Why Feminism Is Important


A response to Dana Suleiman’s “Ana Mish Mastoora” & the comments on that article

By Siwar Masannat

When I read Dana Suleiman’s article on 7iber yesterday, I felt she expressed something that often bothers me as a Jordanian woman and a feminist. She articulated a subtle, yet I think, very important issue that is by no means trivial but indicative of the type of mentality and perception that is the root of bigger issues concerning women in Jordan and the Middle East. Some of the comments that followed the article deeply enraged me. Some people expressed outrage to Dana’s ideas, some indicated their opposition to her article and Feminism at large, but worst of all, I think, is that some trivialized this problem and denied the importance of Feminist writing in a world of political upheaval, poverty, and transgressions of human rights. I find this not only “democratically” problematic, but also an inherent manifestation of our society’s sexism. Why is it that Feminist expression is often considered devoid of urgency? Why is it never “the right time” to express discontent with, or opposition to, traditional values or widespread social behaviors that impact women? Why is Feminism, and Feminist expression, often perceived as unnecessary?

As a feminist, I never think of Feminism’s agenda as promoting “enmity” between the genders, but rather revealing the discrepancies, especially in our conservative society, between the rights of these two genders. Feminism is not redundant as long as there are women who do not enjoy equal opportunity to men in education or work (whether that is the result of patriarchy or sexist laws or regulations). Feminism is not redundant as long as physical and sexual assault happen to women. Feminism is not redundant as long as honor crimes still occur and go lightly punished.

I think the importance of Dana’s article is that it shows how the language we use in our everyday lives could be deeply offensive to women. The importance of that is the link between the sexist origin of these subtle expressions and other behaviors less subtly violent towards women. By classifying women into categories of “honorable” or “dishonorable” in our everyday lives— even if subconsciously, even if spontaneously as a common Arabic expression—and allowing men to be the arbiters—even women’s saviors from one of these categories— we are allowing the logic that supports men’s hegemony over women to remain normalized in our society. We are not protesting the logic supporting honor crimes, we are allowing men’s control over women that may translate to physical assault (within and outside of familial and marital relationships) or sexual assault (again within and outside familial and marital relationships), and we are supporting sexual inequalities that exist between genders.

Furthermore, the perception that a woman is not “mastoora” if she is unmarried is sexist and dangerous, because it implies that men are responsible for straightening women’s behavior. The notion that men are the moral “keepers” of women normalizes women’s dependence on men and disempowers them. If women are not allowed their independence, then they are less effective members of society. What is a woman to do if she happens to be robbed of the “security” provided to her by “her men”? How will a woman be able to survive a sudden absence of a husband, or father, or brother, if society never allows her to be independent? Are we a good society if we do not ensure that both genders are equally treated and afforded equal chances to be self-sufficient? Feminism, in activism and in written or artistic expression, is what can help women overcome sexism and discrimination, is what can help them achieve independence. It is necessary and should not be allowed to exist conditionally.

Finally, women’s independence should not be offensive to men; it should not threaten any real man’s sense of masculinity. Real masculinity is not about opening the door and being responsible for helpless females. Real masculinity is being capable of respect without disempowering or dismissing a woman. Real masculinity is about feeling secure enough in one’s selfhood that repressing the other gender is never a definition of oneself.




  • Young Turk

    I fully agree with all the points you’ve posed in this article, but in the end I was disappointed. Dana was just voicing her frustration, I didn’t expect her to offer anything at the end of her article because it’s a frustration felt by the entire segment of society that’s sympathetic to woman’s issues. 

    You’ve stated that at the beginning of your article, posed your main question which was “Why is it that Feminist expression is often considered devoid of urgency”, and then you’ve spent the rest of your article either defining your brand of feminism, clearing up misconceptions that aren’t there in the first place, and asking other questions. 

    I for one believe it is extremely urgent to have all forms of Feminist expressionism pop around. You have a huge part of women and men who are clueless to what the struggle for women’s rights means to them, they don’t even see it as an injustice, in fact, they think that feminists are just women who are, for no particular reason, rejecting the various overflowing amenities (ne3meh) that their society supposedly offers them.

    It’s urgent because these people are actually robbing their own selves of their own rights. Gender inequality is hurting us socially, weakening the bonds of our society, and hurting us on an economic level as well. Women in Jordan could produce a lot more if you’d just let them. 

    And on the other hand, you have the smaller portion of society that might identify as “liberal”, and the very few that would go as far as identifying with “feminist”. Those are either too extreme or radical to effectively lead social change, or too disenfranchised  and dis-empowered to believe that they could actually achieve anything. It’s that last segment that needs to be encouraged and empowered to lead and make social change happen. You don’t have to become so utterly outraged like Dana to speak up, they need to know that they should be speaking up day and night. We all feel lost and alone, we need to know others out there exist and suffer from the same problems as we do. We need to talk to each other, share our experiences, and unite our narrative, so we can at the very least have a accurate sense of where we’re actually going as a society. It’s urgent that we start doing this now, because currently it feels like we’re just drifting in the sea, and nobody knows where we’ll end up. 

  • Noor

    It’s a great reply to all the irritating comments! But since the article was written in Arabic and most of the replies were in Arabic, don’t you think that your response should also be translated to Arabic ? So that a wider audience would understand it .. Thank you for your Article anyway :)) 

  • AbbooDoo

    It is not about traditions or values- it’s about religion. Your feminism is worthless when it contradicts with the principles of religion, which you insisted on ignoring in your 700-word article. Was that a coincidence? I don’t think so. The point is that if you really want to address the problems of this society (at least as you perceive them yourself) then you must address the through religion, and religion only. Jordan is an Arab country with strong religious approaches..FYI

    • Dana

      I really feel people should stop hiding behind religion. It is disrespectful to the religion itself when we use it as an excuse for the state of women in the Middle East at large.

      Women in Jordan are fed up for a reason. Religion isn’t the reason they are frustrated. I think “700-word articles” like this one really open up the doorway for a logical debate. 

      • Ayhusam

        Agree, and sadly, the greatest massacres and injustices in world
        history, not just in the Muslim world, were made and justified by religious accounts…. this will not end, too much religious dogma …

    • Imad

      Dear AbbooDoo,
      i think it is time to stop hiding our problems behind the religion..otherwise our evolution will start after 200 years!!!
      Most arab men do their best to stop the evolving and the civilization of the arab society using the religion as a pretest ,see the driving license for women in KSA,the minimum that you can say :it is stupid!!!
      In my opinion women has the same rights of men,also the same dues to the society,and it is time for men to stop thinking with their p…us but they have to use their brain

  • http://nynotions.blogspot.com Sandra Hiari

    Lovely.

  • Qais

    very nice article Siwar…………. great technique in mentioning your points about Dana’s article and then clarifying them all.and “from my point of view” this is what Dana failed to achieve in her article.
    i totally agree with all what she mentioned in her article, even when she talked about some issues regarding religion. But thing is, she expressed her ideas in -somewhat- an offensive way and she was unfortunate in picking some of her words. 
    these previously mentioned points pushed the readers far away from the main concept where they started their argument about everything except the main thing, as u noticed in the comments bar.
    Again Girls , this is from my simple point of view, and i’ll be happy if these notes are taken on consideration in your next articles, both of u. 
    AND I GUESS U HAVE TO COOPERATE, HEHE.

  • http://twitter.com/ArabObserver ArabObserver

    Thank you Siwar. You know what Dana and you just did? You just opened the door for women to speak out and demand their rights. For that, I salute you. It is about time! We need more and more feminist voices! :)

    • Anonymous

      Hello Mr. ArabObserver….. 
      What a big issue has been raised after Dana’s article!!! “It is about time! We need more and more feminist voices! ”  inno excuse me…. where are we ? in Afghanistan !! 
      All what was meant from the article was to share her point of view or to express how she feels regarding the expression “allah ystor 3laiki” ,,,,, ma bedha kl hal2ad y3ni 

  • Dana
  • http://Arabwomanprogressivevoice.blogspot.com/ Amal A

    Siwar, this is a great piece!!! I’m so very proud of you! As long as there are young women like you, feminism will be alive and well and will continue to renew itself till we reach a more just society. It’s a long way and a hard fight, but the world will change. Bravo 3alaiki!!! 

  • هاشم

    نحن صنع أياديكن

    ليس أدل على ذلك إلا موقف ام دانا التي لم تجد في تلك المفرده موضوع المقال أي نوع من عدم الاحترام. نحن نحاسب أنفسنا على ثقافه مجتمعيه تم صناعتها ورعايتها ومكافأتها من الأجيال الماضيه عندما كانت مثل هذه المفردات لا تعني كل ما حاولت دانا أن ترفضه في مقالتها. السؤال اليوم والذي ستجيب عنه دانا أخرى بعد 20 عاماً ربما، هل ابنائنا سيكونون أفضل حالاً من حاضرنا؟   

    غلبنا، وهنا أنا أشير إلينا نحن معشر الرجال! 

    فعلاً، اصبحنا في حيرة من أمرنا وتاهت بوصلتنا في التعامل مع النساء. أنا لا أعتقد أن استقلالية المرأه تشكل تهديداً للرجل الواعي إلا إذا ارادتها المرأه نفسها أن تكون سلاح تهديد. على العكس، استقلالية المرأه عون للرجل والاسره ولكن كيف لك أن تعرفي وتسوقي (بضم التاء و فتح السين) الاستقلاليه في مجتمع أصبحت قيمه المجتمعيه أما موطن ادانه أو ضياع أو تشتت في عصر الاسلمه و العلمنه و الخ. هل تنفع الاستقلاليه من دون ضوابط؟ وهل ضوابط استقلالية الشاب والفتاه واحده أم هل يجب أن نفصل ذلك تبعاً للثقافه المجتمعيه (وهنا أقصد أفضل مفهوم للثقافه المجتمعيه تشعر فيه المرأه بالتمكين empowerment)

    التصالح مع النفس 

    التصالح مع الذات ضروري أيضاً لبعض النساء، بحيث لا يتم تفسير أو إعطاء الامور أكثر من نصابها الحقيقي لمشاعر فرديه لدى المرأه أو مجموعه من النساء ليس للفرد علاقه بها.

    معايير مزدوجه؟ 

    على المرأه أن تكون متسقه مع ذاتها وأن لا تلقي بكل هذه المبادىء لتحقيق أهداف سطحيه مثل عدم حصول على مخالفة سير أو معامله خاصه في موقف ما. 

  • هاشم

    نحن صنع أياديكن

    ليس أدل على ذلك إلا موقف ام دانا التي لم تجد في تلك المفرده موضوع المقال أي نوع من عدم الاحترام. نحن نحاسب أنفسنا على ثقافه مجتمعيه تم صناعتها ورعايتها ومكافأتها من الأجيال الماضيه عندما كانت مثل هذه المفردات لا تعني كل ما حاولت دانا أن ترفضه في مقالتها. السؤال اليوم والذي ستجيب عنه دانا أخرى بعد 20 عاماً ربما، هل ابنائنا سيكونون أفضل حالاً من حاضرنا؟   

    غلبنا، وهنا أنا أشير إلينا نحن معشر الرجال! 

    فعلاً، اصبحنا في حيرة من أمرنا وتاهت بوصلتنا في التعامل مع النساء. أنا لا أعتقد أن استقلالية المرأه تشكل تهديداً للرجل الواعي إلا إذا ارادتها المرأه نفسها أن تكون سلاح تهديد. على العكس، استقلالية المرأه عون للرجل والاسره ولكن كيف لك أن تعرفي وتسوقي (بضم التاء و فتح السين) الاستقلاليه في مجتمع أصبحت قيمه المجتمعيه أما موطن ادانه أو ضياع أو تشتت في عصر الاسلمه و العلمنه و الخ. هل تنفع الاستقلاليه من دون ضوابط؟ وهل ضوابط استقلالية الشاب والفتاه واحده أم هل يجب أن نفصل ذلك تبعاً للثقافه المجتمعيه (وهنا أقصد أفضل مفهوم للثقافه المجتمعيه تشعر فيه المرأه بالتمكين empowerment)

    التصالح مع النفس 

    التصالح مع الذات ضروري أيضاً لبعض النساء، بحيث لا يتم تفسير أو إعطاء الامور أكثر من نصابها الحقيقي لمشاعر فرديه لدى المرأه أو مجموعه من النساء ليس للفرد علاقه بها.

    معايير مزدوجه؟ 

    على المرأه أن تكون متسقه مع ذاتها وأن لا تلقي بكل هذه المبادىء لتحقيق أهداف سطحيه مثل عدم حصول على مخالفة سير أو معامله خاصه في موقف ما. 

  • Roba

    Brilliant. Thank you.

  • Malak

    7iber will be one of the effective and efficient tools to change mentalities ,by sharing experience and know the other side from any debatable issue. Looking at the several comments regarding “أنا مش مستورة” article,will confirm that we are in the right way to make a positive impact on our believes,even the people who disagree on Dana’s article ,they have strong arguments,we should respect their opinions and think deeply that creating the critical thinking need the spirit of participation and acceptance to other ideas.  Actually ,am happy to say that the process of sharing comments is one of the most important themes of “Learning by experience is processing” ,this approach enrich our knowledge &skills towards developmental and national change. Indeed, dreaming is the first step for building beginning of  better future for all citizens (male&females).

  • Anonymous

    جميل صديقتي.

  • ThePriest

    Humanism, where everyone treated as Humans not based on there gender or religion or anything…. & so no one can hide behind masks ( Traditions, religion, society …etc )

  • Farah_shahin

    You definitely calmed the rage in me after reading the comments of some people on Dana’s article. You couldn’t have expressed those ideas better. Great work

  • Amr Shahin

    I think you and Dana are both right, but let’s face it. You can’t blame it all on men and society, if all girls took a position like Dana and faced this twisted sort of thinking things would change dramatically, but most women just like being treated like a lesser creature (or don’t know there are other ways they can be treated?).

    And like everything else, the solution is: education, education education …

    • Young Turk

      And who has been controlling our “education” and the better part of society for the past thousand or so years? women? 

  • jamal

    I think that any paradigm of women’s rights in our society should not be so dogmatic or rigid (based on some western practice or irrational humanistic terms) and should take into consideration the “outcome” of these rights on women’s own welfare as well as on family stability. Of course, to care about the family is to care about female babies and girls. This rational assessment should be undertaken utilizing the western long experience and how things are evolving in our society (e.g. divorce rates, abortion, sexual harassment, prostitution, and many other chronic problems).

  • حي بن يقظان

    The main obstacle to Arab women’s rights is Sharia law. Under Sharia, a woman is nothing but a commodity, whose price is the dowry. A marriage contract is nothing but a sale contract: man pays to have access to women’s genitals and womb. The contract must have a price, be it one Dinar or million Dinars, or whatever the currency is. Another injustice done to women by Sharia is polygamy. Polygamy, by itself, is not necessarily unjust as long as it’s practiced by both sexes. Under Sharia, only men have the right to marry more than one woman at the same time. Abolish Sharia and you’re half the way to women’s emancipation in the Arab world. 

    • Kamal

      I think that your remarks are, unfortunately, based on wrong perception and selectivity, supported by anecdotal weak evidence and incoherent logic. Let us see the alternatives in our Earth and avoid utopian wishful thinking of dreamers. To fulfill his desires, let us say that a male makes sexual contact with a female (paid or unpaid) outside the marriage institution, a practice common in the West, what kind of legal obligations imposed here on the male? Nothing. Indeed, the male here enjoys unlimited choice and open menu without commitment. Many females of this “open menu” carry the entire burden and seek abortion or become unmarried mother, besides she might be inflected by a serious or fatal transmitted sexual disease. This is actually the freedom of the male that fuelled Feminism in the West. Under the Sharia marriage contract, both male and female have life-long obligations.
      As for the polygamy issue, let me clarify a central point. The second legal marriage is concluded under full agreement of the female (second wife), subject to certain legal obligations on the male. Here, an additional female gets her “natural right” in choosing marriage, but with legal obligations on the male; otherwise we will surely return to the worst case scenario of the “Western Model” above. Furthermore, under normal conditions, only a small proportion of male can practice polygamy, because numbers of male and female in any society are comparable.     

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