Today, Facebook informed me that over 15 of my friends had shared Mona Eltahawy's article "Why Do They Hate Us?" on their pages. For some strange reason I can't figure out, I wasn't expecting the "they" in the title to be who it turned out to be. Like most of her articles, I read it and sighed afterwards. (I have found some of her pieces very important and worth reading -- this just wasn't one of them.) Here's my response.
Please note: This is not a coherent, organized, well-written response to the article. Instead, it's the copy-paste of some of my comments on FB.
I don't support the article at all. I've noticed many of us support every effort of Mona's without understanding it critically. She's a great writer, and I agree with her that women ARE suffering all over the world and it needs to be given attention to, but that's where my agreements with her end. I feel like she often simplifies the problem and has a specific target, a specific opponent, a specific culprit -- when that's not always the case, and the problem's much deeper, much more complex than this. And while blaming everything on men and assuming that all men really do hate all women, she's denying that it's all about power. What about the women who are also in power, most of whom absolutely refuse to do anything to uplift the status of women in their countries? It's really not a man vs woman struggle.
Then if you notice, she admits that, yes, women are suffering in the west, but why does she so conveniently dismiss that? Why's one form of oppression and suffering more important than another? Why's focus on one group of people (e.g., the Middle Eastern woman, whoever she is and whatever we mean by a ME woman!) more important than focus on another group of people (e.g., the western women, whoever *she* is and whatever we mean by a western woman)? She admits it herself in the beginning (that women in the west suffer as well) but doesn't explain why she's instead going to focus her attention on the poor oppressed women of the Middle East. By doing this, she's giving the west *exactly* what they want to hear: "women in ME are oppressed, they need OUR help, their MEN are beasts, they need to be saved from THEIR men," etc., etc. Again, it's really not that simple.
Don't get me wrong, however: I admire her courage, I agree with her that women's suffering is universal, and I am sorry for the sufferings she has had to endure herself. I applaud her for speaking up and for making sure her voice is heard. But I honestly question her motives. I say this as a Pakistani woman who has and continues to witness and experience oppression in many different forms. But I'm not going to assume I know *exactly* what's going on, what the problem is, who the culprit is, what the solution is -- because it's not simple like that.
Besides, any image of a woman’s full body covered with her eyes being the only part showing is enough to repel me as a student of Gender Studies. I’ve listened to Mona’s interviews on women’s “rights” in the ME, I’ve heard her “reasons” against the hijab and the face-covering – and I am appalled that she’s so revered with the lack of logic she incorporates in her reasoning. She’s eloquent, she is a great writer – but that’s all. She lacks the logic that’s required for engaging in discussions and dialogues on women’s issues, especially in a complex society like the Middle East.
I'm grateful that she's fighting for women's rights in the ME -- except, I don't trust her motives myself. For many reasons, some of which can be gathered from some of what I'm saying here. [P.S. After she was detained by the Egyptian police in Nov. 2011, she tweeted something along the lines of: "My sufferings are worth 15 [or a higher number] times more than the sufferings of Palestinian soldiers!" While I don't at all deny the sufferings she must have had to endure during that time, which no one deserves to go through, I was absolutely stunned at how she presented them against the experiences of any Palestinian, and when people criticized her for saying that, she simply told them that they had no idea what she had gone through or that they were attacking her because she's a woman! ... I shouldn't have been shocked, but I was ...]
To summarize:I am simply cautioning against three things in the article:
1) The woman’s issue isn’t as simple as Mona is making it seem. It’s a
deeply-rooted problem with strong histories, being a social, a
political, and a religious problem all at once. It’s not as simple as
men telling us what to do and women being forced into submission to
those rules set by men. It’s not all men’s fault, and the women are NOT
as weak and oppressed as she is portraying them as. On the one hand, she
claims they’re all oppressed and helpless; on the other hand, they’re
going to end the revolution that’s started? How the heck are they to do
that when they’re purportedly “helpless”?
2) It is definitely not
about “hatred.” I think this is the shallowest, most superficial way to
read the woman’s problem anywhere. Really? We’re oppressed because men
“hate” us? I suppose the men who don’t hate us aren’t real men then.
3) What about the women who are being oppressed BY women (and there are
large percentages of those in the ME)? How does she explain that? Na,
wait – that’s because those women aren’t real women and they’re also
submitting to the rules set by men … except that doesn’t make any
Honestly, she says nothing new here, except that the
only reason of women’s mistreatment in the ME is that their men hate
them to the core. I can’t imagine why anyone would think this could be
even remotely possible. And “which” men are the ones who “hate” them?
I'm happy that she has an audience because we all need to be heard and she is no exception, but I'm saddened that her audience isn't critical and instead lauds everything she does and sees and says and writes without understanding the actual depth of the matter to which Mona has unfortunately blindened herself. I also question the understanding of the Middle Eastern societies that Mona's audience has, and I shudder to think that my assumptions may be correct, but I hope they are not.
Feel free to completely disagree with my critique and my understanding of Mona Eltahawy. I will actually appreciate that. But I do hope that people (that is, my readers) won't think I'm "against" her or that I disagree with her because I must be an "apologist," whatever that means, or that I am simply denying what many Middle Eastern women go through -- but I also don't deny what many Middle Eastern MEN go through, and I at least acknowledge that the suffering is more than just something caused by the disgusting piece of flesh called men.
No, wait - another of my concerns is that Mona really can't handle criticism very well. I understand all of us should ignore personal attacks, but when it's criticism defended with what may be important points that she may or may not be aware of, why does she still dismiss it as: "Yes! I've pissed off the right people!"? I feel as though she lacks intellectual maturity because that's not the kind of response one should give to criticism. Who are these "right" people? What about the "wrong" people? What if you're "pissing off" the wrong people, Mona? Readers, if you don't see what I mean, please see her Twitter wall. I'm reading some of the disagreements posed by some of her readers, and they are quite legitimate and need to be paid attention to -- but Mona is deliberately ignoring them. Why? Yes, yes, we're not obligated to respond, but our choice to ignore them reveals much about us, our intentions, our struggles, and what we stand for.