Dirty Laundry

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.