When white feminism, slut-shaming and racism intersect: The curious cases of Lou Doillon and Taylor Swift

A lot is happening in popular culture my dear people.

A lot of things I wouldn’t usually comment on, except that they reflect every day struggles I have with white feminism.

First off, let us start with Lou Doillon’s comments on the supposed vulgarity of artists such as Nicky Minaj or Beyonce. Long story short, French ‘celebrity’ Lou Doillon, has spent a good half of an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais dissing Minaj and Beyoncé, dubbing them ‘vulgar’ and that feminism is not about parading in one’s underpants. After all, Doillon is the ‘first of her generation to be able to kick a man out of her house’ and ‘her grandmother didn’t fight for your right to parade in a G-string’.

First of all, I’m not exactly sure who appointed Ms Doillon Great Decider On All Things Feminist, but apparently when you’re white and over privileged you can self-appoint yourself to almost anything. I personally wouldn’t know, I’m an Arab woman, and thus spend half of my life apologizing about my hair and rebuffing exoticizing comments and looks.

Besides the grand authority with which these comments were delivered (that certain people might actually call arrogance), I’m left to ponder on why exactly did Doillon choose to mention Minaj and Beyoncé, two black women who, regardless of whether you agree or not with their vision of feminism, have done and are still doing quite a lot to question and reverse the usual stereotypes associated with the sexuality of women of colour. It’s interesting to note that Doillon’s comments were not made about Madonna or Britney Spears or Lady Gaga, artists who are also dancing in their underpants quite a lot, but chose to call out specifically these two women. It’s also very interesting that she herself chose to pose naked (something she is completely entitled to do, her body her choice) and most importantly enjoy the absence of slut-shaming, a courtesy she didn’t deem necessary to extend to Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé.

It might be interesting here to remind Ms Doillon, who is probably totally unaware of that fact, having lived all her life in a privileged white dominant bubble, that women of color, and especially black women, not only have to live with the hypersexualization all women have to bear, but also have to endure pervasive stereotypes that specifically consider their physical traits ‘vulgar’, their bodies inferior and disposable, and their sexuality ‘Jezebel-like’ and depraved.

Had Doillon got off her high self-righteous horse, she would have realized she was doing nothing more that reinforcing these stereotypes with her comments and thus helping to put down women who are already oppressed by racism and sexism, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is not the best look for someone who deems herself feminist.

Besides, Doillon is also deeply wrong on another account: while her grandmother might not have fought for your right to dance in your underpants, other people’s grandmothers, mothers, sisters and their friends did and still are. To be a woman, to be able to enjoy one’s body and to be able to enjoy the sexuality you have chosen free of coercion, discrimination and violence is definitely not a vested right in any place of the world. We are indeed fighting for our right to free body expression, and we are indeed entitled to enjoy that right without any kind of slut shaming coming our way, be it from men, authorities, institutions or other women like Doillon. It would be good to remind Doillon that women’s liberation from the shackles of respectability start with her mother Jane Birkin’s mini skirt and continues with Nicki Minaj’s G-string, dancing and enjoying her life and body. If there is one thing to take from all of this controversy, is that maybe patriarchal beliefs and attitudes, regardless of their source, should stop policing women’s bodies and leave us to enjoy them in peace.

Another pop culture event that happened this week is the so-called feud between Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj  (who’s apparently had an extremely busy week on the feminist front) on Twitter. Here, Minaj might have been sore about not being nominated for a VMA, who knows, but she raises an interesting point nevertheless regarding the lack of acknowledgment of the work of black artists, especially black women. It is indeed true that white thin bodies are glorified and erected as the norm all women should aspire to. When confronted by this tweet, Swift’s answer was to automatically make it about herself: ‘Oh but I love you, why are you doing this to me?’ Instead of acknowledging a dominant system she benefits from on a daily basis and position herself as a firm ally by calling this system out and choosing to opt out of these privileges, she chooses to bring the debate to an emotional, personal field where political debate get annihilated.

The take out from this week? Dear white ‘feminist sisters’: you don’t get to decide how women of color enjoy their lives and bodies. You don’t get to police us, you don’t get to shut our demands up by getting sugary and cuddly and telling us you love us.

We don’t want you to love us and carry on benefiting from systems that oppress us on a daily basis.

We want equality, equity and justice, and for this, we have to fight. And we are. And we will.

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How to Live with a Pregnant Comrade Without Losing Your Head (Or Laboring Hers)

 Significant Comrade is pregnant.

 

I, the Rev, am going to become a FATHER! Not that I subscribe to the idiotic, bourgeois, reactionary model of the patriarchal family where the biological male has all the power and the privileges within the family cell and the woman is left as the proletariat of the marriage, as Comrade Engels would say. Because I don’t. Let us be clear about that.

 

If the doctors are to be believed, I’m to ‘have’ a daughter, not that she will ever be my property, not at all, or that she will necessarily identify as a ‘girl’ as portrayed by the heteronormative patriarchal society, gender being a social construct anyway as Comrade Butler explained it. She will be absolutely free to become whatever and whoever she will want to become and I’ll fiercely love her anyway. Although in hindsight, perhaps maybe not if she decides to work for the World Economic Forum or for Morgan Stanley, or if she becomes a right wing militant, or worse, a Stalinist. Imagine that. Sometimes I can’t sleep just thinking about it.

 

Huh. I realise Significant Comrade and myself will have to tread very carefully if we want to transmit our beliefs and values to our child. But then again, is sharing these with her an act of oppression? Will I be crushing her critical thinking and creativity? Have I already started? You know, because I talk to her, and read things to her, things like ‘Marx at the Margins’, the ‘old social classes and the revolutionary movements of Iraq’ and ‘Hezbollah and Hamas: A contemporary study’. I also sing to her sometimes, things like the International in French, English and Arabic, although Significant Comrade’s temper seems to be slightly shorter than usual and I kind of got yelled at. I tried Bella Ciao, thinking it might be better received, but got the Petit Manuel pour En Finir Avec le Capitalisme thrown at my face, by accident I’m sure.

 

I’m kind of getting yelled at, or cried on, quite a bit at the moment. Sometimes, I wish Comrade Trotsky would have been more of a ‘family’ man, instead of running around in Mexico with iconic painters, so he could have written a book in the vein of the Russian Revolution but on how Revolutionaries could better support their comrades during pregnancy and childbirth. Like last time, when I found the Significant Comrade crying her eyes out in front of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which is in itself a very sore subject in our marriage. I hoped she was being tearful because of the stupidity and crass consumerism of it all, but apparently it was because Kourtney was being mean to Kim. Who are these people? Who is Kourtney? Who is Kim? And why are they making my Significant Comrade cry? Sometimes I can’t help but wonder how Comrade Marx managed with Jenny. I mean, she has been pregnant seven times. Seven. Ah but look at Comrade Karl daughters, all socialist activists, translating the works of their daddy! Sometimes I wonder if my daughter shall do the same with me?

 

When I share my concerns with Significant Comrade, it seems to me that she is not quite so keen on discussing these things with me. Something to do about having enough on her own plate and how would I like to weigh a ton and be full of water and having trouble breathing, sleeping and eating? I have to say, that left me speechless. As a revolutionary, I can not speak in lieu of the oppressed, and my Comrade is clearly being oppressed. Also, when I tried and talked to Significant Comrade about the absolute need of trusting our child to make her own experiences in life and not be overly protective of her, Significant Comrade did not seem to share my views either. I believe her exact words were: ‘Listen to me you stupid Rev, are you the one being asked to expel a baby the size of a ginormous turkey from a hole the size of your nostril? HUH? HUH? Nah, I don’t think so, so you shut the fuck up and you leave me to decide when that child will be able to start with her own experiments with life and that is never, or not until she’s 30 anyway, the world is filled with serial killers and sexual predators’. Which I thought was a bit much, in all fairness, but I thought it best not to argue.

Now that I’m about to become a dad, I value my life.

I am nevertheless hoping that the revolution will prevail soon so that patriarchy and neo-liberalism become things of the past and so I’m trying twice as hard to make it happen before she turns 5. Time is running out my Comrades, let us build a whole new world.

 

Sometimes, when I try and lay my plans for the triumph of revolutionary socialism to the Significant Comrade, she just hugs her pregnancy pillow (which she dubbed ‘her new husband, but I am fine with that, as I do not own my Significant Comrade. Also, it’s a pillow) and tells me to shut up and go to sleep. ‘Your child will be a Menchevik anyway’, she said.

 

And here I am, eyes wide open in the dark. What if she is?  

On Getting Rounder and Body Image

You know, since I gave birth, I feel so free. I wear what I want and I’m like: Fuck you! I have delivered a human being and I pushed her out of myself, my body is so beautiful and powerful!

Maja, a day over lunch

Basically all that is wrong with how the media and society see pregnant women.

Basically all that is wrong with how the media and society see pregnant women.

I was looking at pictures of me taken a couple of years ago, for a photoshoot I did with Lebanese photographer Lara Zankoul, and I found myself thinking, damn, I looked good.

I was curvy, always have been, always will be I guess, but significantly thinner than what I am now.

Because now I am pregnant you see, and my body is doing all kinds of things I do not understand. Like throwing up certain things, and feeling nauseated by almost everything yet roaring in pain if I don’t feed it. It’s expanding, making room for life, pushing things around. It’s like my body was telling me: by all means please get on with your life, I know what I’m doing here. Go. Go I tell you!

It’s an odd feeling for me. Relinquishing control and giving in to nature. I normally don’t do that. I like facts and books and solving things with my brain; and nature, and trusting my body to know what to do simply doesn’t come naturally to me. To give you a rough idea, I’d rather trust the Internet and the waves of doomsday scenarios relayed by total strangers it brings rather than trusting nature. That’s how bad I am. If I could, I’d live in my OB-GYN’s pocket so he could reassure me with ultra-sounds and exams and more facts and figures that my body, is, indeed doing what it should, but alas for now he’s on vacation and trying very hard to avoid me and the likes of me at all costs. So instead I bought a home Doppler to listen to my baby’s heartbeat and soothe my anxiety away, reassuring me that baby is, in fact, still here, but this is another neurotic story that we don’t need to get into right now.

I used to think I was immune to the body image hysteria surrounding me. Yes, I was that naïve. After all, I had never been on a diet: I consider dieting as a barbarian act of torture against my body that would eventually fail anyway. I believe in taking care of one’s own body, but I also believe in metabolism and different shapes and sizes and I’m grateful for the variety of bodies out there, because imagine how excruciatingly boring it would be if we all looked the same. I’m all for eating healthy, but eating only proteins or cabbage soup or baby food for all eternity? Really? Are you kidding me? That’s just not healthy, that’s fucked up and crazy and a manifestation of some very greedy people trying to exploit the mass hysteria around women’s weight they have created so they can build summer houses in Majorqua. The whole ‘weight loss’ industry strikes me as one of the most successful collaboration between patriarchy and capitalism: let’s guilt women into feeling horrible and ashamed every time they put something in their mouth and then let’s guilt-trip them a bit more because they’ve skipped Pilates this week. And let’s make sure they spend tons of money trying to make them change their appearance. So I was all happy and smug, thinking because I didn’t diet and couldn’t give two fucks about the amount of calories in my Twix so long as it tasted its usual caramel-y gorgeousness, that I had accepted my body the way it was and learnt to respect it.

I could not have been more wrong. Because when I got pregnant, something clicked and I finally felt free. Well, let’s not completely get carried away here, I felt a certain sense of freedom. Like, I went to the swimming pool and realized I was not tucking my belly in, the way I usually absent mindedly do. I had never really noticed it until I stopped doing it and something felt great. I felt it was ok for me to be curvier because I was pregnant you see. Suddenly, it was like my curves were justified. Normal. It’s like I had, and needed all along, an excuse for my weight and shape. Of course by then, it was really hard to dodge the fact that I had, in fact, not been comfortable with my body before and that I could get off my self-righteous horse and admit I was not the Kryptonite of weight dissatisfaction and obsession. .

Pregnancy liberated me in a way because it is socially acceptable for pregnant women to gain weight. But again, let us not get lured into a sense of unicorn-y acceptance of pregnant women putting on weight:  judging by the constant scrutiny pregnant women have to endure, it is only socially acceptable to a certain extent to be gaining weight. If you look bigger than what is fantasized about(meaning the body of Gisele Bundchen with a tiny bump), then you can expect incessant comments on your bump and size, with ‘well-meaning’ people telling you that you should be fine if you exercise after giving birth. Er, who asked you anything? And more importantly, shouldn’t you be concerned by my health rather than by my weight? Reading up pregnancy forum boards, I am amazed at the amount of judgment, self-judgment, scrutinizing of every ounce gained and agonizing the majority of women seem to be doing, while most of the times stating ‘my doctors is not concerned’. Again, doctors seem not to be concerned but women are, because pregnancy magazines show us pregnant women that have nothing to do with what pregnancy really is, because there is a growing pressure on women to look maternal and sexy and to pop that kid out while whipping up a quiche and sending in the last budgeting report. I don’t know why I had expected societal pressure to ease up on women once they sport the visible marks of harboring another life. Ultimately, what’s true for women in general are true for pregnant women: my body isn’t mine, it belongs to whomever controls it. Be it a partner, a religious institution, society as a whole, people jeering it on the streets or my own demons in my head. And it comes as no surprise really that we tend to stress over our bodies the minute they cease to be representations of patriarchal fantasies. Some people manage to let their confident selves control how they view their body: they’re able to celebrate it for the gorgeous miracle it is. Others, like me, need an external trigger to boost their confidence and be able to establish boundaries between one own’s body and the daily attacks it goes through every day.

By doing things more or less on its own, my body has forced me into accepting it the way it is. Being pregnant allowed me to make peace with that body I apparently did not trust enough. And the truth is, I have no choice really. It is going ahead with manufacturing a new life regardless of how I feel about the changes it’s operating. At the moment I’m trying to tell it to stop making me crave pizza and shrimp dunplings all the time, and to stop enlarging my breasts because, thanks, they’re big enough as they are, but so far it’s refusing to return my calls.

So I just let it be. And when I look at those pictures, I think: damn, I looked good.

And when I look in the mirror now, I think, damn, I’m powerful. I can create a life, AND go to work, AND write and cook and see my friends and do all the things I enjoy while at the same time having a little bean growing and doing its thing and just asking me to sleep and eat a lot more.

And I also think I look good. A different kind of beauty, a beauty that has a lot more to do with real acceptance of myself and less to do with beauty ideals we are being sold.

My only regret is that I couldn’t reach this level of peace with my own body without the intervention of pregnancy. But I’m writing this post to remind myself for after I gave birth: pregnancy or not, our bodies are powerful. And beautiful.

If we just learn to let them get on with their job.

Move Over! We Don’t Need Your Feminism Now!

 Amidst the tension and clashes recently happening in Lebanon, I got to thinking about a million and one things, like, why do I feel so helpless? What is it that I can do? What is it that I’m willing to do?

A thought crossed my mind, among the chaos of these never ending questionings: now is the time when our detractors will enter the scene, soberly telling feminists that “now is not the time to focus on women’s rights when the security of the country is challenged, we have more pressing matters to deal with”.

This claim is not new and regularly comes back about three times a week under normal circumstances, but now that the country is on the brink of something much more sinister than the daily chaos and incompetence of politicians, I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a whole lot more of that rhetoric.

Which is precisely why we should be prepared and ready to answer, in a very clear, confident, and powerful way.

I don’t think my thoughts here will be clear or confident or powerful, I’m just trying to organise on paper what won’t seem to settle in my head, and contribute to the ongoing conversation feminists have had and still have to face.

Proponents of the “We don’t have time for human rights in times of militarized strife” only focus on the traditional definition of security, that is, defending the nation-state from external threats: this is why they’re quick to over-simplify what is currently happening in Lebanon and blame it all on the Syrian crisis spillover. What they seem to be missing is that the nature of conflicts has shifted and now happen more within states than between them and that therefore, the concept of security has evolved. Since the ground breaking UNDP report of 1994 broadening and deepening the concept of security, challenging the traditional understanding of the term, there is a trend, and a dire need, to understand security under the realm of “human security”, a concept putting the individual back at the center of concerns, stating that human beings should live under “freedom of fear” and “freedom of want” and covering all aspects of human lives: socio-economic factors, health, environmental conditions, food, political security, community security, stating that: “For most people today, a feeling of insecurity arises more from worries about daily life than from the dread of a cataclysmic

world event. Job security, income security, health security, environmental security, security from crime – these are the emerging concerns of human security all over the world.”

The latest events in Lebanon do not only take their roots in the Syrian crisis, as excellently explained by Patrick Galey in his article Don’t Blame Syria – Lebanon Leader’s are fuelling the fighting in Tripoli. Rather, they are the result of a combination of factors having the neglect of human security at their core, and most importantly, they are the result of the perverse effects of the sectarian system and of patriarchal beliefs.

Indeed, sectarian leaders have made it a point not to have any kind of national dialogue with regards to the civil war, creating a country of heavily traumatized and militarized amnesiacs quick to draw out their guns at the smallest excuse. This legacy of violence is coupled with the nepotism and clientelist ties without which the sectarian system could not survive and which hinders the proper development and improvement of the Lebanese population’s socio-economic conditions. The diversion of resources from Human Rights such as education and health towards corrupted real estate projects and vote-catching bribes, mixed with the neo-liberal policies Lebanon has been following for decades, have increased social injustice and disparities, reduced the level and quality of education, and hence created an enabling environment for unemployment, precarious working conditions, and violence, as several studies have shown that low levels of education and important socio-economic gaps have an impact on any given society’s stability.

Patriarchal beliefs and gender stereotypes create societies where male’s privileges and sense of entitlement blossom and thrive and where carrying a gun, swaggering and prancing in the streets of cities in Lebanon sporting a “Shou Bek Wleh?” attitude and getting into fights are seen as signs of virility.

Which brings me back to answering the “we don’t have time for feminism” claim.

Feminism is not only about wanting equal rights for men and women. As a revolutionary movement, feminism aims at shifting gender stereotypes, guaranteeing social justice and high quality, free education and health for all, fighting against oppression of all kinds, and making sure women and men live free from violence.

If that’s not trying to guarantee human security for all for the sake of society and its stability, then I don’t know what is.

Sounds to me that we need feminism now more than ever.

References:

Plastic Capitalist

Today, I was attending a Meeting on women’s leadership: men in suit moderators, outdated data, lack of content. The meeting was supposedly women’s leadership, yet the was not discussed and rather, the whole thing looked more like a company’s team building retreat, with moderators apparently on a mission to complete their template.
When my colleagues and I raised the issues, we were told to, in that order: take things with a pinch of salt, be more positive, that the best people were moderating the sessions, that we were aggressive and that finally we were welcomed to send all our suggestions and evaluation in the little form provided in the little folder.
It was strange to see that apparently there was no woman qualified enough to be part of the moderators, but beyond those specific issues, it was appalling to witness how much the issue of women’s rights has become commodified, treated via companies specialized in “leadership strategies”, within the framework of a conference so formatted the environment for leadership development was far from being provided. The worst part of it all might very well have been that organizers and moderators presented themselves as “feminists”. The same ones who told me to “take things with a pinch of salt”, presenting themselves as feminists.
This situation clearly reminded me how much feminism has been overused, recuperated and distorted, the way you see right wing neocons parading as feminists. Feminism is by definition a revolutionary current aiming at questioning power relations, whether they are economic power relations, gender power relations or political relations. As feminists, we must remain aware of what language is being used, what methods are being used, what images, what attitudes, everything. Remaining vigilant and speaking out against situations that strike us as insensitive gender wise, or oppressive to any social group, not just women , are part of our job, and if that makes us aggressive, then so be it. When we spoke out at that conference, many people blamed us from holding the agenda back, from being too offensive: I however can’t help but notice that our stir caused two women trainers to moderate one session, which was not previously factored in the programme, just like the acts of feminists demonstrators in the 70’s were perceived as aggressive, yet you wouldn’t have seen drastic changes in European laws pertaining to women and gender without them. Feminism, contrary to women’s rights currents, not only asks for gender equality within laws and practice: it aims at shifting societies upside down to challenge traditional conservative concepts of what it means to be a woman or a man, it aims at questioning and changing heteronormative and sexist beliefs and practices.
One of the aspects of the intrusion and recuperation of progressive ideologies by capitalism and neoliberal policies is how the emphasis has shifted from public duties to individual duties. While talking about women’s rights and empowerment, so many people kept pointing fingers at women, stating it was up to them to seize opportunities and not to wait on the state to give them anything. The success of capitalism is that it has managed to make people believe that asking anything from the government is acting as an assisted person. It’s the Nike philosophy, just do it, you can do it, etc, you you you and people who try to do it and fail are stigmatized. Reminder: governments ratify human rights law treaties, therefore, governments should be held accountable for respecting, protecting and implementing them. The State has a duty, in fact many of them, and part of the empowerment process is to remind the state of its obligations and put it back in front of them, and stating that in doing so, a citizen is being nothing short of a big whiny baby is. A. Lie.

On Going on A Micro General Strike

When speaking about feminism and women’s rights, I think I have found myself guilty of going on about laws, international conventions, treaties and regulations, which, while being necessary, somewhat puts the whole issue of sexism at an abstract level made of negotiations, politics, and international and national high level meetings.
While we all have to be aware of what decisions our governments take, it is equally important to talk about daily sexism, the fact that women have to fight sexism and patriarchy every day, the fact that these values and attitudes impact their every days lives.
Whereas hidden in a sarcastic comment or acted upon in a very loud and clear fashion, sexism and patriarchy are still everywhere and have a strong impact on women’s lives.
Still talking in obscure words? Let me just give you a few examples. I
About two weeks ago, I was discussing the awful (at least for me) subject of giving birth with some friends who had already gone through the ordeal ( and please, I don’t want to hear anything about how it was the most beautiful day of anyone’s life. All that blood and pain can’t be good. Giving birth is a necessary step, full stop, don’t try and romanticize it just because your brain wants to forget just how awful it was. There are other women who need the truth here) (ok, it might be the terror talking). Ok, moving on, there we were, sharing horror stories of birth giving and what not, when my friend told me the most awful thing that happened to her on the day of her delivering. Contrary to what I was expecting, it was not the twelve meter long epidural needle, it was not the pain, or the blood, or the fear. It was her husband, actually asking her to iron his white shirt while she was on the phone telling him her water just broke. Let me get this straight, I told her, there you were, paddling in your own water, utterly scared and freaking out, calling your husband so he can help you and drive you to the hospital so you could deliver his child, and he asked you to iron his shirt before going? Yes, she said.
We then looked at each other with eyes like saucers, and I could tell she still couldn’t get her head around it.
What kind of society creates that kind of sense of entitlement so that one of its member can lose all sense of priorities and ask about a FUCKING SHIRT before the health of a woman?
A society riddled with patriarchal values, that’s what.
Social roles women are allocated are very rigid and hard to shake, it takes not only advocacy from social movements for laws to change, but also daily conscious efforts to expose gender discrimination in art, the media, and mainstream discourse.
But let me get back to testimonies: once I knew what I was looking for, stories of women being asked to do things just because they were “the wife” or women kept jumping at me.
Another close friend of mine works full time ( a Lebanese full time, meaning she has two demanding jobs), is always there to support her family and take care of her son. Her husband, even though he works much less, still eats then gets up without even lifting his little finger. When my friend asked him to mind their son so she get in the shower, he told her, brace yourselves again, that he did not have the patience to do it, that he was tired.
Here my brain starts screaming “I’ll give you tired, you useless piece of humanity”. Naturally, this is the all-public, sweetened, version of the much less polite epithets I mentally gave him. The list could honestly go on, as I seem to be a magnet for stories of incapable husbands and boyfriends who always seem too tired to do anything that resembles a house chore.
Challenging these deeply seated beliefs is a fight, there’s no other word for it, but it’s a necessary one. Power is negotiated both in the public and private spheres: deciding who will do the washing up is indeed a power struggle, the one ending up doing nothing actually becoming the winner, not because it’s some kind of game, but because the one cleaning the toilets can’t read Marx and write articles or relax at the same time. Yesterday I was explaining to a friend why I didn’t like the interpretations that put the blame on the women: some people will say it’s the women’s fault for not asserting themselves, something that is in my opinion partly true. To me, women should lead the struggle against patriarchy, but society as a whole should feel concerned, because being asked to do certain things because you’re a woman, or being seen in a certain way because you’re a woman creates a growing sense of resentment from said women, resentment that destroys the love in relationship and creates very unhappy human beings. Truth is, cleaning toilets is no one’s favourite hobby and certainly no woman’s favorite thing to do. There shouldn’t therefore be an expectation on us to do it all the time. Besides, we shouldn’t be too quick to judge other women who might not appear to yell at their partner with blood shot eyes that if said partners didn’t make the bed, he’d die a slow, painful death. Being quiet about it doesn’t mean they don’t realize they’re being expected to do things just because they’re women. I think they’re just uncomplaining because they don’t see how this whole system can be changed because no one challenges it around them. So they resign, and carry on because it’s easier than risking social disapproval and constant fights at home, when it’s not worse like violence. When I arrived to Lebanon and had my first lunch with my aunt and new husband, said husband ate, then got up and cleared the dishes off the table. My aunt seemed to have an aneurysm and screeched at me :”keef 3am betkhalli y9oum! How do you let him get up and clean up???” as if it was my fault he was a perverted soul who helped a bit at home. The fact that she was expecting me to fling myself at my husband, begging him to let me do it so he wouldn’t have to get up was utter madness. Was she out of her mind?
Then I calmly explain to her that he was not a saint really, that he only cleared a table and that was the minimum he could do, that it was completely normal that we would both do stuff at home, and why should I be the one getting up and clearing up? Did I have something in my female DNA that programmed me to do so?
To which my aunt looked at me, then at her husband and said: nyyellik, your uncle eats, then spreads his considerable self on the couch and calls for his tea.
Fighting sexism in our daily lives is the first of all fights, one that, when is won, is won forever.
I’ll leave you with a most inspirational story that my Kenyan supervisor in my previous job shared with me. In order to teach her husband that he should learn how to cook and clean as she was a most busy woman, she just stopped doing anything. “I’m telling you, she would chuckle, I would leave those pans in the sink forever, I would pick up my dinner and eat in my bed while he d be waiting for his, I kept my nerve, and eventually, he started really sharing chores with me”. I called it the micro general strike, and I loved the idea.
Could I do that? If I m honest, No, I’ m way too anal retentive to leave anything in the sink for more than 2 minutes.
No, I can’t do that, but I m still working on becoming the change I want to see, so I keep fighting gender discrimination in my everyday life, starting from home, even if that means the bed won’t be made exactly how I want it to be. At least it ll be made, and by someone who isn’t me.

Lebanese Chronicles: Two

Sexual harassment in Lebanon is a reality. The fact is simply enunciated, yet I’ve heard the exasperated “oooohhh you’re exaggerating again!” more than I care to mention. 

And yet it’s right there, looking at my breasts on a Gemmayzeh afternoon, going “smallah”, it’s right there, shouting “Shou hal 7elo!” on Hamra Street, it’s right there, staring sleazily at me while I’m walking, two greedy eyes that I still feel on my back as I walk by. It’s right there in the stories my friends tell me of breasts and bums brushed, squeezed, felt, it’s right there, invading our privacies and our bodies and our minds, and it’s intolerable. 

The sick thing is that I’ve often heard women stating that at least, they feel beautiful in Lebanon because of the stares and of the comments they get as they walk by, by opposition to their lives in Europe where apparently no men ever looks at them. First of all, let us all inject ourselves with a healthy dose of self confidence: our sense of beauty isn’t and shouldn’t be defined by how a random man looks at us. It’s something that should come from within, an agreement we make between ourselves, between our minds and bodies. Secondly, there is a difference between an admirative glance, that lasts about a quarter of a second and an aggressive, invasive stare or offensive comment about any part of our bodies. While I wouldn’t consider the former harassment, I can’t help but consider the latter for what it is: an violation of my privacy, of my body. 

And I simply won’t allow it. 

The sicker thing is that I can’t help a feeling  of shame when something like that happens: I feel uneasy, uncomfortable, like I shouldn’t be dressed like this, like I’d want to bring my breasts inwards or make my clothes looser or shield my face or SOMETHING. Now don’t get me wrong: I do not feel guilty, for I know, and by this I mean the rational part in me knows, that I haven’t done anything wrong, that rude comments and stares are the product of years of education and patriarchal values that state that a man is allowed to heckle a woman and that the woman should feel grateful for it. The emotional part of me, or the subconscient or whatever is nevertheless penetrated by the same patriarchal values that a woman should walk her head bowed and not look at anyone and not dressed in a certain way, hence the ever slightly present feeling of shame. 

And I simply should suppress this feeling, for it’s the rational part of me that’s right: I am a human being, and as such, my privacy and body should be respected. It’s not a privilege that society grants me: it is my right. 

And as such, I should reclaim it. So this is why I shall dress the way I want, walk my head high, answer the guy who thinks his comment is clever (although maybe in a language he understands, i.e. not French), and keep on denunciating the harassment cases and talk about it until my voice hoarse, so that mentalities start shifting and see clearly that: Sexual harassment Is. Not.Okay. 

And my favourite people at Nasawiya have been tackling the issue for a while now with the adventures of Salwa: for more information, please visit www.qawemeharassment.com 

For a brilliant literary illustration: Introductory scene of The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Safak