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.

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I just recieved a link to a quest on Questler that has infurated me! I am not sure where to start on this. Check it here:

http://questler.com/explore/quest/view/739

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.