Opinion

A Nation With Cuffed Women Is A Nation Cuffed In Thought

A Nation With Cuffed Women Is A Nation Cuffed In Thought

Once upon a time there was a land called Egypt, reigned by a man. In love with his self-proclaimed divine comedy he demanded worship by all – indoctrinating his subordinates with lyrics to a self fulfilling prophecy: “Long live the Pharaoh”.

And so he did, reincarnating himself into monarchs, Feloul, Ikhwan and today, Al-Sisi. Is this Egypt’s fate? Will the mother of the world forever be ruled by masculine megalomaniacs? I hope not.

In 2011 we demanded – and succeeded – in Mubarak’s fall. “Irhal” kicked out “Hader” from our vocabulary. In 2015, the billboards show a different face, yet his vanity is just as wild. And “Hader” is back on the tip of our tongue. How did we get back to singing our submissive tune?

“Hader” — Egypt’s most vocalized submission to paternalism. We say “Hader” to our own system of thought – every single day – usually to masculine authority. Of age, of title, of familial status, of military rank, of degree, of profession, of wealth. And expect a dose of “Hader” in return too. Dress-code, academic discipline, marital status, purchases, leisure and, of course, political opinion– all subject to the ordeal of our masculine culture. What drives us to subordinate our own mindset?

“What’s wrong with Egypt’s paternalistic culture? There is too much chaos and violence. We need this for our safety” I often hear when I ask people if they are not upset with Sisi’s tight grip. True, paternalism is often related to safety. Be it in the public domain (forcing people to wear seatbelts), the private domain (a mother prohibiting her toddler from playing near the pool) or professional  (a doctor limiting medication for her depressed patient to prevent — albeit voluntary — suicide).  And yes, the executive may as well be female. So no, paternalism is not per se bad, neither is it female-degrading.

Yet, for 2 reasons I call for a shift in Egypt’s masculine power structures.

One: because it limits our potential for personal development and incites inequality. Two: because until we generate a paradigm shift regarding the way in which we succumb to the supremacy of our paternalistic society, Egypt will continue to live under masculine dictatorships.

See, the government controls TV, schools indoctrinate what is proper to read, husbands influence their wives’ choice of work and their son’s choice of career and police interfere with one’s choice of (expressing) political opinion and most infamous of all: marriage. Spouses are — as if common sense — interfered with constantly about their potential choice and indoctrinated with norms and values about who is the ‘right’ one to marry or the ‘wrong’ one to divorce. And I am not referring to arranged marriages. I am referring to the manipulation of choice to marry who one wants — by parents, by the community, by reputation, by tradition, by law.

Marrying (usually a guy) with a lower socio-economic status is for many a disgrace and inter-religious marriage a dishonour if not impossible. Jobs, cars, age, education, parents, political interest/amount of facial hair (beard), residential area,  — these are criteria valued much higher than empathy, hobbies, interests, humour — attributes that actually affect a couple’s well-being, happiness and love-life.  Now we may disagree morally whether this interference is just or not. Truth is, however, that this paternalistic intervention (to make up one’s own mind!) does indeed take place. And what I attempt to state is that — despite our possible differing opinions on whether the Egyptian paternalistic culture is good or not — if we do not address this our presidents will continue to find legitimacy to control our beliefs, liberty and autonomy, and hence remain totalitarian, no matter how charismatic their face may be. And most catastrophic— we won’t even notice because we never learned or feared to think for ourselves.

So now what? I think that first we must recognize that we are in control of our culture’s legitimacy. And second, we should question the benefit of allowing this masculine favored society to rule over us. Are we happy with the way our life is dominated? If so, enjoy the rest of the failed revolution. Personally, I wish many girls more dignity in their life.

So this is a girl thing? Yes, Egypt’s paternalistic culture is a girl thing.

Egyptian paternalists are obsessed with virginity — terrified to lose it, actually — as if it is their most precious asset which needs to be protected, defended and eventually sold with blood — literally (a dowry). A girl’s virginity belongs to her father. And sometimes even to the state, as then General Al-Sisi infamously made clear with his ‘virginity tests’. The detention, beating, threatening with prostitution charges (severe emotional and social manipulation considering how  women are culturally perceived) and forced humiliating vaginal exams were defended by the (now) dictator. His argument: The tests — which aimed to show the girls were no longer virgins — were conducted “to protect girls from rape as well to protect the soldiers and officers from rape accusation”. The tests and his reasoning are infuriating! And this is a euphemism. It not only resembles the regime’s stupidity, as though a hymen can only break when a girl desires the penetration, it — and this is the most shocking and crucial part — reflects the malicious paternal doctrine of authority, one which dehumanizes women, as though a lack of hymen legitimizes rape. Whether the girls were lawfully detained, treated as dignified human beings or granted a fair trial for whatever they were detained for (protesting!), it was irrelevant for the General. What mattered was whether they were virgins or not. And since they weren’t, all other evil conducted by the regime got excused.

But Egypt’s obsessive-compulsive-virginity syndrome is not just a government disorder. Take female genital mutilation. The official numbers are ambiguous but it happens all too often. And usually by a woman! This is exactly what makes my blood boil. Each time someone cuts into the girl’s most intimate and powerful zone, they strengthen the masculine doctrine of power over women – the ideology that humanity is better off if half of mankind is degraded to half a vagina. When a girl is genitally mutilated, her female-hood is expropriated. She is deprived from the capability to develop her sexuality, respond to her desires, give shape to her femininity  — because her feelings, her identity – are literally stripped away from her. She is as such dehumanized.

“To be or not to be a virgin” — Egyptian fathers’ supreme inquisition, inherited by daughters. Women who have experienced ‘outside marriage’ passion or   sexual abuse  live in constant fear of rejection by family, society and potential husbands. No blood on the bed sheets during wedding-night is the worst nightmare for the average Egyptian girl. Often not in recreant to God — something one can only feel personally and spiritually — but mostly in fear of the paternalistic verdict. If virginity’s value was gender-neutral, as is the case in Islam, one could — and I would — consider it an ordeal-free phenomenon, a value individuals choose to cherish to their own extent and hence deserves to be respected. Yet the obsession with an intact hymen shows that Egypt’s fixation on virginity is everything but gender-neutral. The high percentage of female genital mutilation and the government’s incapacity to enforce its illegality illustrate the inferiority females are forced into by the paternalistic dogma. And even more compelling is the rise in women who undergo hymen restoration surgeries — in masculine society’s secret shadow. If women were intrinsically motivated to relock the doors to their womanhood solely in respect of and for their own sexual autonomy, blessings and respect are in place. Yet if women decide on such a procedure owing to society’s indoctrinated ruptured-membrane-phobia, to submit to men’s self-declared supremacy – ultimate magistrate of a woman’s deserved respect — then I call for a revolution.

Why do I call for a feminine Moses-like revolution?

Because as long as we — the interfered with — legitimize the intrusion of our paternalistic society, internalize it, inherit it and set it forth, we pledge allegiance to immortal dictatorship. If we silently submit to the norms and values our masculine inspired social structures dictate, thereby sacrificing (part of) our identity, and expecting the same such submission by those we – under the same premises – label inferior, this masculine manipulation will live forth. And it is this dogma from which dictators obtain their legitimacy, respect and justification to interfere with our lives as though we are not human enough to control our own autonomous and free mind, body and souls.

Edited by Karim Hafazalla

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  • Angela Ruth

    Respect!!!!!

  • Stella Xydia

    i completely agree! My heartiest congratulations to Faryda Hussein as well as to Egyptian Streets~! Nowhere have I read articles with such freedom of thought. One can agree or disagree but what is more important here is to “have the guts” to speak up. Someone must!

  • AgnosticEgyptian

    Fantastic article. As an American born to two Egyptian parents, I can attest to this paternalistic OCD syndrome that was instilled in me while I was growing up, and I’m a guy! It’s crazy how people are so scared to think for themselves and do what they want to do because they’re afraid of what might happen to them! I blame religion for most of this behavior, everything in Egypt that is screwed up is always backed by some religious (usually Islamic) anecdote/verse/saying to make it justifiable. People need to evolve and think for themselves, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Opinion

Faryda Hussein obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Social Science from the University of Maastricht and a Master of Science in Conflict Resolution and Governance from the University of Amsterdam. As a political scientist she has conducted research on Islamic extremism in Europe and development aid in fragile states. After graduation she got selected to work for the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment in the Netherlands where she has held various positions mainly in international affairs such as the International Labor Organization and European Union. After the start of the revolution in Tunisia she was stationed at the Embassy in Tunis as researcher and observed the parliamentary elections. She currently works as a policy advisor on social inclusion and social entrepreneurship. She is also actively involved in the Dutch Syrian Committee for humanitarian aid and covers the events in the Middle-East as an anthropological photographer.

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