I’d had Headscarves and Hymens on my TBR for a really long time. The title just sounded like something I had to read. It just calls right out the things that need to be talked about within the communities and cultures of the Middle East. It also calls out what the rest of us can do in support. It can be complicated to try to support a culture shift when you sit outside of it, but feminists must get used to giving voice to those within it rather than speak for them. Headscarves and Hymens is a Middle Eastern woman speaking for herself and taking her own platform and shouting that change needs to happen at the top of her lungs. It’s a great book that ought to be read more.
The sexual revolution that Elthaway is looking for is one that’s already happened in many Western cultures but that still isn’t perfect. She recognizes that but would rather be those steps ahead than where she is. The headscarf is a choice, but is it one that is made freely? For some yes and others no. The area still has all kinds of problems with the treatment of women, even in the more advanced countries, like Saudi Arabia. I can’t even imagine having to stage a driving protest. I also appreciated Elthaway’s honesty when it came to some of her more personal experiences with sex and the stigma that goes along with having had it in the Middle East. It’s not like it isn’t common knowledge that virginity is prized, as it still is in many Western cultures, but it is also stigmatized in a way that we haven’t seen here in a while. It’s not even that all women are promiscuous in the US, just that there are pockets of the country where it matters less whether or not you’ve been with anyone before marriage or at all. Freedom to have sex without punishment doesn’t seem like a lot to ask, but it somehow is and I’ve never understood it.
I loved the way she talked about it all. Elthaway is blunt and not playing around with sounding nice to be heard. I loved that she said she was “traumatized into feminism”. It may not be a nice way to look at it or even an idea that makes people comfortable, but it came off as a really great way to put it. If everything was fine, then we wouldn’t need feminism. The very idea that there are people out there currently thinking feminism is dead because they don’t feel the need is kinda awesome because their freedom is the success of those that came before them. It also sucks that they don’t see the problems of others, but hey, I’ll take success where I can see it. I also appreciated the way she acknowledged the success of removing oppressors in politics while noting that we still had plenty of oppressors to go, particularly those at home.
I know it’s considered unnecessarily combative to tell our husbands that they are oppressors at home, but some are. I’ve had talks with my husband about it. Not that he gets full on oppressor but he also acknowledges that there are things that he does that make it unnecessarily hard on me to do this or that thing and looks for the source. If it’s rooted in gender roles, he’s pretty good about knocking it off or trading on something. We’re big on trading. I’ll do this side of our mutual problem, if you do that one. Anyway, the idea of an oppressor at home and in the streets is a valid one, even when it doesn’t effect me everyday. It’s a thing that happens, even in the US, and so I appreciated the way she spoke of it for her own country.
Anyway, I don’t want to get into all of the Elthaway’s points here. She makes a great argument, even though many there may say that they “aren’t ready”. If you’re curious about that part of the world and feminism or women, check it out. The book is written post-Arab Spring so many of the insights and much of the commentary comes from the glimmer of hope and the missed opportunities that came from women and men standing together against harsh dictators. There was so much progress that could have happened.
I bought this book on Amazon but that’s not the only place it’s available. Click on the cover to be redirected to Booklikes for purchase options or add to Goodreads for later.