Activist spaces where friendships mix with relationships mix with causes are indeed the most difficult spaces to talk about violence. Violence happens everywhere, there is no simple formula to erase it. It’s how we respond to it that matters, how we admit fault, and how we commit to protecting each other personally and politically. What @amarshabby has defiantly started in speaking out publicly about the sexual harassment and violence she faced in Helem, the Lebanese LGBT NGO, is nothing short of revolutionary. It has transformed the way I think about violence and support and accountability. And I have realized the grave mistakes I have made in the past year and before. In our work to bring about change, one could only wish for the gift of being taught such a humbling lesson.
Today, many months into this, Amar and others are STILL being attacked and shamed and called liars and “sluts” and attention-seekers online and offline. Zero acknowledgement of the harassment or the bullying that followed was made by Helem. I was late to offer my support for fear that my involvement would be manipulated by people into what they now call the “same old war.” But after realizing with shock the amount of pain and trauma that is being inflicted on women to punish them for speaking out, well fuck my silence and fuck yours. Ask, read, be aware, learn, and care about what’s happening. Your support is important and I trust you’ll know how best to express it – from a simple message to @amarshabby to a public statement. No lame attempts at finding a bandage are acceptable. Only radical transformation. Speak the truth though your voice may tremble.
The amount of work it takes to keep a free-flowing, feminist collective sane is ten times more difficult with every few new people. The act of constant self-reflection, the only tool to dismantle privilege within, is an obvious requirement. But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the question of morals. Should we assume that feminists are moral? Of course, I am not referring to social or cultural morals – I am referring to personal morals: manners, ethics, doing the right thing.
Is a feminist kind? Does she have a strong conscience? Does she struggle to do the right thing? Can a feminist cheat? Can she be corrupt? Is she polite and friendly? Does she care about others? Is she selfish or self-centered? Would she stab you in the back to get ahead? Does she hold grudges? Is she forgiving? Is she generous with her money or stingy?
Absurd questions, perhaps. It becomes obvious to us that politics have little to do with morals. One can imagine and has probably met a stellar feminist activist who is really mean or brash or selfish or passive aggressive. And not in the way that we often challenge socially, that it is, for example, rude for a woman to raise her voice in the presence of men. No, I don’t mean those. I mean plain rude, among friends, among other feminists. Someone who would hurt people’s feelings and not give a damn. A feminist who’s inconsiderate. Can one be a feminist and have zero empathy? Does feminism impose a moral duty on us?
Tough questions, perhaps. But are they questions that feminists should take up or do we leave them to the realm of spirituality? What is the link between privilege and morals? What is the honorable thing to do, if one wanted to give a new culture-ridden meaning to reclaim the idea of honorable doings? When does a feminist put others before herself without falling into self-misogynistic traps? What does sacrifice mean to us?
We want to believe there is something about feminism that would make us want to be morally better people. Perhaps we can find this in its understanding of oppression or the fact that feminism is, by default, a collective process. Perhaps we have to be moral and kind to one another because otherwise we can’t do our work. Perhaps we are left with utilitarian reasoning only and that there is nothing in political or personal identification with feminism that entails treating people with love. Perhaps love is its own political movement.
This feeling has been creeping up inside me for some weeks now. It used to be a dream and then it became an idea and now it’s a lot more powerful than that. Now it’s become a feeling.
I have a feeling that our time has come. We, the people on the margins. The angry, disenfranchised people who pay too much for bread and fuel and rent and water and parking. We, the kids who grew up in the 80s. We, who are unamused by boring media and mindless entertainment. We, who’ve been struggling for years trying to create small, important projects that go nowhere and achieve nothing. Civil marriage. Women’s rights. Green spaces. Anti-corruption. Renewable energy. Equal pay. Migrant rights. Bicycle lanes. Refugee rights. Public schools. Public universities. Social security. Protect our beaches. Protect our workers. Protect our Internet. Protect love. Save our animals. Save our forests. Save our heritage. End torture. End the civil war. Build a public transportation system that works already!
How much longer are we supposed to fight – alone and secluded – for what is right? How much longer do we bang our heads against a Parliament that doesn’t give a damn? Over 300 laws they have in their drawers and they waste their time – time that we pay for with our sweat and hard work – to quarrel over issues that don’t even concern us. Better yet, they create issues and convince us that they are protecting us from each other. Who protects us from the daily struggle it takes to live in this country that millions of us have abandoned because it get more and more unbearable every day?
I have a feeling that thousands of you agree that enough is enough. And what’s different this time is that I have a feeling thousands of you want to do something about it. What better thing to do than take back Parliament? Why do we have to fight against a lazy, inefficient, dysfunctional Parliament that will never give us our basic socio-economic rights? Our basic human dignity? Why does Parliament have to be ruled by war lords and billionaires and dynasties of the same families replicating the same incompetent sectarian crooks that feed on the hatred of their own people?
We can imagine a better quality of life for ourselves and our children and our brothers and sisters. We can find it in our hearts to translate this (sometimes inexplicable) love for Lebanon into a revolution that gives victory to the poor and the wronged. We can rise above $100 bribes and family loyalties and herd mentality to put our votes where our hearts really are. We can find and vote for MPs that are young and secular and progressive and hard-working and feminist and independent and intelligent. We can take back Parliament – the highest legislative authority in the country – and set it back on its original mission: to organize the lives of its people in the best possible and most egalitarian way. We can convince everybody around us. We are the majority and there is not a single person suffering today from unemployment or poverty or stolen rights or that huge, enormous feeling of helplessness and depression that will not want to hold on to the dream that change is possible.
I have a feeling that our time has come.
And what else does one do with feelings but run?
This article was edited one day after publishing to clarify that it was attempted rape.
The attempted rape and murder of Myriam Achkar in Sahel Alma has angered and outraged all of us. Myriam’s story is tragic and brings us face to face with the cruelest, most heinous of crimes. We are frustrated and enraged because it is unjust that she dies like this. A young woman, 28, takes a 20-minute walk from her home in the suburbs and gets sexually attacked and then murdered by a man.
That’s really what the story is: A young woman, 28, takes a 20-minute walk from her home in the suburbs and gets sexually attacked and murdered by a man.
But that’s not the story we’re hearing everywhere. What we’re hearing is: A young, Christian, virgin woman, 28, takes a 20-minute walk from her home to a church to pray, and gets sexually attacked and murdered by a Syrian worker.
And so the anger and outrage becomes Christian anger against Syrians. The family thirsts for his blood. They want to lynch him in the public square of Jounieh. They feel wronged as a religious community. This is violence from Syrians towards all Christians, and the Christians are too forgiving, they say. And they stress that Myriam was a practicing believer. She was not out in Gemmayze at 1am, they say. She was on her way to pray.
Nationality and religion have nothing to do with why Myriam was attacked. Really. I am not justifying the murder, God forbid anyone should justify the crime. And the rapist murderer, Fathi Jaber Al-Salatini should be tried, and if convicted, go to jail until he dies. I’m just stating a fact. Nationality and religion have nothing to do with the violence Myriam faced. What time it was, what she was wearing, what she was on her way to do, none of that matters. She was still brutally violated and her barbaric murder was not motivated by theft or hatred. It was motivated by rape.
Her story is, very sadly, not unique. I have heard dozens of stories about rape, from people and from survivors themselves. And so have you. If you haven’t, it just means that the women around you are not talking to you about it. In fact, the women in Lebanon are not talking about rape at all.
Our anger at this horrible crime – understandable anger, human anger – should be towards rape…
Towards the backwards rape laws in Lebanon.
Rapists most often get off the hook. Women are blamed. I don’t have statistics because we don’t have studies. But I know of many cases. Most recently, a European woman was raped and beaten up by two young Lebanese men. I met her and I saw the scars and bruises. The men have posted bail and are now building a case to fight her allegations in court. Our law, Article 503 says a rapist can be acquitted if he marries the victim. He would often get a reduced sentence if he proposes marriage. The maximum sentence is 5 years. Husbands are excluded from this law if they rape their wives. Rape is interpreted as a penis penetrating a vagina. All other forms of sexual violence are not criminalized. This is the law the governs rape in Lebanon. This is the law we should revolt against.
Towards the police who never take rape complaints seriously.
Our police force is not trained to handle rape cases. They ask a woman what she was wearing and why she was where she was. They ask her if she is married. The forensic doctor examines her on the same bed where police officers sleep between shifts. That is if a woman is brave enough or has enough faith in the police to report rape. In one rape case that happened in the summer, a woman had to return to the police station 3 times before they finally wrote down her complaint and promised to investigate it.
Towards the municipalities who don’t provide enough lighting or protection.
Our streets are unsafe. Women are subject to sexual harassment on the streets – any street in any part of Lebanon – 24 hours a day. Lewd comments, stalking, following in a car, propositions for sex, groping, you name it, it happens 24 hours a day to almost every woman, young women especially, every day. And our protective measure, often, is to tell women not to be on that street, at that time, alone. It’s a stupid measure. What we need is municipalities to take sexual harassment seriously, to have enough security that punishes harassment, to have adequate lighting, to respond to complaints. Outside one university campus in Metn is a women’s dorm where men gather every night to harass every woman who enters and exits. They have complained to the university and the municipality and nothing was done about it. When we allow, as a society, sexual violence to be dismissed and joked about and belittled, we allow for rape to go unaddressed.
Towards the sexist culture that promotes the sexual objectification of women.
Women’s bodies are used, haphazardly and illogically, to sell just about anything. Selling taouk? Put a naked women on the ad. Selling a carpet? Put a naked woman on the ad. Selling a gadgets magazine? Put a naked woman on the cover. Everywhere we go, the image of the Lebanese woman we are promoting is one of sex and desire and objectification. There are often no heads on the bodies even, no people behind the bodies. In a media and advertising culture that promotes women as sex objects, how can we raise our girls to love and claim ownership over their own bodies? How can we raise our boys to not feel entitled to consume women’s bodies at their will? How can we call for the sexual liberation of women when we only understand sexual liberation as the commercial objectification of women?
Towards the silencing of women’s stories when they want to talk about rape.
It is extremely difficult for women (here and anywhere) to talk about rape. The shame, the self-blame, the guilt, the taboos, the excuses we give rapists first before we condemn them. In our country, we tell women not to get raped. We don’t tell men not to rape. When they do speak up, we either silence them to protect their “honor” or we ask them a million questions as if it were their fault. Rape is never a woman’s fault. We have not opened up the space, as a women’s movement and as a society, for women to come forward with rape stories and get the justice they deserve. We have not created the proper support systems to give them the services (legal, health, psychological, community support) they need. We have not taught our mothers and fathers to encourage their girls to always speak up, that nothing is taboo, that they must report sexual violence when it happens. We protect our girls by teaching them to always speak up. A woman can survive rape. She always does. Thousands of Lebanese women – your friends, your sisters, your colleagues – have survived rape. What traumatizes them is the guilt and shame they feel because you won’t listen to them or you will blame them or you will make them feel worthless.
Towards the excuses we give rapists.
Boys will be boys. Boys need to have sex, it’s a physiological need. He was her boyfriend, it’s her fault for dating him in the first place. He was turned on by her short skirt. He couldn’t control himself. She looks Russian, he thought she was a sex worker. He misunderstood her and thought she wanted it. She was too drunk. He was seduced by her eyes. She had kissed him so he assumed she wanted to have sex. A million excuses we will give men. Illogical, stupid excuses, all part of a system that won’t teach kids proper sex education but will justify sexual violence when it happens. A culture that equates men’s honor with honesty and nobility and courage and equates women’s honor with their vagina. We need to draw the firm line against all rape excuses, all justifications. We need to see men and women as equal sexual beings and demand the same levels of bodily autonomy for everyone. We need to treat everyone’s body – no matter what gender we attach to it – with dignity and respect.
All these misdirected hateful sentiments that have come out of Myriam’s attempted rape and murder, these racist feelings towards Syrian workers, these sectarian feelings, these vengeful feelings. We can understand the feelings. But we cannot condone how they are directed.
We honor Myriam’s memory by directing our anger at sexual violence. May she rest in peace and may the right justice be served. Fight rape.
Something has started to really piss me off in the twittersphere lately. Lebanese tweeps are taking on tweeting for companies or groups or (pseudo-)celebrities and don’t reveal the identity of the actual person tweeting.
For example, I recently found out that the person handling the @Zaven_K account is not really Zaven (dunno why I was under the impression that it was – maybe it’s cos he has a laptop in front of him all the time), but a fellow tweep. Naturally, I felt a little uneasy knowing that I had tweeted to @Zaven_K thinking I was talking to Zaven. But what’s worse is I didn’t know I was talking to that particular tweep.
I feel it is getting a little silly – especially with a lot of tweeps becoming “social media experts” for hire. We think we are talking to management of a certain company whereas we are talking to the same people.
I think it is best practice that every non-person twitter account reveal who is tweeting behind it. For example, the @GIGAlb team does it well by adding ^initials to every tweet that is not a standard link. Or, another example is @iams who give you the handles of who is tweeting in the bio. I’m not saying it should go for every single tweet, but at least when conversing with people on twitter.
So if you’re tweeting for another handle, please reveal yourself in the bio, through ^initials, or through a list of tweeps who tweet from that account. Don’t hide behind handles – it can become deceptive.
Adultery is a crime in Lebanon – like in many other parts of the world – according to our Penal Code. I am not quite sure why a supposed violation of a marriage contract (which is in the personal status law) could be in the penal code. But, either way, the Parliamentary committees have approved a bill to make the conditions for adultery equal between men & women. The current Penal Code (Articles 487-489) punishes a woman who commits adultery with a prison sentence from three months to two years. A man committing adultery, however, has to be caught in the act in his own home or be known by others to be conducting an illicit affair to be sentenced to prison for one month to a year.
It seems to many like a step forward for women’s rights since the new law (which is yet to pass a Parliamentary vote but probably will soon) would make the conditions of adultery equal for men and women. And certainly, we welcome all such initiatives for equality. But I, and many of the Nasawiyas, discussed it today and we believe that adultery should not be criminalized in the Penal Code. Although it may cause a lot of harm to the spouse, the consequences (whether divorce or forgiveness or negotiations) should be left to the privacy couple and not a matter that the State can interfere in. So we say: scrap it out all together.
Do you think adultery should be a crime?
Today was the first time in 3 weeks that I could touch my scars. The stitches have all fallen out and my skin has regenerated. What miraculous things our bodies are.
The feeling of the scars on my fingertips reminded me instantly of my mom when, as a child, I would run my fingers down the caesarian scars on her belly. The same texture, softness.
And I had completely forgotten the sensation until today – 25 years later – I remembered.
Bodies are miraculous things. They store all our memories.
A student emailed me yesterday asking me about gender discrimination in technology (hello Rasha). Here is some of what I replied with:
Yes, of course, gender plays a large role in how everyone views technology. Gender stereotyping starts as early as childbirth and little girls are not expected to excel in math or science or any field of studies that involves logical thinking. So the discrimination starts from there. This is because female genders are (falsely of course) constructed as emotional, unstable, leisurely, not inclined to do hard work because they will eventually get married and sit at home.. as if housework is not hard work. And so this upbringing ripples into adulthood when girls choose university majors, you find a small minority in engineering or programming because they are not careers that are expected of women. And when these careers are dominated by men, you get an inverse gender stereotyping as well, i.e. people think: because there are few women in tech, it must be too challenging for women. We also always face the logical fallacy of generalization when it comes to women. If one woman is bad at something, it is taken that her entire gender is bad at it.
At the same time, women who are extremely successful in tech and have overcome any sort of discrimination are quick to claim that all women can overcome the stereotyping and discrimination if they work hard enough. They often reject the label that they are “female gamers” for example and just want to be “gamers.” 7a22on, of course. Having successful IT women strongly shows that women’s brains indeed are not less capable than men’s (although my attempts to convince my father of this has been futile). But the stats and figures show that they are still a small minority, and we cannot ignore the reasons why so.
So I think these are the main barriers, women eventually grow up to fit their gender stereotype like a self-fulfilling prophecy and they believe that math or economics or technology is too complicated for them. Also, when you are a lone woman in a male-dominated field or company, it’s not easy at all. The boys sometimes develop their own clubs and women are often excluded. I have heard from many people who work in IT in Lebanon that they would rather hire men because they don’t see women as good enough or because they don’t want to deal with women’s maternity leaves or childcare support.
Also, when we talk about tech, it’s not just “easy” things at the micro-level. The decision-makers of the tech industry are mostly men, as are the big CEOs, entrepreneurs, and people calling the shots in things like nanotechnology and biotechnology. Look at robot engineering, for example, when they build robots that are gender-neutral, those are usually male robots. When they build female robots, it’s curvy, sensual, luscious robots that are designed to do housework. The effects of gender stereotyping are subtle and systematic and unconsciously dominant in the whole field.
In ICT usage in specific, I have read stats that say that there are more women on facebook and twitter than men and that their numbers in blogospheres are strong. But the same issues of discrimination also creep into these spaces: whose word has more authority / credibility? Women are also more prone to cyber bullying or stalking and to experience violence online as well. That’s why we work on reclaiming these ICTs to counter violence against women, to amplify women’s voices and experiences.
If you search for the word “feminist” on YouTube, the first mass of results you will get are woman-bashing “shut up and make me a sandwich” videos. Sexism also seeps into the comments on most feminist-oriented work online. And, generally, people are more aggressive online than they are in person because of the nature of the communication (anonymity, lack of accountability, lack of cyber laws, etc..).
And so our work to empower women using ICTs must focus on building their advanced skills and capacity to create the programs, websites, and blogs that support what they have to say. We are in desperate need of generating zegabytes of online content to counter the sexist and violent content that is already there. The cool thing about the Internet is that it is – sort of – a level playing field for everyone. If you have something good to say, people will listen. If you can use ICT tools intelligently, you have a good chance of getting your voice heard, as opposed to mainstream media where you need money and power to set up the technology. When you ask women to speak up, they will. We also have a need to inspire women to understand their gender oppression. For example, at the recent ArabNet conference, panelists were discussing e-commerce in the Middle East and all they could refer to when it came to women online shoppers was clothes and shoes and accessories. And there is the ad on some Arabic cable channel that pisses me off big time where a husband buys a laptop and a wife buys perfume. Why doesn’t the wife buy a laptop?? Shou hal 7aki hayda. But as long as we shut up about it, the majority of our women will really believe that their purchasing priorities should be fashion w ta2 7anak as opposed to cameras, laptops, smart phones, etc.
Therefore, we must always speak up, and you must come join us and help us balance out gender discrimination in tech.
On a flight back to Beirut yesterday, the captain made an announcement that his flight attendants would be passing UNICEF envelopes to all passengers who would like to donate change (in any currency). I received mine and shoved it immediately into the seat pocket in front of me. A thought came to my mind and I pulled it back out. Browsing through the information on it, I read the same rhetoric about poverty in Africa and saw the same photos of starving but very cute little kids. My donation would contribute to improving their lives, it said. Then there was a good two paragraphs about the admirable philanthropy of the airline.
What the envelope solicited, I thought, was slacktivism, a term more recently made popular in reference to online activism. And while the internet has opened up room for more creative click-of-a-mouse useless action such as liking a YouTube video or signing an e-petition, fact is that slacktivism has existed long before the advent of online technology. And so it is not tied to the internet per se. The internet has not bred a generation of slacktivists. Just like offline feel-good campaigns can be useless, like donating change to starving children or picking up a flier about climate change or wearing a ribbon for breast cancer, equivalent online campaigns can be useless too.
Along the same lines, just like effective offline campaigns can be useful: a successful protest, an informative health brochure, an election drive, online campaigns can mobilize and raise awareness and combat apathy just as effectively. It’s not the medium, it’s the strategy that counts.