Discussing violence against women is nothing new. Our societies are infested with painful stories of women being humiliated and beaten every day, and there are no laws to protect them yet, and perhaps there won’t be for a long time. But what is shocking today are the stories that are emerging about intellectuals who abuse their wives, journalists who are sexual harassers, and writers who support violence. What is new today, is that the intellectual class, the one we had thought to be most suited to guide the audience, readers, and the public towards a safe world where women are treated like human beings, do the exact opposite. They instead boast their virility to the public, and present a perfect model for the harassing, rapist, and misogynistic intellectual.
Intellectuals and the Perpetual Masculinity
One evening, I was reciting a poem entitled “My brain will give birth to you,” when I noticed some of the men who were ‘considered’ intellectuals in Syria whispering and laughing, and I heard the words “He will get her pregnant!” I remembered the incident after the Syrian poet Rasha Habbal wrote a post about a similar event, in which some poets distorted a sentence she said during one of her poetry readings in Germany, and the Syrian poet and writer Adnan Al-Awdeh had humiliated her for saying it after she criticized his position on the issue of the Syrian journalist Omar Sheikh Ibrahim beating his wife.
Adnan Al-Awdeh found it surprising that Omar al-Sheikh’s wife posted a video documenting her husband’s beating of her while she was pregnant, and said that she should have resolved the dispute between her and her husband either by divorce or reconciliation. To add on to his misogynistic position, he wrote: “If a woman loves you, she wouldn’t mind it if you had hit her with a Tomahawk missile.”
This time it is different. Although Adnan deleted both posts (the one about Omar al-Sheikh’s wife and the other in which he attacks poet Rasha Habbal), the subject did not go unnoticed. This time, women are angry. The Syrian poet Rasha Habbal spoke out and publicly told everyone that she was the one meant by Adnan’s post, and the Syrian women’s anger was ignited further, after it had already sparked the stories of harassment and rape that involved the Egyptian journalist Hisham Allam. Testimonies about Allam’s harassment stories started coming out after the first testimony went public and after the story of the manager of The Egyptian “Merit Publishing House,” against whom the Egyptian poet Alaa Hasanin filed a complaint.
What does exposing harassers and abusers mean today? It means to point them out, stigmatize them, and deny them social and professional privileges.
Why now? Why are women daring to expose harassers and supporters of their abuse? This is happening because women are angry and tired of waiting for the law and protection. What does exposing harassers and abusers mean today? It means to point them out, stigmatize them, and deny them social and professional privileges. Anyone should think a thousand times before supporting or hiring a harasser or an abuser, or even a supporter of violence against women. Aren’t women deprived of a law that tells the abuser “you have no right to beat your wife?” Aren’t we deprived of punishing men who support physical and verbal abuse? That is why women have the right to tell men to “Stop,” and in whichever way suits them best and that they find proportionate to their anger, pain, and shock because of the men they trusted. Today, with social media, women can tell their stories and survive just by telling them. They can reach out to many people who would really listen. That is how clear and firm opinions on crucial issues are formed in the absence of laws and real psychological and physical protection for women.
Violence Is Not a Family Secret!
At a time when the world is fighting against racism, discrimination, and abuse, Arab women are still fighting their wars that have been ongoing for years. Now we realize that men who were thought to be examples of educated and cultured people, who should protect them and their rights are nothing but a false, fancy image of misogynist abusive men, who see women as nothing more than a ‘body,’ and would insult them with words such as “fat,” “slut,” and “cow,” as Adnan said in a vulgar language in a post directed to “cow-like women.” Yes, Adnan, we are the angry cow-like women who do not accept your insults, nor do we accept to be beaten or belittled by you and the likes of you, and stay silent. Those you describe as “cow-like women” are the women you and the likes of you are afraid of because they are strong and free.
“Cow-like women” who refuse to be beaten and stay silent, or justify violence by saying that she should have solved the problem between her and her husband in private. When women reach the point of posting a video of themselves while bleeding, it means that they have had enough and that they need to tell the world about these men, who are respected abroad and presented on satellite channels as advocates of freedom. Do the men who support Omar Sheikh Ibrahim, one way or another, not think that his wife simply wanted to say: “The man who talks about your freedoms, about torture and detention, on TV, brutally beats me up?”
What is happening today is not only due to the fact that many of us are feminists, nor that social media outlets are considered means of expression, whether some people like it or not, and not because there is a trend and many people are joining it. What is happening is that we have been angry for years.
These incidents that have recently resurfaced and the crimes against women, attract violent men and those who support oppressing women, as if they can smell their own odor in the actions of other men. And as soon as the video of the wife of the Syrian journalist Omar Sheikh Ibrahim, after he had beaten her, emerged, numerous intellectuals raced to defend the man. According to them, violence incidents are family secrets, and so is humiliation. Thus, exposing any incident of violence against women shall attract additional assaulters and harassers. Just like the video of Omar Sheikh Ibrahim’s wife had exposed Adnan al-Awdeh, Adnan’s behaviour shall point out other harassers and supporters of violence against women.
Now, what is the point of exposing harassers and expressing anger on social media outlets? In fact, exposing these examples in public and at a record speed is itself an achievement. As many intellectuals and journalists of the likes of Omar and Adnan were considered models of liberal, revolutionary and human rights defenders. However, are human rights and human dignity one thing and women’s rights another? These men think so, which naturally raises an important question, should these men speak on our behalf, and on behalf of our revolutions and humanity? The answer is “No”, undoubtedly. We cannot seek dignity and kick our women at the same time, and we cannot fight for freedom while harassing women with humiliating writings and shameful accusations. We cannot write poetry and portray ourselves as influential intellectuals, and verbally abuse our female friends who once trusted us, and violate their dignity. I am not specifically attacking Omar or Adnan here, I am only showcasing examples of what women encounter from people thought to be defenders of human rights and freedoms, while recognizing the fact that “each woman has the right to expose these crimes”.
What is happening today is not only due to the fact that many of us are feminists, nor that social media outlets are considered means of expression, whether some people like it or not, and not because there is a trend and many people are joining it. What is happening is that we have been angry for years, and because the more you tighten the rope, it will eventually break. Because women are tired of listening to stories of oppression, injustice and scolding from neighbours and friends, because they are tired of fearing some people’s opinions, or fearing that they would talk behind their backs about their appearances and lifestyles that they do not like, or the other way around. Because women are tired of silence about all forms of harassment against them from intellectuals who admire women and their bodies in public, yet beat them in their imagination and in their homes. What is happening now is that women are angry, and nothing can lessen the magnitude of this anger, or their right to seize even part of their rights. What is happening today is a small step towards seizing our rights by ourselves, through anger, screaming, exposing, or through logic or sarcasm. All these are legitimate means, and every woman and girl has the right to express her anger in the way that suits her. Therefore, women tell cowards and people who do not have a stance: Shut up, stay aside and stop the sarcasm and belittling our rights, just sit and watch women’s anger like frightened rabbits.
We Are Well Aware of the Consequences of Our Anger
We, women, are well aware that any step we take to show a harasser or an assaulter that we despise them and that they have been exposed, during the process of regaining our rights, shall be met with attacks and attempts to undermine our capabilities, and our rights using mean ways, like violating our dignity, mocking our looks and fabricating sexual stories about us. All those are, in fact, the only weapons that cowards have, and customs and traditions have enabled them to use these weapons, as the only weapon that weak men have is attacking women’s bodies and dignity.
Undoubtedly, we need clearer and more efficient laws, but until that happens we cannot remain silent, particularly female writers, intellectuals, and poets.
Hisham Allam, Adnan al-Awdeh and Omar Sheikh Ibrahim, they are all examples of intellectuals who live among us, we read their works and watch them on TV, and their extensive culture and ideas amaze us, many women dream of meeting men like them, but, in their houses they live another life, they beat their wives, verbally harass their female colleagues and friends. The likes of these men should be held accountable and exposed every day without any hesitation, regardless of the consequences. Whatever happens, the consequences will not be worse than the silence and fear of many women as they recall the slaps or the humiliating words, the consequences will not be worse than the thought of a girl that she is lonely and accused for the simple reason that she is a woman.
Undoubtedly, we need clearer and more efficient laws, but until that happens we cannot remain silent, particularly female writers, intellectuals, and poets. There are women who are fighting to push for the issuance of laws that serve justice for women, and we are exposing reality and revealing harassers and assaulters one after the other.