The Arab Feminist

What once was considered an oxy-moron, has been resurrected into a new wave of female solidarity, empathy and courage in the Arab feminist movement. The attention brought to Arab female activists has complicated and shattered Western stereotypes – one of timid, oppressed females hiding behind veils that were forced upon them. We are not one of four wives, with our face covered so Arab men can hide us away in our niqab (face veil). We are not belly dancers succumb to the existential despair of male pleasure – dancing to the hum of bells that dangle from our bodies. We are also not suicide bombers or terrorists – angry and desperate in our plight to save our people’s land and religion.

What disturbs me is that each stereotype insinuates that the purpose of an Arab female is to serve others – either for objectification, reproductivity/motherhood role, a source for labor or a savior to the people. Where is the Arab female and what does she want? What does she dream? The Western stereotype has  encouraged isolation of the Arab or Arab American woman and has maintained, in and of itself, an inherent oppression of her freedom in expression. The new wave of Arab feminism has, as I stated before, confused Western stereotypes.

The erroneous generalization that Arab females are not recognized for their personal contributions or rights in the household is exasperated by the actual fact that their participation outside of the home is limited. In other words, the Arab revolution is founded in the fight for human dignity and freedom, one that nobody – men or women- were receiving. I am not saying that Arab women have not experience sexist, patriarchical limitations in the home, my point is that the generalized assumption that women were passive non-matriarchs in the home is infact wrong. Most Arab women experience a freedom in the home that she prefers and  may not focus on in her struggle for equality because she lives in a country where her and her husbands, and childrens rights, are frankly non-existant. This is why the role of Arab feminism in the Middle East is different in scope than that of the Western feminist, and why her plight has been discredited or unacknowledged in the past. But the Arab woman has inherited the larger purpose in fighting for basic human rights – as did the rest of the population when they hit the streets of  Tahrir, Benghazi and Deraa.

I return to the significance of Iman Al-Obeidi and her mother. They are significant not only in that they represent a voice for sexual abuse survivors in a conservative and silent Muslim society, but an intentional political statement on behalf of Libyan prisoners and the tortured. Her voice speaks for and to all genders. We don’t know what has happened to her now, and I think of her  – my imagination exhausted with what could have happened to her and wishing I could do something. The honor of her courageous act last weekend will be cherished and preserved by Arab feminists everywhere. She has resurrected a long history of Arab women who have been committed and fought for equality, though muffled in the eyes of the Western feminist, by the larger societal fight for basic freedom and dignity.

I just returned from an Arab American networking reception this evening, inspired by a feeling of community. I thought of Ms. Iman, of Arab sisters in my generation who are continuing the fight to liberate ourselves from these stereotypes. I also thought of our Arab brothers who have also suffered and survived without a voice or choice, and have been fighting for liberation. And then I thought, Arab feminism is not just about females. It is no longer about one person, one ruler, one government, one voice, one sex. Arab feminism is a demand for equality which benefits our brothers and sisters, alike. Female health and freedom encourages and validates a males dream for freedom as well. We are one Arab world, in a community and a family.

To read a “sister” article regarding neo-feminism in the Arab world, written by freelance journalist and member of the Arab American Journalist Association Mr. Abdennour Toumi, you may find “The Roses of Arabia”, on his site Nour News.

Image taken from