When you mention feminist literature to friends it doesn’t always go down well, there’s a certain stereotype that that carries along with it – the cats, the lack of bras, the angry arrogance and the kind of sexism that stems out of sexism itself.
Joumana Haddad does not fit. True, she’s angry, her first book I killed Sheherazade was subtitled ‘Confessions of an angry arab woman’ but in the latest Superman is an Arab her anger is well directed, it doesn’t fly around you, spin you down, she knows where the problems lie and she attacks the source.
“This is not a manifesto against men in general” is how the blurb starts and its sad that any feminist feels the need to qualify their writing with this first, the first and obvious attack from conservative sides. “Neither is this a manifesto against Arab men in particular”, it’s not at all, the heroes and heroines of her book come from all around; the focus of her attacks can often be based in the Arab world but that’s her forte, her little bias, and it’s not like its a region that doesn’t need some angry women within it.
…many gave up hope…
Published last year, the book came at a time when the eyes of the world’s media was focused on the capitals of the Arab states, as the ‘Arab Spring’ was taking hold, the first elections were taking place and women’s rights in the region were a key point; Ban Ki Moon even focused a speech on it. With the elections of ‘Islamist’ (a debatable word) parties to the seats of power, many gave up hope, that the Middle East was doomed to obscurantism, no rational feminism could take hold there. Haddad and others haven’t taken the same step, there are still fighters around and Haddad’s piercingly personal essay-ish style is a necessary and important voice in the centre.
Last year the Tunisian government tried to pass ‘Article 28’ as part of a draft constitution of the new democratic state. Article 28 was a strange one, their were issues with translations and interpretations but the main argument against was that it called women ‘complimentary’ to men. The argument that those against were just taking an obscure interpretation of an article meant to reinforce women’s right is an understandable one but not one that holds up. An article in a constitution should be without interpretation, should be blunt and simple, if there is the chance it will be interpreted to house a different (sexist) viewpoint then that chance is enough to render the article useless. In early September 2012 I wrote a column describing these points, about a month later I received a tweet from a Tunisian blogger/journalist named Lilia Weslaty saying “Article 28 was rejected finally”. There is a voice still there and its as loud as ever.
…remember and accept your vulnerabilities fellas…
Haddad’s is a powerful voice, her conviction is not lost through her autobiographic and poetic style (every chapter has three sections The Poem, The Rant and The Narrative.) Haddad’s main target throughout the book though, is not any particular government, man or women (though she names many of all three) but a species, as she called them – The Macho Species. The ones who think they are or need to be Superman and haven’t we all come across those before “A man’s place is… a women’s place is…” Blah.
‘No man is superman’ is a good mantra for us to stick by, remember and accept your vulnerabilities fellas, we’re all covered in them. One character from the Superman franchise that Haddad has a big issue with is Lois Lane and quite understandably from her viewpoint. Lois Lane loved Superman, who she knew little about and loved for his ‘masculine’ strength, for the fact that he could ‘protect’ her and all the while she shunned the mild mannered, quiet, intelligent reporter Clark Kent.
…the world will still need the Joumana Haddads…
While the world is still covered in unthinking ‘supermen’ and passive Lois Lanes, the world will still need the Joumana Haddads to set them straight. If you think feminism has had it’s day then take a quick look at the language one might use to describe Miss Haddad; ‘Miss’ denoting that she’s unmarried and therefore sexually available. It’s weird how prevalent it is when you start getting into it.