On my wedding day, my mothers friend – an Iraqi woman – leans over and asks me in all seriousness “Did your mother explain to you about the birds and the bees?”. I didn’t know how to respond. If I say yes then I will look like a slut and if I say no then I look like a retard because what 21 year old doesn’t know where babies come from, at least in a purely theoretical way.
I was reminded of this little incident, that I can laugh about now, while reading this article on ShakoMako website. A young Iraqi woman residing in Canada is describing a dilemma that I believe many arab women face when they immigrate to the west. She lives in a country where young people date, her parents and society tell her that she is not supposed to even notice young men until after she is married, she is also told that only an arab and muslim man is suitable for marriage and finally since she is a member of an immigrant community the pickings are slim in terms of young men in the suitable category. So what is she supposed to do? Hold on to arabic traditions which are applied to women strictly and men very leniently? Attempt to blend in and live like a Canadian and ignore her parents and society? I don’t know, there are no easy answers but I sure sympathize with her dilemma. Offcourse, such a subject is bound to raise a few eye brows, even in Canada. Notice this article that is harshly criticizing the young women for daring to even discussing the subject. How dare she even suggest that a young woman might have these forbidden thoughts? We arab woman are supposed to be retards, devoid of feelings and emotions, innocent angels, with no knowledge of facts of life. When given a choice to be a slut or a retard which would you choose? Unfortunately our culture doesn’t allow for much in between the two absolutes for women.
Which brings me to the next subjects: the feminist movement in the middle east. If you thought that Gloria Steinman or Naomi Wolf are radical then wait until you hear about Arab feminists.
Fatima Al Marnissi is a morocan writer and academic who dared to write her PhD about the conditions of women in Arabic and Islamic culture. She was fired from the university she was teaching in at the time, recieved many death threats and finally had to leave Morocco out of fear for her life.
My second hero is Nawal Al Sa’adawi and Egyptian writer who dared to write stories about arab women depicting realistic situations. Her medical license was withdrawn, she no longer can practice medicine in her native egypt. She has been imprisoned for many years and her books are banned in much of the middle east.
Sadly, I never heard of these women until I immigrated to Canada at age 19. But once I did, it rocked my world. I remember reading the first book by Fatima al Marnissi and being afraid to read her other books. The ideas in it were so radical and challenging that I was afraid of what I might find out next. You mean I can chose not to be a slut and not be a retard at the same time? how radical.