The way we treat each other

I don’t like analyses that center on the individual as a means to explain political phenomenon.

As in, if you talk to me about the ecology from an individual responsibility perspective, there’s a great chance I’ll call you an eco-fascist (I’m harsh and in a bad mood a lot. I’m a working Arab mother of two daughters with personalities bigger than mine, come at me). I’ll ask you why you’re trying to guilt-trip struggling workers for not recycling or buying hand-picked local produce that cost half their salary while you remain silent about the states and corporations that consciously destroy the planet. I don’t really believe in mantras that’ll have you ‘heal the world through healing yourself’ or that insist that ‘life is what you make of it’, as if people existed in a vacuum, un-impacted by the realities formed by the material conditions within which they exist.

I have issues with call-out culture, I abhor privilege theory: to me, they do not particularly help securing accountability for harm that has been done and do nothing by way of societal transformation to guarantee non-recurrence. Also more often that not, these analyses fail to meaningfully engage with class exploitation under capitalism, and please, can we really pretend to be talking about dismantling systemics forms of oppression if we’re not addressing the impacts of capitalism and how it needs and sustains and interacts with racism, sexism and other forms of oppression? (Hint and shocker, the answer’s a no).

Any overfocus on the individual level instead of interrogating broader institutionalized patterns of discrimination and systems of oppression is to me synonymous with depoliticization of struggles. Instead of fighting the systems that create and sustain oppression and dismantle power dynamics that enabled said oppression and discrimination to happen in the first place, political struggles get reduced to a set of arbitrarily defined behaviours used as performative tools for activism.

Neo-liberalism loves that by the way: this approach enables it to co-opt messages and remove them from the realm of collective action and political contestation to make individuals responsible instead of the powers that be.

Call me a grumpy communist, call me a feminist kill joy, what can I say, I like changing systems and addressing root causes.

And yet.

And yet there is definitely something to be said for ensuring that our individual behaviours reflect what we fight for collectively, to the extent possible and bearing in mind that our lives are molded by our material conditions and by broader systems within which we exist. Is there truly a point in devoting your life to dismantling systems of oppression if you trample on everyone in doing so?

Within these margins lie our individual responsibility to practice what we preach and our collective responsibility to prevent harmful behaviours, our own and that of others’, from impacting others within our movements.

I find this last point extremely difficult. How do we create accountability mechanisms within our movements to ensure that people who have been harmed get justice from a space that they had considered as safe? How do we politically grow by opening up space for difficult conversations? Not conversations that pertain to political strategies and tactics, but conversations that need to center how we treat each other? How do we discuss problematic behaviours, keeping in mind power dynamics and avoiding policing?

I had started this piece really wanting to once again talk about radical political love, about how to consciously make our activism a labor of love, where we practice solidarity in a very concrete way, showing up for comrades embodying feminist values. And I believe in this like it’s my job, and I try to extend love and care whenever I can, to use my anger to move things forward, to be there for other women and girls, to look at solidarity from up close and unpeel all of its layers until I get to the core of it. Solidarity exists in multitudes, just like us, and there is not a single way of standing in solidarity with groups leading their way through liberation, but a myriad of them.

And sometimes it comes easily to me: after all, it’s easy to materialize and be present for the comrades you love, it’s easy to meet women and lift them up. It’s not work, or at least it doesn’t feel like it, and it feels great because you feel aligned with what your core values are. Embracing and holding space for each other, inside or outside of political and social movements, isn’t the hard part.

Things become tough when you’re confronted with behaviours that contradict these values, whether from within or from others. Suddenly radical love, including radical self-love, becomes difficult to practice: political debates and disagreement are one thing, and they are more than healthy and needed and allow us to grow, both as individuals and movements, but harmful behaviours, personal antipathies and other negative dynamics are something else entirely and don’t always call for accountability mechanisms. What are the implications of these inevitable dynamics on our movements?

People are multilayered, relationships are complex, and once again the success or failure of organizations and movements should not be left up to individual relationships: rather, we need democratic structures and institutions within them that provide a buffer against negative elements that can be nefarious to movements and trans-movement solidarity.

Despite commitments to radical love, we must also admit that we simply can not love everyone, and that rooting our activism in love is different than wanting to love every individual we meet.  One is a political act, the other is simply impossible, and we need to be ok with that.

Love

My friend Abir seems to be a permanent fixture in my writings. There is so much of her in one of my characters in the Tales of the Phoenix City, she’s been featured in articles I wrote, and here she is again, her name intertwined in my words.

That’s because Abir and I have built and nurtured a feminist friendship that has spanned for over ten years now. A friendship built in the streets of Beirut, around late coffees and meetings at feminist collectives, evenings spent designing infographics on violence against women (she’s good as design I’m good with words we both have a profound contempt for patriarchal violence) a friendship made of love, of understanding, absence of judgement, knowledge that we are there for each other regardless of where we live. A friendship made of honesty, and laughter, and joy (presently mentally adorning these sentences with blue eyes and khamsas to ward off the evil eye, yes I’m superstitious, what can I say, I’m an old woman and unlikely to change).

Lately, Abir’s brain produced the wonderful idea of co-creating Hammam Radio, a participatory feminist radio open to women and girls in all their diversities. If you think Abir’s brain is some next level brilliance, wait till you see her heart. She invited me over to contribute and co-create, along with the multiple wonderfulness that are Rasha, Marwa and Jojo. So far we’ve uploaded a heroic amount of music, have hosted different shows, but mostly had about a ton of fun.

This morning Marwa told us ‘I’ve never heard so many brilliant women in under two weeks’. The brilliant women are everywhere, it’s just that mainstream media is too busy showcasing The Men.

To me, the initiative brought me so much hope and love and joy, scarce feelings in these surreal times. Emotions that I have come to strongly associate with feminist love.

Several disclaimers are needed. From here onward, I’ll be speaking about healthy relationships, bearing in mind that they require constant work and care, and that toxicity can happen in all relationships, romantic or otherwise.

I’ve never been a fan of the (patriarchal, heteronormative) cult around the One and Only Romantic Love Meant to Fulfill All Of Your Needs. First of all, I think it’s incredibly selfish to ask of just the one person to be everything to you all the time. No one can be, nor should be, everything to you all the time always. Secondly, what’s this hierarchy of loves we live in? Society greatly values romantic love, makes a ton of music and movies about it, has special holidays around it, and women and girls especially are raised with the belief that the most important love they’ll ever find is romantic love, and that everything else is just an add-on. Very seldom are we taught that sometimes the ‘home’ you create with a romantic partner can be the most dangerous place for your to be in. Very seldom do we hear the warning that ‘the family’ can be your place of despair, violence and torture.

I fucking hate that.

I believe that there is constellation of forms of love out there, and that they are all equal. That intensity can be felt in relationships that are not necessarily meant to become romantic, that we should tell the people we love that we love them, period, and not just your partners or your family or your dog, but also your friends, especially your friends, and your comrades. I think there should be societal recognition of how crucial and core these relationships are to us, to our mental health and well-being. Kiss your friends more (once we’re out of quarantine), hold on to them, show you trust them and show them that they are not accessories in a play where the main character is your romantic partner.

There are different types of love, the political love you build with comrades (solidarity in struggle is a thing of beauty), the friendships you cherish, the situations you don’t quite have a name for yet (you know the ones, the relationships you can’t and don’t want to categorize), the love you feel for your children, the love you feel for your siblings’ and friends’ children (I’m an auntie, and a proud quasi auntie to many children, and let me tell you, is there anything more delightful than giggling with the offspring of the people you love with very minimal responsibility?), there is an infinity of persons out there that will be tugging at your heart one way or another. Don’t box love to certain types of situations or link it exclusively to certain people. The heart expands to more you let people in.

Among these loves, lies feminist love. The kind of love you build with feminist comrades who become your backbone, like a chain of wonders who prop and hold you up and will break your fall if they need to.  Feminist love makes space for your anger and legitimizes it, but stops you from being consumed by it. Feminist love is fierce, and full, and sincere, and stoked by the logs of struggle, solidarity and recognition. Feminist love has kept my head above water at times where even breathing was painful. Feminist love has taught me how to process grief, it has kept silent so my emotions could roar, it has made noise to drown out the violence and awfulness, it has stood like a wall of steel against the assault of societies that didn’t want us there. Feminist love rejoices in difference, creates invisible indestructible links between the people who form this bond, and above all, feminist love teaches life and courage. The courage to exist as we are, the courage to live our truth, safe in the knowledge that we are surrounded by the love of our chosen family.

To love, and be loved with that kind of deliberate fierceness, is a gift and a privilege beyond measure.

To create a platform where women* raise their voice and share their thoughts and laughter is a gift and a privilege beyond measure.

To retain the ability to love beyond what is socially sanctioned, to make the conscious choice to remain soft in an environment that will do anything to harden you, to choose solidarity and openness and inclusivity, to put one’s trust in the immense power of collective action and struggle, are all gifts and privileges beyond measure, but are also necessities.

Feminist love is needed. I’m happy to extend it to you.

Quarantine

It’s only day 1 kids.

  • Number of times I heard ‘maman’: possibly infinity
  • Number of fights between two daughters broken up: approximately one thousand two hundred ninety-two
  • Topics of aforementioned fights (non-exhaustive, just the ones I remember):
    • She took my scooter
    • She hugged me and I told her ‘this isn’t your body, leave me alone’
    • She played with me
    • She didn’t want to play with me
    • She won’t share her stuff with me
    • She shared her stuff with me
    • She called me a potato. I’m not a potato (I mean, no truer words have been spoken)
    • She said I was poopoo
    • She scratched my eye
    • She scratched my face
    • She pulled my hair

 

 

  • Fix Barbie’s outfits (multiple times, Barbie has a whole fucking lot of outfits and an apparent compulsive need to change them often)
  • Look for things (where’s my toy where’s my doll where’s my dress where’s my underwear mama mama mama mama where’s that tiny little piece of plastic that is vital to my existence and without which my life has no meaning?)

 

  • Look for things, including my own mind: all day

 

  • Answer and send whatsapp messages: what are you? The surveillance police? The Fascist State? Big Data? Get the fuck outta my phone

 

  • Drink home-made ‘lemonade’, made of water and shredded coconut, pressed on me by youngest child: mercifully, one

 

  • Number of Constantine Cavafy poems read and analyzed: about ten but the day is young

 

  • Number of poems written: two, actually quite happy about this one

 

  • Number of times I have lost my will to live while asking my children to please stop trying to kill each other for the umpteenth time: 347, give or take

 

  • Number of times I have lost my will to live while making my eldest child study: one, but the angst was so strong I don’t think I’ll ever get said will to live back

 

  • Number of times I have thought ‘Fuck, what if Ruth Baden Ginsberg gets the virus?’: unhealthy amount

 

  • Number of messages I have sent advocating for the closing of my child’s daycare: several. One to the direction of the daycare (to wit: close your fucking facility and protect your staff you greedy capitalist fucks), several messages of solidarity to the staff (UNIONIZE) and to other parents (are you sending that little brat of yours to daycare Carol? The fuck didn’t you understand? STAY HOME AND DO REMOTE YOGA. You’ll get insta likes I swear)

 

  • Number of times the Rev looked at me and told me ‘it’s only day 1’, ‘We will prevail’, in French, English and Arabic like some kind of broken revolutionary polyglot record: about 20 times, until I told him everything was his fault anyway and could he shut up

 

  • Number of times I have received messages and phone calls saying ‘I love you’, ‘Can we organize online aperos/coffees’, ‘how are you doing’: actually quite a lot, feeling quite grateful right now

 

  • Number of times I thought ‘people are actually pretty fucking amazing’: quite a lot actually, which hadn’t happened in a very long time.

Stay healthy my beloved ❤ and drink wine

The Magnitude Of The Problem

Me too.

Me too.

Me too.

This is what my timeline looks like. This hashtag, used by millions of women (by women, I mean all individuals who identify as such, girls, trans and cis women, femmes and queers) around the world, is meant to make people (men) understand the ‘magnitude of the problem’ of sexual harassment.

Yet it shouldn’t be on us to make men understand that women are people who should not be seen as sexual props designed to please the male gaze. It shouldn’t be on us to think of all the instances our bodies have been violated, our intimacy and privacy invaded, our bodies questioned and discussed as if our consent or absence of it didn’t matter, just to make you understand ‘the magnitude of the problem’.

But then again, the anger I’m feeling at reading all of these ‘me too’ is threatening to froth and boil, fizzle and explode, the raw anger I feel at seeing all of these women, my gorgeous, beautiful, strong army of friends and sisters sharing publicly that they, too, have been assaulted in one way or another.

As many wrote, I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t.

As many wrote, we don’t owe you our stories. You know our stories, you’ve been writing them for centuries, years of years of male domination over women and girls, exploitation of women’s bodies and minds (yes, EVEN YOU MY COMRADE so don’t fucking hide behind  Rosa Luxembourg, we fucking see you and each time you brush aside feminist concerns in your grandiloquent speeches you are part of the problem).

You want the magnitude of the problem? I’ll give you the magnitude of the problem.

It is thinking twice about the outfit you wear because if something happens to you, you don’t want to be accused of ‘having asked for it’. It’s being accused of having asked for it even if you were wearing a hair shirt and several layers of clothes and a poster that screamed ‘please don’t harass or rape me I’m only trying to get to work’. It’s carefully monitoring your behavior not to seem to flirty, it’s being perceived as a temptress whom men can’t resist, it’s not their fault it’s yours, all the fucking time. It’s being categorized as a ‘sexual beast’, or as ‘submissive’, depending on your race. It’s being called a whore, a slut, a frigid monster every time you turn down the unwanted attentions of a man. It’s being sexualized as a young girl, it’s being denied the sex education you need while people tell you to remain a virgin, it’s being told be beautiful, a certain idea of what beautiful is, you HAVE TO MAKE YOURSELF BEAUTIFUL so men will like you. It’s checking on your girlfriends to see if they have made it home safely, tell me Brian when was the last time you did this for Brad? It’s being exploited and trafficked because you are a woman and you are poor, it’s being denied a sexuality or being raped because you live with a disability. It’s not being able to do your job properly as men in power hold you back unless you sleep with them. It’s your body being a battlefield in itself in war time, enduring unspeakable torture.

It’s never being listened to.

It’s being always blamed for what happened to you.

It’s never getting justice. Real justice, not traumatic post-rape investigations that leave you wishing you had never pressed charges.

It’s never being granted any type of humanity unless men have sisters and mothers and daughters they can relate to.

It’s men’s uncomfortable silence over their own role in perpetuating rape culture.

It’s being so tired, so so tired of this shit all of the fucking time.

It’s this rant not being the quarter of the magnitude of the problem.

It’s the fact that our voices can grow hoarse trying to make you see and hear us, nothing will change unless patriarchy is overthrown, and you don’t want to lose all of these privileges now do you Brian?

But we will continue to fight. Even if we are super tired of this shit. We will go on strikes, we will yell at you, we will kick and scream our ways through our lives because we are not willing to accept defeat and if this sounds like a war cry then take it as such because it is one.

And we will be inclusive or we will be bullshit. Sorry Susan, but struggles against racism, classism, against transphobia and homophobia and islamophobia will be at the center of our actions and demands because all of these systems enable sexism and because none can be liberated when three quarter of us are downtrodden.

To all the survivors out there: your courage and grace are infinite, you matter, and most most most importantly: it is not your fault. Never has been, never will be.

Grief, revisited

Eat. Or at least try. Sleep properly. Or at least try. Get some rest, read a book, escape in words to forget those lodging themselves in your head, unwilling to move.

I had these very words been said to me, by the very people who love me, their love their unique consolation to my pain. I’ve seen their eyes, pleading with me, willing me to be ok, willing me back to life, firmly anchored by their love.
Stay here with us, we’re losing you.
I know how they felt, as I have myself said those words to people I love, my love trying to bind them to life, refusing to let them go too deep in the pits of depression, and grief and sadness. I’ve urged loved ones to rest, to quell the never ending stream of suffering going through them. I pleaded, my eyes were the ones willing them to be ok.
Eat. Sleep. Rest. Is that all there is left when all is said and done, when you’ve been knocked off your balance so hard you feel the emptiness and the heaviness of the world deep within you, the anxiety coiled deep within your heart? Take out what and who made us who we are, take out the people who’ve helped build you and all you have left is a wounded animal who needs to eat, sleep and rest.
But no matter how coated in love these words are, no matter how well intentioned, they remain utterly useless, for grief doesn’t work that way. Once you’ve been hit by grief, it never leaves you, it makes a permanent mark on your skin, etching its passage in wrinkles, tears and frowns, as if it were carving the rocks of a conquered land. You expand to live with it, to accommodate it in your swollen heart.
Most of the time it is dormant, lurking at the surface, waiting for a smell, a song, a place to rear its ugly head and send your precarious balance off the tracks. Grief nestles itself in your chest and never lets go. You never forget. You learn to walk around with a neverending, incommensurable hole at your core, the shape of the person you miss. All these cracks on your once whole façade let in a lot of light, probably the ones who’ve made the final jump letting you know from now on they’ll be your light, your inner strength.
Grief is one of the few experiences where words don’t help, where they can’t break the barrier loss creates. You withdraw within a place buried so deep within yourself you end up wondering if you’ll ever be able to find your way back out.
But some things help. Some things get through you and bring you back to life, like ugly crying nestled in the shoulder of a lover, the indestructible power of women friendships, all of them building a protective wall around you to shelter you until the rawness subsides, each of them going out of their way to see a smile upon your face. This isn’t squad dynamics, this is the very particular understanding and acknowledging experience of pain women have, for better or worse.
Love and time and the iron clad belief that the people who left are loved, and thus still there, safely kept in your heart.

Motherhood and Women’s Liberation: Part 1

Reading different books, listening to health practitioners and generally going out and about in public, it seems that everyone and their mother have assumptions and expectations on how women who decide to have kids should live their motherhood and how they should parent their kid.

It seems that nothing excites society more than discussing a woman’s right to decide if she wants to have children, how many, the spacing of said children, how she would prefer to give birth, how she would decide to rear said children, feed them and generally participate in their well-being.

Men who choose not to have kids are not seen as denatured, heartless monsters while fathers, for some reason, get a lot less judgement and a lot less heat about their parenting choices. Patriarchy for the win, my friend. So good to be a man in this day and age.

Being a feminist, I was afraid that becoming a mother would make me something of a traitor to the sisterhood. After all, don’t kids suck your freedom dry? The fear is real my friends. However, being a feminist can coexist with being a mother, so we’re saved and out of the woods. The thirst to explore the relationships between women’s liberation and motherhood did not leave me, so embark with me on some ramblings.

What interests me is the intersection between feminism and women’s liberation and social expectations of what motherhood should be. I will therefore start a series on feminism and motherhood and try to unpack all the conflicting thoughts that I struggle with on a daily basis. This should include the choice to stay at home, the case of working mothers, ‘parenting trends’. Dynamics within homoparental households should also be part of these series, although not written by me.

Patriarchal expectations of mothers are well -known and quite straightforward in their claims: women who bear children (and make no mistake, under patriarchal rule, all women SHOULD bear children) should stay home and tend to them, becoming homemakers while men provide financially for their family. These strictly defined gender roles seem to accommodate many women, who clearly state that they prefer being a stay at home mother to being gainfully employed, arguing that there is no greater job that rearing a family. Others decide to stay home for financial reasons: these are often women whose potential earnings would not or would barely cover childcare costs, and who thus decide to stay home to save money. Others have no choice but to stay home as they are unable to access quality childcare in their living area. A new emerging trend is the work at home mother, when a woman decides to start her own business or to work freelance, as a means to both earn money and manage to stay home to rear children. Truth is, there is not one size fits all reason to decide to stay home and raise children, and each woman probably has a wealth of reasons behind her choice (is it really a choice if you’re coerced into it by inequalities created by capitalism and patriarchal beliefs imposed to you?).

While involved dads and stay at home dads are becoming more and more socially accepted in certain circles, we are aiming at discussing here the burden of social expectations on women pertaining to motherhood, so we will not discuss further fathers in this post, except perhaps to say that whenever a dad decides to stay home, he is celebrated as the height of progressiveness, but when women decide to do so they are either judged or barely noticed as this is the bare minimum that is socially expected of them.

But back to mothers who face the choice to stay home. Different feminist currents hold different opinions when it comes to women choosing to stay at home: for some, stay at home mothers only replicate the age old gender stereotype that women are either biologically programmed to rear children or that they are, by essence, better skilled to do so than men, as evidenced by this article on ‘The retro wife’, published in 2013 in New York magazine. In this article, some women claimed that they were feminists who managed to be fulfilled by staying at home. The problem here is the justification they were providing: indeed, upon reading it, one could debate endlessly about their definition of feminism. Case in point, this quote by one of said woman, Kelly Makino:

She (Kelly) believes that every household needs one primary caretaker, that women are, broadly speaking, better at that job than men, and that no amount of professional success could possibly console her if she felt her two young children—­were not being looked after the right way. The maternal instinct is a real thing, Kelly argues: Girls play with dolls from childhood, so “women are raised from the get-go to raise children successfully. When we are moms, we have a better toolbox.”

Someone please inform this woman that feminism doesn’t mean replicating and reciting stale gender stereotypes and marketing them as radical ideas. The very idea that ‘girls play with dolls’ needs to be challenged and turned around, not celebrated and used as a justification for women to remain home and take care of children. As for the maternal instinct, Elisabeth Badinter (French feminist who is wrong on many other things, such as on her position on wearing the veil in France) is right when she states in her book (Le Conflit: La Femme et la Mère) that it’s a construct patriarchy invented to further essentialize women and reinforce the idea that women are natural born mothers. The idea that every woman possesses some sort of natural instinct that will magically lead her to be a good mother makes me roll my eyes: when a your child is born, you may or may not fall head over heels for them. It might be love at first sight, it might be a process, what is true is that you don’t know what in the name of FUCK you’re doing. And that’s ok, children teach you, the parents (as in, both people involved in this, not only the mother) to become parents.

Others currents make feminism about choice, and letting women decide what is best for themselves. My concern and question is: to which extent are we really free in our choices? When does internalized sexism begins and choices end? I honestly don’t have a definite answer on that. As feminists, our job is to keep questioning gender stereotypes first and foremost in our daily, private lives, and to keep questioning why we do things the way we do them. In all truth, I find myself fulfilling traditional gender roles more than I care to mention, so to some degree I am definitely not immune to internalized sexism. I’m working on it though, by keeping my eyes open and reflecting on my actions, every day (yes, feminism means that you can stop enjoying anything lightly, it’s awesome, you should try it).

At the same time, if we’re ranting about the difference of treatment between mothers and fathers by society and about the absence of judgement enjoyed by men, we should not add on to the already consequent pile of judgement faced by mothers, staying at home or not. The main difference, to me, is how we frame things. If a stay at home mother comes forward saying her true happiness is to stay with her kids and that she is most fulfilled in her role as a mother, without pretending that it’s a god given role or something nature and society expect of her, or that she would be the best at it because she’s a woman, I’d be first in line cheering her on and struggling at her side for her work to be valued, for make no mistake, it is WORK, and for her economic contribution to be recognized at public policy level as well as in the private sphere. This however should not mean that all household chores should be devolved to the woman ‘because she stays at home’. If we really are set on staying at home while challenging accepted gender norms, our actions need to reflect this need for change: that means equal involvement in everything household and child related by the partner. This decision also needs to be reversible, it needs to come from a point of understanding between partners that a woman doesn’t do so because she is programmed, because she is better skilled at it because she’s a woman, or because this is how things need to be done. A stay at home mother should have the possibility to go back to work should she wish to do so, which means several things: access to jobs, access to education, access to quality, affordable, childcare, and the absence of discrimination based on her motherhood status while looking for work. The responsibility to be the primary caretaker of children should also be shared, and flexible: today the mother can stay home, but tomorrow the dad can too. In such a flexible, evolutive framework, choice can be made possible.

This shift in accepted gender roles needs to be coupled with a struggle for social justice. Women are more likely to occupy precarious jobs, to be unemployed, to be hardest hit by economic crises, to be paid less than their male counterparts for the same job and the same qualifications and to face significantly more discrimination in the workplace that men. This gender specific situation is to link to the very nature of capitalism to create inequalities, therefore one can not tackle gender inequality without actively fighting the system allowing them to stay in place, capitalism.

Next post will be on working mothers