Clap your hands if you learned about Hoda Shaarawi at school. Now clap some more if you studied Nawal Saada’wi, Margaret Atwood, Agnes Varda…Silence, as I expected.
The issue of education in the Middle-East, but particularly in Lebanon can be easily paralleled in politics:
Just as the problem is NEVER about who is to acquire power, since laws and/or pacts generally regulate who is to become president, monarch or minister, the dilemma basically lies in the very transmission of power. How can we deal with this in-between state when a ruler dies and a new one is to take over? This period of transition is of utmost value and fragility thus it is usually when most coups d’Etat take place. To put it in the context of equal rights- even if the legislation stipulates that women can have and implement their full civil rights (by some miracle), how these very rights be transmitted? Having acquired them would indeed be a great first step, but what about their assimilation into our culture and that of our generations come? It makes no difference if a country- which is fresh out of wars, acquires by some divine outer hand- a very sophisticated constitution, its implementation would most likely be thwarted by the people who requested it in the first place and asked to be liberated from old regimes.
Think of it in terms of intellectual shift before legal shift, and the first is done by means of education at schools (which is more like passive, mind-numbing cerebral stuffing of data and little to no requirement of analysis), knowledge procured at a personal level and last but not least, the culture preached by the existing feminist NGOs.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that our curriculum is biased. Usually, that gets said exclusively about our history books which, for the life of them, cannot come to terms on a definitive account of events since the 1975 Civil War (reminder: it’s 2010 now) and has a hard time interpreting the period even before that. However, literature and philosophy deserve a relook as well; the disequilibrium is staggering and surprisingly NOT gender-based.
Thinking that only female authors are omitted from the curriculum is false for in fact, many male authors are as well: Both politically incorrect and women writers are equally disregarded or wrought to fit academia standards; think Sade, think Genet, think Vénus Khoury-Ghata, think Nizar Kabbani, think even Abou Nawas.
The issue that this brings about is not so much the need for a gender-quota in our education but the fact that diversity of authors should be a given. Not only are we restricted to mainly male literature (which I have no problem with, for the record) but precisely to politically correct male literature. Why are we restricted to Voltaire’s views on religion while his contemporary de Sade is conveniently “forgotten”? What’s wrong with Genet’s depiction of homosexuality? How come Saadawi’s fight against gential mutilation in Egypt was hurled into oblivion? Why wasn’t Venus Khoury-Ghata ever mentioned? In case you’re wondering why female authors do not make appearances as frequently as men do, the answer can be found in Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”.
Naturally, we’d think that all this would culminate in women wanting to revolt against this system and establish some NGOs or movements to retaliate, claim rights, spread awareness, and so on and so forth. Maybe we should think again. In all fairness, there have been numerous attempts. One would think that when a collective (or an individual) is preaching a certain ideology, the logical step would be to dig up a bibliography of oeuvres in relation, whether written or filmed.
But our NGOs are an exception, their work is reduced to annual dinners and poser meetings which amount to nothing productive (aside from shaming women nationally when they voice their opinions), or simply flaunting their body hair and their “let’s eradicate men” ideology. Add to this, their film-libraries are just about completely devoid of anything substantial, as if Sally Potter, Agnes Varda, Jane Campion never held a camera in their hands. So what we have here basically is people avidly preaching a certain ideology without so much as taking into account its manifestation in contemporary art. Why on earth would anyone want to talk Sara Teasdale?Atwood?Something?
For the life of me, I can’t possibly fathom it! Darn!
Written by Haneen H / Edited by Jay Feghali