Written by Mariem ELTagoury

*Please note that names of places & people are kept discreet for privacy issues. Also the use of Franco Arab in this article is to deliver the detailed picture of incidents. 


I’m sitting in a cafe, the smoking area as usual, because who doesn’t like the extra space and comfort offered in the smoking zone. In a distant corner across where I sit sipping my mocha which was stupidly served in a cup not a mug, sit a couple. The girl is facing me and I wonder at how young she looks, it’s not just her features that seem young, nor her small figure or her teenage dress style, there’s that sparkle in her eyes, her lazy arched back, the way she lets her legs swing freely from her chair even though she could comfortably touch the ground, her childish pout and the reluctance of her smile (why do teens hate smiling is beyond me). As I wonder what age she might be and whether she should be in school at this hour the young man pulls out his cigarette pack, which she immediately lunges for, playfully, and helps herself to a cigarette. Her stature changes, she pulls back her shoulders, straightens up, her legs take the more lady like cross legged form, her chin peaks up with confidence as she blows away the smoke and a slight wrinkle or two can now be seen in her furrowing brow. In a matter of seconds the ‘girl’ had evolved into a confident lady in lounge wear.

I recall my first year in college, while lazing around between classes in our non-smoking university building, an agitated classmate exclaimed in Arabic “eeew, I hate that sight… disgusting!” I looked up at her, following her gaze to the cold grounds outside where the pitiful sight of the smokers trying to get their nicotine dose in the cold met my eyes. “You don’t like smoking?” I inquired. “A girl smoking!” she said, as she pointed at a young lady with a cigarette. “I don’t understand?” (At the time I still found it strange to see discrimination against women by women). “Well, it’s normal for a man to smoke. It’s disgusting for a girl to do so.”

The famous Coco Chanel photograph by Man Ray

Smoking in our society is regarded as a masculine habit, while women smokers are not always seen in a good light, in spite of it being an unhealthy habit to both genders equally, *sigh* even disease knows naught of discrimination, only humans do, anyway, back to what I was saying. Not surprising for a male dominant society, which has considered smoking a manly habit and some have gone as far as trying to convince us that smoking for women is much unhealthier than for men! Despite that, Cairene women smokers have been known to smoke since well … since cigarettes were considered fancy rather than unhealthy, and the numbers have been on the rise with sheesha being the new in for the past 10 years.

The contradiction here is intriguing…. Could it be that as society pressures harder to stop women smoking, it provokes them to take up the habit? Could it be that viewing smoking as a ‘masculine’ habit be a trigger for women to smoke? Could smoking induce a subconscious aura of empowerment? After all, the main reason Coco Chanel started smoking back in the 20s was to stand out in a man’s world – and perhaps to also shock society with her free, strong soul as she always did-  that had also masculinized smoking. Could it be that we all have a little Coco Chanel inside us, trying to prove to the world her independence and freewill? But most importantly could it be that sexual discrimination has finally found a way to kill us? Perhaps it’s a conspiracy by men to induce women to smoke so they might have shorter life spans and die a slow death, while they search for means to quit the habit (I find men more likely to consider quitting options than women)? And then…. maybe I’ve been unemployed for too long and Egyptian television is getting to my head….


What do you think? What are your opinions about the topic? Do you think smoking can create the illusion of empowerment? Let us know what you think in the comments section.