A response to Mona’s article: “Why do they hate us?”
It’s not a matter of “Arab men hate Arab women,” but analyzing the socio-political-historical factors that have led to oppressive regimes against women. It is not an inherent problem to the Middle East, because you have such cases all over the world, where women are denied from participating in government, or having full access to the public sphere. The “us vs. them” is all too familiar in Nawal el Saadawi’s approach in talking about gender issues, where once again, international audiences can re-confirm their assumptions that “Arab men are oppressing Arab women.”
Mona Eltahawy’s article describes instances of where women are oppressed in the Middle East, and need to fight back against Arab men, but what about the power dynamics of the state vs. the people? It is not just a matter of women being second-class citizens within their own countries, but anyone that does not have “wasta” (connections to the politically elite), who are from the lower classes, migrant workers, etc. are oppressed. Secondly, not all Arab countries are the same. Each country has it’s own history; where women in Morocco are treated differently than women in Tunisia, who are treated differently than in Egypt and Lebanon, etc. Mona seems to categorize this issue as all Arab women are dealing with the same issues, and need to progress in the same way. We are left with the solution that “Arab women need to fight against Arab men,” but leaves out how the state, in various contexts has treated women throughout history. Mona’s article presents this issue as it has always existed throughout time and is a one-dimensional problem (Arab men hate Arab women). How can one generalize an entire gender? In Egypt, women’s dress was less conservative in the 1930’s and 1970’s compared to now. Women’s status/treatment changes overtime, and not in a linear structure.
So Mona should have asked how are societies able to oppress women in various contexts? It’s not that Arab men hate Arab women, but how the state is able to oppress various groups of people. It’s not inherent to a certain culture or religion, but has more to do with politics than anything else.