So asks Mona Eltahawy in an article about women in Arab countries. The article is a wail, a scream, a plea to understand why the circles which define women’s lives in those countries are so oppressively small, why their walls are so tall and so heavily and religiously guarded. Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American journalist, reported having been brutally assaulted by the riot police in Cairo last fall, and this piece is not only about the status of women in Arab countries. It is about anger, about fear and about betrayal.
Eltahawy’s despair should be taken seriously. Yes, she quotes only the most extreme evidence in support of her thesis. But the events she describes took place. Twelve-year-old girls are dying in childbirth in Yemen because child marriages are legal. A woman caught driving in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to ten lashes and needed a pardon to avoid them, another woman, gang-raped, was sentenced to prison for having entered a car driven by a man not related to her. And in Morocco, a sixteen-year-old did drink poison because she had been forced to marry her rapist (which the law allows for him not to be punished for the rape) who then continued beating her.
These events are real. They do not describe the lives of every woman in those countries but they are newsworthy events. So is the outcome of the Arab spring for the women of Egypt. One quarter of the parliament consists of salafis whose agenda about women truly is medieval and the number of women in the parliament is miniscule. The next crown prince of Saudi Arabia is rumored to have truly frightening views on women, and the victories of various Islamist parties cause women’s rights activists worry and sleepless nights.
Eltahawy asks why the Islamists hate women so much. Her wail resonated with me, after my recent travels on the misogynistic hate sites (though the two issues are not intended to be seen as equated here). I had to go for several long walks to re-settle my brain and heart after those, to remind myself about the real wide world out there, about people who are kind and caring and logical.
And that gave me an inkling about the hatred of women. However it is created, it is stoked in the furnace of like-minded people, increased by exposure to similar arguments and made moral by the support of religion or pseudo-science. It is not then seen as hate but as god’s commands, as necessary for stability, as The Way Evolution Intended It. As justified and obvious, even to many women. The more those messages are allowed to stand uncontested, the more the hate settles in, curls itself into a circle like cat and purrs out its justifying messages. Daylight is the best sanitizer and silence in this context is like darkness.
Whether what Eltahawy describes is truly a hatred of women or of uppity women or something more complicated can be debated. But it certainly is based on the arguments about The Other.
Read the rest of this article at Echidne of the Snakes.