Sawt Al Niswa is back and it needs YOU! And Me! And all of us!
My take on becoming a feminist activist, written for the AWID Blogathon on the Young Feminist Wire
Here’s the 1st paragraph, to read more, follow the link:
I believe becoming a feminist activist creeps up on you. You don’t wake up one day thinking: « Mmm, right, after coffee I’ll just go and advocate for women’s rights, now shall I? ». At least this isn’t how it happened for me. Becoming an activist was the result of an internal process fuelled by observations: a condescending attitude from a man , a patronising comment , an inner sense of difference because I am a woman, and because I am an Arab woman who lived in a small French town rife with prejudices and misconceptions about Arab women. In general, all of this conspired to render me attentive to stories of oppression from a young age…Read more at http://yfa.awid.org/2011/11/becoming-a-feminist-activist/
Ahem, have you gained weight? Is a question I’ve been hearing more than I care to mention since I’ve been back to Lebanon. Mind you, it’s the kind of question I hear EVERY time I come back to Lebanon, so much so that if it were actually true, if I HAD gained aforementioned weight, I wouldn’t be able to go through doors now. And last time I checked, I was well able to. Talking about weight is at the same time commonplace and taboo. I mean, look at the amount of ink and saliva spent on talking and writing about diets and whatnots, yet people give each other sideways glances to assess weights, gains or losses of it, and think twice before making any comments (that is, if they have an ounce of good manners, which sadly is becoming less of a norm lately).
Usually, when such comments are directed my way, I obsess for two days (I’m an elephant and I’m never, ever getting nowhere near chocolate again. Ever) then I happily bite my manoukche back. But not this year. This year, comments made me wonder about neurosis related to weight, body image hysteria, and the obsession of bodies so slim you’d mistake them for visa cards. You see, the fact is, I have actually lost weight, about 4 kilos of it (clearly people whining about kilos haven’t experience the “let’s organize a wedding with a Lebanese mother” diet) and while I have to admit I was happy with the news (yes, even I fall pray to the feeling of happiness whenever I lose weight, although I know it’s a constructed feeling, not a genuine one, it was given to me by the media and by the Lebanese mentality that a woman has to be slim, something I try to fight, but clearly, haven’t been able to cancel altogether as of yet), I’m being very, VERY, careful not to lose any more of it, because one I do like my curves, two, whenever I lose too much weight my spasmophilia goes haywire and no thank you, it’s bad enough as it is and three, I love food. I do, and I live in Lebanon, land of the delicious food, and Kate Moss can pout and tell me that nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels, I’m thinking, fuck that, clearly the woman has never tasted hot Knefeh in the morning.
The fact that these comments emanated from two über slim girls was not lost on me, and I started wondering if they considered themselves too slim, normal, or fat, and how distorted was their vision of their own body. I don’t think we ever see ourselves as we truly are: I have a friend who’s constantly on a diet, yet she’s one of the most beautiful girl I know and has a fine, healthy figure, while another one shocked me by telling me she was fat. I mean, you could fax the waist of this girl, and here she was, trying to convince me that she was, indeed, overweight.
I know everyone blames the media and people get tired of it, but the media IS to blame, so until they make an active step towards change, we’ll continue bashing them. However, I do think it would be wrong to think of the media as a separate entity hovering over women’s heads, dictating them what to do, what to eat, what to wear. We’re not victims, and difficult as it might be to disentangle ourselves from their messages, it’s an effort that is both worth it and needs to be done in order to reshape the media to a size that fits (yes, pun intended). Media productions are nothing but a reflection of the society they belong to: once society changes the way it thinks, the media, in order to sell, will simply have to follow. Especially if there is a boycott involved: perhaps one day the disappointing sales will prevail over the astronomical amounts paid by brands for advertising, and magazines will review their policies. The economic components and stakes of weight loss are huge: by showcasing unattainable standards of beauty (Perfect super big boobs, tiny waist, never ending legs) the media urges you to buy that cream that’ll make your cellulite go away, which you will do, because that’s the look you’re supposed to have Dahling if you want the perfect job, perfect man, perfect life. Lose 5 kilos and your life will be perfect, perfect, perfect. What no one tells you, however, is that you’ll feel hungry all the time, hence miserable and irritated, and that you’ll spend too much money on useless creams (I’ll say it once and for all: They.Don’t.Work). So let’s summarize: you’ll be grumpy, hungry and broke. Clearly, the recipe for happiness. Not to mention the constant guilt that will accompany each bite you’ll allow yourself to swallow: since when did food stop being enjoyable and NECESSARY TO THE MERE FUNCTIONING of your body to become this evil thing that is to be feared and loathed and agonized over?
In the Middle East, not only the pressure is to have a certain body shape, but cultural imperialism and integrated imperialism by local populations mean that dark skin, frizzy hair and every type of nose that is not tiny, straight and slightly going up are deemed unaesthetic and should be corrected with the help of creams (Fair and Fucking Lovely, I ask you, who wants to be stared at by some creep in a library?), serums and doctors (Come, said unethical doctor, let me make you look like everyone else (that’s if you’re lucky, otherwise you’ll just end up looking like late Michael Jackson)).
The thing with resistance, is that it works. Madrid has cancelled too thin models from its fashion week in 2006 and some magazines and brands have showcased non photoshoped and regular women. These trends, while despised by the cosmetic and fashion industries, are welcomed by the public, and are to be encouraged.
Until the media changes, maybe it’s time to make our own internal revolutions. So here’s the first five points of the manifesto:
– People come in all shapes and sizes: trying to look like someone you’re not is a mere waste of time that could be used for something else. Like living your life, for example.
– Food is necessary. Unless you have a special condition, bread won’t kill you. Not eating will, however.
– You were born with a specific set of genes and bones, and modifying them is like getting Katie Holmes to smile. Go on, try.
– Health is vital. Cosmetic surgery isn’t. Heard about breast implants preventing doctors to detect early tumors, post surgical complications, teeth being removed from your gums because of the vomiting, iron and vitamin and magnesium deficiencies?
– Last but not least: you’re precious. Take care of yourself, eat tasty, healthy food, go for a relaxing massage, do absolutely whatever you feel like, as long as you’re the one feeling like it and not your ugly, guilty, influenced-by-media-and-mentalities (or mother) conscience whispering that you’re dissatisfied with your life because of measurements. Honestly.
Working in a women’s organisation and being active in the women’s movement is most of the times an incredible journey where learning, sharing and fighting for your rights tend to unite you.
And then there are the times where you suddenly ask yourself if you belong at all. Times when what you hear is so at odds with what you stand for that you actually feel your blood boiling, all concepts of sisterhood immediately flying out of the window, all your senses geared up for a confrontation. Indignation and shame and anger usually are corrosive feelings, ones that seldom live little space for understanding. And hell, call me a sectarian if you want, but I firmly believe that there are times where understanding is not in order, and refusing and revoking and taking strong stands is our only way of creating positive change.
I hate these times, because they remind me, not of the diversity, that is to be celebrated, but of the huge amount of work that is still to be done, even within the women’s movement. I hate these times because they force me to take a closer look at what I consider to be my ideological home.
The women’s movement is not an abstract entity floating around asking for rights and equality: it is made of women who make the conscious choice to join it and declare themselves part of it, coming into it with their own sets of values and beliefs.
It seems to me, though, that the movement in itself should not forget what founded it, and is entitled to outline and define some red lines that should not be crossed over. Feminism, at least as i like to understand it, is a revolutionary current, aiming at abolishing not only gender, but also all kinds of barriers.You can’t ask for equality and justice for women and not ask for equality and justice for all.
So it is armed with these beliefs that I personnally entered feminism, along with many women’s gatherings and conferences. And in all fairness, I’ve met some pretty fantastic amazing, inspiring women when I did, people and ideas and actions that honestly make it all worthwhile, but I also had my share of disappointements. As an Arab woman, it’s easy to spot the imperialists disguised as feminists: they come to you with a look of utter pity on their faces, you know, because you’re not empowered enough, and bore you to death with talks of big corporations showering their organisation with money that they the used to “develop” countries like mine and “help” women like me. To which your only way out is to remain calm and launch into your little rant of I-don’t-believe-in-corporate-funding-or-in-any-earmarked-funding-for-that-matter-as I-advocate-for-independence-and-self-sufficiency-but-thank-you-for-the-empowering-session. They’ll look bewildered (after all, aren’t you supposed to receive their Gospel with a look of gratitude upon your face? Aren’t you glad they’re teaching you dignity? As if anyone could ever teach that! Note: dignity comes with humanity, each and every single human being knows what dignity is, and most importantly, what living in dignity means) but you trust they will get over it. Conservatism is a rife pandemic, and don’t you dare think for one second that North=Bad and South=Good. I’ve heard so many gems from women of all walks of life and regions and backgrounds that I stopped even acknowledging these factors anymore. Let me share with you some serious comments I’ve heard and overheard:
– If everyone lived according to Christian beliefs, there would be no HIV. (Where do I even begin to show her how wrong, just utterly and completely wrong, that statement is?)
– I believe in God’s justice for all. (Right, but I’m living here and now, so I’ll settle for human justice now if you don’t mind)
– I’m a women’s rights advocate, I don’t care about economic justice or environmental issues (yes, of course, because if a woman is unemployed, it’s not like she’d be more a risk of violence or more vulnerable to dependency, right what was I thinking? Sexual emancipation is the only factor of gender equality, the rest is unimportant)
– In Europe we don’t really have any problems as women. Our only big problem is the migrant women who need to be helped because of their backwards mentality. (No comment) (Actually, I usually respond to this by asking how much she earns as a “European woman”, and how much her husband does, and take it from there)
– The Scarf. THE pet peeve, THE Horror Movie Title. As in: “Poor her! She’s so submissive! She wears “The Scarf!”
I believe there should be debates and discussions around these issues, if only to help shifting mentalities within the women’s movement. I guess my issue was that I had other expectations from women calling themselves women’s rights activists and feminists.
Trust me, I’ve debated a lot with what I’m writing right now. Shouldn’t I be out there, fighting patriarchy and dealing with the ugly internal stuff, well, in an internal way, not publicizing this, not openly talking about it? But I realised it would make me like a Palestinian Authority representative who would turn a blind eye on the acts of some thugs in the party while telling people who stand up against it to go and demonstrate against Israel. I don’t want to be that person.
I want to be part of a movement I’m proud of, even if that means creating a movement within the movement, a movement that abides by some strong principles and raises awareness and mobilises women according to these principles.
Call me an idealist, a naive, or a self righteous bore if you want, but if I wanted corruption and absence of transparency and tokenism and judgement and patriarchy and inequality, I would have gone and worked in a bank.