les années folles: roaring through my twenties

Posts tagged feminism

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Why Are We Talking About This?

"Do we even have to say that physical beauty is beside the point when discussing the work of a major author? Was Tolstoy pretty? Is Franzen? Wharton’s appearance has no relevance to her work. Franzen perpetuates the typically patriarchal standard of ranking a woman’s beauty before discussing her merits, whether she is an intellectual, artist, politician, activist, or musician."

Victoria Patterson in the LA Review of Books, dissecting Jonathan Franzen's misogynist essay rant in The New Yorker. I wonder if Franzen would support the work of his sister, wife, or daughter subjected to the same standard of beauty of marital fidelity?

Interesting that Franzen finds Wharton so homely. I’d love to see his latest conquests.


                                          Edith Wharton, 1885

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Filed under literature Edith Wharton The New Yorker LA Review of Books Jonathan Franzen feminism fem2

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Beating The Arab Patriarchy Over The Head With Sex Toys

                   I Killed

I’m a mutt of sorts. My native Californian mother, a nurse, met my immigrant Arab father, a surgeon, in one of those stereotypical cross-cultural love affairs of the early 1980’s. You know the ones: foreign-intellectual-seeks-loophole-to-prevent-deportation-to-war-torn-homeland. There was more to the story, but I’m now cognizant of the fact that this was the driving force of the narrative of my parents’ hapless romance.

My father wined and dined my mother according to the contemporary American dating rituals; she believed him to be someone he wasn’t. In direct opposition to my father’s sociocultural values, they cohabited before marriage. My mother became pregnant and gave birth to my father’s saving grace — an anchor baby. With the help of a hot shot D.C. immigration attorney and his natural born American son, my father received his coveted free pass to the United States of America. 

The West-Meets-East fairy tale quickly unraveled.

Women are objects under the patriarchal Arab gaze. They are pawns, vessels, and prizes. They should be pleasant, passionate and amiable, but never assertive, outspoken, or defiant. Sexual only at the behest of the male proprietor, whether father, husband, or brother.

My father used my mother in precisely this fashion. He used her to escape the gruesome squalor of Beirut in the 1980’s. He duped a liberated, idealistic American to gain the freedom to practice his misogyny in peace.

Sex is the weapon of choice for the Arab patriarchal assault on womankind. In The New York Times blog post Sex and the Souk, Joumana Haddad bluntly states:

"People tell me, ‘There are so many things wrong with the Arab world, why do you just talk about sex?’ And I say, ‘This is the main link.’ Who decides what’s haram — what’s allowed and not allowed? The religious figures. They are linked with the political powers, and together they work to control the society through this medium, the sex drive. If you break the power over sex, you can start undermining and questioning the religious and political powers. You cannot do it the other way around."

I love this. So obvious, yet so taboo, and so intricately definitive of the Arab world. The chains that bind a woman’s sexuality in the Arab world also place a gag order on sexual discussions from the female perspective.  Viewing sexuality through the male gaze perpetuates female oppression. By dismantling the power structure of sexuality, we create spiderweb fractures in the glass ceiling.

Ms. Haddad, dubbed the “Carrie Bradshaw of Beirut,” is the publisher of Jasad—body in Arabic—an erotic literary magazine that explores the spectrum of sexuality. According to The New York Times post, it boasts “articles by intellectuals and poets about masturbation, homosexuality, fetishism and polygamy alongside antique photos of nude Arab boys luxuriating in voluptuous Ottoman settings and close-ups of female genitalia.” Claiming ownership of sexuality gives women and those on the fringe of Arab politics the opportunity to redefine the rules. When men lose control of the lens, the picture is radically different.


While her reactionary opponents outnumber the bullet holes freckling Beirut’s downtown, Haddad’s feminist critics question her authenticity and efficacy. While I understand their hesitancy to embrace a celebrity as a bona fide political activist, I find their cautionary attitude premature. The Arab woman’s world is in crisis. Who are we to deny any effort on her behalf? Ms. Haddad’s fresh and unyielding take on sexual politics is uncharted territory that young activists like myself would do well to embody.

The lone daughter of an ill-fated American-Arab partnership, I am acutely aware of the sexual conflict inherent in the Arab world. Forced to patronize my father’s fellow Arab doctors, I had no privacy in my personal medical affairs. In college, my brother was lauded as his fraternity’s Vice President, pretty American girlfriend at his side, seemingly chaste as they come. This veneer left my father free to revel in blissful ignorance of my fortunate brother’s extracurricular activities. In contrast, my father responded to my responsible use of birth control with shame and outrage, and told me that I should “try to keep my legs shut” when I contracted a UTI.

And so, Joumana, mabrouk. Mabrouk, and please continue to write for us.

Her latest work, I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman is for sale on Amazon. It will be published in the United States in late 2011.

Filed under lebanon feminism sexual politics Joumana Haddad beirut patriarchy