Saturday, 27 March 2010

My Feminism or: Why Your Body Hair Won't Change the World (pt. 1)

Sexist fucks and radical feminists are just a couple of the many stereotypes we run into nowadays, and although both seem to share just about the same level of testosterone, they stand on opposing ends of the spectrum of women's perception. The emancipation of the latter has become an important topic addressed by many sociologists, religious figures and economists. Although in Europe and the States, the “weaker sex” enjoys a relatively larger freedom margin and acceptance, the Arab World still struggles to let that “soft sex” perform even the most petty trivialities, such as driving a vehicle and voting.
Feminist waves flourished abroad some time back (19th and early 20th century for first-wave feminism, 60s and 70s for second-wave feminism, and finally the contemporary third wave) and many must-reads have been published by the likes of Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, and others to provide us with substantial food for the mind. Also, feminist claims have indeed done their best to enhance the situation in the Middle-East and bring media attention to it, for example: Hoda Shaarawi’s participation in the first women’s street demonstration in 1914, and Nawal El Saadawi’s writings about female genital mutilation to name a few. However, the work that should be maintained by the public on a regular basis has proved to be highly lacking and insufficient.
In fact, far from deified ideologies, imported ideas, and leaders put up on a pedestal, the pragmatic aspect of what any feminist collectivity in Lebanon believes in and most importantly knows, should stay the main focal point. My point is, what do you as a contemporary woman fighting for her rights know about feminist authors, filmmakers, female painters and theorists?
How do you, as a feminist individual or collective, go about changing the world? And even more so, how do you alter people’s (men and women alike) preconceived ideas?
The dilemma of today is not so much identifying the problem and its origin, but our very approach to the predicament itself. Knowing that our education is biased and lacking, the figures with which we identify are questionable and our very frame of mind has been wrought, shaped and conditioned by the male gaze, how can we go about reversing all of that before committing ourselves to causes, beliefs and world change?
A current trend that is easily noticeable in Lebanon is reducing feminism to a symbol. As is common with all "ideologies", or let's call them "isms", a distinct trait more often than not gets associated to an ism, and in this case, it’s body hair. Not that such a symbol is by definition irrelevant, but it IS futile. All action is stopping there, and by action, I do not mean street marches but cerebral, intellectual stimulation. The danger of hiding behind, or putting in the forefront this body hair symbol, is the fact that body hair never changed the world - and never will. Flaunting your unshaved armpits or Amazonian bush rarely got people to reconsider their views or shed light on the lack our pedagogy suffers from.

Written by Haneen H / Edited by Jay Feghali