When I told my father I had decided to go to John Jay, College of Criminal Justice, he turned to me and said: “For what? Isn’t that a police school? MY DAUGHTER, do policework??” Speechless and appalled by this, I replied: “No dad, for Political Science and law.” With an even more disturbing and disappointed tone, he sighed and replied “Do you think anyone would actually appoint you into a political position in the United States? Refugee, Daughter to refugees, Arab, Muslim, Woman? We left Palestine to save you from the politics, we lived in a fucking refugee camp in Syria to save you from the politics, We came to this country and restarted our lives to SAVE YOU from the politics… and you’re diving head first into a police school to pursue POLITICS? I don’t think so.”
Although we battled it out and he finally respected my decision, I couldn't help but feel disheartened, small, and nothing but a refugee, Arab, Muslim woman, who was destined to live off of a minimum wage job for the rest of my life, or AT BEST make it into local government if I actually went through with politics. I had to have faith in myself and the idea of empowering myself for just being a woman was even more distant and turned me off completely. All I was familiar with throughout my life at that time was “white feminism”--- women who believed in rebelling by not wearing and/or burning bras, because men don’t wear bras; or refusing to wear pads because men did not have to wear pads. I did not stand with this. I did not believe that women were victims for having to wear bras and pads. I believed women were victims for not being able to go to school because they would get raped before they got there. Women were victims because somewhere in another country, yet another young girl was getting her clitorus removed or mutilated.
I lost my sense of feminism; I refused to even identify as feminist. I thought: these white girls have it so easy. They come home after school scream 'Mommm, I’m Hommmeeeee' as their dog greets them, their mom comes out of the kitchen with an oven mit, and in her hand a pot of meat loaf. Then, they have the nerve to come to school and scream oppression and feminism? And on top of that, they want to free us from our veils? “Oh those poor Arab women, oppressed by their hijabs, married off at 10 years old to a 50 year old that already has two wives, uneducated, unemployed, with so many children.” NO, honey. We are educated, we are happily married, we are not oppressed by a piece of cloth that covers our hair, we are employed. We are not savages. We are not beard-wearing, gun-waving sand niggers. And yes, I do know how to belly dance.
When reading “It’s Not an Oxymoron” The Search for Arab Feminism” by Susan Muaddi Darraj, I realized that I don’t think I’ve ever been more eager to turn the page of a book. Where was my feminism??? Wy have Western women felt the need to strip us of our hijabs in order to liberate us, but not save us from war torn countries and the ethnic cleansing of our people? Darraj says that “the apparent hypocrisy and condescension that white Western feminists held for Arab women confused me. I felt betrayed by a movement that claimed to create a global sisterhood for women; it seemed that the Arab woman was the poor and downtrodden step-sister in this family. Where is my feminism?” (page 298). Her words and experiences made me feel so relevant, acknowledged and welcomed to create my own type of feminism.
Susan allowed me to feel closer to my culture, to understand that Arab feminists DO exist, that they come as spokeswomen, revolutionists, scholars, mothers, college students, that there is a place for me. Susan explains the similarities between Arab and Western cultures and emphasizes that we have so many similarities in the way we do things, however Arabs are looked as “barbaric” for doing them--- such as naming the son after the grandfather, or asking the woman's father for her hand in marriage. I could also connect with her dilemma of feeling torn between two significant cultures in her life. Could I love my American culture that I was brought up on but still appreciate my Middle Eastern culture? Could I un-guiltily pay my taxes, knowing that they are funding Israeli tanks in Palestine that are demolishing my people? Could I honestly support white feminism even though it does not apply to me?
Like Susan Muaddi Darraj, I applaud "American feminism for attempting to bridge an intimidatingly wide gap, but that bridge must be rooted in firm ground at both ends of the divide. It should no longer be possible to write about arab women with any aura of expertise or authority without first knowing what Arab women need and want” (Page 301). With that being said, I can proudly say that I am my own feminist. I stand in solidarity with, and will forever continue to fight for all women around the world that can not fight for themselves. I fight for the women in war torn countries that strive to learn, explore, and live, with or without their hijabs on. I will continue to educate women and young girls that they do not need to leave behind their culture in order to be accepted into this Western world that seeks to appropriate and assimilate us. And I will continue to be unapologetic and thrilled about who I am.