It might even be obvious that I know more about the politics in the Middle East than the feminist initiatives for a sexual revolution. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to meet Mona Eltahawy, one of the leading feminists of the Arabic world, in person. Her book, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution was just published in Hungary; thus she came to the launching ceremony in Budapest. After her public interview, she dedicated her book to me. It was a feminist to feminist moment. Reading her writing, I didn’t just gained knowledge about her culture and her sense of feminism, but I also got a new role model.
Free your mind, free your body
Mona’s voice in feminism is as strong as her personality. The 48 years old writer and publicist gave a speech about the taboos; the shocking experiences that made her a feminist, and made her write her first book, the Headscarves and Hymens. As a child, she lived in London, then she followed her university professor parents and moved to Saudi Arabia. Mona then decided to go to a university in her birth country, Egypt. Today, after living over a decade in New York, she lives again in Cairo and does her bests as an activist.
Mona doesn’t wear a headscarf. Her beautiful red-dyed hair is free from any kind of control for 23 years now. But the decision was hard to make; even for her non-religious mindset. As she said in the interview, “for a woman, headscarves, marriage and giving birth to a child should be an option”. The publicist is childless, but that doesn’t make her less feminine.
“Stay out of my vagina, unless I want you in there” – said Mona in her naturally provoking way. This has been also her motto used motto in her TED talks; all followed by heavy applause. Her body has been a battleground – broken arms by police officers, sexual harassment, and the long lasting guilt because of her sexuality.
“Being a woman is dangerous anywhere”*
Her book is primarily concerned with the cultural, societal, and religious oppression of women by controlling their body. Her words are rather shocking. Me, as a woman, growing up in Hungary, a European, Christian society, I could never imagine living in a country where I wouldn’t be allowed to go alone outside, or wear whatever I want to.
However, I would say that we, Westernised women experience a different form of oppression. As the scarves have power over the Muslims, the lack of clothes and body-image issues have the control over us, the Western Girls.
Mona, as a feminist activist embarrasses the taboo of female sexuality. According to her, there will be no revolution in the Middle East without a sexual one, and both women and men have to be liberated. As she said, men are also not aware of their sexuality, that’s the reason they want to take control over women’s body.
The writer highlighted that women aren’t treated everywhere the same way, and there are a lot of differences between regions. She mentioned the three countries (Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Sudan) where laws don’t regulate the age limit of marriage.
At last, she didn’t forget to mention that Islam wasn’t always as conservative as nowadays. It had a great tradition of transsexuality, but as she explained, Muslims have forgotten these traditions and today they show something else. For example, in India, the British colonisers were the one who banned homosexuality. But this is for another time.
“Words are important”*
However, Mona’s tough fight comes with a price. She mentioned that anytime she travels somewhere she carries both of her passports – the Egyptian and the American. Because she can never know when she has to leave her country.
Her extent of her influence is clear from the anecdote that she told us during the book launching ceremony: Just before Budapest, she was in Paris where she gave a speech for an international television channel in Arabic. Egyptians could also hear her speaking about the need for a sexual revolution in Islam. After she had landed in Budapest, she noticed that the top trend in Twitter in Egypt is the hashtag #sexualrevolution.
Mona is a woman who dares to raise her voice. With two more books and many public events in the pipeline, I’m sure we will hear about her. She taught me that no matter how much the world is against you, you have to fight for the things you believe in.
* quotes are from the Headscarves and Hymens