Women


A friend of mine recently hosted a round table about the hurtful words we never really think about. Unfortunately I couldn’t be there, so I contributed by email. She asked me about the words “Ya Binit” and how they can be harmful. I started to write and my response to her was short and quick, and I wasnt satisfied with it. The ideas kept swirling in my head and the anger was there boiling and bubbling needing to come out.

 

I am not a binit – A little girl devoid of maturity, experience, or sexuality. I am in my mid thirties, and for you to reduce me to a little girl with those two words is not acceptable. I don’t care if you are afraid of me and my body. You can not reduce me to a hymen, an elastic membrane (that sometimes doesn’t even exist). An elastic membrane that you think you can use to control me. I am not a binit because it nullifies all the hard work and the years I have put into fighting your oppression. Fighting for my place in schools, fighting for my place in the work force, fighting for my place in the street. Fighting to be recognized, and yet you still, and very flippantly, call me a girl.

 

I am not a binit- not after all the years I have been working, building a long career filled with successes and failures. I am not a binit- not after paying my own rent with my own hard earned money. I pay my own bills, I buy my own clothes, I paint my own walls and a little binit doesn’t do that. I am not a binit simply because you cant deal with my liberation and independence!

 

I am a woman, and your misogynist question “Anesah will Madam?”- is your polite way of asking me if I am a virgin or not; If I am legitimized by yet another man and his hegemony over my sexuality. If I am sanctioned by marriage or under the auspices of a father or brother or some other familial male figure. Your question renders me useless. It invalidates me. It perpetuates your oppression, sanctioned by state, society and family. It basically asks me who is the man that controls you, as if I have no control over my own destiny. Ya Binit reduces me and my value to what is, or isn’t, between my legs. Well here is a news flash, what is or isnt between my legs is none of your business.

 

I am not a binit and your questions of “anseh will madam?” will not be answered. I am a woman and I will not be reduced to a child tethered by a hymened leash that exists in your head.

 

Mouthing off- Anita Kunz

Mouthing off- Anita Kunz

Yesterday I was in the elevator about to leave the office, I pressed GF to go down but instead it went up. It opened on the 5th floor and there a man was waiting. He was a construction worker and it was clear he thought that because of our varying class difference he should wait till I was done and call back the elevator. I thought that was silly, we both want to go down to the ground floor, and what a waste of time and energy. We are both human, what is this silliness of class and gender! But it seems the invitation to the ride the elevator meant that it was an invitation to harass. He looked me up and down, his pelvis made the slightest move closer and with a sly look on his face he winked. I shouted at him in the angriest and most assertive of my voices “NO”. His body crumbled and his demeanor became that of shame, he looked away and mumbled “Istagfur allah”, god forgive. We left the elevator.

This is the latest incident of a lifetime of incidents. I have normalized, and for too long, the harassment I endure at the hands of men. Growing up I have been stared at, touched, called out at and, and, and… but I learned to ignore, and become oblivious to it. I lived in a bubble where, in my mind, I was not objectified. Two years ago that changed. A friend of mine came to my house and started a conversation; she asked me “what do you do when you get harassed?” And I immediately said “I don’t get harassed.” What a farce, I get harassed on a regular basis, everyday is an assault of some sort, I just became very good at using defensive tactics that made me invisible, protected me, or just allowed me to disassociate from the stares, the following, the “accidental” brushing, the catcalling…etc.

Throughout the last two years I have worked with my dear friend on an initiative to combat this assault and take a more assertive stand on harassment. We are still working on it. While on this journey I have taken myself out of my bubble and taken notice of every transgression on my body, my being, my soul and I have reacted. I no longer disassociate but instead I engage by being more vocal, more aware and more assertive. Not just with the offenders but with other women too, learning from them and exchanging with them strategies, ideas and tools for dealing with the abuse. For example, last year I was walking down a street in downtown Amman. This man looks at my breasts lustfully and says in the sleaziest of tones “Shu hal ibizaz” (look at those tits). Had I been in my bubble I would have just kept walking without even hearing or acknowledging what he said. That is not what happened. I stopped in my tracks and turned around. I filled my lungs with air and started to tell him off in my loudest of voices, the point was to turn the shame towards him and attract attention to him (shaming the offender and exposing him was one the strategies we talked about and it worked). Being the coward that he was he quickly lowered his head and with a fearful and stricken look on his face he scuttled along quickly like the rat that he is, people were looking at him rather than at me and wondering what did he do, rather than what did I do. I walked away head held high knowing that I stood up for myself and countless other women. I knew that next time, as I am sure there will be a next time, this lowlife will think twice and maybe thrice before calling out at a woman.

These daily acts of violence and aggression, whether physical or not, mean that I have to change how I deal with the world and I hate it. I hate that men like the two I mention leave within me a bad feeling of distrust, anger, and aggression towards mankind. I hate that every time I try to be nice to a man he takes it as invitation to assault my being or body in some way or form. I hate that I have to always be on alert, on guard, suspicious of acts of kindness and withholding acts of kindness. But I have decided to turn that hate, anger and mistrust in to an act of empowerment.

I have experienced firsthand what the power of sharing, talking and exposing these acts of harassment can do, and so I am going to write, talk and expose these acts every time they happen. I will not be silenced, I am not a victim. It is my right to walk down the street with the respect and rights due to me and my body. And when those rights are taken away I will not wait for someone to “rescue” me or fight on my behalf. I can do it myself.

A Jordanian journalist, feminist and human rights activist is now published. Rana Husseini’s new book Murder in the Name of Honour was launched in the UK May 28,  will be launched in Amman June 2 and will be launched in the US June 26.

You can attend the launch in Amman at Readers in Cosmo 7pm – 9pm and get signed copies.

Below is more about the book and the woman behind it as published in a press release from her publishers One World.

THE TRUE STORY OF ONE WOMAN’S HEROIC FIGHT AGAINST AN UNBELIEVABLE CRIME

RANA HUSSEINI

A leading investigative journalist offers the first definitive exposé of honour killings.

Rana Husseini’s hard hitting and controversial examination of honour crimes is a fearless, groundbreaking account of a topic that can no longer be ignored.  Claiming the lives of 5,000 women every year, and common in many traditional societies around the world, as well as in migrant communities in Europe and the USA, these so-called “Honour Killings” involve a “punishment” – often death or disfigurement – carried out by a relative to restore the family’s honour.

Breaking through the conspiracy of silence surrounding this crime, the book includes the personal stories behind many high profile cases that have recently hit the news, as well as many other, as yet unheard stories. Rana also describes her battle to change outdated laws and expose those countries that still, even today, legally allow killers who claim to have struck in the name of honor to walk free. No other writer has taken such an unflinching look at one of the most brutal practices that still exists in the modern world.

Journalist, feminist, and human rights defender, Jordanian RANA HUSSEINI is one of the world’s most influential investigative journalists, whose reporting has put violence against women on the public agenda around the world. The recipient of numerous awards for bravery in journalism, she is a regular speaker at major international events and has been interviewed by almost every major international broadcaster, from CNN to the BBC

I was listening to a speech at the Toastmasters Division Contest this weekend entitled “In Her Shoes” by a young man. His speech was about women. He started with skits about women drivers, about wives that spend all their husbands’ money and women among other derogatory scenarios. He moves into the body of his speech by saying he wants to put himself in a woman’s shoes and even puts on a blond wig for this part.

Askar talks about how easy it for women to get by on their looks. He does a skit in which the woman at the office is not available because she has sneaked off to get her nails. How about the idea that women get better performance appraisals at the office because they are pretty and flick their hair at the boss! How about the wife that calls her husband asking him for more money because she once again maxed the two credit cards and she needs to shop some more for frivolous unnecessary things. He spoke about how women have it easy in marriage as they lay out their conditions and put a price on their dowry.

The sexist comments and scenarios just kept coming and I couldn’t keep quiet. I called out bullshit a couple of times, and when I did it wasn’t just for me. It was for every woman who’s had to work twice or thrice as hard as the man sitting next to her, doing the same job and getting paid more than her. It was for every woman who has had a mate forced upon her by her father, brother, or uncle. It was for every woman denied education so her brother can go to school despite her being the better and smarter student. It was for every woman who has been slapped, punched, beaten, hit, or raped by a man because he could. It was for every woman who has been cat called, looked over, followed, touched, or objectified , for every woman sexually harassed on the street, in the office and in any public and private space. For every woman who stays at home because her father, brother, husband or son will not let her earn a living for herself and become independent. For every woman who toils in her house 24/7 making sure her family has a hot meal and clean safe home to come back to every day. For every woman on a diet trying to be that air brushed model in the magazine. This was and is for every woman and all women.

These women do not get by on their looks, or a flick of the hair. The speaker used stereotypes to get a laugh out of us. He pigeon-holed woman as objects of beauty and frivolity, bad drivers, and as lazy and unprofessional beings, that is what he saw when he put himself in a woman’s shoes! He then tried to turn his speech around not by negating any of what he said but by saying that women and men both have it hard and that both genders compliment and complete each other. To me this translated into him reinforcing these stereotypes, and saying they are OK because the men complete the other half of the equation. An argument I can NOT accept.

What angered me the most, and saddened me even, was that the women in his club, and area had said nothing when he presented his speech in these contests. Even the women in the room that day excused his misogyny because he said that one sentence at the end or because it was a humorous speech and therefore not a serious speech that warrants such a reaction from me. I was even chastised publicly, and officially complained against because I spoke out and up against this sexism.

Speaking up and against an injustice is never easy. It isn’t popular, it isn’t polite even. But it is the right thing to do. Women have been silent and silenced too long. We are forced to be submissive by culture, upbringing, guilt, shame and even coercion. Discrimination, misogyny, and sexism should not be tolerated, even in jest and in fact should be opposed.

I am sick of being shushed because it is not polite to speak up. I am tired of being told its OK because it is funny. I am exasperated by the people that tell me to look around me, it’s true – to them I tell them to look farther afield than their immediate circle of privilege and prejudice. I don’t see why I have to take this abuse quietly, do you?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” I will not be oppressed or an oppressor, and I did not appreciate the neutrality in that room that day, because with it came the tacit approval of our silence.

The other day my mother had a gathering. She invited her friends and sisters for some fun and entertainment. So the house was flooded by about 10 to 15 women. There was dancing, food, jokes and of course gossip and idle chit chat. Inevitably, at least one woman would come up to me and make that fateful comment. Talking to me about that dirty three letter word without saying it.

 

Throughout the years I have come across ever possible approach from these women. This includes the veiled compliments, the suggestions, the questions to the outright self important proclamations. They would be direct or indirect, they would be public or discreet, supportive or hostile… you name the approach and they’ve used it. The most common approach right now is marriage and how I should be focus on that and sure enough the comments about my figure would follow shortly.

 

That’s right you read correctly, they talk to me about being a bit FAT girl! Fat is a dirty word in our society, and by society I mean global society. It doesn’t matter where you hail from you need to be a size 4 or less. And what is worse here you have to have a skewed relationship with food. You make massive quantities of the most decadent dishes and deprive yourself of them. You have to be petite, tiny, slim-waisted and dainty so that you are an eligible young lady and prostitute yourself before these older women to find an eligible man and have a suitable life.

 

What is funny is none of these women have these figures they encourage me to have. These women do not have the life I want to lead, know nothing about me except from that sliver of interaction and yet they presumptuously think that I am unhappy in my skin! I wish it ends there too, at least there is a context in which these comments are made. I really don’t like it when strangers come up to me and tell me I have such a pretty face if only I would lose the weight, or a shop vendor or tailor makes that comment. And don’t you just love the people that try to push those magic weight loss products?! These people may think that they are doing me a service by telling me about my body and what is best for it. It’s as if they have a right to judge me solely by a number on a scale without knowing anything else about me.

 

I have been fat since I was a baby. To me being thin is being a size 14, I am tall, big, round, curvy and yes that dirty word we all try to avoid… FAT. And you know what I am not apologetic about it anymore, I don’t feel sorry for myself, I don’t think I need to change and when one of these women comes up to me today or a stranger comes on the street says something my responses are along these lines: who gave you the right to talk about my body, excuse and what do you know about me to make that comment or very proudly I love my curves and they love me and they go everywhere I go!

 

When I was growing up I never thought of myself as fat despite being so, I was athletic and active and never really felt heavy. Yet the world around me made me feel such, but as I grew older I came to understand my body and respect it and demand what I could of it by taking care of it. Being healthy to me is more important that the number on the label. I was also adamant, from childhood, about people respecting me for my intellect, my personality and not my looks.

 

But it still took me a long time to come to terms with that dirty word and use it: fat. Fat is not acceptable to our world today, but fat I am and like I said to that woman and I will repeat it as often as necessary, I love my body, I love curves and I love my fat! If you have problem with fat then please take it elsewhere because this big fat girl loves herself enough to say enough.

This is being circulated around the web and came into my inbox. We need to be vocal we need to be visible we need to use logical rhetoric. I am reposting their email that calls all of us to action. View their work so far and see how you can help!

 

Thanks.

S.

 

Dear friends,


We are a group of Arab women from Jordan who have come together in
response to the vicious attacks by Israel on Gaza. Our aim is to spread awareness across the globe on the atrocities and encourage all responsible citizens to act in the name of humanity. Help us give voice to those who have been silenced by doing the following: 

 1. Visit our YouTube links and rate us positively!

We need your views so we can become the first Arab youtube clip to get onto the most viewed page
The YouTube clips address the following:
On the Humanitarian Situation

On Israel’s Violations of Humanitarian Law
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxZoiYvNuqw&NR=1

On the Media Spin
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-8GqHL2J-I&feature=related

Our Call to Action
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAonLJHEuak

 

2. Forward this message to all your friends and encourage them to do the same! Make sure everyone you know watches these videos!

 3. Join our Facebook group and share our videos with your friends!

4.  Add our links on your website and/or blogs.

5.  View our Call to Action episode on You Tube on the 30th of January 2009 so that we may reach our goal of becoming the most viewed clip on YouTube so as to give the crisis in Gaza the exposure it desperately needs.

 

We need your support! Please help us! For more information, please
email at
voicesforpalestine@gmail.com

In solidarity,
Voices for Palestine
www.voicesforpalestine.com

 

On Saturday January 17 2009 a community got together and donated time, effort and goods to Gaza. When I arrived I expected to see a few stalls and a few people instead I saw every possible space at the YWCA filled with stalls goods and people.

 

Young and old had volunteered to do various roles from setting up the shoe throwing game, to selling raffle tickets, young musicians had volunteered their voices for a concert and the stalls were filled with various wares from used books to handmade jewelry and such. Stall proceeds were pledged to the cause and they ranged from 100% to 10% of profits and proceeds going to Gaza. The goal was to raise JD 1000 to use for medical supplies and goods.

 

After seven hours of giving and taking, after a lot of running around, people started to tidy up and put away their wares. Happily tired volunteers were packing what little was left of the donations that came through for sale. And as the money was being counted we quickly realized we had exceeded our expectations of JD 1000. Slowly we counted 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, and 5555 Jordanian Dinars (USD7845) in sales, proceeds, and donations ALL GOING TO GAZA.

 

Well done, one and all! Well done to every one that pitched in, to everyone that brought or made something to sell and to everyone that brought their wallets and emptied them out.  I would also like to thank the women behind this event (this event was initiated and run and 90% manned by women from the community).

 

In my opinion, what we saw that day was amazing and worth much more in human spirit and generosity. The community came together and it didn’t matter where they were from, what religion they were, what color or creed, what nationality. That day we were all humans out to help other humans in need. Thank you for reaffirming to me that humanity still exists in this ever growing and alienating city.

One of my favorite reads in the past few years is Amin Maalouf’s book On Identity entitled: In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. The book discusses how our identity is made up of multiple facets and “it is built up and changes throughout a person’s lifetime.” The book was a response to 9/11 and was trying to answer how murderous identities are born. But I won’t go into that now, you can read the book if want to learn more. But the question begs itself, Who am I?

The idea that we relate to many identities and react to the various criticisms or praises to a part of our identity and it comes to the forefront was fascinating and understandable. It made sense that when a part of you is under attack, misrepresented, misinterpreted then you want to change that and you react or act. But I’ve never really took an in depth look into who I am from that sense. I always introduced myself within a context. Until now. So with out context and for the sake answer the question this is my Identity.

Two identities come to the forefront of my mind: I am an Arab, I am a woman. Both have been the strongest identifiers for me. The first comes from two places, assumptions people make about me, and pride. I am constantly told I look nothing like an Arab and so I am addressed as and treated as a foreigner in my own home. Here I constantly correct that assumption by asking “What does an Arab look like?” When someone speaks to me in English despite being spoken to in Arabic my response today is “Ana Ma fhimet, Ma ba7ki Englizy”. This translates into I am sorry I don’t understand, I don’t speak English. Yes I know this piece is in English and I’m always using English ,I will explain that in another post.

I am proud of being an Arab, I am proud of being Jordanian . This pride comes from constantly representing my culture, my heritage and explaining it to westerners. My first experience at being a cultural ambassador/ translator was a visit to America six years ago. The trip lasted about two months and it was such an eye opening experience. I never knew how Arab I was until I had to speak up about my country, my region, my language, my traditions, my society …etc. It is hard trying to break stereotypes and presenting a positive spin on years of negativity and misrepresentations. But it is so rewarding when you succeed in changing fear into understanding.

The other part of me is my womanhood. I love being a woman. I have struggled very hard in a man’s world to be. I grew up amongst three brothers, in a misogynistic home with gender stereotypes constantly being reinforced in the simplest of daily chores and activities. I worked in male dominated fields early on in my career, in which I had to be tough and masculine in my attitudes. I walked in streets where I am made conscious of my status as a female, made sexual with a look, a comment, and sometimes even a touch. My early conditioning was to accept apologetically this placement in life. To accept that men will always be superior. Ha ha ha… yeah right. They are more than welcome to think that, but I will not apologize for being a woman, and I am not inferior. And if anyone has a problem with that I am more than happy to set them straight! I love being a woman and I enjoy my mind, my body, myself.

There are other parts of my identity that I used to relate to strongly but not anymore. I think that I have grown enough that I no longer need to validate those parts of me by making them important and constantly wearing them on my sleeve. Not that I need to validate being an Arab woman. But I am secure enough to know that I don’t need to showcase all my facets. It also makes for interesting discoveries of oneself by others.

I am a selfish woman, sometimes even very selfish. This, I know, is a very strong statement. Strong because we, as a society, view selfishness as a very negative trait. We are taught at a very young age to share. As Arab women, we are taught at a very young age to be selfless, and place others constantly before us. There is a high value on the happiness of those around us, and as young girls we see and learn that a woman who sacrifices and puts her family, friends, and others in general before her is a virtuous, good woman. Selflessness is a highly prized virtue. Well I disagree, and I disagree strongly. I think being selfish is a good thing. 

I regard “I am a selfish woman” as a very positive affirmation of all my accomplishments and life achievements. I think it is completely and utterly OK to place a high value on the things you want, your desired achievements, and to go after them. One’s own priorities may not match those that are around them, but let me ask you this: when someone asks you to take their needs into consideration first, is this not selfishness on their part? I think it is. So why is it OK for us to come last then?

I used to be very selfless. I would place a much higher value on the happiness of others and their needs. This usually meant that I came out last if I even got a turn. I was a pleaser. If decisions were being made everyone’s contributions, needs, and or feelings were considered, by me, before mine. Sometimes, actually most times, this left me feeling frustrated, angry, or just disgruntled.

Today, I have put my foot down. I won’t do things I do not want to do. If our interests are at odds then I place a high value on my needs first and then consider the others. I am the most important person to me. Just as you are the most important person to yourself. Each one our universes revolves around us. I recognize that and for that I am called selfish. It is a tag I have no problem wearing, because I may not come out on top every time, but I sure as hell don’t come last every time either. 


Finally, I would like to say that putting myself first does not in any way mean that respect, consideration, or compassion for others is thrown out the window. It’s just that now the parameters of how my life and my decisions are made are different, and for that I am a very selfish woman J.

A woman’s relationship with her breasts and how she adorns them is a very complex one. We want support, sexiness, beauty, lift, size all rolled into one. Everyday a multitude of women put on a bra, myself included. I do not remember a day when I went braless. Even at the beach I have a special beach bra that I wear under my bathing suit unless there is one sewn into it.

I am thirty one and I have been wearing bras since I was 10 years old! I remember vividly going to a department store and buying my first bras with my mother. It was a very strange experience. There was the confusion of size and which ones to get. We poured over the training bras section religiously. I looked at all these nice pretty bras and lacy ones and sexy ones, even at that young age I knew I wanted something saucy. But somehow with the shame were are taught about our bodies prohibited me from asking for them from my mother. I knew that disapproval would be swift in coming if I voiced these desires. We ended up with two very practical white ones and on beige bra that clasped at the front. I loved that one it was so cool because it was different. Thinking back I cant help but smile and say how tame!

As the years went by my mother continued to supervise my bra purchases and sometimes we even exchanged some. The ones we bought were boring, so I always managed to borrow the lacy black ones and the pretty ones from her bra drawer. Sometimes she never noticed and I got to keep them. But with time the size of my breasts grew bigger and bigger and we could no longer share.

With the breast growth came bra independence too. I would go out and buy my own support and this is where the real dilemma started. I had boobs that were not the standard B or C cup that is Jordan and so finding a bra became a major drama. I bought any bra I could find. But they had to be functional and functionality didn’t always come with form and style. But there will be bras I will never forget, my flowery Hawaiian bra that I bought because it was so colorful. My strapless push up bra that made a shelf out of my breasts and brought them all the way up to my neck, the comfortable cotton ones that had very thin straps and I could wear under tank tops. And then there was the satin black one that made me feel so sexy.

My relationship with each of my bras depends on its color, shape, size and use. I have a whole range of them. There are some that I have in every color imaginable including teal! I love my breasts and my bras, sometimes I wish I can go with out one. Will I ever get the courage to let these babies roam free with out any support, who knows. Until then this woman will need her support system in all its colors, shapes and sizes.

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