Headscarves and hymens: Why the Middle East needs a sexual revolution

Mona Eltahawy by Personaldemocracy. cc by-sa 2.0

Over the years I’ve had ambivalent feelings toward feminism.

However, this has changed markedly as I’ve encountered the work of people like Egyptian-American journalist and feminist commentator Mona Eltahawy, whose book Headscarves and Hymens states the case for “why the Middle East needs a sexual revolution”…and arguably a reformation.

This book came up on my radar because some argue it’s a key feminist work! And such works are important because they bring feminist issues to the forefront of the simple male mind, making me much more sympathetic toward the feminist movement and forgiving feminism’s sins against me…

After all, as a child, I blamed feminism for mother forbidding me to play with the muscular toy figurine G.I Joe, the plastic embodiment of the American military industrial complex.

Mother didn’t want me corrupted by a perverted depiction of masculinity, which promoted jingoistic American nationalism and war.

However, as I’ve grown older, and gotten (somewhat) educated, I came to realize that feminism is critical to the evolution of civilisation…

For most of history, the “fairer sex” has been subjugated by wicked men like G.I Joe, who deprive women of their civil liberties and sit on the couch in their horrible underwear, with their feet on the Ikea coffee table.

Which bring’s my trivial childhood recollections to an end, because sadly, the political, economic and social circumstances many women endure the world over are harsh and lamentable… such as those depicted in this read…

Headscarves and HymensIn this book, Eltahawy argues that throughout most of the Middle East, women experience on-going political, economic and social subjugation. She claims this is a region which doesn’t uphold plurality, individuality, autonomy and tolerance: the principles which underpin Women’s Rights in various countries.

There is a catalogue of personal experiences and statistics which Eltahawy refers to in order to buttress her impassioned claims.

Her travels into Egypt’s social and political cocktail of unrest gave her a multitude of insights into what many female citizens face there: simply walking through public spaces and riding trains means enduring a gauntlet of ungoverned, regular and almost casual sexual harassment. Women have no recourse against this because the Egyptian state doesn’t seem to care about this sexually violent culture.

Further to this, Eltahawy was arbitrarily imprisoned, sexually assaulted and beaten by Egyptian police after she partook in protests there.

Eltahawy argues thousands of women share these kinds of experiences throughout the entire Middle East every day.

She details how women have little economic and legal mobility in the region. Custody disputes over children, domestic violence, divorce and succession etc are regulated and determined by laws derived from archaic religious statutes, which favour men and almost completely deprive women of any control over family or assets.

Even basic privileges are denied, such as driving, participation in sports, wearing make up (because it “prompts sexual harassment’), and travelling alone without a male family member. Much of which is overseen by religious police throughout the region.

Elathawy argues this totalitarianism is the result of ultra-conservative Wahhabist and Sunni Islamic doctrines which are espoused throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa.

Critics have argued that her views are analytically shallow – that the Middle East is not culturally and theologically homogeneous, and that she posits mono-causal explanations that are borne out of her own Western-centricity which is covered by a misguided feminist veil.

However, that being said, a fact check on Pew, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International websites seem to support her claims.

In any case, this book has shone a light on my own white, male privilege, reminding me that feminism is a critical movement for humankind, and not just a force which wants to send young boys to school in Roman sandals.

Have a read and see what you think – of course your amazing Christchurch City Libraries network has copies you can borrow.

Our blog is a forum for public debate and as such we welcome your comments and feedback on our posts. Opinions expressed in posts and in the comments are not necessarily those of the organisation. 

One thought on “Headscarves and hymens: Why the Middle East needs a sexual revolution

  1. curiosetta 26 April 2016 / 9:45 pm

    > For most of history, the “fairer sex” has been subjugated by wicked men

    For a start you are framing all the women of history as passive ‘acted upon’ objects with no agency who are being controlled by all powerful men (AKA The Patriarchy). The feminist narrative is essentially a male power fantasy. It is hardly ‘progressive’ to define men as all-powerful, invulnerable and full of agency and to define women as essentially oversized children under their paternalistic care.

    Feminist ideology strips women (past and present) of their agency, in order to relieve women (past and present) of their social responsibility for co-creating society (including gender roles). Then feminism dumps all of women’s agency and social responsibility onto the shoulder’s of men so that men are responsible not only for their own actions, but also for women’s fate too (he for she).

    Then finally – having stripped women of their agency and handed it to men, and then demanded men take care of women by providing resources and protection and generally using their strong paternalistic, chivalrous arms to ‘lift women up’ (he for she) – feminists then go on to complain that men run society!

    The reason why men run society is because throughout history women have demanded they do so…. not least because running society is hard bloody work, which often leads to an early grave.

    > who deprive women of their civil liberties

    Women in the west have more legal rights and special privileges than men. Men have no legal rights which women do not also have, usually with extra rights on top (he for she). Women have many legal rights which men have yet to achieve (divorce law, reproductive autonomy, child access, genital integrity etc etc).

    In the developing world women have less rights than in the west, but so too do the men. Feminists cannot define women as oppressed in the west (because women have far more legal rights and a much higher standard of living than men in the west), so in order to maintain their much needed victim status they compare women of the developing world with men of the developed world and claim women are oppressed. In doing so feminists are exploiting these women to promote their own victim narrative..

    “Intersectional feminism’ is essentially feminists taking the hardships, challenges and (real or imaginary) oppression of other marginalised groups such as black people, trans people and homosexuals and then wearing their ‘victimhood’ like a cape. Even when the (real or imaginary) oppression has nothing to do with women, intersectional feminism makes sure women (usually middle class western women) are perceived as the primary victims, and thus the most deserving of special treatment and free stuff.

    This appropriation of other people’s hardships, or even victimhood, has been going on for more than a century. The original feminists who held the first women’s conference at Seneca Falls actually argued that white, western women had it worse than blacks of that era.

    > and sit on the couch in their horrible underwear

    If society really was male dominated, and men really were the privileged sex then the shopping malls would be full of shops selling elaborate, expensive, impractical, vanity underwear (and overwear) to men… while women had to make do with plain, utilitarian clothing – as befitted their roles as society’s default labour class. And it would be women slumped on the sofa after a hard day in the factor or warehouse, in their utilitarian underwear and it would be men in the kitchen in their fine clothing and elaborate hair dos and long nails who would be fixing the woman a sandwich and feeling her comfortable, protected, financially supported lifestyle was ‘oppression’.

    .> with their feet on the Ikea coffee table.

    A table which his hard earned wages will have likely paid for…. and a table she will likely get to keep (along with the house and the kids) should she ever decide to divorce him. Men have always been expected to be the primary wage earners and even today very few women are willing to support a man financially. Men are expected to earn at least half the income, and most women like their men to earn significantly more than that.

    > In this book, Eltahawy argues that throughout most of the Middle East, women experience on-going political, economic and social subjugation.

    As do the men, but nobody cares about them.

    > She claims this is a region which doesn’t uphold plurality, individuality, autonomy and tolerance: the principles which underpin Women’s Rights in various countries.

    Feminists do not support plurality, individuality, autonomy and tolerance when it comes to men. They support men’s ongoing social, political and economic obligations to women (he for she).

    > Her travels into Egypt’s social and political cocktail of unrest gave her a multitude of insights into what many female citizens face there: simply walking through public spaces and riding trains means enduring a gauntlet of ungoverned, regular and almost casual sexual harassment.

    In every part of the world – including the west – men are far more at risk of violence in public than women. Women are more likely to be cat called or even have their asses felt up etc… whereas men are more likely to be beaten up, stabbed etc ….. assuming they are not killed or injured in the workplace or sent off to war to die.

    In the west 95% of workplace deaths are men, yet the pressing issues for feminists include being called ‘bossy’ the having to endure the A/C set too low for that flimsy blouse and skirt combo you rolled up to work wearing.

    > Women have no recourse against this because the Egyptian state doesn’t seem to care about this sexually violent culture.

    Men live under the same system. But their suffering and hardships are invisible to feminists. He for she.

    > Further to this, Eltahawy was arbitrarily imprisoned, sexually assaulted and beaten by Egyptian police after she partook in protests there.

    You mean she was treated like your average male protestor is treated?!!!!!!!!

    Ofen gender equality really sucks for women. Who’d have thought?!

    > Eltahawy argues thousands of women share these kinds of experiences throughout the entire Middle East every day.

    And the men’s similar (typically more brutal) experiences count for nothing. Men are all powerful, privileged and invulnerable after all, right?

    You see ‘male privilege’ and ‘male power’ is not so much a COMPLAINT of feminists, it is a REQUIREMENT of feminists. They DEMAND men FEEL privileged and powerful, so that men will never feel ENTITLED to complain about their lot in life, and will always direct all of their empathy and sympathy towards women (he for she).

    For example in the west men have less legal rights than women and score lower according to every criteria for measuring privilege (life expectancy, homelessness, suicide rates, risk of violent assault, treatment in the legal system, treatment by the police and courts, access to public services etc)…. yet most men FEEL they have it better than women. This is because they have had this idea of ‘male privilege’ shoved down their throats since they were born. Likewise, most women FEEL less privileged and more vulnerable to violence etc because that is the narrative they’ve been force fed since they were born.

    > She details how women have little economic and legal mobility in the region.

    Because most paid work is still unacceptable to women. When technology improves and there are more nice indoor office jobs, Egyptian women will have more economic and legal/ social mobility as a consequence…. same as happened to western women. Eventually Egyptian women will start complaining that the A/C is oppressing them too, and this will indicate they are now so privileged that all their complaints are trivial.

    > Custody disputes over children, domestic violence, divorce and succession etc are regulated and determined by laws derived from archaic religious statutes, which favour men and almost completely deprive women of any control over family or assets.

    However archaic and primitive a social/ legal system is, it ALWAYS favours women and children’s wellbeing over men’s. That is what patriarchal societies are all about – women and children first. When technology is primitive, resources are scarce and standard of living is low the gender roles for men AND women are necessarily strict to ensure women and children do not go without, because that is what survival of the species relies on.

    Men’s role is to be the disposable sex, providing the hard ‘outer shell’ (a ‘womb’ of infrastructure, if you like) of protection for women and children, and breaking their backs to provide women and children with resources and protect them from outside threats – be they bandits, or natural catastrophes.

    Feminism IS the very same traditionalist gender roles, but without the concern for children’s well being (which was the whole point of traditionalism). Feminism has turned ‘women and children first’ into ‘he for she’. Now instead of taking care of children, we abandon them to daycare workers and then drug them when they go off the rails due to neglect.

    Feminists are women who have chosen to marry the state (men with guns) rather than husbands (men with jobs). Whoever women choose to marry (ie rely on for protection and resources), ends up dominating society as a result – at women’s request. In the past it was ordinary hard working dutiful men, and in a post feminist society it is the state…. the state represents the MOST power hungry, immoral, sociopathic ad self serving men and women in society. And feminists have decided to put them in charge. The state is happy to assume the role of paternalistic provider to women because this role can be used to increase the power of the state and usurp men’s roles… while still handing ordinary working men (and working women too) the bill for both feminists’ demands AND the growth of the state and all of their wars of empire etc.

    Eventually as men get further and further marginalised and the state/ feminists continue to tap them for resources the economic and society will collapse. At this point feminists will once again appeal to men directly for resources and protection, by ditching the red hair and problem glasses and putting on a nice dress and emphasising their femininity (fragility, fertility)… and the whole cycle will repeat.

    > Even basic privileges are denied, such as driving, participation in sports, wearing make up (because it “prompts sexual harassment’), and travelling alone without a male family member. Much of which is overseen by religious police throughout the region.

    Yes and studies show that the majority of women from those cultures WANT those gender roles to remain in place. Naturally, you are framing those roles as oppression in order to portray women as victims…. but we can just as easily frame them in terms of MEN’S obligations to women…. the obligation to be her personal chauffeur and chaperone for example.

    Suppose men in the west didn’t drive. And it was western women’s gender role to chauffeur men about to the shops and to accompany men in public to make sure men were protected from violence (after all men are more likely to encounter violence in the west). Would you define this as the oppression of men?!!! … or would you say it was oppressive to women for them to have to be serve men in this way?

    In middle eastern countries women exclude themselves from men’s lives, even to the point of hiding their faces. Men are taught that masturbation and porn are immoral. Thus women become a forbidden fruit – even in terms of basic social interaction, let alone anything more intimate.

    The only way men are able to get close to a woman is to first agree to sign a contract agreeing to provide for her and act as her personal chauffeur and servant for life. If he does this he gets to see her face and have a relationship with her, but only while in the family home, which is where she gets to ‘rule the roost’.

    Whenever a society lacks technology and has a low standard of living, this is how gender roles are set up. Men must provide for women and children and restricting men’s access to women until they contractually agree to be providers for life is how society ensures women and children are provided for

    Only feminists could frame this as ‘male privilege’. In reality it is ‘male disposability’. It is men acting as utilities for women and children. He for she.

    > Elathawy argues this totalitarianism is the result of ultra-conservative Wahhabist and Sunni Islamic doctrines which are espoused throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa.

    Yes religion has always performed a social role. When the middle east and Africa catch up with the west and replace authoritarian religion with authoritarian government middle eastern women will no longer need to control men by withholding their feminine charms, and then making men sign a contract before he is allowed to ‘know a woman’. Instead they will act like western women and go out clubbing and getting drunk and having casual sex safe in the knowledge that if they gt knocked up they can have an abortion or get the state to force the man to pay up for the next 18 years, as well as get the state to force EVERYONE in society to pay her money to live as a single mother.

    Western women only gave up being demure and chaste because they can get guaranteed ‘free money’ regardless of what mess they get themselves into ……. and so western women can behave however they like without fear of negative consequences. Girl power!!!!!

    The fact that the explosion of single motherhood and ‘man deserts’ (whole districts full of single mothers all on welfare) is destroying children’s lives and destroying the very fabric of society is not an issue for feminists. They have no concern for children, and no sense of social/ moral responsibility.

    Feminism is just a more radical and violent form of traditionalism. The government is the most violent, immoral and patriarchal institution ever conceived, and it is the institution feminists rely on for everything.

    Traditionalism + Big Gov = feminism.

    > Critics have argued that her views are analytically shallow – that the Middle East is not culturally and theologically homogeneous, and that she posits mono-causal explanations that are borne out of her own Western-centricity which is covered by a misguided feminist veil.

    Sound like valid criticisms to me.

    > In any case, this book has shone a light on my own white, male privilege,

    As a white male living (I presume) in the west, you have less legal rights than women, not more. Sexual discrimination against you (as a man) is not only legal, but encouraged as a good thing and called ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘affirmative action’.

    As a white person you are the last race on the planet it is OK to discriminate against too, as well as direct hate speech towards. IN fact the very notion that you cannot BE racist towards a white person or that it is ‘reverse’ racism) is itself racism.

    Just about every instance of persecution or genocide in history has been justified using the narrative that the target group was in some way ‘privileged’ and therefore they have it coming to them (AKA social justice). Therefore it is reasonable to put the blanket accusation of ‘privilege’ based on identity (race, gender etc) in the category of ‘hate speech’, because that is how it has always been used in the past.

    The feminist narrative defines men in exactly the same way that the nazis defined jews (privileged, self serving, furtive, conspiracy to control society for their exclusive benefit, especially in terms of business and finance) as well as the narrative used against black people (savages, beasts, a threat to civilised society, lurking on every street corner with rape in their eyes).

    Feminists define men as privileged, self serving, furtive, conspiracy to control society for their exclusive benefit, especially in terms of business and finance as well as savages, beasts, a threat to civilised society, lurking on every street corner with rape in their eyes.

    Both of these narratives were used successfully to erode society’s collective empathy towards these groups, in order to make persecuting these groups easier. Without any sense of empathy in society it is easy for a few radicals to persecute these groups, and society will either help or at least not oppose it.

    Currently, thanks to over a century of feminism, society has all but lost any collective ability to empathise with men. Even men seem incapable of empathising with other men’s lot in life. This does not bode well for men….. if history is anything to go by…

    > reminding me that feminism is a critical movement for humankind

    Do you really think that or are you just trying to gain female/ social approval by renouncing your (alleged) patriarchal privileges and (alleged) inherent misogyny and rape-y-ness as a man?

    Feminism says men are born in sin, and only by joining the church of feminism and sacrificing their power and resources for the benefit of feminists can men hope to redeem themselves….. it’s not very original is it?

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