles are primarily mother and wife. That’s kind of what you’re expected to do. The goal is getting married and having kids. It’s getting better. My society is like a bit of a bubble. I can’t even tell you the percentage we make up in society, but women in general the focus is being a mom and a wife. That comes definitely before work. I don’t think Jordan’s unique in that, but it’s definitely to a bigger extreme here.
It seems like there’s definitely a “woman’s place” in society there. So, what affect has that had on you personally?
Something you don’t agree with as a person, you automatically reject it or rebel against it and want to change it. I think music was the channel for me to feel like, “Okay, I want to accomplish something in life that’s not just that role.” Those things are still important to me, but there just not the only things. It’s all about finding a balance I think.
Yeah, absolutely. Another statement that stood out to me in your essay is that you kind of received some backlash and judgement for pursuing a creative path. What’s been able to help you shake off some of that negativity?
Right now, I want to say just learning how to communicate what it is I’m trying to do with my friends and family back home; and explain these are my goals [and] this is what I’m trying to achieve. I’m not out here to become crazy and get into drugs and stuff. This is what I’m doing and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Like, “If there’s something wrong with it, I’d love to hear what you think.” So, I think just communicating more is how I deal with it more recently. Over the years, I’ve had to build this fort around myself mentally and shut those voices out and figure out what I want to say as an artist and what I want to communicate through my music without second guessing myself.
That’s important as an artist. If you second guess yourself, it effects everything from songwriting to your own mindset.
No one wants to listen to someone who’s not sure of themselves. So, I think I’m getting better at it. I’m at home (Jordan) right now trying to bridge the gap of being who I am in the States and who I am here to sew everything together.
I noticed your WhatsApp profile picture. You definitely have a squad. How have your friends encouraged you to pursue music full-time?
I didn’t realize this until much later, but they were my support system amidst the backlash. They were super supportive…those girls are like my sisters and not only did they want to see me succeed they wanted to see me grow as a person. It wasn’t until 2015 when I came back to Jordan that I found that each of them had started on a journey working in different fields and starting their own businesses. Sometimes I hate that I missed so much being away but to this day they tell me how they had conversations about how bold it was that I decided to leave and jump into this industry that no one we knew had gotten into before.
That’s great that they’re encouraging you. As far as female empowerment goes, how does it differ there than here in America? Is that even a thing? Does feminism exist in Jordan?
It does exist in Jordan. It’s definitely a little bit different. So, I think women in general are fighting for more voice in the world. Here (Jordan), it’s more of a struggle because religion definitely plays a part and our culture, traditions and what not. We’re not necessarily as conservative as some other places in the Middle East. You can walk outside and not cover your hair. At the same time, you do feel like you have to cover up. In the States, women don’t feel like they have to hide as much as they do here. Does that make sense?
As an American, what are some of your experiences? Maybe we can compare.
I went to the UAE this year and it was an eye-opener. I went to the outskirts of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, I was able to see the difference between women there than it is here in America. As you mentioned, religion plays a big role in the culture there. So, they cover up a lot more. Whereas here in the States, women dress however they want and they speak up because you don’t have that same cultural society here. Your voice isn’t as stifled.
The thing I think we both have in common is you definitely could wear what you wanted here, you would just get judged and stared at. Even in the States, women get labeled for dressing a certain way or acting a certain way. The double standard is just so much clear. Women are a lot more progressed in the US, so the double standard is more apparent. Whereas the double standard here is like the norm. Women can’t really live by themselves. I couldn’t move out of my parents’ house and find an apartment even though I’ve been doing it for five years in the States. Women aren’t really allowed to live alone and that’s just kind of the norm.
Also, women are treated more preciously in the Middle East I want to say than in the States. So, there is an upside to that double standard. If you see a man disrespecting a woman, then that man is shamed. I haven’t experienced that in the States yet. So, there’s definitely some good to take from what’s going on here and what’s going on in the west—like some middle ground. I just wanted to throw that in there. It’s not all bad.
Reflecting on the past, at what point did you decide you wanted to pursue music? Was it early in your childhood or more like in your 20s?
I started songwriting around eight or nine, but my parents made it very clear in the beginning that to leave Jordan and go to a good college in the US I would have to get into a really good university and go down that path. So, I did a lot of science and math in high school. I had to put music aside for about five years. Then, when I got to college I definitely felt a little lost. It wasn’t until I started doing music again, that everything started to make sense.
Featured image courtesy of Nick Wiesner
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