You also stink

You also stink
4 min read
09 Sep, 2015
Comment: Protests against corruption in Lebanon have revealed a different type of corruption; in the minds of many men, including alleged liberals, when it comes to their views of women.
Women's participation in protests has been condemned by online misogynists, including some 'liberals' [AFP]

Lebanese women have gone out to protest on the streets of Beirut throughout the past week to expose the corruption of politicians that has left piles of garbage festering across the capital.

But they are facing another type of corruption, and another type of trash, that has accumulated in the minds of some Arab men who are targeting women.

Lebanese women have taken part in the demonstrations - side by side with men, and coming from all political parties and movements - that have raised the slogan "You Stink" in protest against the corruption of a government that wasn't able to find a solution for the issue of the trash that has piled on the streets of Lebanon.

However, images of women have graced the pages of Arab newspapers and social media sites, in a way that is not commensurate with the size or theme of the demonstrations.
     They are facing another type of corruption, and another type of trash, that has accumulated in the minds of some Arab men

The main target, which was the focus of the majority of online commentators, was the look of these women protesters. It is not a common sight in many conservative Arab societies to see women in protests like this.

Once again, a woman is transformed to a mere feminine commodity vis-a-vis the masculinity of the onlooking man, regardless of the activity she is participating in.

Once again, the image of the Lebanese woman, which is different than many of the usual images of Arab women, is being reinforced as a model for openness - but in a negative way, not a positive or natural way.

The way these Lebanese women are dressed is the general norm in Lebanese society.

The protesters did not deliberately wear special clothes for the demonstrations, as some Arabs have thought, to make them targets for cameras and often abrasively immodest comments.

They did not seek out the backwards views of people who present themselves as protectors of women and their rights - including the right for a woman to wear whatever she wants without the tutelage of anyone in the name of customs, traditions or religion, for example.
Although they don't criticise their outfits directly, these pseudo-liberals do so when they make them a means for jocular harassment

At a time when some Arab men who have wrapped themselves with liberal slogans are trying to show how they and Islamists are distinct, particularly in their positions towards women, it seems that the two groups have united in their views - even if such views have taken different forms.

At a time when Islamists and the like criticise women for joining demonstrations, and this criticism multiplies over the way these women dress - liberals and their like view women in a way that is similar in its result, using women as subjects for not-so-innocent flirtation, also concentrating on the way they are dressed.

Although they don't criticise their outfits directly, these pseudo-liberals do so when they make them a symbol and signifier for openness, and a means for jocular harassment.

I was shocked by one of them. This person never wasted a chance to raise issues about harassment against women in his Arab Gulf country, demanding freedom for women to choose the style in which they live or dress.

He even impressed many, including me, with his suggestions. But once images of Lebanese women protesters with torn jeans and tight or revealing t-shirts were spread, he turned into an active online harasser.

He even posted one of these photos on his Twitter account, expressing his desire to go immediately to Beirut to join the demonstrations, in reference to his apparent goal, without being ashamed of his cognitive dissonance.

I'm not against the press focusing, for example, on a humorous or exceptional social phenomenon here or there, as this is a natural part of journalism. However, I am against the press shifting this focus onto a social behaviour that some would take as a pretext to express their real views that are hidden behind alleged ideals.

It is time to tell those people: You also stink.

Saadia Mufarreh is a poet, writer and critic who lives in Kuwait.

Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.