105 thoughts on “Dear Mona Eltahawy: You do not represent “Us”

  1. I agree with Roq. Brilliant piece! It’s as if every time Eltahawy speaks, it’s to incite hatred and disdain towards the religion and communities she pretends to represent. Can’t wait to see more.

  2. The image of women is not specifically confined to one of modesty nor is it one of open sexual expression.

    Neither expression is wrong if it is the choice of the woman to express herself that way, because true freedom gives that woman the right to define her body as she chooses.

    Mona clearly represents herself and other women who happen to find themselves in her image but it is her right to choose what image she defines to the world, just like it is the author’s right to choose the way to define her own image.

    Until ALL forms of the female’s right to free expression are equally respected, by all, including and especially by other women, our journey to equality is not done.

    1. Women do not “choose” an image of open sexual expression. It has been thrusted upon them by modern, agnostic, secular, liberal, Western pop culture. Women act how men expect them to act. And women have learned that open sexual expression has had the most favorable response from men, across the board.

      1. Really? You think women can only be open to sexual expression because Western media and men have told them to? How is that different from someone saying that women who wear hijab only do so because they are blinded by the patriarchy of Islam? Please explain, because you sound like a hypocrite.

      2. I do agree that there are those women who will behave in a way they believe are expected to act, because it is favorable to men, but not all women do. I would like to believe most women don’t for the very same reason because its favorable to men. Okay I am reading this again I think I understand what your saying, it’s because of these areas especially the media in western culture that has taught women to be open with sexual expression so they are favorable to men. it’s not something women choose on their own. Yes I do agree if I am understanding this, of course again not all women adhere to the media as it is a huge influence to pop culture. Women, especially young women not educated are going to adhere to these expectations, because as women we constantly being reminded that are beauty standards and everything we do and how we look, is only to catch a man, keep him and make him happy.

      3. I agree with mona eltahawy, most arab men are misogynist and do not even respect their own mother let alone the arab women they kidnap and are force to marry against their own will – bunch of islamic regime apoligist on this blog mona….ignore them.- Let me ask where the fuck were you arabs when those islamist broke mona eltahawy arm and sexually harrassed her in egypt? you surely did not help her.

  3. Thank you for your response, which voices many of the thoughts & issues that I had with this column. No one can deny that Arab women have problems, but to claim it is “hate” that is behind the problems is a bit too much.

  4. What a brilliant response! So refreshing to read this. I’m disgusted with the reception of this article so far, disappointed as well. But not shocked.

  5. I don’t know if she wrote this with good intentions, but the comments on the article display a misunderstanding of religion, women, and mentality of the Middle East.

    In addition, it is also a generalization that sentences all Middle Eastern women to a need of a savior. Had she chosen to portray both the good, and the bad and explain what faith is, and what faith is being used for, it might have been a good read.

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. I have the article and the various responses to it. It seems to me there is more condemnation towards her for daring to speaking her point of view based on her experience and observations (even if generalised), rather than condemnation for the injustices she names. The voices and experiences of women should be encouraged – there is no one voice that speaks for all women, but I also find it fascinating that women like her always gets painted as a puppet of the ‘western’ agenda. Misogyny is everywhere across the globe, so allow her to name it.

    1. Agreed.

      As an Arab woman, I DID feel like Mona represented me. The blogger is generalizing much more than Mona generalized. An opinion is an opinion, and hers was well-researched and honest.

      Discourse and debate is good either way, but I did not find your rebuttal to be relevant to her points.

      1. I agree too. The body paint is a strategy called contesting from within when you amplify the visual aspect of the problem until you distort it and make people deeply think of it and think of the messages and meanings behind it. It is not an offense to women who wear the niqab, it is only making them and everybody else think of that the niqab is. And I would have appreciated it if the author spent more time focusing on the issues that Mona discusses in her article than superficially criticizing why she or how she spoke about them.

    2. echoing these sentiments as well. While I appreciate the authors need to reflect and represent marginalized voices, she still misses the forest for the trees. I think Mona is suggesting that we have a conversation about women who are oppressed. The world knows we’re not oppressed. The conversation is about those who are. I think many people miss this significant fact. For example, because I had the personal autonomy and the agency to wear the hijab(I did this in a western country, i’ll let u wrestle with the irony of that), it’s important I also understand that many, many, ill repeat again, many muslim women don’t occupy that privileged space of choosing/reject religious/cultural norms. Therefore my personal experience/privilege does not grant me the right to pander to anti-women cultural/religious institutions because I’ve found a healthy/constructive way to live within the confines of a patriarchal space. I’m also often disturbed by the amount of discourse ignited when a woman dares to speak about these issues, and never about the issues themselves. She challenged us to discuss the issue of women’s rights in that region without the ‘well the west isn’t perfect, they have problems too(but way ahead of you my friend in this thing we call women-as-people-movement)’, ‘i’m not oppressed, I chose the hijab’, and finally my favourite ‘you’re nothing but a western puppet’ memes. If you disagree with her conclusions, and her un-packaging of this dense issue, then address her arguments with counter facts(statistics would help as you claim her experience is not a good representation of the lives of women). So far I’ve yet to read one rebuttal to Mona’s position that actually addresses the issue. Again, not to discuss arguments in favour of marginalized representation, and we need to analysis some of the orientalist motifs (the title, the image come to mind), and definitely challenge anyone with reductionist accounts of this topic, but let’s address the charges and claims first. The ‘she’s a zionist western loving sell-out’ theme is getting old. Let’s have a real conversation people, and perhaps this episode can serve as the proverbial ‘teachable moment’.

  7. Thanks for writing that. It was timely & needed. The amount of western women who retweeted Mona’s article in my TL was annoying. It seems everyone buys into this stereotype that Arabs & Muslims can only hate whether it be the ‘West’ or women. On a separate note, if my son wees on me then I’ve always been told that it breaks my wudhu and I need to wash, no different if it’s male or female urine.

    1. Why does this argument always have to be framed in a Middle East vs the West narrative? It’s ridiculously simplistic at this stage. It boils down to the very simple premise of women being treating properly as human beings.

  8. Thank you Samia for respomding, and with valid points. Its unfortunate that our religion is misunderstood, while we are not the cause of it, we should take blame for not educating our own to understand our religion’s teachings. My Christian friend share the article with me, and her comments…”nope, its spot on…and present in other cultures and religions to a lesser extent” <– this being her explanation after I tried explaining to her the article was a generalization and more so a cultural view point as opposed to a religious practise.

  9. Thanks for your thoughtful response. I’m a Western woman who moved to Egypt about two months ago. I’ve struggled to interpret both women’s dress as well as the actions of men here. I feel like Mona’s article discusses the more obvious reasons for why women accept certain social standards here; I’m realizing every day that these things are very complicated.

    That said, it’s hard for me to understand why women here dress so conservatively (especially when I later find out that their mindset isn’t all that conservative, in the case of one of my Arabic teachers) and why they allow social constructs to limit their behavior. I can’t imagine that every woman who wears a veil choose to do so, and I can’t imagine that every woman chooses to let her father or husband decide how she spends her time. But I am sure some women are happy to do so.

    Still; shouldn’t all women be incensed about their lack of representation in the political sphere? Or that there are no women police (that I have ever seen)? Or women in the military? In the U.S., we want our politicians, police and military to reflect our population. And I don’t understand why Egyptian women aren’t out in the street every day demanding the same (as American women did to earn their right to vote). Can you help me understand this?

    1. The problem, Kathlyn, is with the expression “in the US, we…”. The problem is thinking that the US is the best example of democracy and citizen’s rights and trying to apply the way things happened there to other places in the world. There was women’s emancipation in other parts of the world which happened differently and followed a natural path. Maybe Egyptian women will have an easier time fighting for their rights if a bunch of white people from the West stop telling them what to do.

      1. Or, mpetkova, instead of telling another woman to shut up because her frame of reference is different from yours, you could answer her questions. You seem all to happy to feed the things that seperate us, as opposed to nurturing the things that bind us. Very sad.

      2. Mariam, I’m not telling anyone to shut up. In fact, I’m answering Kaithlyn’s question. If she stops thinking that one development path is right one, she will be able to answer all her questions.

    2. Like you said Kathlyn, some women are happy to do so. Those that aren’t don’t have the freedom to rebel (like women in the west do). A woman can’t simply decide to throw caution to the wind, wear what she wants or do whatever she wants because there are very real consequences to be faced. Women in the west can move out, get their own place, get a job, meet a man, marry him and live happily ever after. However, in our societies, you can be beaten into submission, you can be locked up at home or married off. There are no laws (at least that are fully enforced) that prosecute men for domestic violence or give these women a way out besides marriage. Your father (or brother, or uncle or husband or some form of male guardian) has the final legal say in what you can or can’t do. If you rebel you have nowhere to go and there is no law to help you (in fact most of the laws are not in your favor). Also, by deciding to rebel you risk destroying the relationship with your family. I know I kind of went of topic but I’m just trying to illustrate how there’s very little choice at times in certain situations. As to why women don’t go out and demand their rights, I really don’t know.

  10. Until we honestly believe as people that there is no difference between a male and a female, and that we are human beings, deserving of the same opportunities, privileges and rights….then we are far away from any reform in this world

  11. Bravo for this article. As an American woman raised in Pakistan and who lived as an adult in Pakistan and Cairo – I found a number of things with her article problematic and am troubled that she has emerged as the spokesperson for all of Egypt and Islam. – That’s a problem.

  12. Thanks for this important piece. It’s sad that in the 21st Century, there are still some Arab/Muslim “intellectuals” who use such superficial arguments that have been overcome by the non-Muslim & Western intellegentsia themselves.

  13. While the title of Mona’s piece was provocative (as title’s on this sort of subject usually are), I have yet to see someone seriously address the issues she raised without 1) Trying to blame gender inequality on colonialismn or 2) insinuating that she is some sort of Zionist lackey.

    This is sad. If, as I assume, by colonialism we are talking about nineteenth century European colonialism (and not the preceding Ottoman or Arab variety), a brief historical scan will reveal to even the most simple minded the ridiculousness of this proposition. Gender inequality has existed in most cultures for time immemorial, including that which originated in the Arabian peninsula. It’s just that they seem less inclined to address the issue than most.

    The problem’s faced by women in Egypt’s streets, where Mona’s focuses most sharply are there for all to see. Whether you are local, foreign, veiled or extravagantly tressed, you are going to receive attention which by any objective standard is harassment.

    I don’t see anybody trying to refute that. What seems to concern most of her detractors, and this is the truly depressing part, is that she is somehow shaming the Arab world in front of ‘foreigners’. Or, worse, collaborating in the US / Zionist/ hidden hand conspiracy to destroy the Arab World. The latter long-running meme has lately been given a modern twist by revolutionaries that have resorted to reading a book or two: the West, you see, is attempting to undermine the Arab revolutions by confusing noble citizens (or comrades, in some instances) with identity politics. Pushing feminism just like the evil American corporations did after the 60s.

    Well, maybe. Or maybe life just stinks for a lot of Women in the Middle East, and some of them are getting sick of it. For foreigners lookng in, it looks pretty uninviting too. They don’t need Mona El Tahaway to tell them that, by the way, a good deal of them are perfectly well aware of it. Most of them are just too polite to say it.

    1. I agree with this. This article immediately reminded me of the way critics of Israel are immediately branded as anti-Semites. Mona isn’t some self-hating Muslim out to disparage Islam before the word. She issued a strongly worded opinion based on facts.

      I don’t agree with Mona on everything. I strongly oppose the Niqab ban in France, for instance. But the injustices she describes in her article are real and intolerable, and to write them off as Islam-bashing is irresponsible.

      I don’t understand what compels a woman to choose a veiled life managed by her father and husband. But I don’t need to. I fully agree that she should have that choice regardless of whether secular Westerners understand it. But it must be a choice. Informed consent is the ultimate human right, and there is no question it is denied to many women in the Arab world.

  14. Beautiful! Please keep up the good work. I’m sick of the way the west looks down at our societies. Why are they so conveniently forgetting that there are Muslim women being prosecuted for choosing to wear the hijab in Europe? Let them save the Muslim women from the daily abuse and harassment they have to deal with in their countries before they come to save the women in our countries.

  15. interesting piece, thanks for clarifying what exactly people were so infuriated about because up until this I’ve heard a lot of vague criticism and anger. I agree specifically with what you say about the socio-economic roots of such gender inequality. But I don’t think the backlash against Mona el Tahawy’s rhetoric should let people equate, as your quote from Maya Mikdashi seems to imply, criticising islamists with islamaphobia.

    I totally agree with her when she says “Gender equality and justice should be a focus of progressive politics no matter who is in power”, but there is a particular concern from the islamists. Here in Egypt the (salafi) Nour party using images of flowers instead of the faces of their female candidates is problematic. Much more troubling is when a female MP (Azza El Garf) from the Freedom and Justice Party (Muslim Brotherhood) publicly opposed the ban on female genital mutilation.

    So yes, no matter who is in power we should be continually fighting and pushing for gender equality and justice, but it is reasonable and rational to expect that the more power the islamists* have here, the tougher that fight will be.

    *at least the islamists here, I can only talk about Egypt.

  16. I am a woman. My age, location and religion are of little consequence to myself when I think about what being a woman is. In my own country I experience the need of men to control women through excessive legislation on my reproductive organs (400 proposed laws this year alone), and through the ideas that a woman must be constrained to a tiny single image and definition. It makes me scared for my shinning, amazing, beautiful daughter for whom I want no limits.

    When I heard Mona’s interview I nearly cried over the 90% of women who have experienced genital mutilation (if we had a boy we would not circumcise). As our politicians campaign I do hear hatred in their rhetoric. I am not as eloquent as previous posters, and I know that I do not understand all of the complexities. But I would rather see a united front of women, with control over their bodys (both in and out) refuse to be defined so simply. Can we set aside our syntactical differences and work together?

  17. What a paradox. The pictures of nude women with black paint do not only degrade women wearing the niqab or even all Arab/Muslim women but are actually degrading to all women.

    What was that about the sexual-objectification of women?

    What would Mona say about the woman who posed naked in black paint featured as a prop to sex up her article?

    It reminds me of Orientalist paintings/writings of the harem by Westerners picturing nude women and talking about how oppressed they were.
    Shame on you Mona for degrading all Muslims simply to get featured in a western foreign policy mag. Mona, it seems you have just been used a prop by the mag to propel the degradation of women!

    1. Find it interesting that you are so offended by the pic. The paint tells so much. I don’t see it as an offense at all. You see only a “naked women w/painted body”. Others see what the painted parts represent. The painted niqab is a statement to me, but not something filthy. Women wear them, and no matter the reasons, it does have a way of defining who they are and what they are expected to be. Very hard to extract something so ingrained in a culture. It is that very same type of thinking that allows others to use it against others who disagree. To oppress those who do not want this for themselves. Your opinion over someone else’s. Things like virginity testing, sexual assaults are not something women should bare for the sake of “culture”. There will be always those who find reasons to hang on to these ways, but what right do you have to enforce that on those who want to find their place in this world beyond it?

  18. I don’t see Mona’s article as being a spokesperson for all. I found that short sighted point of view. Some people will be affected by what she wrote in different ways. How many of you have been able to see things from different points of views? This isn’t an attack on your niqab. It’s not attack on your religion. It’s much more then that. Those who take this as an offense to them? I say it’s time to think about how many women are treated and why. I am really quite glad to know there are people who feel the sting. “It’s not me” needs to be ruffled because until it is – other women will defend bad behavior for that so called “righteous” while others are treated something less then they deserve to be.

    I am so glad you feel ruffled. It is at that point where people either refuse to have insight and dig their heels in, or they start thinking about it in a larger point of view. While you may feel slighted, or offended – others will feel better for it. So, perhaps no one will ever speak “for you”, but understand – it will open doors and minds just enough for others. Know one should feel THAT offended by that article. You either feel comfortable where you are at in life, or you do not.

  19. I don’t understand why you say that “The true fight should be against the monolithic representation of women in the region, illustrated by an over-sexualized image of splattered black paint over a nude body. This does nothing to rectify the position of women in ANY society.” – How can you think that is a more important fight than fighting the very real abuses of women that are dying from the ongoing discrimination and actual physical and sexual violence against women that she points out?

    I can sympathize with how frustrating and irritating it is to see an article by a prominent Arab-American woman illustrated with sexist, eye-catching photos and a provocative title. I also thought it really detracted from what she might be trying to say and am unsurprised that a Western journal would think it is okay to do that but seriously… don’t let the stupid media’s fixation on images be the thing that stops us all from fighting against violence against women in the Middle East and around the world.

    1. Agreed. The line you pointed out was eliminated when the article was reposted, because calling that the “true fight” is a sad, sad read on the challenges women face in the Middle East and other conservative cultures around the world.

      Bravo for a good rebuttal. And good thing you copied down that line since it has been deleted!

  20. Great rebuttal of the ghost.

    What’s almost as galling as her self-vaunted opinions is the way she responds to valid and informed criticism by laughing and indulging her advocates’ view that such dissent only confirms her misguided notion that she is charging against social taboos in a region so in need of help that its own liberal voices hound her.

    The failure to engage properly, for me, undermines her as much as her brittle and blinkered arguments.

  21. Thank you for this insight. However, I didn’t see where using the example of someone who wears the Niqab only at protests fit; I mean that’s like speaking from a blonde’s perspective because I wore a wig on halloween.

    Also, I think with the photo, it really depends on ones’ perception of the image. For example, you saw the photo as a sexualization of the Niqab where representation was of a seductive woman who accordingly has these intentions in wearing the Niqab, whereas I saw a representation of a girl, who instead of just being able to remain looking the way she was meant to look/ the way she was created, has to cover up in black because society tells her she should. In that respect, I sympathise with her and even though her ‘splattered in black paint’ arm is showing, I don’t see how she would even look seductive at all..

    Given the very fact that Niqab is not even mentioned in the Quraan as part of a woman’s duty, I don’t see why we should not blame society and culture for its existence.

    Sure, the article does use very superficial arguments, but so is Niqab in its very existence. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that women who wear Niqab do it out of pure choice. And since you have used examples from your personal life to make your point, allow me to do the same when I say that out of the three friends I have, who wear Niqab, none do it out of free will. They are pressured to think that it is God’s will that they keep the very sight of their faces a privilege granted to only their husbands/ future husbands. Now, does this not sound like it is extremely self serving on the part of their husbands? Or, the two women I talked to while queuing to vote, who wanted so much for the liberals to get in power lest their husbands keep forcing them to wear the Niqab every time they leave the house. If someone was to interpret this as hate towards women, I wouldn’t entirely agree, but I wouldn’t get offended either..

    I’m not saying that I agree with the FP article, I personally didn’t think anything about it was great, BUT, I don’t think that it’s that outrageous either.. It is a point of view that our society should maybe start considering, along with all the other valid points that you made.

    What I refuse to do however, is defend the very concept of Niqab and argue that it’s out of freedom that women do it. Let’s not get carried away with the hate Mona ElTahawy rampage and how she doesn’t represent ‘us’ because Niqab doesn’t represent ‘us’ either, nor does it represent Islam at its core; all it represents is suppression- naturally.

  22. While I agree that for some it is a personal choice, I think part of your argument is a strawman.

    If women are being pressured to become ‘sex objects’ by western media, then there is an equal but opposite pressure to be traditional from society where they live.

    As a male living in western society and having grown up in the east, I see more of a trend towards societal acceptance that women actually are embracing sex and are doing it on their terms. Sure, media and society are intertwined, but there have been a ton of women that are part of movements that demonize street harassment including calling out the assailants, things like the slutwalk, etc.

    If muslim women are so praised for their intellect, drive, etc, then why is there such a divide between their rights in what is arguably a paternalistic society setup. The article you’re referring to might not be completely factual, but you have to admit that you’re writing from within a system that sees gross gender inequality. Sure there are a few voices that came up during the uprisings, but it will soon be business as usual.

    And, trust me, I’m not sitting her gabbing about how incredible the US is as a democracy.

    Jezebel has a good write up in regards to the article that you pointed out: http://jezebel.com/5904610/why-does-the-middle-east-hate-women

  23. Shouldn’t women in the Middle East/North Africa/Muslim lands (take your preferred geographical/cultural regional name) focus on improving their lot and their rights TODAY instead of hating on each other’s preferred writing styles and content therein? This is why women do not rule the world. Too busy sniping at each other and not busy focusing on the common cause (their lack of rights).

  24. It is amazingly brilliant to see a critique being written by a respected writer, to show the world that “Oriental” women (although I hate to use the word Oriental) are brave, intellectual, and wise enough to speak and defend themselves. Unlike what others try to falsely prove!

  25. Excellant piece. Thanks.
    It reminds me of the last paragraph of this article:
    Lazreg, Marnia, “Feminism and Difference,” Conflicts in Feminism. Marianne Hirsch and Evelyn Fox Keller, eds. New York: Routledge, 1990: 330-332

  26. ‎”Mona entirely neglects the socioeconomic roots of gender inequality, the rise of authoritarian regimes in a post-colonialist context, the remnants of dehumanization and oppression from colonialism, the systematic exclusion of women from the political system or those who are used as convenient tools for the regime.”

    Because of course Arab societies were the only ones ever colonized, the only societies that experienced authoritarian regimes, the only societies that experienced poverty. Clearly, those are the reasons for the gender inequality that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Nothing to do with Islamic culture and traditions. My bad.

  27. I also agree with you that people should stop seeing Middle-Eastern Women as hopeless victims.

    BUT: “The true fight should be against the monolithic representation of women in the region, illustrated by an over-sexualized image of splattered black paint over a nude body. This does nothing to rectify the position of women in ANY society.” made me roll my eyes. Serioisly, do you say this is the biggest problem when women are beated, forced to get married and they don’t enjoy equal status under the law in many arabic countries? I don’t think Mona wanted to sexualize arabic women, but I really don’t think this is the biggest problem anyway when it comes to moslim women’s human rights. All this kind of talking about rasicm etc is just trying to cover the real problem: moslim women don’t enjoy equal status after islam-based law. This is the fact.

    The fact is that society based on religious rules can’t be open and good. It doesen’t matter if the religion is islam or christianity, but that’s just the fact. Look for example Scandinavian countries: All of them are non-religious but in all of them gender-equality is quite good achieved.

  28. “The true fight should be against the monolithic representation of women in the region.” Really? Not the fight against Sexism, or the systematic oppression and degradation of women in the name of Islam? No, of course not. Why fight Sexism when we can instead attack every woman that criticizes the status quo and accuse her of being an Orientalist! Let’s instead just rehash every post-modern, most-colonial, deconstructionist argument and apply it to her words to show that clearly, she’s nothing more than a westernized observer trying to exoticize arab/muslim women and reduce them to a stereotype. Edward Said is turning in his grave right now.

  29. Why did you spend 2/3 of the piece critiquing the cover art (chosen by FP, probably by its art directors, with little to not input from the author)? And why did you misrepresent her position as “The entire article is framed in a way that portrays Arab women as helpless, and in need of rescue and protection” when the concluding thesis of the piece is exactly the opposite?

    “The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

    Amina Filali — the 16-year-old Moroccan girl who drank poison after she was forced to marry, and beaten by, her rapist — is our Bouazizi. Salwa el-Husseini, the first Egyptian woman to speak out against the “virginity tests”; Samira Ibrahim, the first one to sue; and Rasha Abdel Rahman, who testified alongside her — they are our Bouazizis. We must not wait for them to die to become so.”

    You didn’t address the main thrust of her argument at all, choosing instead to focus on the red herring of the photo. That’s a poor argument

  30. I passed this article to women being flogged in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen. Sent it to the extremely free women of other Arab countries too. They were all shouting “stereotype”, “representation”, “post-modernism” at Mona’s article. Of course, contrary to popular Western misconceptions, the Arab women are out there defending their private desert patriarchy, and they love these pseudo intellectuals sitting in Western capitals dropping first year sociology lingo on complexity. I liked Mona’s article. Perhaps you don’t like the fact that she got published and is on TV. Get a drink and relax in DC – a much freer city than Anywhere, Arabia.

  31. What kind of rebuttal is that? Fact- the majority of women the arab world are circumscribed. Fact- sexual harassment is a routine tool used by security apparatus in same countries. Fact- the restriction on female freedoms today didn’t exist at the time of the prophet….you all don’t represent freedom or justice, you just want to hide behind the veil and sit at home with no responsibilities beyond “keeping house”. Unfortunately, you are raising kids that are just as closed minded and ineffectual as you are.

  32. I applaud the writer for replying to the articl’e author.

    But is it always and only Western Powers who enslave, colonize and otherwise subjugate. Why are there not more women in Arab parliaments? Is it because of colonialism only?

    Is it not possible that Arab society has its own reasons for female inequality as well as other inequalities?

    If nothing else, do not be a deflector using the West as the reason for all Arab problems. At some point you must stand behind your own decisions.

  33. Thanks for this reply. I believe Mona Altahay’s article is not only enraging to Arab women, it is degrading for all Muslims, both men and women around the world. I am not an Arab woman but I found the images and the rhetoric rude and insincere.

  34. Well written piece. Thank you
    I am an arab man and I will be the first one to admit that there are many issues with the way women are being treated in the Middle East.
    However I would like to point out, unlike Mona Al Tahawy, that these are due to cultural practices and have nothing to do with Islam. In Islam, women are not inferior to men. 1400 years ago, at a time when female children were buried alive in Arabia and women were considered transferable property, Islam came and honored women in society by elevating them and protecting them with unprecedented rights, rights that women in the west could not dream of just 100 years ago. Islam gave women the right to education, to marry someone of their choice, to retain their identity after marriage, to divorce, to work, to own and sell property, to seek protection by the law, to vote, and to participate in civic and political engagement. In fact, if Muslims studied and practiced their religion properly, we would not have these problems today.

    It is also ironic that so many women in the west are turning to Islam, the majority of converts to Islam are women. Something to think about.

    Today, women in the west are facing many problems as well, the problem is that the west does not want to recognise this and sweep these issues under the carpet. The media for example, I believe has caused so much damage to women in the west (use of women as sex objects in advertising). Women in the west are so busy talking about the oppression of women in other parts of the world (which is commendable) but they sadly forget the oppression and inequalities they face in the Western society.

    Islam preaches tolerance and that everyone is entitled to his point of view, however what is sad today is that people just accept what someone has wrote, like Mona, without doing their own research just because the article has appeared in a renowned magazine or because that person is a so called middle east expert. Please do your research before judging people.

    1. “these are due to cultural practices and have nothing to do with Islam.”

      As a Muslim women I agree for the most part, but surely you must understand that a LOT of the restrictions placed upon women in the ME stem from conservative/patriarchal interpretations of religious text. Laws regarding polygamy without the first wife’s permission, unequal rights of divorce/custody for women, restrictions on travel, guardianship laws etc all have some basis in religious text and are not created out of thin air because of “culture”. So the issue that should be tacked is more how we interpret religious text, and not so much “culture is the root cause of everything bad”.

      1. Thank you perspective. You are right, it is not just culture and you are right people do interpret or use the religious texts to oppress women. However the problem here as you have pointed out is from the interpretor not Islam.

        In Islam, the interpretation of religious text is a very important science which has many rules and fundamentals. Not everyone to interpret religious text, to do do so, one has to study this science for years, memorise the quran, understand its meanings, know the sayings of the prophet (pbuh), the opinion of scholars over the centuries … and many other things. So the interpretation of religious text is something for the scholars to do, not just anyone. Today we have many people who have no knowledge who interpret and use religious text. We have seen this used to justify suicide bombings, to oppress women … etc.

        As Muslims we should denouce any false interpretation of the religious text. However if the interpretation of the religious text is done by knowledgeable scholars, we have to accept these interpretations even if they sound unfair or if they don’t agree with what we feel is right or the western point of view because that is what Islam is all about.

        Islam means to submit to God’s will. Muslim women wear hijab because God has ordered them to cover, Muslims pray 5 times a day because God ordered them to do so, Muslim fast Ramadan because God told them to do so. Muslims believe that Muhammad (pbuh) is the final messenger of God and that Islam’s rulings were beneficial and relevant 1400 years as they are now and as they will be in the future. Therefore we cannot change God’s rulings, we cant say “Back then, they had plenty of time to pray. Today our lives have become so busy, we should reduce our prayers from 5 a day to 2 a day” or “We should abolish guardianship laws as today the woman should be free to do what she wants”, God has set these rules for a reason and they cannot be changed, the problem is that we fail to see many of the wisdoms behind the Islamic rulings because we automatically assume and some of us have been unfortunately programmed to believe that what the west is doing is the benchmark and the best and only way. We should study the Islamic rulings and see the wisdom behind these rulings which were decreed by God who surely knows what is best for us. Many women in the middle east understand this wisdom and would not have it any other way.

      2. Thank you for pointing out the obvious, Why is it so difficult for interpreters of faith to admit that these are interpretations? These “rules, laws, practices” appear nowhere verbatim in print, but are promulgated as such. I’ve often wondered how interpretations would sound coming from female clerics, but that will probably never happen so Islam can align itself with Roman Catholicism in that regard. Such a tragic thing to disregard half the population like that!

        While patriarchy has been with us since Abraham does not mean that it cannot be changed. Insanity is defined as doing something time and again, but expecting a different result. Change will come when people decide they just are not going to take it anymore.

        Of course, one is not allowed to criticize in Islam so that is a real problem. I’d say that conservative/patriarchal clerics have everyone right where they want them.

  35. Couldn’t disagree more with this, and I’m not even a fan of Mona Eltahawy. You seem to have taken more issue with Mona and the image used in the piece than you have with anything Mona has actually written. I don’t think Mona’s article portrays Muslim women as “helpless, and in need of rescue and protection” the way you claim at all. In fact, the entire point of the article is that women are NOT inherently helpless objects, and therefore shouldn’t be treated as such through cultural/pseudo- religious practices, or political institutions. Your interpretation of the piece screams of self victimization FAR more than anything she has actually written.

    Moreover, your critique of the piece doesn’t actually address a SINGLE social issue that was discussed. Not liking the picture or the title is understandable…but what about the actual ISSUES on which the piece is based? It would be fair if you argued your points based on facts or even experiences that counter Mona’s, but nothing of the sort is presented. The article touches upon the high rates of sexual harassment, FGM, child marriage, domestic abuse etc in the region, but you conveniently deflect all of these very real issues without tackling a single one of them. Even in instances when these specific actions are openly supported by Islamist parties or individuals, you say that holding these parties/individuals accountable is islamophobia, rather than just plain accountability. Seems like a convenient way to never solve the problem and allow these parties/individuals to keep doing what their doing.

    I’ve found that the default argument against any article that tries to speak out against the injustices committed against women in the ME is met with a knee jerk response that goes as follows: The problems women in the ME face are cultural, not religious…and every country, including America treats women terribly, so why point fingers at the ME? The obvious problem in that approach is that it solves ABSOLUTELY nothing. And I feel like this article is the exact same…a lot of blanket critiques of very real problems, and absolutely no solutions or actual acknowledgement of these problems what so ever. Misogyny is indeed present everywhere, but Mona’s article, albeit opinionated and heated, at least calls it out. I think that’s a step in the right direction and far more beneficial than fixating on the picture used in the article, or it’s title. I think you have gotten so caught up in the minutia that you entirely missed the big picture.

  36. Can ANYONE or has ANYONE written persuasively about the differences so often touted between ISLAM and Cultural Practices?

    The inability to do this leaves many USA citizens equating the inequality of these “cultural practices” with Islam. Unless and until this supposed dichotomy is explained away, Islam will still be viewd as treating women unequally and, at times, barbarically.

  37. I find it depressing that a lot of posters here are falling into the fallacy of “all women should unite instead of sniping at each other,” as though all women, regardless of geographic region, have the same issues they want to address. As though women are actually sniping, and not debating important issues. Telling women to shut up and focus on the “real issues,” as though some female concerns aren’t valid or important only leads to the dominant voice setting the agenda and rejecting marginalized opinions on how one should fight oppression. The reason people pit “west very east” is because Western understanding of the female situation in the Middle East is flawed and paternalistic. Women aren’t a monolithic unit, and that’s why Elthaway’s appropriation of “we” is harmful. Currently, the dominant narrative that people want to hear coincide with Elthaway’s article, and voices like the one who wrote this blog post are marginalized.

    I think this article uses some very problematic language. When you frame the argument using language like “hating us” (why do Arab men hate Arab women?) you end up denying that fathers love their daughters etc. This creates conditions to label Arab men as barbaric savages who don’t love their female relations, and opens up space for Western men to become saviours of “oppressed” Arab women, not realizing that this kind of saviour-complex is also a form of oppression. Constructing Arab family relations based on hatred simply perpetuates the image of the Middle-East as an irrational “other,” and the West as a place where people have families with “real” emotional connections.

    There is misogyny in the Arab world, and misogyny is directly defined as a hatred of women. However, I find that many people don’t even know what “hatred of women” means. Providing a theoretical framework that explores misogyny (undervaluing female contributions, devaluing female intellects and sexualities etc.) would have rectified the situation. As it is, people are going to take the word “hatred” literally. Have you ever tried telling a man he’s misogynistic? I have. The answer is always, “no, I love women! I’m not sexist.” (I told this to a white non-Arab guy, FYI.)

    Basically, this article uses alienating language that pushes away women who want to fight for equal rights in the Arab world, and provides ammunition for those who want to label the Arab world as sexist while simultaneously ignoring their own transgressions. If you want to convince people of your cause, then don’t alienate them. The language one uses to explain the problem is important. No one’s denying the facts written in the article (from what I’ve seen.) People are angry at how the facts are represented and at the tone, language and audience used in the article. These are important issues in a debate, and shouldn’t be sidelined or ignored for whatever the dominant voice believes is “the real important issue.”

  38. Im slightly confused as to why some people are calling this attack on all Muslim women? It seems truly a misreading to equate Mona’s clear attack on a cultural problem, and also what can be linked to an international problem of dominate patriarchal societies oppressing and indeed teaching to hate women (although mona keeps it within the context of Middle Eastern Women’s struggle) , to islam. As a Muslim woman and also an outsider in the sense that I am not from the Middle East I find this article to be addressing the problems certain countries in the Middle East face and how they (although definitely not alone which explains the lack of Islam being practised in all Muslim societies) completely misunderstand Islam and twist the Quran and hadith to fit their patriarchal systems.

    I feel this article raises some valid points in understanding some other problems that have oppressed women in the Middle East, but I have to also give Mona credit for talking a serious problem and opening a much needed dialogue for women in these communities. Attacking her personally and having childish digs at her and dismissing her critiques, which I have seen many reactionary people make is just showing a serious problem that people are facing. The inability to practise tolerance and also looking for a common understanding with Mona and engage in intellectual dialogue.

    I don’t particularly feel mona was wrong for using the word “hate”. Indeed I feel this is fitting. We live in a majority patriarchal world where such systems propaganda keep sending out messages that oppress, undermine women and in turn create a level of hatred for women.
    Mona, although I completely disagree with her niqaab ban views, I have to agree she raises valid points regarding how niqaab and women’s overall dress of modesty has been used for insincere purposes in certain countries in this context in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia enforces the Niqaab via religious police and to deny or rather not concentrate on the very real practise that many women are being forced to wear such items without their will would be unfair. The picture is debatable but it does have a point but I’m not sure why this taking over the most serious discussion here which is that certain cultures and countries in the Middle East (and they definitely not alone in this) promote the view tend to humiliate women to see themselves as walking sin, as walking fitna. Unfortunately, I’ve seen immigrant communities here in the West bring that sickness over here to the overall Muslim community. Coming from a background that does not have this extreme outlook of women, its definitely difficult to mingle with such people in religious avenues like mosques where women are treated like second class citizens because such communities bring their ill understanding of Islam and take up seats of leadership. It’s backward and hazardous. Again nothing to do with Islam but people are bringing their culture and trying to find a place for it in Islam and representing the beautiful deen in a horrible way.

    The argument of look at the west is so redundant it’s not really worth mentioning. Furthermore, the colonialism things has a context but really I don’t feel it holds as much weight as does the argument of the very real problem with the culture and the understanding of what Islam is really all about.

    All societies under MAN are messed up. This whole but look their forced to do this in the west v no but look the east are forced to do this is just playground child’s play talk. On a serious level though, one of the difference between The US as a case example and Saudi Arabia ia off course the former gives the illusion of freedom whilst the other just shows you up front upon arrivals in their country that you aren’t equal. None is really better in my view as they both serve to oppress women. That said off course some societies and cultures oppress women on deeper and larger scale than others do and to deny this is wilful ignorance and inhumane.

    Nevertheless, this discussion has been needed and both articles have been interesting. Hate I want to say is real. You teach young kids that a certain gender is impure, weak and generally not made to be as smart, you will see it produce many people who kill, beat and undermine women. If this is not considered hate crimes that I don’t know what page everyone is on. Pointing out individual cases of “my dad and my brother love me” is redundant and generally in my view reduces the intellectual level of the conversation at hand which is a very serious one.

    I applaud Mona for kicking it off irrespective of my differences of opinion in matters with her, I applaud any woman who brings up and fights against patriarchy at any moment.

    1. Correction: “The picture is debatable but it does have a point”, meant to write “The picture is debatable, but I’m not sure why…. cont

  39. while the majority of converts may be white women I can tell you that white women also often end up leaving the faith after become dissatisfied and disillusioned by the hypocrisy and mysogeny so prevelent in the immigrant mentality. Most of the time it has nothing to do with Islam itself and everything to do with the behavior and mindset of Muslims.

  40. Dear Mona Elthahawy

    Thanks iGreen

    “you have forgotten the facts dude, We Indians have been killing our new born daughters for decades and the practice is still going on. Check out the Govt. stats.
    The practice has continued in some rural areas of India although Infanticide is illegal in India.
    According to a recent report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) up to 50 million girls and women are missing in India’s population as a result of systematic sex discrimination.” Nothing Arab about India.

      1. Excellent article and recommended to all, thanks. The writer is an American man who lives in Jordan and is opposed to Western meddling in the ME.

  41. I find it very sad that you seem to care more about the image of Arab women in the West than you do about the very real gender discrimination and violation of rights experienced by women in the Middle East every day.

    I agree that Arab women are misrepresented in the West, but is that fight really more important than the fight against sexual violence, abuse and repression?

  42. The original blog post ended with something along the lines of “what we really need to fight against is the misrepresentation of Arab women in Western media,” which unsurprisingly was axed when it was posted on this new website. Why was that axed? Because the whole point made by this rebuttal is lazy and wrong. Blaming the West for the mistreatment of women in the Middle East is lazy and stinks like the inside of a dark, damp ivory tower.

    If Foreign Policy was a bit indelicate in the way they packaged the story. blame the editors and photo dept instead of her.

  43. Reading through all of the above commentaries I’m surprised that no one brought up the problem of the lack education in the Moslem world for many people in general, and more specifically for women. Increase investment and access for all in this area and I think an entirely different discussion would be taking place.

  44. I’d like to add the fact that the high rate of illiteracy in the Arab world, especially among women, is probably an important factor in the submission of many (not all) women to the discrimination described in Ms. Eltahawy’s article. More government spending on education emphasizing how to think rather than what to think, will benefit all citizens – men and women. An educated population can still maintain religious beliefs.

  45. Excellent article, you said it all! I don’t mind that Mona Tahawy relishes and thrives in her spot of fame as an Arab feminist. But I would greatly appreciate it if she ceases to speak on “my” behalf and claim to be “my” liberator..me and the other helpless, oppressed Arab Muslim women. Not only can I take very good care of myself, thank you very much, but I’m far from helpless or oppressed! And she doesn’t represent me in any way..not one bit! Oh, and one more thing: this Write-to-Please-the-West style doesn’t work well with us.. But then, she doesn’t really care what we think now does she?

  46. It seems odd that my comments should take so long to be “moderated.” If your site admits of free speech, it seems that mine would qualify as comments without anything to disqualify them according to your rules.

    Even an explanation of the delay would be appreciated.

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