Fuck the Patriarchy!
This incredible book is a battle cry. So I thought I’d start with one. The one Mona uses whenever she is asked to speak at a podium on feminism. I started reading this morning, thinking I would sample a couple of chapters each day over the weekend, but before I knew it, the clock said 3pm and I’d read the whole thing. Once finished, I felt a renewed anger about things that had happened in my life, some of which chimed with the author’s experience. She shows that the patriarchy isn’t just ‘over there’ in the restrictions women live with in Saudi Arabia or in conflicts like the Balkan War or the massacre in Rwanda where rape was used as a weapon. It isn’t just with the celebrities and actors who accused Harvey Weinstein, it’s just that their voices were heard louder than the young black teenagers who accused R.Kelly. Every woman, regardless of race, colour, religion, class, sexuality or the gender they were assigned at birth, are ruled by a global patriarchy. It’s here, with a 47 year old middle class, disabled woman living in the rural wilds of Lincolnshire. You can shop at Waitrose and still be fucked by the patriarchy.
In case you wondered about the profanity, it’s one of the seven necessary sins the author would like women to reclaim and use to fight for equality. So I’m reclaiming it, because this book roused me and made me angry (another necessary sin).
‘Patriarchy is universal. Feminism must be just as universal. I want patriarchy and all who benefit from it to have the same look of terror, as that man in a Montreal club who, before he ran away, took a look at me so he could see the woman who dared strike back. I want patriarchy to know that feminism is rage unleashed against its centuries of crimes against women and girls around the world, crimes that are justified by ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ and ‘it’s just the way things are’, all of which are euphemisms for ‘this world is run by men, for the benefit of men’. We must declare a feminism that is robust, aggressive and unapologetic. It is the only way to combat a patriarchy that is systemic.’
Every woman who reads this book must be roused by these words and understand that unless we all fight this, unless we all fight dirty and loud, nothing will change.
I could tell you about the author’s arguments, the incredible and eloquent rage that comes through in her writing, and the journey that brought her to who she is today, but I want you to discover this for yourself. I want you to read it and find your own connections to the arguments, the events she describes and have your own awakening. I can tell you about two ways I felt a personal connection with the author’s story and as I was reading how a righteous anger started to awaken within me.
I had a late awakening, about ten years ago really. That sounds terribly late, but there are reasons for that. I believe my mother was a feminist. Until I was around ten years old, she subscribed to Spare Rib magazine and read feminist books. However, our parents then discovered a new church – an offshoot of the American Evangelicals that the author talks about in her book – and everything changed. Despite having been in the Roman Catholic Church previously I hadn’t been old enough to feel it’s restrictions and I had always felt the ability to argue with it’s teachings, encouraged by the visits of our priest to school every week for question and answer sessions. So unfortunately, just as I was becoming a teenager, I came up against one of the most fanatical and restrictive forms of Christianity we could find. I was taught I should be quiet, demure, pure, and ruled by my father. I was taught a shame I’d never felt before, an awkwardness about a body that was growing, sprouting, forming curves too obvious to fit into their rigid boxes. I had to cover up, be modest, but still dress like a girl. Then as I grew older, I was taught the most important rule of all; I should not share my body with anyone else. The author describes this from the Islamic perspective:
‘My upbringing and faith taught me that I should abstain until I married. I obeyed this until I could not find anyone I wanted to marry and grew impatient. I have come to regret that it took my younger self so long to rebel and experience something that gives me so much pleasure.’
It’s a reminder that the ‘cult of virginity’ isn’t restricted to just one religion or culture.
For me, weird youth group sessions ensued where we were taught about which sexual activities were ‘acceptable’ -kissing – and that everything else should be saved for marriage. I was told about the ‘Silver Ring Thing’ phenomenon sweeping America, where a teenage girl would go through a ceremony where she pledged to her father that she would remain a virgin until she married. A silver pledge ring was then placed on her wedding finger, until it was removed for her wedding ring; one symbol of ownership replaced by another. I remember feeling that this was beyond creepy. My sexuality had nothing to do with my father. He didn’t own my body. Eventually I made the decision for myself that what I did with my body was my own business. I couldn’t imagine that God would truly be that interested in what a young woman did with her body. Evangelicals believe that the Bible is the actual word of God, but the truth was the Bible was written by men, edited by men, for the benefit of men. I reasoned that a supreme being had better things to do than police my vagina! So I did what I wanted and lied about it for a quiet life. Once old enough to decide I stopped going to church. This was the 90s, and I would sometimes drive to pick up Mum from church playing Rage Against the Machine and wearing my Hello Boys T-shirt and Wonderbra. We thought we had it sussed, that our mothers had sorted out this feminist lark. We were ladettes. We thought we could drink like men, have sex like men, and do any job we liked. The Spice Girls told us we had girl power and we believed it, but it was all surface and no substance. The patriarchy remained.
Years later, now a 35 year old widow with a disability, and in a very vulnerable place, I met up with my old youth pastor from the church. He didn’t attend any more and assured me he didn’t hold any of the beliefs he’d been trying to in-still us with as teenagers. I realise now that my world had turned upside down and I was looking for safety, but I mistook control for security. As we embarked on a relationship I felt happy and I really needed something positive in my life, not realising that given time, I could find my own happy. I thought the church was the origin of his patriarchal ideas, but really he’d been searching for a community that thought like he did. A place he could find a good, quiet, chaste girl who wouldn’t question walking three steps behind. The abuse started as soon as we were engaged, phases of total withdrawal of attention, time, and sex. Followed by rages if I questioned his behaviour, kicking furniture, throwing things and threats to leave. He was master of this house, he made the decisions, just like at work where he employed seven workers – all women. He isolated me from family and friends and made it quite clear that I was fat, ugly and nobody else would want me if he left me. If I’d had a bad spell with my multiple sclerosis he said I was lazy, needed to try a bit harder and did I realise how hard it was to find me attractive when I was ill? He flaunted cards and Facebook contact from other women and raged if I dared to complain. Luckily my family are persistent, so to get rid of them he took a huge gamble. Behind my back he made sexual advances to my Mum who was ‘more his type and age’ he admitted he liked her ‘quiet nature’ and had ‘fancied her for some time’. When I found out, a huge rage took hold of me so I drove home and asked ‘why haven’t you packed your bags yet?’ I ran round like a whirlwind, packing his bags and I threw them and him out onto the drive. I told him that I knew about his antics and that he had been psychologically abusive for the past three years. I told him I was done. That I wasn’t scared of him leaving any more. I’d rather be alone.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the letter he sent me afterwards, still controlling the situation by telling me he didn’t want to be with me any more, as if I hadn’t thrown his arse out on the driveway. He wrote that he found me ‘too much’. He wanted a Madonna and had found a whore. That he’d tried and tried but he simply couldn’t control me. Everything he wanted in a wife, was described by Mona in her chapter on profanity.
‘Women are supposed to be ‘less than’ and not ‘too much’. Women are meant to be quiet, modest, humble, polite, nice, well-behaved, aware of the red-lines. They are supposed to tread softly and within their limits. I am proud to be described as ‘too loud, swears too much, and goes too far’. When a woman is ‘too much’ she is essentially uncontrollable and unashamed. That makes her dangerous’.
At first his letter made me cry, I was hurt and vulnerable. Then that anger was roused again as I realised I liked the woman he described in that letter. She sounded fun, ballsy and exciting. She was intelligent and didn’t take any shit. She was formidable. So I made a pact with myself that I would always be that formidable woman and teach other women to do the same. Now I have two stepdaughters and I encourage them to speak up, to get angry, to be feisty and loud. This is the passage I read to them this weekend:
‘What would the world look like if girls were taught they were volcanoes, whose eruptions were a thing of beauty, a power to behold and a force not to be trifled with’.
I want my girls to know this. To go out into the world unashamed, uncontrollable and ready to smash the patriarchy for themselves and their sisters around the world. This book reignited my fervour. It may challenge you and your beliefs, but you must read it. Mona Eltahawy is a force to be reckoned with and I applaud her for this manifesto. It is moving and comes from a deeply felt sense of injustice. It is necessary. It’s impolite, brave, forthright and packs a mighty punch. Read it, then give it to your daughters, your nieces and your friends, because every woman should read this.
Meet The Author.
Mona Eltahawy is a feminist author and award-winning commentator and public speaker. Her work has been published in The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other publications around the world. She is a frequent commentator on current affairs on the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera and other media outlets, where her goal is always to disrupt patriarchy. She is the author of Headscarves and Hymens and recently launched her feminist newsletter Feminist Giant. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @monaeltahawy
About Tramp Press
Tramp Press was launched in 2014 to find, nurture and publish exceptional literary talent. Based in Dublin and Glasgow, they publish internationally. Tramp Press Authors have won, been shortlisted and nominated for many prizes including the Irish Post Book of the Year, the Booker Prize, the Costa, the Desmond Elliot Prize and the Guardian First Book Award.
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