TRIGGER WARNER: SEXUAL ASSAULT, SEXUAL VIOLENCE, STATE VIOLENCE
ON MONA ELTAHAWY
Egyptian-American feminist, journalist, and activist Mona Eltahawy has written extensively on women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa and women’s liberation. She has written two books, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution and The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, and has written for the New York Times, the Guardian, and other companies.
Eltahawy was born in the United Kingdom and lived in Glasgow until she was seven. Then, her parents moved to Saudi Arabia, where Eltahawy states she was “traumatized into feminism.” She describes how her mother and siblings were now dependent on her father to take them everywhere or were segregated into the back of the bus when using public transport. She described her experiences living in Saudi Arabia as if she had “moved to a different planet whose inhabitants fervently wishes women didn’t exist” due to the extreme misogyny present in Saudi society and the Male Guardianship system.”
Her experiences growing up in Saudi Arabia led her to realize that there is an obsession in Arab society with controlling women and their sexualities, assuming that women will be sexually insatiable creatures without regulation. The policing of women’s bodies and the dehumanization of women who act “immodestly” or “dishonorably” contribute to the toxic environment that Eltahawy grew up in. When she was living in Saudi Arabia, she was on Hajj, Islam’s holy pilgrimage, which every Muslim is required to go on at least once in their lives. A pilgrim and a security guard groped Eltahawy.
After discovering feminist texts in Jeddah, she found that the Middle East has its feminist history and started in the West. This would be a common theme in Eltahawy’s future work—the Global South and the Middle East have their unique history and movements that are not derived from similar Western movements.
When she was fifteen, she moved to Cairo, Egypt, to study at the American University in Cairo. She received her bachelor’s degree then a master’s in Mass Communications with a journalism concentration in 1990. She has lived in Jerusalem, Jeddah, Cairo, and New York City. During the Arab Spring, she traveled to Cairo from New York City to engage in Tahrir Square protests. At Mohamed Mahmoud square, she was groped by a fellow protestor, and when she began beating him, riot police began dragging her away, beating her, breaking and fracturing her two arms. She was interrogated in the Interior Ministry for twelve hours with her broken arms and tweeted about her arrest, which led to her release.
Mona Eltahawy’s first book was called Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, which detailed one of the cornerstones of her thinking: the idea of the “double revolution.” Eltahawy asserts that during the time of revolution, like during the Arab Spring in Egypt, women’s rights take a backseat to the perceived “real issues” the people are protesting against. The dominant belief is that once the protestors defeat the day’s regime, which is oppressive in not providing civil liberties and other fundamental freedoms, upon achieved liberation from said violations of freedom, women’s rights will follow as a secondary issue. However, this virtually never comes to fruition. As Eltahawy puts it, “But for women, there have always been two regimes to undertake: one fought with men against regimes that oppress everyone, and a second against the misogyny that pervades the region.” Eltahawy describes that the same men who protested alongside women in Tahrir Square now assert that women’s rights are not a fundamental issue to address.
TRIFECTA OF OPPRESSION
Mona Eltahawy further describes the concept called the “Trifecta of Oppression,” meaning that the state, the streets, and the homework in tandem with each other to oppress women. The state and overarching political and social structures like the patriarchy oppress women, but its reinforced and reproduced on the societal level with misogynist social norms or within familial forms.
MONA ELTAHAWY QUOTES
“A male editor I once worked with tried to dissuade me from the personal: “Who care about what happened to you?” The most subversive thing a woman can do is talk about her life as if it really matters. It does.”
“Why do those men hate us? They hate us because they need us, they fear us, they understand how much control it takes to keep us in line, to keep us, good girls, with our hymens intact until it’s time for them to fuck us into mothers who raise future generations of misogynists to forever fuel their patriarchy. They hate us because we are at once their temptation and their salvation from that patriarchy, which they must sooner or later realize hurts them, too. They hate us because they know that once we rid ourselves of the alliance of State and Street that works in tandem to control us, we will demand a reckoning.”
“The battles over women’s bodies can be won only by a revolution of the mind.”
“Being a woman anywhere is dangerous.”
“To the girls of the Middle East: Be immodest, rebel, disobey, and know you deserve to be free.”
Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy
The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls by Mona Eltahawy