Some Bad News and Some Good News

I have deemed it appropriate to offer something small by way of explanation for my silence on this platform, especially so soon after joining it. It’s what you’d expect: depression and non-functionality and struggling and such.

The bad news is that I think that it will yet be a few weeks before I’ll be able to come back here.

The good news is, I think it will be well worth the wait.

For one, when this dry spell is over there will be plenty of new material. I already have three essays written to near-completion. I blocked on them about 70% of the way through. But they are there, are already drafted, and it will only be a matter of fixing them up once I’m up to it. I have several more that are just bits and pieces of thoughts and paragraphs, but they are promising seeds for future blogs.

More importantly, I am currently attempting to find a way to restructure my living situation so that in the future I will be able to spend what creative energy I have on this blog and secular activism exclusive to other work. I can’t say much more about this yet, but I have plans, and in a few weeks I hope that you shall be able to expect me to give priority to this space second to my health and family.

In the meantime, you can ask me questions about specific things here, and I will probably be able to respond to most of them. Personal questions are okay.:

http://ask.fm/HibaKrisht

I’m very sorry if I have let any of you down. I do feel responsibility to this platform, and I do not take that responsibility lightly.

I also would like to thank those of you who responded to my last post asking for information about how Muslims are perceived. It was highly useful and has informed my approach greatly.

Thank you very much for listening.

Hiba

Tell Me What You and Your Friends Think of Muslims

Readers–I have been formulating a couple of particularly complicated essays for this blog, but I keep running into this obstacle where I keep getting surprised by people I talk to about this stuff, maybe people like you. I keep getting surprised because I don’t have a very good conception of What People Think About Muslims, so learning new information (especially information I couldn’t have thought of on my own) along those lines has the ability to make me pause, to consider not only my approach to an argument, but the content I must include. It’s hard to make those choices when I have a blind spot for what information people are missing or resting upon. And sometimes I can’t even conceive of what my audience knows or doesn’t know or thinks or doesn’t think.  So here is a serious request for information to help me further define my rhetoric and blogging goals and approaches.

I would like to hear about perceptions towards Muslims, especially Muslim women, in the Middle East. I am looking for responses that are either from people who have never lived in or significantly interacted with a Muslim-majority society outside of the West, or describing the positions of people who fit those criteria (your roommate, your mom, etc). ‘People’ here just means one or more contemporary human beings–it doesn’t have to be a group of people, and the perception doesn’t have to be something that a lot of people think.

Information can include but need not be limited to the following:

  • How people think Muslims in the Middle East dress–including the type and fabric and styles of their garments, the role and significance of that clothing, any information on how dress varies or does not vary across class, gender, private, professional spheres etc.
  • How people think Muslims in the Middle East live–what their homes and cities and jobs and schools look like. What kind of work they do, with what kind of schedules. What kind of transportation systems they have. Anything about economy and infrastructure and landscape and social norms.
  • How people think the urban and rural landscapes in the Muslim-majority Middle East look and function.
  • How people think race, class, religion, and gender hierarchies are structured in the Muslim-majority Middle East, including how members of different groups behave towards each other.
  • How people think Muslims in the Middle East spend their leisure or pleasure time, including popular or group pastimes.
  • How people think the governments of Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East are structured, including very specific details re: how people think Muslims in the Middle East think about matters of foreign policy, fiscal policy, big government, services, taxes, and the like.
  • How people think Muslims in the Middle East perceive their own laws, lives, and norms, including if and how and why they dissent or conform.
  • How people think family and community structures are like among Muslims in the Middle East. Marriage, divorce, inheritance, childrearing, etc. How families are divided into homes and provided for. How people join for meals. Community development and activism projects. Etc.
  • How people think Muslims in the Middle East read, write, and think. What is their literature and music and art and cultural consciousness like? What is their collegiate culture like?

Anything else that comes to mind is welcome too. Go ahead and answer if you have something in mind!

If you are interested in helping me out but have questions, please read the following guidelines in full. If your question is NOT answered then please ask it in the comments and I will address it. So, FAQ:

  1. This is NOT a request for Necessarily True Information, but a request for information about What People Think. This means that Stereotypes Are Good Information, as are Falsehoods. This means you can freely provide answers even if you suspect or are certain that the information in question is mistaken, reductive, offensive, or has other types of problems, but I also encourage you to answer with information you feel to be particularly circumspect, empathetic, and evidenced. I am NOT particularly looking for perspectives from experts rather than laypeople.
  2. This is NOT a request for information for your position or stance on the perspective in question. You need not provide a judgment or explain whether or how a perception you are describing is or isn’t misguided, and it’s okay to provide information that you are not sure about yourself. You don’t need to tell me if you are sure or unsure either.
  3. Justifications for belief in the information you provide are welcome but not required.*
  4. That being said, nuance is not required. Straightforward or simple perceptions are welcome without comment.
  5. Information that indicates what people DON’T think of or consider or think about Muslims is also useful.
  6. Information that indicates what people think about non-Western Muslim-majority societies NOT in the Middle East is not exactly what I’m looking for right now, but is welcome in any case, and will be useful for other things.
  7. Information that indicates a CONFLATION or CONFUSION, even implicitly, between Middle Eastern and other non-Western Muslim-majority societies is also welcome.
  8. Information that indicates a CONFLATION or CONFUSION, even implicitly, between Arabs and Muslims, or Muslims and other ethnicities, or Arabs and other ethnicities associated with Muslim groups is also useful to me.
  9. I will not take your comment as an endorsement. I will not take the information you provide to be indicative of your personal beliefs or positions and you can expect to receive no criticism of the information you provide.
  10. If you *do* want to make your position clear because you fear others will judge you even if I will not, then feel free to, but know that a) I will not use the knowledge of your stance in any way, and b) if you identify yourself as holding a certain belief, you exempt yourself from my promise to withhold criticism of it. It’s worth knowing I will only critique your positions if you voluntarily claim them as yours and if I find it necessary to do so because they are deserving of it. I strongly suggest using a ‘some people think that x’ sentence structure as useful for separating the information you provide from your stance on it if that is your desire.
  11. This is also not a request for information in any *statistical* sense. I am not attempting to measure the frequency or commonality of certain beliefs, so even if you have never encountered more than one person, possibly yourself, who has the conception you are describing, then your information is still valuable to me. If you have the information but don’t know why you or someone else believes it, or you don’t know from where that belief comes, even in a vague way, that is fine too. I’m not attempting to measure influences in any manner, so being unsure why you think something will not affect the usefulness of your information to me.
  12. I am posting this partially to look for perceptions outside of the circles I commonly frequent. This means that you are encouraged to ask friends, family, or even strangers who are differently-minded than you and report back.
  13. If you are struggling with phrasing because you find the position you are describing to be problematic or distasteful in some way, it might help you to know that I prefer a description that may be more offensive if tempering your language will result in loss of connotation or a softened version of the real position.

Thank you very much! I look forward to your responses.

-Hiba

*That being said, please only provide explanations if you think you are particularly skilled at modeling other minds in that regard, or you have heard the justification from people who have held the position, or you have held or do hold the position with its justification yourself. If you cannot understand why someone might plausibly believe the information you provide, then please do not try to explain it. Explanations like ‘because people are ignorant’ are not useful to me. They tell me nothing about what approaches I might use to temper misinformation because they tell me nothing about what the person believes and knows or doesn’t know that leads them to that conclusion.

In Defense of the Ex-Muslim Story as a Cultural Archetype

I believe we ex-Muslims are developing an entire genre and canon of work. 

I’ve come to think of a narrative similar to mine as the archetypal ex-Muslim woman story. The more ex-Muslims I meet, the more of their work I read, I begin to see it: the circumstances that would most likely explain such a sudden break in lifestyle arise again and again as common, classic: a person from a particularly insular and traumatized Muslim community, who has access to a good education and some connection to the West, enabling that person with powerful tools for critique and the real-world circumstances that  will allow them to come to a place where they might finally speak while also giving them a particularly powerful sociopolitical motivation for doing so.

I’ve met many people who have broken away from Islamic norms, and while there much variation in their motivations and experiences, this seems to be the most common and resonant narrative. And I have come to think that we are in the process of developing an entire genre, the collective work of people dissenting to Islam from within Muslim communities rather than purely as the work of a colonialist and then post-colonialist perspective.

I’m sure we’ve always existed, but have not always had the means to emerge with our discourse, so silenced and taboo have our issues been within our own communities. It is still difficult–looking at my own story, I am still both terrified and astonished at how different it all could have been if not for a series of lucky circumstances–I was very close to being raised and undereducated in a refugee camp. But it is more than luck that is allowing us to speak now. A few years ago you never heard of people with apostasy stories, and people like us believed we were unique because we were so isolated.

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The Struggle of Wanting to be White

I left the hijab behind, but I still use my old scarves as fashion accessories--wraps, turbans, belts, shawls--in attempt to preserve my ethnic belonging in the face of white erosion.

I left the hijab behind, but I still use my old scarves as fashion accessories–wraps, turbans, belts, shawls–in attempt to preserve my ethnic belonging in the face of white erosion.

CN: Racism

I struggle with whiteness as a person of color. I struggle to resist allowing it to define my movements, my identities. I struggle the same reason many other non-white people do: because whiteness is a pervasive force shaping this world. This means I’m constantly battling my own internalized racism, my whitewashing. It means that while I don’t hate myself because I’m not white anymore, I hate myself for still wishing I was white so that I can be ‘normal’, accepted, safe.

Some days and weeks this struggle is harder than others. It’s been particularly tough this week as I’ve delved into arguments, articles, discourse regarding blackness in America. I’ve learned much, but also found a lot that resonates with my experiences as an Arab woman growing up in a strangely white world while still in the Middle East.

I think of how I grew up surrounded by anglophone culture gob-smack in the middle of Saudi Arabia because I was an expat who went to an American school. How everything I read, saw, and watched was about the lives and concerns of white people. How my Muslim (read:Arab) presentation as one of the few hijabis in the entire school was a source of shame and pain and sadness to me because of how thoroughly I was ostracized, ridiculed for it. How, when I first discovered that I wanted to be a writer, the first stories I wrote had exclusively white characters in Western nations because those were the main actors in every bit of history and literature I was being taught as important.

For the longest time, it didn’t even occur to me that stories about brown people could be relevant, useful, or necessary.

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Like Water on a Cabbage Leaf: Islam and Mental Health Stigma

An examination of mental health stigma as a necessary product of maintaining Muslim norms

Content warnings tags also include: physical abuse, imprisonment, interrogation, forced hospitalization, and overmedication.  Also note that my analysis below concerns a quite conservative form of Muslim society as described in the below culture and context and is not to be taken as universal to all forms of Islam or temporally absolute. Also note that this is a descriptive rather than a prescriptive post. I’m describing the roots of a phenomenon. I have no solutions yet.

 

contemplationThere is no doubt in my mind that mental health stigma is one of the most serious cultural problems in various parts of the Middle East today, and that it ties in quite neatly to our conceptions of autonomy and human competence. I understand why this is the case. When I say ‘understand’ here, this means I recognize why there is ideological impetus for mental health to be viewed in the way that it is. That is a curious sentence now that I read it back, but I have come to realize, after long years of struggling with my own depression and psychosis to the obliviousness of those surrounding me, that our cultural language in my home culture is steeped in attitudes that are both necessary for the promulgation of a properly Muslim lifestyle and radically out of tune with what we know about human psychology.

First let me trace out the extent of the problem, before I tackle its roots. Here is an anecdote for you. The following had to happen before for my parents to finally cave and get me medical help:

I ran away from home. I was an adult, though barely (I left maybe 2 months after my 18th birthday). My dad was in the States for work and my mom got Hezbollah involved right away. It’s a long story, but with a lot of deception and trickery, they had found me and had me holed up in an apartment in the middle of the Dahiyeh, Beirut’s southern suburb and the Hezb’s stronghold near the capital, basically keeping me there until my father could come claim me.

He did. In the subsequent weeks, my parents began their interrogation process, because the explanation I gave for running away was unacceptable. After all, I lived in a society where leaving home is unthinkable for an unmarried Muslim girl. I told them I wanted my own life, wanted self-determination, that I was depressed living among them–none of this made any sense or was acceptable to them. Note that I was still Muslim at this point–none of it was about leaving Islam, though of course my definition of Islam at the time would have been shocking to their understanding of it. But my actions were in such violation of what was permissible that they did not even question the use of force, control, and extortion to try to get to the bottom of what was going on.

They kept me locked up in a tiny room in the dark for weeks, taking me out only to tie me up, beat me, and much worse in attempts to extort ‘the truth’ about my motivations from me. My dad asked if I was a prostitute, pregnant, etc. Those were the sorts of confessions they tried to wring out of me, because depravity was the only explanation in their minds for my actions. I was already depressed. I was already psychotic, and had been for a few years at that point without telling anybody; strangely, the voices at first were a comfort, the only thing I had that was my own, that nobody at all ever anywhere could access or influence or touch. Being locked up in a tiny room meant I was sitting in my own blood and shit and urine sometimes. Unsurprisingly, over the course of weeks and eventually months, I withdrew so much into myself that I even stopped physically reacting to beatings. I was like a rag doll. It was at this point that something clicked in my father’s mind: maybe I was not responding because I was incapable of doing so.

Up until that point, he thought I was just being stubborn, willful, cruel. That I was being a vicious, evil woman by not submitting to the interrogations. He quite literally could not conceive of another reason.

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A Post Wherein I Publicly Thank Alex Gabriel

You might have noticed that my new banner is up, courtesy of Alex Gabriel. I think it’s beautiful, and captures my spirit perfectly. Alex knows me, and knows what’s up.

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Glowing, calm, Arabesque. Isn’t that something. He created that typeface himself, painstakingly shaping the letters.

But it’s not the only masthead Alex designed; he did Heina’s too. In my inaugural post, I cracked a joke about being commonly mistaken for Heina, as we are both queer, polyamorous, ex-hijabi ex-Muslim women with similar names who just joined the Freethought Blogs.

Luckily, Alex turned the masthead-making into an anthropological project of sorts, knowing that he wasn’t just branding our blogs, but our selves. He made a point of capturing each of our very different differences in ways that gave both of our characters justice. A quote:

Heina’s persona is distinctly ironic, dripping with snark. Hiba’s is known for being gutwrenchingly sincere. Hiba’s apostasy plays against the backdrop of her middle eastern taste in art, food, clothing, even grammar; Heina’s aesthetic – lipstick, heels, polka dots – is hard-femme Americana.

How do you represent these sorts of differences in two 728x120px images?

Alex almost has me believing that people have essences. He writes beautifully about his methods, inadvertently giving the most touching testimony to both our characters in the process. At least, I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose. I’m sure you didn’t plan this entire thing, Alex. I’m sure you didn’t turn a couple of women of color into your guinea pigs on purpose.

I kid. In fact, Alex gives remarkably astute thought to our respective racial representations, given the stereotypes and conflations Heina and I are always struggling to subvert in our daily lives; yes, even with our clothing, our writing styles, in every way we publicly present ourselves. His commentary on his thought process is fascinating and incredibly on-point.

Go take a look at Heina’s kick-ass masthead and read the rest. The writing is just as well-crafted as the banners.

-Hiba

What it is like to be a Muslim woman: Muricaversary Edition

Today is my ‘Muricaversary’, marking 2 years to the day from my landing in the US from Lebanon. Since this also marks my first ‘real’ post at FTB, I thought it would be fitting to publish a new version of the first essay that went viral on the old Between A Veil and a Dark Place. This piece won me many of my loyal readers and brought in hundreds of comments and messages from people who found that this piece spoke to them, resonated with them.

That’s not the only reason I want to re-issue this piece. This piece is iconic for me, in many ways. It marks the first time I was able to write about trauma as a Muslim woman with any measure of success. It is also grapples with the struggle to realize that things have actually changed, to come to terms with having autonomy and the right to self-determination–things I never thought I’d have to struggle to come to terms with. It is in that sense definitely a piece on Freedom. It is a piece of learning and growing, which is why I think it’s apt for today.

This is an edited, expanded, and more philosophical version of the original essay. You can also find the new version in print at 580 Split, which is sold online and in Bay Area bookstores. I also later wrote a Part Two, a defense/rationale of the title, and a sister essay on being ex-Muslim.

Enjoy.

What it is Like to be a Muslim Woman, and Why We Know What Freedom Is

By Hiba Krisht

muslimwoman

 

I have keys.

When I moved to the United States around two years ago, it took me several weeks to grasp this.

I have keys.

I have keys to my own front door and I can open this front door and walk down the street whenever I like.

I can walk down the street without being watched through the windows and without anyone calling my parents and telling them their daughter is roaming loose.

I can walk down the street, sit down on a bench under a tree, and eat an iced cream cone. Then I can stand up and walk back home.

There will be nobody waiting for me at my house to ask me where I have been, refuse to let me in, to call me a liar, to use my walk as renewed incentive to rifle through all of my possessions.

Because the simple desire to take a walk cannot but hide something deviant.

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A Couple of Comings-Out

I’d just like to quickly announce two things that have come out today that I am quite excited about.

The first is my appearance in the American Humanist Association’s Humanist Hour alongside Muhammad Syed, Director of Operations of the Ex-Muslims of North America. We talk at length about being ex-Muslim, creating community, and challenges, struggles, and misapprehensions facing Muslim-majority countries and communities today. We talk about interfaith interplay in Muslim-majority countries, about anti-Muslim bigotry and apologism preventing critique of Islam, how both of those manifest, why and how they both need to be resisted, and more. Check out the podcast here:

http://thehumanist.com/multimedia/podcast/the-humanist-hour-108-coming-out-ex-muslim-with-muhammad-syed-and-hiba-krisht

The second is a little personal. Not many of my readers know this, but in my personal and professional life, I was a writer and editor of fiction before I started getting into the sort of literary-narrative nonfiction critique I do in this blog project. Today I have a short story out in The Kenyon Review, one of the world’s leading literary journals, and I’m bursting with pride. The story takes place in my hometown Beirut and explores Muslim-Christian tensions surrounding a rape. Enjoy:

http://www.kenyonreview.org/kr-online-issue/2014-summer/selections/hiba-krisht-342846/

-Hiba

If you like the work I do, consider donating a small amount to help keep this blog running:

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Calling All Closeted Ex-Muslims Forced to Fast During Ramdan

The following is a message from Kiran Opal, Editor, ExMuslimBlogs.com – Twitter @KiranOpal:

There is still one day left to share your story. During Ramadan, many people from Muslim backgrounds are under immense pressure to avoid eating food or drinking water from the break of dawn till sunset. This can mean up to 19 hours of not eating or drinking. Those who believe in Islam and believe this is required of them may do this of their own choice, but for many, many Muslims who have doubts about Islamic teachings, and those who no longer believe in Islam (Ex-Muslims), Ramadan is a time when they suffer from hunger and thirst NOT out of their own choice, but because their families and Muslim communities often pressure them into it. Many such people end up being forced to lie, and hide food and water from their families. They are forced to drink and eat in secret, as if it were a crime. In fact, in some Muslim majority countries it IS now a crime to eat or drink during Ramadan.

Those Muslims and Ex-Muslims who are forced to fast during Ramadan do not have a voice in the public yet. My goal is to create a space for them to have that voice be heard. This is why I initiated this project, and I am inviting all Ex-Muslims and questioning Muslims who are forced or pressured to fast/starve/stay hungry or thirsty against their choice, to take part in this project.

Please see this link for more information: http://www.exmuslimblogs.com/mehfileskeptics/blog/2014/07/08/calling-closeted-ex-muslims-forced-fast-ramadan

You can send in your responses to the questions there (or write your own piece) by end of day 16 July 2014 to be included in the upcoming piece. The compilation piece including many voices from different people will be published on ExMuslimBlogs.com soon.

Yes, I’d like some Baklawa…but only if you insist: Why saying ‘Yes’ is shameful and saying ‘No’ is insulting

 

I have a very distinct early memory of the first time somebody didn’t say ‘No’ when they really meant ‘Yes.’ I’m not talking about a sexual context, either.

We were still in Saudi Arabia, and I had one of my friends over for dinner. When my mother offered her seconds, my friend said ‘Yes, please.’

I was startled, even taken aback, at those two little words, so accustomed was I to the sacred ritualistic exchange: “No, no…” and “I insist, you must,” and “I really can’t” and “I’ll be very sad if you don’t” and “All right then…it looks delicious.”

I knew the process well from the perspective of the guest; I’d followed the ritual closely time and time again during afternoon visits with my mother, sitting on living room couches as aunties offered trays of goodies. I’d always say no first even though my stomach was growling and I knew I wanted that piece of baklawa or cake that was being offered to me. Why? Because it was polite. Because otherwise I’d be thought a greedy, rude, presumptive little girl who did not know how to respect the hospitality being given to her.

It had exasperated me but never confused me before the night my friend so casually said ‘Yes, please’ and I wondered why accepting hospitality was at odds with respecting hospitality. I had to process my feelings about it. There was so much going on!

I realized that I had been trained to feel–and in fact did feel– a sort of blaming negativity towards my friend for saying Yes, she really did want seconds, that–at least for a moment–I viewed her as the disrespectful greedy little girl my mother so often warned me from being.

Why? It was clear to me that both I and my mother wanted her to take what we offered, that in fact it might be an insult to our hospitality, cooking, and generosity of spirit if she ultimately refused. So why the game in which she must demur and we must insist and she must reconsider and eventually be wheedled into admitting something that she may have felt all along? What was so wrong in saying she wanted something?

And, more interestingly, why did my friend seem so oblivious to these rules, so quiet and sure in what she wanted without exhibiting any shame for it?

I later chalked it up to her having an American mother, because I learned from my limited experience with Americans that they did not offer you food or a ride unless they truly wanted to give them, and did not expect people to say No unless they really meant it, and that they’d take your words at face value if you said No and not offer again.

Such a simplistic conception of American culture was later shattered as I realized that there were strikingly similar parallels with hospitality in various conservative and/or Southern US cultures. I also realized just how many situations there were where girls shouldn’t or couldn’t say they wanted to do A Thing that was somehow Not For Them, or that held some shame for a woman. I learned that sex and womanhood were treated with different standards than hospitality, where there is an entire culture of expectation surrounding the games of playing hard to get, saying No at first to mean ‘try harder’, of women shamed for admitting they wanted things that were assumed to be not for them, concepts that the clothing and appearance of a dissenting person might indicate that they really, secretly want “it” despite their words–in short, a culture where shaming consent and ignoring non-consent is normalized in various ways–but only in some contexts.

What is it, I’ve been wondering, about some forms of American culture, that makes it okay to say ‘Yes’ when you mean it and take ‘No’ at face value in the contexts of hospitality but not in the contexts of sexuality? Why is there such shame attached to a woman who admits she wants sex, why such flippancy towards a statement such as ‘No, I’m not interested?’, and why do those two things interplay in such a way that if a woman has sex and wants it sometimes that makes her less credible when she refuses it with other people or at other times?

Here are some broad cultural differences I’ve been thinking of as potentially related: America is a place where general self-sufficiency is prized, where taking charity is often full of shame and stigma and never a virtue, and where individualism is heralded as a sort of master value.  In the Arab world, in contrast, being dependent in various ways is prized, taking help extended to you, as long as it follows the correct ritual, does not bear the stigma of shame and is in fact expected, as it honors those who extend their generosity, and, for men, supporting your family, being in a dominant parental or familial role, and giving to charity is a consistent marker of the same virtues of hospitality and generosity prized so much.

It’s also generally true, I noted, that the same things are often markers of deficiency or shame when women do it, implying the lack of a male presence to take on those proper roles. In short, in Arab culture there is a sort of undercurrent that– although you are expected to refuse at first in order to not seem greedy or disrespectful–you must, yes, you must, be open to receiving what others seek to ‘give’ you in various ways circumscribed by rule or law, without ever acknowledging that you really want those things.

Regardless, in fact, of whether you actually do. That’s what I missed when I was a little girl thinking over this problem–I wondered why it was so horrible to say you wanted a piece of cake if someone offered it to you. I didn’t realize that you would be both obliged to say No even if you meant Yes…but also eventually say Yes even if you meant No…that many, many times people ended up eating an extra bit of something even if they really were too full or didn’t actually like it, for fear of insulting their hosts. I realized, too, that accepting food out of politeness would later, for a woman, come to be at odds with remaining trim enough to be desirable, a worthy match…and thus a further dimension of tension would ensue, where mothers and aunties would tsk and say just this once, and do you really want to be eating that? in tension with the hosts’ insistence. And even later on I’d come to realize that women were, in various ways, expected to say Yes to things they did not like or want all the time, including marital choices, career choices, bodily choices, clothing choices..all the way down to the sexual advances of their husbands, as a matter of course.

In short, neither consent nor nonconsent is even a relevant consideration for all these things. (See my post about Sex and Virginity for more about that side of this issue).

And oh, what a horrendously destructive set of values these are, that have ultimately worked towards silencing and marginalizing women and children, forcing them to be dependent and choice-less, and hashing those things as virtues.

How dare you refuse what someone is so generous to offer? How dare you not want what is given with such magnanimity?

And if you do want it…how daring, bold, and without shame you must be to admit it!

And what an almost unnavigable double-bind it is, to find yourself in a place where your own desires must be neutralized in favor of the desires of those under whose power you are–under their roof, under their employment, under their provision, and where you simultaneously must not express personal affinity with those desires.

One of the real-life stories that struck me the most from the novel  Girls of Riyadh when I read it was Sadeem’s, whose husband divorces her after she has sex with him before their official move-in, because he thinks she must be lacking all virtue to have welcomed him into her body so easily. It reflected to me how often women and girls are told to show shame, to have shame, to have haya, even about those things that were lawful or permissible: sex with your husband, eating food…no, we are told to look down, to not show that we like or enjoy it…otherwise, we suffer consequences.

And it’s true, I realized–it is viewed as only natural when men eat heartily, desire sex, or speak forcefully–in the most literal of ways, with the divisions of gender roles in Muslim-majority cultures appealing to the so-called ‘natural’ differences between men and women. Very ‘boys-will-be-boys’-esque, very much reinforcing damaging myths about dominant intellect in men that naturally inclines them towards choosing, speaking, and leading, myths about the prominence and uncontrollable nature of male desire and how  those ‘needs’ pose a sort of privilege and right to women’s bodies, myths about the natural ‘weakness’ of men in resisting the wiles, charms, and temptations of the female body, myths about men needing more space, more food naturally because of their bodies…myths that are not reciprocated because women are not constructed in the same manner, do not have the same abilities, desires, and needs…

No wonder our cultural norms train women to have haya, to have shame, to neither tempt nor acknowledge ever being tempted, to neither resist the will of others nor exhibit our own will…because heaven forbid we view women as people with agency, desires, and needs.

No wonder we say ‘No’ because it is shameful to say ‘Yes’, then say ‘Yes’ because it’s insulting to refuse…

-Hiba

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