Singing and writing – of all the arts, to my belief, these two are perceived as the most dangerous by any patriarchal society that wishes to keep its women silenced and oppressed. Because singing and writing are expressions of voice, and we are expected not to raise our voices and remain silent, and silence means submission.
Mohammed Assaf, the Palestinian winner of Arab Idol from Gaza, said in a recent interview that he doesn’t approve of his sister’s singing, because of our society’s traditions, which spurred an ugly wave of backlash and shaming on the internet. All of a sudden, everyone is an avid supporter of women’s right to express their voices. Mohammed has become an easy target, a scapegoat for an entire society. The more I read, the more disgusted I become at the absence of a cultural way of discussion.
Yes, of course I disagree with his statement. Strongly disagree is even an understatement. But I think in our adrenaline rush to condemn him, we have forgotten that he hasn’t grown up in a vacuum. His opinion comes from somewhere – and that somewhere is our own society.
A society where women are still largely expected to remain in the private sphere, to take on the role of caretakers, to abstain from participation in the public sphere, to keep out of the political sphere. In short, a society where women are marginalized in all spheres of life and silenced in the literary sense. Not only that, our society is one in which, if a woman dares to raise her voice, demand her basic human rights to freedom, she is murdered in cold blood. A society in which a woman who dares to raise her voice and break the silence about being sexually attacked is punished. A society in which men have almost total, exclusive economic control over women. A society in which a woman who wishes to divorce her husband has to go through hell in the religious court system. A society in which a woman who is divorced and wants to remarry, has to fight with her teeth to keep custody over her children. A society in which a woman who wants to talk in front of people in a public event, has to get the permission of her husband to do so. These are just a few concrete examples of the ways women are oppressed in our society that come to mind now.
No, Mohammed Assaf’s statement is not an isolated incident. It is part of a whole system. The oppression of women is systemic and crosses all aspects of life. It is a very intricate, deep-rooted structure that works to silence women. So before attacking Mohammed, take a close look at your own home and community and try to identify where women are oppressed. Instead of attacking Mohammed Assaf, go out there and do something about gender equality.
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- the photos were taken at the annual conference of Jusur (Bridges) – National Forum of Arab Women Leaders in November 2014, organized by Kayan Feminist Organization.