Written by Mariem ELTagoury

“Perceptions of a posh feminist” is a biweekly column from the perspective of little posh girl (me) who was born, raised and currently lives in the big city of Cairo and strongly believes in feminism.  I hope you don’t find my continuous rants about women empowerment a bore and find my blabbering entertaining and worth your time.

Photo Credit
Photo Credit

I am woman. I have arms to pick up things, legs to get to places, an awkward looking trunk to keep them together and a brain that helps me deal with a circus called life!

Such a simple sentence yet, it took me 8 years to get it together in my head. No, I’m not retarded. I’m just a product of the modern world. I was brought up in a city that shares international and Middle Eastern cultures; Cairo. However, Cairo never offered great guidance when it came to defining the thing which I am: a woman a.k.a. a human being.

In the new millennium, where the world seems to share modern culture and values, which likes to imply that anything can be sold if you add an almost naked woman to the equation, where successful love song lyrics contain more talk about a woman’s “booty” and “bod” than romance, where the new magic media tool is “Photoshop” to create the perfect shape and look of a woman – according to a very narrow minded artist- for onlookers to idolize; everything seems to be acting like a pointer that the female was made for nothing more than sexual pleasure/fantasies.

Even our own culture didn’t spare us. Somewhere between the launch of the first Egyptian satellite channel, the sudden easy access of internet and the appearance of the era of the new religious source, “the da’eya” (media figures of charisma, wit and sometimes even charm –not your old fashioned boring Sheikh of reliable source by any means- who presumably talk about religion), the forbidding power of sin called the female has become a hot topic. Everything about this extremely, newly discovered, provocative creature could induce sin, so naturally it needed covering up! Why the alternatives of having men blindfolded or women exterminated altogether ‘Hitler style’ was not suggested is beyond me. So somehow, our own modern culture managed to maintain the same image created by international culture: females are made for nothing more than sexual pleasure/fantasies.

So we had the same theory but different ways to deal with it. Internationally, they used it as a market. Locally, they decided that it was too much of a shame so we have to hide it, and the races began! Every da’eya wanted to prove that he was more religious than the other. So after hijab, there was the 5emar then the isdal and somehow, the nikab made a comeback. And to think of the poor souls of Hoda Elsharawy and Safeya Zaghloul who spent their lives fighting to get rid of the similar borko’. Regardless of the hows and whys, it seemed like the whole world had ganged up to degrade females and to brainwash every human being. Men didn’t need persuading mind you, to believe that women were solely created for sexual pleasure/fantasies.

And women believed! The media associated with the continuous TV da’eya programs and needless to mention the uprising of sexual harassment in the big city led/pressured many women to believing that maybe it is true. Even if we totally believe that sexual harassment is not the victim’s fault, we still manage to find ourselves standing in front of a long mirror in the morning hoping that what we’re wearing is NOT attractive or provocative so as not to leave the harasser with a valid excuse for his actions – as if what we wear actually makes a difference!

The thing that I find quite amusing is that many cultures have proved that men can show sexual restraint if they please and that how a person views the female body actually depends on how he was raised to view it. In history, women’s breasts were not always paraded as silicon coconuts to attract men. In some cultures, it was a symbol of motherhood and was not thought of as a sexual aspect. One of these cultures that still survive to this day belongs to the Himba people of Southern Africa. Both men and women live topless because it is considered a norm to the people of the tribe not only do the men not turn an eye when they pass by, but even when they visit the city in their traditional attire, no one assaults them and heads don’t even turn. When asked why, people say it’s the way that tribe dresses. There’s nothing unusual about it. (N.B. I am not advocating for toplessness. I’m just trying to make a point here)

Our generation of women have been given so much pressure pointers to believe the message of “females are created for sexual pleasure/fantasy” so often that somehow no matter how resistant we are, it affected us. I’ve been bombarded with the veil theory for 6 years. It took a wise mother, a lot of background reading, and plenty of courage to finally get me out of that vulnerable place. I’ve been told off for my manicure. I’ve been given the cold shoulder for having a loud laugh and was once told that some of my college colleagues disliked my company because I was loud and too lively. (Apparently, women were made to snicker and whisper) Actually they liked me a lot better when I was suffering from a hypotensive attack and they thought that was how ‘normal’ girls should act. Somewhere along the long path of ‘pressure advice’ and ‘guidance remarks’ and a lot more reading, I finally came to peace with myself. I realized that actually how people viewed my female body wasn’t my fault. I didn’t create myself. God blessed me with this body and every part of it was there for a reason, and 99% of it is not sexual!

It’s how we are raised to view ourselves and one another that matters. I realised that the problem was that I never viewed myself the way so many other people did. I like the feel of the wind through my hair. I run when I feel like it. I laugh when I’m happy. I’m loud; it’s part of who I am. When it’s warm outside, I wear a t-shirt & shorts. I thought of myself as a human being, others saw me as…well something created for sexual pleasure/fantasies. When I came to peace with this truth, it became so much easier taking in the remarks about the way I dress, the sound of my voice, or anything else that might come my way.

Just recently, I read this quote by Nawal Saa’dawy that said, “a dancer (I assume she means an erotic dancer) sees herself as a sexual commodity which she wants to display and trade with, a montakeba (a woman who covers her face) also sees herself as a sexual commodity which she does not want to display so she hides it from sight, a real woman does not view herself as a sexual commodity. She sees herself as a normal human being so she does not display herself or hide it; she acts like a human being.” This is an old quote. I think that today, unfortunately, a lot of people view women as a sexual commodity and pressure women to believe it too.

I am woman. I have arms to pick up things, legs to get to places, an awkward looking trunk to keep them together and a brain that helps me deal with a circus called life!


What do you think? How do you perceive women in our society? Your discussions and opinions about the topic are most welcome. Please, let me know in the comments.