Friday, June 8

A Room of One's Own

One of my favorite texts by my beloved Virginia Woolf. In this book, the exceptional author talks about creative women and how they are denied a place under the sun. Woolf poses the question of why we don't have a female counterpart for Shakespeare. She then imagines a fictional character, Shakespeare's sister, and explains through her the numerous obstacles which face a woman who wants to write. While this sister cooks and cleans, her brother is allowed a peaceful solitude in a room of his own, where he can explore his creativity and experiment with it. He has access to theatres and producers. He is allowed the freedom to express himself and exercise his talent. She may be more talented than him, but her life forces her to stay in the shadow and prevents her from showing this talent.

Woolf then talks about the idea of independence. In this sense, a room of one's one, becomes a space. A space where a woman can have her privacy.. where she can work and think. She also needs financial independence in order to secure this space for herself. A Room of One's Own is a brilliant text, with very solid arguments and interesting ideas.

Yet, this is not my subject. I owe the idea of this post to Egypt Rose. Thanks to her sweet compliment, she compared my writing style to that of great writers, and urged me to consider professional writing. Sometimes my mind runs through so many things as a result of a random stream of consciousness where one thought leads to another. When I read what she said I went like: "Why haven't I tried even for once to publish what I write?" "Why don't we have popular female novelists in Egypt nowadays?" There are many great female novelists like Ahdaf Souif, Nawal ElSaadawi, and others. But they aren't as popular as the male authors. They don't have a bestselling novel. I then remembered Woolf's words. How is a woman expected to be creative and have a writing career with all the loads and pressures she is subjected to in our society.

I then remembered how I used to keep a diary when I was in elementary school. I remembered how my mom used to sneak behind my back to get access to them and read them without caring to ask if it was ok with me or not. The way she denied me a room of my own, a space of privacy, a breath of air, has caused me to quit writing my memoirs altogether. It took me a long time to start realizing that I should fight for my existence and my rights. Writing is an act that needs privacy but aims to reach the public. My pains will only have value when shared. Instead of burying the pain in one's chest until it destroys her, pain can be expressed and spread out for relief as well as for education. Education itself is painful. You have to go along the passage of thorns in order to gather the roses. But I learned that lesson late in life and I wish I had learned it earlier.
My admiration for Virginia Woolf made many friends predict that I will meet the fate she had; by that they meant going mad and commiting suicide. I would answer back saying that I truely wish I would follow her footsteps, but I meant her literary and intellectual achievements, her talent, her fruitful life, and having a wonderful man by her side (Leonard Woolf). People always have different readings of anything. It is only if you have a room of your own that you come up with your own reading, find your own voice and discover your own self.

A Woman for Love

She is the woman in the past of every Egyptian man. She is the one in the shadow. She hides in his imagination and memories. She is the woman who is cursed for being smart, or talented, or independent, or free thinking, or daring, or beautiful. She is attractive and intriguing. She's the one with whom you can never get bored, and with whom you can really have a conversation going. She may have a sense of humor and a quick wit. She may understand you from a glance and she may get under your skin in a blink of an eye. She's all that a man dreams of.. in love, only love, just love, no more.

When it comes to having a family, a man totally shifts his criteria. He wants the meek, the shy, the conservative, the veiled, the dependent, and, most important, the submissive. He wants someone who can never be his equal or pose a challenge to his mind. He looks for someone who is born for the home, with no ambitions of her own, no ideas of her own, and certainly no individuality. He looks for his mother, who was always there to take care of everyone while forgetting herself in the process.

It is amazing how the same man forgets his old love and what used to like in a woman. The spark of intelligence in his woman's eyes he now finds scary. How can he live under the same roof with such a tigress? How can he tame a woman who has her individual personality and independent thinking? She poses a threat to his manhood. She will never practice the blind obedience of his mother and grandmother. And she will definitely cause trouble.

But do these factors mark her as unfit to be a wife? I believe, in our male dominated society, they do. An Egyptian wife has a specific image. It is like a mold, if a woman can't fit into it, then she can't become a wife. If she really wants to have this "honor" she has to give up all her qualities and conform to societal demands. She has to become the typical woman who only cares about cooking, cleaning, satisfying her husband and getting him children. She must follow the footsteps of her master and never take decisions on her own. She must agree that she is less than him in everything. And she must raise her male children to think that she, as well as their sisters, are less than them.

So it's a woman's destiny to lead a life of sacrifice. She can sacrifice herself, her personality, her dreams, her ambitions, her humanity, or she can sacrifice her love, her right to start a family, and her motherhood. Her choices are limited into being a woman for love, or a tamed wife. I am afraid that in our societies a woman is squeezed into one of those two categories; she is either one or the other, but never both.

Wednesday, June 6

The Hammer of Witches

This infamous book was responsible for taking the lives of approximately 5 million women between the 15th and 17th centuries. The Hammer of Witches, or Malleus Maleficorum, was the judges' bible in witch-hunts which spread throughout Europe in the late Middle Ages. Women who showed any signs of character, refused to obey their husbands, or had radical opinions were considered evil witches and faced trials in front of special courts. When a suspect is charged with witchcraft, those women received a death sentence, not jail. Executions took place in public, where the guilty women were burned at the stake.

And why was it only women who were charged of this crime? Because, like today, it was a common belief that women are weaker and have got weaker faith. That's why it was easy for the devil to lure them into this dark art in order to spread evil on earth. As stupid as it sounds, it doesn't seem like an outdated rationale to me.
Read more about Malleus Maleficorum here and here.
The Hammer of Witches, I believe, is not merely the product of the Dark Ages, but was reproduced one age after another. Up till now, a woman who is independent, a woman who questions social costumes and traditions, a woman who refuses to be an inferior, a woman who stands up for herself is considered to be an evil witch. However, this "witch" doesn't face legal trial, but rather a social one, where almost every member in society will have his/her say in her case and use their hammers to make her comply with their rules. The social hammers surround women everywhere to make sure they knock down any signs of free thinking or rebellion in their early beginnings.

An innocent little girl taking her first steps into life finds a world which isn't welcoming.. a world of boundaries, a world of shame, a world of fierce eyes, a world full of restrictions, a world which does not respect her innocence. If she happens to have a brother she will learn very early that not every child receives the same treatment. She learns that she is the problem. She came into a world that has no place for her, a world for the males, where females are imprisoned and prepared to serve them in a later stage of life. She lives in continuous fear, being deprived of playing with other boys, being forced to hide under a bundle of clothes, being warned not to explore her own body, being raised as an object which always belongs to somebody else (whether her parents or her husband). If she tries to understand why, the hammers are ready to forbid her from asking. If she rejects this treatment, the hammers will punish her. If she went as far as breaking those rules, the hammers will discipline her. And if she insists on her freedom, the sentence is ready: she shall be an outcast.

But the hammer today is not only for rebellious witches and free thinkers; it is also for the innocent. As long as you are a female, you are a criminal. You will be a suspect as long as you are single. You will be slave as long as you are married. You will be despised if you are divorced. You will be the talk of the town if you break an engagement. You will be harassed as long as you walk down the street. You will be a whore as long as you aren't veiled. You will be evil as long as you don't share the interests of old housewives. You will be a witch as long as you are a woman. That's the law of our society.

Monday, June 4

Men Out of the Jungle

The jungle is the ultimate male paradise. That's their perfect environment. They can't live away from the wild life of hunting, adventure and making use of their physical strength. That's what makes them feel satisfied and proud. That's where they can attain their maximum achievement and pleasure. Men just want to struggle with beasts and hunt them for food. A man needs to fight with another man over a beautiful woman to see who is more macho and deserves the prize! That's how their barbaric nature prevents them from enjoying civilized life, where a person is valued by his brain not his muscles! They just can't take it. I sometimes feel pity for those who can't accept the idea that jungle days are over. Now, they can't jump from tree to tree, or from woman to woman. They can't go out exercising their physical strength and coming home with the broken arrow of their opponent. They can't go hunting to prove their bravery and receive cheers from the hungry members of the family waiting for food. All the good old days of fun are over.

But men won't accept this fact. They still live in this myth that they are the savers of the world and the protectors of half its population, that is the weak helpless creatures called women. Oh, how will women survive without those strong fellows, with their solid bodies and loud roars which drive the enemies away? How can we just go about in life without a man by our side to protect us from harm?

They can't believe that we don't live in caves anymore. You can easily go to rent or buy an apartment with a solid door and reliable lock. There is a nice service called police to report the evil guys and have them put in jail. There is a civil society where people work in offices using what they learned and what their mental skills enable them to do. The best people in this society are the most successful and most creative, not the strongest or the bigger built! Hunting and wrestling became games for leisure and not a way to make a living! Women choose their partners according to rational and emotional reasons. They don't want you to hunt for them to enjoy your imaginary victory. If a woman chooses you, it's not out of your clever crafting and endless stalking, it's simply because that's her decision. She may allow you some time to perform all the games you learned in the jungle, just for her amusement and for satisfying your empty ego. She may then complete your myth by telling you all the things a caveman wants to hear: "You are my first love," "You are the best man in the world," "You are the only one who won my heart," ... bla bla bla.

Men complain cause women are not straightforward or cause they lie to them. Well, you live in an imaginary world and you refuse to get down to earth and live as a human. If a woman gets promoted at work, you go crazy. If a woman is brave enough to let you know that she is interested in you, your hunt is ruined and you leave her for a difficult chase (or what you want to think is a difficult chase). If a woman speaks her mind freely, you think she's easy and treat her with disrespect. If a woman says she doesn't need protection, you imagine her as the star of a porn movie.

I'm so sorry to see that men can't adapt to their new lives outside the jungle. But I also warn that we shouldn't deceive them by making them believe that jungle rules still control our lives today. Leading them on has had its disasterous effects on society as a whole. I know that they will have a psychological shock when they face the truth, that their only advantage (physical strength) is useless in today's world. A tiny gun can kill a thousand men. A woman can protect herself well enough without a bodyguard. And switching from one woman to another is called cheating in all the world's dictionaries. Sorry guys.. You'd better cope with it.

Saturday, June 2

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back!

No, it's not a new dance routine.. It's the situation of women nowadays. For every step we take forward, we move two steps back.

Scene 1:
There was a time when Egyptian women had their position in every facet of life. Now, we are arguing basic things like women's work. The next thing you see is some crazy person coming out to say that a woman should breastfeed her male colleagues to be able to share the office with them! What kind of sick mind is this? Why are many clerks obsessed with women and sex?

Scene 2:
Not so long ago women used to go to college wearing miniskirts and sleeveless blouses without being subjected to any kind of harassment. They received due respect from everybody. They rode public transportation. They walked in the streets. They mingled healthily with their male colleagues. Nobody dared to criticise them even! Now, it is not enough that you dress moderately, you have to cover your hair too, and still expect to be harassed at any time, not only verbally, but physically also! And if you complain, it is always your fault. You encouraged him, you like being harassed. Why did you leave your home then?!!! OMG.. Sick, sick, sick!
Imagine how far from civilization we've gone!

Scene 3:
Successful girls received scholarships abroad and were allowed by their parents to travel and come back with MAs and PhDs. Ask your female professors at university, who didn't come from rich families, or families which were westernized. Now, girls will be so grateful if they are allowed to apply for graduate studies inside Egypt even. Imagine if she mentions travelling abroad! Talks about you will get too busy and you won't find time to get married! Or you won't find a man who agrees to have a wife who holds a higher degree than him!! No man will consider a girl who lived abroad on her own for 1 or more years! No man, no man, no man.. F*** this man!

One sorrowful scene after the other, we just keep moving backwards. Forget about women liberation movements, we're back to square one! How far do they want us to go? We reached the bottom, yet it's not enough.. They want us to dig our own graves!
"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid" - Audre Lorde