A "Vagina Monologues" for the Middle East, and other ways that Arab women are pushing boundaries.
The labial juggernaut that is “The Vagina Monologues” has reached the Arab world, in the form of Lebanese playwright Lina Khoury’s play “Women’s Talk.” The play deals with topics such as sex, rape, menopause and visits to the gynecologist: you know, the kind of things that people like to pretend to be shocked/titillated by here, but that Islamist hard-liners tend to view pretty starkly.
“Women’s Talk” closed in Beirut in February after a staggering two-year run (your friendly neighborhood theater professional will tell you how difficult it is to keep a show up and running this long, and that’s without constant calls for your stoning). The show is an act of bravery and a stunning move toward lifting the veil (pardon the pun) on the world of Muslim women, a group commonly — and erroneously — marginalized by Western and Muslim societies alike.
But according to this piece in the L.A. Times, it’s hardly a singular achievement.
“You see a lot of positive women role models in the media,” said Dima Dabbous-Sensenig, head of the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World at Lebanese American University in Beirut. “Lebanon’s July 2006 war with Israel was covered by women television correspondents in their 20s. They were going everywhere. They were braver than men.”
As additional indicators of this seismic shift, the piece cites Amy Mowafi, the Cairo-based author of “Fe-Mail: The Trials and Tribulations of Being a Good Egyptian Girl” who is often referred to as the Muslim Carrie Bradshaw (although one has to assume, a better writer), and the Lebanese actress Nada Abou Farhat, whose love scene (it involved a kiss) in her film “The Bus” was seen as so explicit by Islamist standards that it was picked up by a porn Web site.
“Maybe women are seen as overreaching to make a point,” Farhat muses. “But we need to be vulgar. This is our revolution.”
Let’s hope she’s right. And here in the States, where the prevailing pop-cultural iterations of girl power are portrayed as caring about nothing so much as shoes, closets and men, we could relearn a thing or two about revolution from these courageous, groundbreaking women.
Rachel Shukert is the author of Everything is Going To Be Great and Have You No Shame. Her YA series Starstruck is forthcoming from Random House in the spring of 2013. She lives in New York City. More Rachel Shukert.
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