Article by Reema Dawud
Visuals/GIFS : M.I.A. in the “Bad Girls” video.
This article is part of the “Hopefully Tomorrow” 

In an ever-changing and chaotic world that is irreparably corrupted, many seem like mere decoys, dummies manipulated at the hand of ruthless ventriloquists in a play orchestrated by the patriarchal regime and its worshipers. Their predilection for the conventional ultimately segregates societies, censuring deviance and rewarding, glorifying, and even celebrating the status quo. Though the primal and elemental existence of patriarchy is undeniable, so too is the potential of feminism and social movements that thwart prejudice in all its forms.

In the Arab world, patriarchal power is built on the supremacy of men over women, and it plays out through prejudice that women endure throughout their entire lives. Arab, male-dominated societies assume the Arab woman to be subservient always to the patriarchal regime, whether it be embodied in the head of the house, a father, or a male relative. Women are expected to either comply with their demands and be at their disposal or suffer the consequences.

Some have modernized the term “patriarchy” to a more polished “neopatriarchy,” but this is just a façade to conceal the endurance of the patriarchal regime in societies where it has become so internalized. Some may be fooled by this air-brushed form of patriarchy in which modern and conventional forms blur in a mirage, making some believe that women’s rights are truly being bestowed upon them. Others, though, are able to combat these challenges, often through exposure to an alternative afforded by privilege, and fight through what seems self-evident. 

Despite claims of purported change, authority in the Arab world is still patriarchal in almost every domain, from government to everyday life to family. Patriarchs can still get away with crimes like honor-killings, sexual offenses, domestic violence, and other heinous acts, and women are still excluded from crucial decisions, remain at the margins, and are expected to withstand these offenses while bearing the burden of being an icon of the family’s social status.  

Misogyny is deep-rooted in Arab society. It is instantiated in societal gender roles that give endless privilege to men and place them on a pedestal with women beneath. Men have the upper hand in most social and career settings, while women must go above and beyond to reach the same position and accept a lower salary for it. Women must do this while also enduring everyday discrimination like slut-shaming of those who do not follow expectations of “modesty” that patriarchs applaud, and being subjected to unrealistic expectations about how she conducts herself and the demeanor she ought to have. Misogyny also plays out in chauvinistic acts, in which women are subjected to extreme forms of male aggression and oppression. They are brought up facing disdain and are told to be grateful for the limited set of choices they have. Hence, women’s achievements are undermined. 

Sex and patriarchy are interwoven, and sexual oppression is a spearhead of patriarchy and its adherents, and differential controlling of sexuality and sex acts is just one very intentional way that female autonomy is eroded in a male-dominated society.

Visuals/GIFS : M.I.A. in the “Bad Girls” video.

What does the future hold for an oppressed gender in a patriarchal world? This is an arduous question that, in reality, can’t be fully imagined until the political, social, and economic reign of patriarchy falls, and women’s values and their voices can be projected loudly and openly in the public sphere. 

Growing up in such an environment makes younger generations (especially women) dread all forms of self-expression including that of sexuality. The forbidden-ness and controversy around sex and discussions of it discount something that is part of all of our lives. We are expected to disregard, sugar-coat, and deny any concerns about it to save ourselves from accusations of shame. What is worse, men and women do not face the same censoring; a man who talks about it openly or engages in sexual activity can speak of it openly without backlash or extreme consequences, while women who even talk about it are ridiculed and slut-shamed. Here, too, patriarchy is reaching into our most private lives to ensure that women do not feel their autonomy over their own bodies. 

Sex and patriarchy are interwoven, and sexual oppression is a spearhead of patriarchy and its adherents, and differential controlling of sexuality and sex acts is just one very intentional way that female autonomy is eroded in a male-dominated society. The lack of sex education and stigmas around sex mean that younger generations who are sexually active in secret have to cope with inadvertent pregnancies, STD’s, and psychological traumas, and that women especially could jeopardize their lives and reputation if they chose to seek help or advice regarding a sexual-related matter.

Despite this, women continue to prove they are capable of defying such roadblocks and proving that they indeed control their own destiny, or at least to varying degrees considering the constraints around them. As a woman who grew up in the Middle East, I’ve had my fair share of first-hand experiences in the misogynistic society. I had to rebel against pressures to conform to gender norms, and I had to accept being labeled as a shameless person for claiming my rights forcefully and speaking up when I had to. And I, like many other abused women, had to cope with the judicial system that failed me when I sought refuge in it.  

Visuals/GIFS : M.I.A. in the “Bad Girls” video.

Women are speaking up and claiming their sexual rights and authority over their bodies, and rebelling against the pro-life movement that comes with it. They are speaking out against and refusing female genital mutilation (FGM) and are raising awareness in places where patriarchy has such a heavy hold that such practices aren’t even questioned. 

Beyond patriarchy lies hope and potential. In a post-patriarchal society, genders would work together to secure their rights and dismantle the power hierarchy of the patriarchal that subordinates women. Men would acknowledge whatever leverage they have over women and consciously refrain from abusing it, and women wouldn’t need to succumb to the gender script of how they “are supposed to act.” Beyond patriarchy, women can be annoyed and push back against the men who bask in their power without fear. They can leave their cocoons and soar. 

How do we get there? That is yet to be determined, but we will certainly need to raise awareness more broadly and shift notions of what equality can look like, opening the possibilities for an alternative and better reality. Offenders cannot be left unscathed while their victims are ostracized.