The Greatest Threat: Women who want to work and gasp! Have children

People who follow my blogs usually know my style. I like law and statistics and facts I can build my argument on.
I like reading, I like the written word, I like everything that comes in print.
But sometimes, like, right now, I don’t really care about statistics and facts and things. I care about people and about their stories and nothing interests me more than the stories of women.
Women who get screwed over by patriarchy on a daily basis. Today I read yet again another article of a pregnant unemployed woman who was looking for a job only to be turned down with various degrees of contempt, condescension, anger and even outrage.
How dare she look for a job (while her unemployment benefits will dry out in a couple of months) while she’s pregnant? I mean, that fucking nerve of hers.
Thing is, as I grow older, I realize than there is actually something that bosses fear more than economic recession, lack of funding or the Apocalypse and that is Young. Women.

See, they’re faced with a desperate conundrum the minute they lay eyes on us.
We’re good at our jobs. We’re educated. We have experience. We have communications skills, we’re patient enough to put up with all kinds of various crap (trust me, I the woman whose first boss ever took to lunch to talk to about her affair with their common senior boss). We’re good, don’t get them wrong, we really are, there’s only one tiny glitch with us.
We. might. Want.to.reproduce.
Never mind the fact that this usually takes place with some kind of male presence involved. Men are not a problem, I mean they can go on and have 23 children and all they’ll get will be a pat on the back, a hearty handshake and a stiff drink. Let us celebrate the manhood of the new dad and graciously give him one or two days off and consider ourselves grand. The fact that said father might love to actually stay home and spend some time with his child is not a point of discussion. He shall drink and shut up. Thanks thanks thanks patriarchy.
The young woman, on the other hand, is a right pain in the ass. I mean, for fuck’s sake, she carries the child, that means she might feel ill sometimes, never mind the fucking fact she’s building and harboring a PERSON in her body, pah, that’s nothing. Then she has the terrible nerve of taking care of her new born child and get some rest and that means the big THREAT OVER THE WORLD: THE MATERNITY LEAVE.
Over the past year I’ve been hearing and living so many stories of women who had to endure the crass discrimination and humiliation of management trying to make these remarks pass as honesty that I’ve decided that we shall be silent no more.

Friend A has to endure stupid jokes by her boss telling her that ‘I’ll call you just to make sure what you’re doing with your husband’, and that ‘you know a pregnancy could ‘really fuck up the organisation’ and ‘oh the thing is legally there is nothing we can do about it’. Same boss also asked very subtly friend A what her doctor’s appointment was about, elegantly stating ‘as long as it doesn’t involve an ultrasound’, which is hilarious when you think about it because you can have fucking cancer so long as you don’t have an ultrasound and you’re not pregnant because that would be the real fucking tragedy. Same boss again (yep we have a winner), also goes out with people from other organisations, has a bit to drink and then goes on to confess his worries ‘I’m afraid friend A might get pregnant’. Trouble is, he confessed his worries to another woman, who not only defended Friend A’s absolute right to have children if she decided it was the right time for her but who also came back and told everything to Friend A. Women’s solidarity, in your fucking face.

Friend B was being interviewed when the two lovely men interviewing her beat around the bush for a bit until they finally managed to pop the question and, asked her er, if she were stable, and then, when she would not cooperate and do the job for them, articulated painfully if she had any plans to become pregnant, underlining that ‘they knew it was not ethical to ask such a question’. Also, and that was a little thing on the side, how would she feel about managing her assistant, you know the woman who used to occupy the position they’re offering but got downgraded because she had a child? Friend B held their stare, coldly, ever so coldly, and told them that yes, in fact, it was not an appropriate question to ask at all. Needless to say, she was offered the job. Needless to say, she did not take it.

Just a heads up: in Switzerland and in France, prospective employers have no right whatsoever to ask people they interview if they have plans on getting pregnant. If they do nonetheless, you can lie.

Another friend of a friend was cleverly fired when she announced her pregnancy. I say cleverly because they managed ‘not to renew her contract’, causing her so much stress her doctor warned her about weight issues and its potential impact on her baby.

Another boss told Friend C that taking one month of unpaid leave (her contract grants her a year. That’s twelve months) might jeopardize her job.

Yet another boss lost it on a former colleague when she announced her pregnancy.

I have so many other examples that come to mind but the result is the same: women fought and are still fighting to get access to jobs that interest them, just because they, just as men, need and want to work. Patriarchal beliefs and behaviors seem to wait for them lurking around the corner to keep them outside the big boys game, and pregnancy is just another pretext for society to keep women on the side.

Thing is, it might sound as shocking news to some, but women have the right to work and the right to have children if they want to. It’s as simple as this and there are laws that protect these rights and no matter how hard you try to pressure women into not having children or having them but stay at home, they will still claim their right to do both.

And let us be clear: this is not merely a privilege bestowed upon women. This is fair and just. It’s not women who have to adapt to a flawed, unjust and discriminatory society: it’s society that has to change.

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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