‘Being a woman anywhere is dangerous.’
– Mona Eltahawy, Headscarves and Hymens
Mona Eltahawy, the woman who makes me believe in the true essence and purpose of feminism, fighting with religion, misogyny and the ideologies that we all are surrounded by and maybe ignore or fail to notice about women and how they depress women of even the simplest of activities like driving in Saudi Arabia or something even more personal and relatable: the choice of clothes.
Who is Mona Eltahawy?
Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian-American journalist and an award-winning columnist, international public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues and Global feminism.
She was born on 1 August, 1967 in Port Said, Egypt. Her family moved to UK when she was 7 and then to Saudi Arabia when she was 15.
On 21 April,2015 Eltahawy’s first book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East needs a Sexual Revolution was published as an extension of her essay she wrote for Foreign Policy in 2012, targeting the misogyny in Arab society and was titled ‘Why do they hate us?’ where “they” is men.
The consequences of the essay
This essay threw Mona Eltahawy in the spotlight and sparked a lot of interest and discussions about women’s right in the Middle East and became one of my favourite pieces that depict, how the misogynistic society generalises women and subjects them to live a life according to the ideals seem appropriate by them.
One example from her essay that she wrote to prove this point was of Yemen where she wrote:
“Horrific news reports about 12-year-old girls dying in childbirth do little to stem the tide of child marriage there. Instead, demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, fueled by clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.”
She has also taken a dig on countries like Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Egypt, calling out the misogyny and the crude way of following a toxic mix of culture and religion. She also raised the issue of Female genital mutilation in her essay as well as in the various talk shows and debates that she has been a part of.
I was introduced to her through a debate on Aljazeera related to her controversial essay and her new book and what a glorious way to have seen her. In this debate she calmly keeps her points and simply with examples and deep-set knowledge of what she thinks and knows is the problem gets over every obstacle and questions or even doubts thrown her way.
On November 24,2011 while covering the Tahrir square protests, she was beaten by the Egyptian riot police, breaking her left arm and right hand and was also sexually assaulted. She was detained for 12 hours by the interior ministry and military intelligence.
Her statement about how she was traumatised into being a feminist is one of the most saddening and realistic statements out there about women who had to go through experiences that shaped their mind to be who they are today. But even after several trials and tribulations, protests and numerous incidents of abuse against women sadly what she wrote in her book about being a woman still remains true.
The Newsweek Magazine had named her one of the ‘150 fearless women of 2012’. She was also featured by Time magazine with other activists from around the world as ‘People of the year’. Arabian Business magazine named her as one of the ‘100 most powerful Arab women’.
Apart from the controversial essay she had written for Foreign Policy, her articles have been featured in many leading daily’s like The Washington Post, The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor and The Miami Herald.
Her first book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East need a Sexual Revolution is a further look and study, an extension to her controversial essay that looks deep into the women’s issue in the middle east and tries to explain the two revolutions that women have to fight since the Arab spring: one against the oppressive regime and the other being the social and political system that treat women as second class citizen.
Her second book ‘The seven necessary sins for women and girls’ released last year and advocates a muscular, out loud approach to teach women and girls to harness their power through the seven sins that girls are taught not to commit. As she famously says angry women are free women, anger being one of the sins not expected by women. It’s a bold manifesto for feminists to dismantle patriarchy instead of teaching girls and women to tolerate it.