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Drafting a New Story: Women's Rights in the Middle East

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By Rania Ignatios

Originally Published on Sawt Al Niswa

August 24, 2010

The day I was born, my feminist future was determined. I was brought up to become a woman, and while everything around me conspired to teach me how to be one, I became a feminist instead.

It was not a text that I read, nor a song that I heard, and it certainly was not a particular experience I went through. Rather: my whole life was a feminist school.

Everything in our life is predetermined just by being female: Do you remember when the first time something was done or said to you solely because you’re a girl? Well, then, how could I determine the first time I decided I was a feminist? There was no first feminist awakening, there was no first feminist thought. Becoming a feminist was a process for me and it happened accidentally while my parents, school and society were teaching me how to become a woman.

I was not oppressed by my parents for being a girl. On the contrary, I was considered the smart one in the family, and my dad bragged about how I was going to become an engineer. I was also allowed to do everything I wanted to do, and encouraged to do it. But I don’t like it when people say how they don’t understand the real struggle that we, feminists, talk about just because they did not face oppression. I simply knew I was oppressed when I did something my guy friend could have just as easily done and got extra praise for it just because I was a girl doing it.

Something else happened the day I was born: my dad was not excited. I represented his third and last failed attempt at having a boy. But he did not give up on me; he was determined to make me the toughest of his girls, the closer to a guy. He took me everywhere he went. I was his favorite little boy. And I looked up to him. He taught me everything he knew. He tells people today how he used to teach me addition and multiplication long before they were taught in school. I think he is convinced that he’s the reason I became a math major today. And maybe he is.

I grew up in a poor neighborhood where all the friends I had were boys, I learnt to survive in an environment people would usually judge unsuitable for a girl. My Motto was: If he says something you don’t like, kick him. I left that neighborhood when I was ten, but spending the first ten years of my life on those streets taught me how to be tough. When I was playing football at eight years old on a court filled with guys a few years older than me, and when I saw their faces looking at me with admiration and shock, I knew that everything I was going to hear about being a girl was wrong and I understood that I am capable of everything a guy is capable of. But it did not end here; this was going to be the story of my life. The same happened in school when the sports teacher would kiss me just for running as fast as the other boys in class, or when the French teacher would be surprised that I knew how to fix the tape player when the four boys in my class didn’t know what to do. And you ask me how I became this angry? Anger, my dear, was building up throughout all this. I would get angry every time a teacher would say sentences like: “Girls are not usually interested in electronics and mechanics”. The word “usually” is used to hide the gaps in their statements. “Girls are not good at sports” and that’s why you cannot find good running shoes for women. Try to go into any sports shop and go to the shoe section; you can see the beautiful collection of sports shoes for men, and next to it, a couple of pink sports shoes designed for women.

Later in my teenage years, I made a best friend who had my concerns and anger. She was determined to surpass all those obstacles as well. We learnt about feminism together. The day I discovered there was a word to all those feelings and thoughts I was having was a happy day for me. I was what we call a feminist, and other feminists like me do exist. I finally had a word to google in order to read about all the things I always wanted to say, but never heard anyone else talking about. I found out there’s a book that started the feminist revolution in France and Europe called “The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir. My best friend got it, and gave it to me. Reading that book was the most empowering thing ever. During my teenage years, I learnt about the feminist movement. I remember creating a folder on my computer called “Feminism” and collecting all the feminist things I got on the internet. My appreciation to the feminist movement we are building today comes from all those lonely feminist teenage years when I only dreamt of being part of this feminist collective that comes together to share all this anger and frustration and prepare for the revolution that is going to change everything.

Question: Was it the self-esteem and toughness my dad raised me to have, or the confidence I built on the all-men football court, was it the anger from all the discrimination you face at school, or the best friend I made that shared my feminist thoughts, was it that amazing feminist book I read, or all the amazing feminists I met in this collective I am part of today that made me a feminist?

Answer: None and all of the above. My whole life was a feminist school. Any woman’s life is a feminist school, but whether she graduates or not, and how early, is only up to her.

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