Just to survive is a form of resistance

The Guardian talks to Mona Eltahawy.

Were you anxious about the outrage you might provoke in some quarters by speaking openly about misogyny within your own community?

I’ve got a lot of hate… But it’s hate from people I’m glad I’m pissing off. As a woman with an opinion, you get a lot of shit.

Are all religions misogynistic?

Absolutely, to some degree. All religions, if you shrink them down, are all about controlling women’s sexuality… They’re obsessed with my vagina. I tell them: stay outside my vagina unless I want you in there.

No invitation, no admission.

You decided to wear the hijab at 15. Why?

I wanted to wear it at 15 but my parents said I was too young, so I wore it at 16 and very quickly realised it wasn’t for me. I missed feeling the wind in my hair. When I was eating, it would constrict the way I felt I could swallow.

Mona Eltahawy: ‘All religions are obsessed with my vagina’ | World news | The Guardian

So you stopped wearing it at 19…

I became a feminist while wearing the hijab and to people who challenged that I would say: “This is my way of choosing which parts of my body I show you, so that you don’t objectify me.” But I realised it was very hard to hold on to because if a man cannot do that, the problem is with him and not with me. I was changing my physical presence in order for a man not to objectify me, rather than the man working on himself not to do it.

After her assault by Egyptian riot police in 2011, she got tattoos.

I realised I could use my body to send messages, not just words. When I started to read about tattoos, I found that a lot of victims of sexual abuse have them as a way of reclaiming their body, to take it back from what they [the abusers] did. So on my right arm, I have a tattoo of Sekhmet, the Ancient Egyptian goddess of retribution and sex. The way I put it, she’ll kick your ass and then fuck your brains out. She has the head of a lioness and the body of a woman. On my left arm, I have Arabic calligraphy and I have the name of the street where I was assaulted, because it became an icon of the revolution: Mohamed Mamoud street. Underneath, I have the Arabic word for “freedom”.

She got bright red hair, too.

You were named by Newsweek as one of the 150 ‘Most Fearless Women of 2012’. Do you consider yourself fearless?

You know, I never ever think about that fearless, courage, brave stuff. It’s just what I do. I’m often asked, “Do you feel safe in Egypt?” and I answer: no one feels safe in Egypt. For anyone who continues to exist as a dissident just to survive is a form of resistance.



  1. rietpluim says

    “For anyone who continues to exist as a dissident just to survive is a form of resistance.” That’s impressive. Words like these make me realize how privileged I am. Yes, please, survive, Ms Eltahawy!

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