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Headscarves and Hymens is an excellent analysis of sexual politics in the Middle East and North Africa. Mona Eltahawy has lived in Egypt, England, and Saudi Arabia and writes specifically about that area of the world because it’s what she’s seen, heard, and experienced. Pretty much all of her examples of violence and protest are from the 2000’s, so you know this is ongoing as you read.
It’s crazy to really think about the oppressive reach that Western ideals have on the rest of the world. Like if a person says headscarves aren’t feminist, they will likely be berated for having Western beliefs. So people go along with the headscarf sometimes to spite the bans in European countries. But Eltahaway makes it clear that she prefers the bans. Sure, in some places in the world, you can “choose” to wear it or not, but in her area, it’s forced. And it’s forced in order to fake-protect you from men, but the truth is of course that it does nothing to protect you from anything. Women are harassed and groped and raped on the regular.
And that’s the same logic used for all these other laws that directly oppress women. Like curfews, like having to be accompanied by a man in public, like child marriage, like virginity tests, like genital mutilation, like not being permitted to drive. It’s all a means to control where girls and women go and what they can do. Headscarves and Hymens explains that this regional problem is actually a global problem. Like it’s not okay to turn away and let a culture just go ahead and do what they want under the guise of respecting differences. She was also once weary of speaking out, but she learned that these values need to be critiqued and confronted.
I love how Eltahawy links social issues back to herself then back onto others then back onto the state. She’s like, the laws and the homes need to change. Women aren’t safe on the streets of behind closed doors. The exact same men that are out there are in here. And that is the truth. There is no escape.
Love love love this book.
Best line: “The most subversive thing a woman can do is talk about her life as if it really matters. It does” (Eltahawy 139).