Inside the Mind of a Young Lebanese Woman

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Author: Yasmina El Sabeh

I am a young woman from the Middle East, Lebanon and I am currently residing in the Netherlands. I believe in very few things, including Darwin, justice, and the power of words. Since March is Women’s Month – I need to share this because I have been angry for a long time: Stop justifying misogyny in Arab countries and the rest of the world by saying “this is our culture”, “these are our traditions”, and “this is how our society is built”, because WE are society and violence and inequality are never justifiable.

In the region, Lebanon is considered more progressive, liberal, and a better place for women to live and be represented within the political sphere. I’ve always encountered people telling me “well, at least here women can drive”, or “be grateful that you can run for elections, wear a bikini, and speak up your mind”; as if I need to thank the authorities and my fellow citizens for offering me my very basic rights. It’s absurd. But my explanation is the following: when you have lived for so long under an oppressive system that is disguised as a democracy, your rights become a privilege.

At age 7, I was told to “sit like a girl”. I didn’t quite get what the teacher meant so I just did the splits. But as I grew older, I became more aware of the patriarchal system that I lived in. At the age of 13, a boy in class hit me and the school’s head of section explained to me that it was because he liked me. Looking back now, I figured that this is how you engrave in young girls minds that violence is a sign of love. After that, I was bullied by classmates because I “shouldn’t have reported the incident”. He was expelled for three days and for a long time, I felt guilty. Never did he; and we graduated without him ever apologizing for what he did.

By the age of 16, I have heard my fair share of sexist comments and rape “jokes”, as if there is anything funny about it. I was also shamed for having so much body hair; get over it, so do you. But “boys will be boys “and it’s just “locker room talk”, right?

At the age of 17, I made a project for my French Baccalaureate about homosexuals in Lebanon. This topic always fascinated me because I could never grasp how individuals can be attacked for who they love. Classmates called me hysterical for arguing that according to science and significant amount of research, women can like other women. If that’s being hysterical, then I’m completely fine with it.

At 18, I went to college and I was told that I should save myself for marriage because I must offer my body to that special person; because you know, I was created to please men and I am just a property with no bodily autonomy whatsoever. He, on the other hand, has to have experience because he is a man. In many countries around the world, a woman’s self-respect and her family’s “dignity “are located between her legs. Sexuality should only be discussed in biology class. And the hymen should be intact. I hate to break it to you (lol), but virginity is just a social construct.

At age 19, my friend was questioned about what she was wearing when she reported that she had been sexually assaulted. She was also asked if her harasser had been drinking because that would somehow explain his behavior. She was then shamed, because she allowed him to walk her home before the incident occurred, so technically, she is the one who gave him the opportunity to assault her. This same man was later found to be a rapist in another country. But believing women seems to always be too difficult, isn’t it?

At age 20, I was told over and over again that I am too bossy. I used to behave exactly like my male friends. I was ambitious, I worked extremely hard, I was opinionated, I knew my worth, and I never allowed anyone to mistreat me. It seems like everyone is okay with a powerful woman until they realize that she stands up for herself and for others. Women around the world still need to question their own behaviors and attitudes in the work place, fearing to offend. And women around the world still get paid less than their male coworkers, for doing the same exact job.

At age 21, I was shamed for speaking up about mental health. “People might say you’re a crazy woman”. “I don’t think any man would want to date you”. “This is something you should keep to yourself”. Mental illness is a struggle, but stigma is the real pain, with women being the majority of sufferers.

At age 22, I could not comprehend how abortion is still illegal in some countries, such as Lebanon. In the 21st century, some women cannot terminate a pregnancy even if it was a result of rape or incest. Governments and religious institutions should not have the right to make choices on our behalf.

Today, I am 23 years old, and I am told that I should be grateful and accepting of the status-quo, in other words…silent, obedient and passive. Today, I am among those young women asked to lower their voices and to “remember where they belong”. Let me tell you where we belong. We belong in the army. We belong in marathons. We belong in governments. We belong in academic institutions. We belong on television and in newspapers. We belong where decisions are being made. We belong where justice is at work. We belong in peace talks. We belong in conferences. We belong on stage. We belong in every office, every class, every fight, and every dream. We belong in every single place filled with men, because we are their equals and society cannot be whole with just a half.