Monday, September 28, 2020

Review: Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution

Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The most subversive thing a woman can do is talk about her life as if it really matters.”

Mona Eltahawy tackles women's rights in the Middle East, zeroing in on issues such as FGM, marital rape, citizenship, autonomy, ability to work, education, pleasure in sex, enforced clothing code, and more. She is direct, she does not mince words, and it should be obvious that this includes frequent mention of rape, assault, war-based violence, imprisonment, kidnapping, it is not an easy topic.

I appreciate the author's sometimes journalistic take and sometimes personal take, for instance sharing her changing perspective on the veil/headscarve/burqa. It reminded me of G. Willow Wilson's intellectual journey in The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam. Is the choice to wear the veil feminism? Is it really a choice? They did not necessarily reach the same conclusion but both are thoughtful in their consideration of the topic.

The author also is plain about her struggle in discussing these issues with Americans and other people living outside the Middle East, for fear of our tendency to see misogyny and poor treatment of women as being "over there" and a facet specifically of Islam. She shows how it is and how it isn't, and warns that we are all responsible for fighting the creep of control.
“Misogyny has not been completely wiped out anywhere. Rather, it resides on a spectrum, and our best hope for eradicating it globally is for each of us to expose and to fight against local versions of it, in the understanding that by doing so we advance the global struggle.”
The way she connects the control of women's bodies to other events should make all of us pay attention. “The battles over women's bodies can be won only by a revolution of the mind.”

I will also recommend her more recent book, which does a great job at showing the universality of women's rights and is a brilliant followup to this one - The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls.

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