Juliana Yazbeck

Mamma Mia! How one feminist feels about Mia Khalifa

Sexism exists everywhere, but in Lebanon I found it unbearable.

Mia Khalifa selfie (image via Facebook)

And so Mia Khalifa emerges from the murky waters of the porn industry. Naturally, Lebanon responds. Lebanon always has an opinion, and its opinion is the only opinion that matters.


It seems the big question is whether or not she is “free to do what she wants with her body.” Social media comments flood our newsfeeds, divided between: “Of course she is free, it’s her body! It’s not up to men to tell her what to do” and “No, she is not free to do something like that with her body when we are fighting for respect and against domestic violence.”


We are forgetting the main issue here. It is not whether or not she is free. Of course she is. That isn’t even debatable. What we are forgetting are the contexts: one being the porn industry; and the other, Lebanon.


As a Lebanese woman, I spend what feels like 70% of my energy fighting against sexism, especially intellectual sexism. It got so bad that I left the country. Some women — and I admire them for taking on such an arduous cause — have chosen to stay in Lebanon and continue to fight. Sexism in the workplace, sexism in social situations, sexism on the street… these are all very real. Sexism exists everywhere, but in Lebanon I found it unbearable. I could no longer bear being censored in my work. I could no longer accept that being intelligent meant being single, because I could not dumb myself down for the sake of being with a man. It was affecting my professional life, social life and romantic life.


For someone who has struggled so much to assert their presence as a human being with a working, thinking brain, I cannot deny that I felt a pang of despair when Mia erupted across social media and entertainment news. It never even crossed my mind to think, “she doesn’t have the right.” What did cross my mind was: “Really? Of the very few Lebanese women who are making global headlines, it had to be a porn star?” It felt like I had traveled for months, and just as I was nearing my destination, someone used my passport to wipe their ass, undoing all my hard work and sending me back to square one.


The general excitement and support Mia has been met with, especially from the “liberal” male population of Lebanon, is understandable. After all, the more sexual liberty Lebanese women find, the easier it will be for the average Lebanese male youth to copulate. But that is not our issue. We have no problem whatsoever finding opportunities to copulate — in fact, more often than not we find ourselves fending off potential sexual partners.


One of the most intelligent people I know (and I think in this instance it is well worth mentioning that she is a woman) once said to me: “There is no such thing as being ‘sexually liberal.’ You are either liberal or you are not.” I found this particularly enlightening. To be liberal means to be so towards religion, education, politics, race, social issues, and sexuality. You cannot be ignorant in one field and still call yourself “sexually liberal.” This is where I think some of us Lebanese women are struggling. It pains me to see a fellow Lebanese woman — or any woman really — turn to sex when she finds it nearly impossible to use her brain in such a patriarchal society.


I was recently asked to read a script and give a cultural opinion on it. I came across a line in the script: “I used to think George Clooney was smart, until he married a Lebanese.” It stung. When asked for my opinion, I told the director: “This line is racist.” I found myself thinking about the line over lunch. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t just racist, it was horribly sexist. The joke was not on the Lebanese, the joke was on Lebanese women. The joke was on a particularly intelligent, exemplary, successful Lebanese woman: Amal Alamuddin. Despite all of Alamuddin’s achievements, her crime is that she is a Lebanese woman.


The exploitation of women is immensely widespread. It is a complex issue that we continue to study and challenge. It seems that somehow Lebanese women are particularly skilled at finding — dare I even say placing — themselves in exploitative situations: talent-less pop stars, international footballers’ “WAG”s, and now porn stars.


We are all free. But that also means we are free to fight with our brains, not just our vaginas.


Juliana Yazbeck is an actor, musician and writer based in London. She tweets @Julianayaz

It is not whether or not she is free. Of course she is. That isn’t even debatable. (image via Facebook)

As a Lebanese woman, I spend what feels like 70% of my energy fighting against sexism, especially intellectual sexism. It got so bad that I left the country."

  • anonymous234

    wow you guys are harsh... Anyways when I first heard about Mia from my mom (we are in the US), I was like " hmmm who?? what?? ... ohhh another typical lebanese thing put out of proportion..." and moved on with my day. It really doesn't matter and shouldn't in principle affect anyone and certainly not the country on this scale. I agree with the writer that it really irks me that not as a female but in general why are we even bothering that girl or making it a big deal when we can encourage young people to follow examples of artists, thinkers, intellectuals, and even dare I say scientists... Let's just solve the food/health/contaminations issues , focus on perhaps agreeing on a president than we can talk some more about Mia!

    January 16, 2015

  • dazzlingz

    Great Article!!!!

    January 14, 2015

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    It is really all very simple: Liberalism is definitely not to make judgements on other people's actions, as much as these actions are personal choices and do not impact other people's freedoms to do the same. Mia Khalifa's actions are just that. Contrary to the western notion of freedom, the concept of "liberty" as the Lebanese seem to understand is essentially grounded in one's tribe, one's sect, one's family, one's herd....and not in one's person. In other words, it is never individual freedom. For Ms. Yazbeck, Mia Khalifa represents women, not herself. According to Yazbeck's explanation, Charlie Hebdo's assassinated cartoonists represented France or the press or some other herd, and as such, their cartoons carry a responsibility vis-a-vis others, when in fact, the cartoonists represent only themselves. It is only as a secondary corollary to that fact that they may represent France or the press or some other herd. We reject their assassination as retaliation against France precisely because of this fact. We need to start becoming ourselves first, regardless of which religion, which village, which tribe, which sex, which political leader we might be affiliated with. Only then can any of us, including Ms. Yazbeck, claim to be liberals with "working brains". Had we achieved this level of liberalism, Mia Khalifa would not a subject of discussions and pontifications by self-declared liberal pundits.

    January 10, 2015

  • MikeB

    This topic again. Isn't it amazing? I agree that women need all the help they can get in Lebanon's mysogenistic society. That's why for example one newspaper, L'Orient Le-Jour, posts every few days an article praising a Lebanese woman for her local business, iniative or idea, almost too much in my opinion, encouraging a cult of personality, praising and describing the person first and foremost rather than their service or product. I agree that Amal Alamuddin is refered to too often as Clooney's wife, while, to me, she is on an entirely different level, and I bet his intellect and mode of functioning has very little in common with hers in every day life. That being said, if you look at the world today, the amount of random fodder that is blamed on mysgeny and machismo has become a bit too much. If it disturbs you that a Lebanese porn star is making the headlines, than you only need to look at the rest of the Lebanese women who make headlines: Amal Alamuddin's pedigree is quite strong. Then there is as mix of artists and activists, Shakira and Salma Hayek come to mind. Nadine Labaki, Fayrouz, etc. I forget who else but there are many. it is true that there are more men who are heads of entreprises (Carlos Ghosn, Nicolas Hayek, Carlos Slim, etc). But that takes time, same as there are only three women heads of state in Europe today. It is only a matter of time, the opportunity is there. I also agree that any apprehension one might have with the porn industry shouldn't disappear just because the actress is Lebanese (even if it is always good news to see Lebanese excel in any field). But, all taht being said, the praise and success and headlining and coverage of Mia Khalifa does not, in any way hinder equality, equal intellectual opportunities for women, success of women in any field, and feminism.

    January 9, 2015

  • anis.matar.9

    She is just a girl trying to make some money not a prophetic patriot for Lebanon or Arabs so maybe the whole thing is blown out of proportion. Actually what intrigued me is your misrepresentation of female rights in workplace I am sure in large corporations females - through their social skills - are faring even better than males but in small companies there is a concept of general unfair treatment for all employees which is especially felt by females and which shows there are some differences between genders (non-specific working hours that may well extend into late night, and maternity leave issue) and we should not discard those issues easily based upon rare extreme cases of extraordinary women giving away the rights of their children and families in order to be as available and productive (24/7) as males usually are.

    January 7, 2015

  • PoolOfBlood

    I'm not sure I fully understand what your point is here. Your article is primarily about your fight against sexism, but what I'd like to know is how does that tie into Mia Khalifa's career choice? She is not going around saying she is representative of Lebanese women or a feminist role model. You seem to be blaming her for your struggles and the stuggles of other women. Instead of blaming the men who seek to constrain you on the basis of your gender, you are blaming another woman as if she has an obligation to represent women everywhere. That is not fair to me nor does it make sense. It's as if you're justifying sexism by suggesting that a woman has to live according to some arbitrary standard of what a respectable woman should be in order not to make her gender look bad. Men do not have to live by this. When one man makes a questionable decision, it is not considered a reflection on men as a whole. So why are women held to those unfair standards? Why don't you question that? Why don't you renounce the idea that another woman's choices define you as a woman? And as a seemingly self-described liberal feminist, why do you imply that being intelligent and being a sex worker are mutually exclusive? Women can fight with both their brains and vaginas. Having the freedom to use one's sexuality as one wishes is one of the many battles that feminists have fought for most of the feminist movement's history. You are upholding the patriarchy by perpetuating the idea that women can't be sexual and intelligent. If by your own philosophy you cannot be selectively liberal then I guess you fail at being liberal altogether.

    January 7, 2015

  • Tiger009

    When you put yourself on pubic display, you open yourself to criticism or praise. This is a natural reaction, and has nothing to do with sexism or feminism. People have a right to an opinion, and as long as the discussion remains civil, it is a healthy phenomenon.

    January 7, 2015

  • hungryjacks

    who cares, shes a rat.

    January 7, 2015

  • sileb

    In the end, if we haven't yet mastered the way we raise our children, are we really privileged to judge what kind of people they turn out to be?

    January 7, 2015

  • sileb

    Now I would leave it for the readers to make all the obvious assumptions as to why this fine young lady is selling herself for videotaped sex!

    January 7, 2015

  • sileb

    In his satirical novel "a history of the world in 10 and a half chapters", author Julian Barnes wrote: "Women were brought up to believe that men were the answer. They weren't. They weren't even one of the questions."  In that sense, it is worth mentioning that the way you define intelligence, accomplishment and success is solely based on the man's definition of intelligence, accomplishment and success. And all the women who seem to offend you are merely those who empower the intelligent, accomplished and successful man's ego.  I would hate to see all these women become feminists, because the feminists of the world are doing nothing but imitate the worst behavior of men. And as a man, these things were clear to me the day I imagined what my life would've been like if I had both parents away from home because they wouldn't give up their egos to protect and raise me, and not just my intelligent, accomplished, and successful dad.

    January 7, 2015

  • tbqhonestly

    I don't get why you're equating sexual liberation to lack of intelligence though ? This makes no sense

    January 7, 2015

  • xprime

    you are contradicting yourself. On one hand you say: "It pains me to see a fellow Lebanese woman — or any woman really — turn to sex when she finds it nearly impossible to use her brain in such a patriarchal society." and on the other, you say you can either be liberal or not. You cannot pick and choose what you want to be liberal about. Well you clearly are picking and choosing since someone picking a porn career pains you and you clearly disagree with the decision. And as sexist as you are (no wonder why you spend 70% fighting sexism), it only pains you because it's a she and not a he. Why doesn't it pain you to see a male pornstar? She turned to sex because she enjoys it. Think of her profession as a hobby. She still uses her brain, it's not mutually exclusive, porn or brain.

    January 7, 2015

  • makeway

    As a lebanese woman who has always relied on my hard work and climbed quite fast for my age, I have to admit it was pretty easy. I never had to fight discrimination for being a woman, I got paid higher salaries and havent even given my gender any thought in my career till I read this article. So i find it very weird that women are fighting in the workplace. Sorry but when you are spending 70% of your energy fighting sexism, you already lost the fight. channel that energy into your own career, take gender out of the equation and see where it gets you.

    January 6, 2015

  • DreNOYB

    Sorry to say, but you're wrong about "It felt like I had traveled for months, and just as I was nearing my destination, someone used my passport to wipe their ass, undoing all my hard work and sending me back to square one." You represent yourself, and if you're around people who judge you on anything outside of that then you're in the wrong place doing the wrong thing with/for the wrong people.

    January 6, 2015

  • amin.aldada

    You had me at hello! I think this "The general excitement .... the average Lebanese male youth to copulate." sums up my point of view on the matter. It's rarely about people fighting for their right, but rather sugarcoating a much sleazier hidden agenda with the title of "freedom". I have no doubt, people are free to do what they want with their bodies, and this is coming from someone who's quite conservative, but believe in personal choice. I'm guessing you share my view that the genuine fight has become restricted to select few.

    January 5, 2015

  • peter.clifford.9047

    Well done Juliana, I think you nailed the arguments there. Every woman has the right to choose her life and lifestyle, regardless of what men think. But as you say using their brains as well as their bodies, might be more intelligent and less puerile.

    January 5, 2015

  • كاتلين سعد

    "... as well as their bodies," better said than the writer

    January 6, 2015