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Debating the War on Women

I was 16 when I first recognized that my father was terrified of me. We were at a grocery shop in my town in southern Lebanon when my classmate, a boy, came in. All I did was say "hi" and smile, but that was horrifying enough for my father to spend the night screaming and banging his head against the walls because he did not want to hit me. His little girl had turned into a woman with a natural sex drive that he could not put off.

I was a woman, one who could cause him shame and dishonor by talking to men in a public space. His reaction triggered a tornado of mixed thoughts and feelings in my mind. But in the midst of the confusion and deep fear, I sensed a strange quiver of power.

In the years that followed, I used this power against him and everything patriarchal in my community. I gradually raised his expectations and, with them, his fears. His alarm about me and my body made him more repressive, but it was his fear that exposed his weakness and made me realize that I could break him.

That's how I started to appreciate badass ladies -- ladies who are brave enough to break the chains off their bodies and sexuality, and stress their dignity, not their shame. These ladies, who are not afraid to confront men in the public sphere and turn their bodies from symbols of shame into icons of dignity and self-worth, are much needed now; otherwise, the Arab Spring will not be complete and women will remain, as Mona Eltahawy puts it, the most vulnerable in Egypt, and the region.

When Egyptian feminist Huda Shaarawi removed her face veil in 1923, she did it as soon as she stepped out of the train station in Cairo after returning from a trip to Rome. Although she was severely criticized at first, this act marked the entry of Egyptian women into Egypt's public life. The act was shocking at the time, but the shock made change possible.

Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW Lebanon and a journalist based in Beirut. She participated in Foreign Policy’s debate on women in the Middle East in response to Mona ElTahawi’s feature entitled “Why do they hate us?” (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/04/23/why_do_they_hate_us).

The above article was published in foreignpolicy.com on April 24th, 2012.


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