Mona Eltahawy: ‘All religions are obsessed with my vagina’

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All religions are obsessed with my vagina |


Mona had to use the language she has used to get a sense of freedom, it is a shame men are still misogynistic, get this straight, it is all men and not necessarily Arab or Muslim men.  Men still feel insecure to act and feel equal with women. We need to grow up.

 I feel, believe and act equal with whole humanity and that is the essence of Islam, to be humble.

Mike Ghouse

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Mona Eltahawy: ‘All religions are obsessed with my vagina’

Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning journalist and commentator on Arab and Muslim issues and global feminism. Born in Port Said, Egypt, in 1967, she moved to the UK with her parents (both doctors) when she was seven and then to Saudi Arabia when she was 15. In November 2011, while covering the protests in Egypt, she was physically and sexually assaulted by riot police, and detained for 12 hours by the Interior Ministry and Military Intelligence. The following year, her examination of misogyny in the Muslim world entitled “Why Do They Hate Us?” became a viral sensation. She has now expanded the original article into a book, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution. Eltahawy lives in Cairo and New York.

Your book is part-manifesto, part-memoir and includes testimony from Muslim women who have experienced abuse throughout their lives. You mention cases of female genital mutilation and rape. Was it difficult to write?

Incredibly difficult. Many times, I literally had to walk away from my laptop. It was triggering for me, especially when writing about sexual assault because of my own experience, not just of the assault but of misogyny. It was not an easy book to write.

You write that you were “traumatised into feminism” as a teenager. What do you mean by that?

My family moved to Saudi Arabia from Glasgow when I was 15. Being a 15-year-old girl anywhere is difficult — all those hormones and everything – but being a 15-year-old girl in Saudi Arabia…it was like someone had turned the light off in my head. I could not get a grasp on why women were treated like this. In the UK, my mother had been the breadwinner. I’d seen my parents side by side. In Saudi Arabia, my mother was basically rendered disabled. She was unable to drive, dependent on my dad for everything. The religious zealotry was so suffocating. And I had been raised a Muslim, I came from a Muslim family, but this was ultra-zealous. As a woman in Saudi Arabia, you have one of two options. You either lose your mind – which at first happened to me because I fell into a deep depression – or you become a feminist.

Were you anxious about the outrage you might provoke in some quarters by speaking openly about misogyny within your own community?

I’ve got a lot of hate… But it’s hate from people I’m glad I’m pissing off. As a woman with an opinion, you get a lot of shit.

Are all religions misogynistic?

Absolutely, to some degree. All religions, if you shrink them down, are all about controlling women’s sexuality… They’re obsessed with my vagina. I tell them: stay outside my vagina unless I want you in there.

You call for a ‘double revolution’. What do you mean by that?

What happened in Tunisia in 2010 was a political revolution driven by recognition that the state was oppressing everybody. But I think when women looked around afterwards, they recognised that the state, the street and the home still oppressed women specifically and that trifecta of oppression means that political revolution, unless accompanied by a social and sexual revolution, will fail.

 Mona Eltahawy explains why Egyptian women are sexually harassed at every level of society.

You decided to wear the hijab at 15. Why?

I wanted to wear it at 15 but my parents said I was too young, so I wore it at 16 and very quickly realised it wasn’t for me. I missed feeling the wind in my hair. When I was eating, it would constrict the way I felt I could swallow.

So you stopped wearing it at 19…

I became a feminist while wearing the hijab and to people who challenged that I would say: “This is my way of choosing which parts of my body I show you, so that you don’t objectify me.” But I realised it was very hard to hold on to because if a man cannot do that, the problem is with him and not with me. I was changing my physical presence in order for a man not to objectify me, rather than the man working on himself not to do it.
You write about your brutal assault by Egyptian riot police in 2011. Were you scared when it was happening?

Was I scared? [Pause] At first, I didn’t think they would do anything to me. I was just one woman, what would four riot police want with me? [Laughs] For much of it, it was more of an adrenaline overdrive where you do anything you have to just to survive, but there was one point when they took me to this no-man’s land where they sexually assaulted me and I fell to the ground and this [internal] voice said to me: “If you don’t get up now, you will die.” I managed to get up with two broken arms and fight them off. I was literally taking hands out of my trousers.

And you dyed your hair red and got tattoos after that?

Yes. Both my arms were in casts for three months. As a writer, that’s incredibly frustrating. Before, words were my medium, my weapons, and now the only thing I was able to use was one finger on a touchpad, so I was basically on Twitter all day. I was high on Vicodin, which is an amazing, amazing drug, [and] I would tell people on Twitter: “When my bones heal, I want to mark what happened to me.”

I realised I could use my body to send messages, not just words. When I started to read about tattoos, I found that a lot of victims of sexual abuse have them as a way of reclaiming their body, to take it back from what they [the abusers] did. So on my right arm, I have a tattoo of Sekhmet, the Ancient Egyptian goddess of retribution and sex. The way I put it, she’ll kick your ass and then fuck your brains out. She has the head of a lioness and the body of a woman. On my left arm, I have Arabic calligraphy and I have the name of the street where I was assaulted, because it became an icon of the revolution: Mohamed Mamoud street. Underneath, I have the Arabic word for “freedom”.
And the red hair?

I just think it was [saying]: “I’m here.”

You were named by Newsweek as one of the 150 ‘Most Fearless Women of 2012’. Do you consider yourself fearless?

You know, I never ever think about that fearless, courage, brave stuff. It’s just what I do. I’m often asked, “Do you feel safe in Egypt?” and I answer: no one feels safe in Egypt. For anyone who continues to exist as a dissident just to survive is a form of resistance.
I read somewhere you’re a lifelong Manchester United fan…

Huge! Since I was nine. To my distress, my father, brother and my brother’s four kids are all Liverpool fans.

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