Burned Grilled Cheese, Camels, and Feminism

It was a 6 pm on a Tuesday. I was watching T.V. My stomach starting making whale noises, it was quite annoying. No amount of ignoring, or shushing would quiet my stomach. I decided to make a grilled cheese sandwich, but not a real one, a really lazy grilled cheese sandwich; the kind of grilled cheese sandwich where you just pop it in the toaster. I got my whole wheat bread, two slices of cheddar cheese, and popped the two slices of bread into the toaster. I turned the dial. I turn around to look at the TV. I turn back and the toaster is on fire. Real live red and orange flames scorching the inside and licking up the sides of the toaster door. I was about to sling my sister over my shoulder and sprint out of the house, when my mom calmly unplugged the toaster and started laughing and jokingly said “ha tnfa3e.” That’s an Arabic saying that’s said to women about how well suited for marriage they are. Egyptian women are expected to cook, clean, and care for the children as a trade off for that pretty jewelry set (they don’t do diamond rings in Egypt). I answered my mom,” I don’t see why the men shouldn’t be expected to cook,” she said, ” They think it’s the women’s job they’re not going to do it.” My mom was completely joking around with me (basically inspired me to be a feminist) but this conversation led me to some serious contemplation of Egyptian culture and a single question: why do Egyptian women settle and put up with men with these attitudes? One of my teachers once told me, “You’re a feminist in a culture that doesn’t appreciate feminism.” Probably one of the most accurate statements I’ve heard about Egyptian culture. And this lack of appreciation of feminism is prevalent in Egyptian Communities regardless of religion. Although most Coptic Christians won’t admit the misogynistic accepts of the religion. Here’s why women settle from my perspective as a Coptic (another word for Egyptian) Christian woman:

1)Religion plays an important role in Egyptians lives. Egyptian’s beliefs, morals, and political stances are heavily influenced by religion. I can only speak with my experience with the Coptic Church. The church heavily, if not completely, defines people’s social beliefs. In my 17 years of attending church regularly here are some gems of Sunday school lessons I’ve received:

  • “Don’t wear skirts or tight pants its tempts boys.” There goes my whole closet; time to invest in some muumuus or maybe a tent just to be safe.
  • “In a marriage the man is the king and the women is the queen, and just like in history the king makes all the decisions.” I guess they missed the history lessons about Queen Elizabeth, Cleopatra, and Hatshepsut.
  • “Women are impure when they’re on their period.” Sounds like something the Taliban or ISIS would say, yep I went there and I’m not taking it back.
  • “Feminism is a sin.” Jesus talked about Feminism as much as he talked about Homosexuality, not at all.
  • “Women can’t be priests because that’s how the church has always been.” Good thing you’re a Sunday school teacher not a lawyer.
  • “Women have a very important role in the church, you don’t need to be priests, you help expand the church.” Good news ladies you don’t need leadership roles you already have your birthing hips.

The best part is when I told some of the girls in church how ridiculous these teachings are, they told me they agreed with all of it and that I should talk to the priest. Wake up! These teachings are misogyny. They’re sexist, archaic, and are used as tools of subjugation.

2) A lot of women my grandmother’s age had no choice but to settle since they lacked education. Without education they couldn’t support themselves. This has fostered a culture where men are dominant and cemented gender roles. Women were dependent on the men and that put the men in positions of power. This culture has continued to this day. Hopefully it will change soon, everyone gets an education now. You don’t need to give in or settle because you can support yourself. My mom always told me that the key to my independence is my education.

You do not need to become a maid. It is not your job. It is not one of your womanly duties. If you want to cook and clean that’s your choice, not a requirement of marriage. You do not give in to your husband; he is not worth more than you are. You do not need to silently put up with abuse. Do not stay in a marriage where you are not respected and treated as an equal just because of culture, tradition, or religion. Give a metaphorical middle finger to any ideology that puts you in a position of inferiority. Hold these men to a higher standard. Once they see that you won’t put up with their domineering, disrespectful behavior they’ll shape up. And if they don’t, as they say, “el baab byfawot gamal,” which is an Egyptian saying that translates to “the door is wide enough to have a camel pass through.” It’s the equivalent of the English, “there’s the door, baby”. You are not like your grandmothers. You are educated and independent; you don’t need the economic support of a man. You do not answer to anybody but yourself. Take control of you own life. Your opinions and voice are just as important as any man’s and don’t let them tell you otherwise. Demand your rights. Make noise and fight for your presence in the new government, this is your chance to take control of yourselves. Don’t wait and say, “we’re not important, we’ll wait until the country calms down.” No, you are important and you will not wait. You’ve been waiting for hundreds of years already. Egypt has such a rich history of powerful women. Look at them as your role models. Learn from Hatshepsut, Cleopatra (except the part where she ruins the Egyptian empire for a boy), Nefertiti, Nawal el Saadawi, Huda Sha’Arwi, and if you need anymore inspiration here’s a list of 23 women: http://egyptianstreets.com/2014/05/09/23-egyptian-women-who-made-history/. Never give in. Always keep on fighting.

One time a bunch of entitled Egyptian men tried to insult me by accusing me of having a “Feminist Agenda.” They tried to insult me by accusing me of supporting equality. Jokes on them, that’s probably one of the best compliments I can receive. “Feminist”  is not an insult. I am proud to be an Egyptian feminist. I control my life and your entitled, male Egyptian opinions do not define me. They shouldn’t define any Egyptian women.

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