Inside the Life of (Any) Woman

I am a young woman from Lebanon, and I am currently residing in the Netherlands. I believe in very few things, including Darwin, justice, and the power of words. Since March was Women’s Month, I needed to share this—because I have been angry for a long time.

I want people to stop justifying misogyny in Arab countries and the rest of the world by saying, “This is our culture,” “These are our traditions,” and “This is how our society is built”—because we are society, and violence and inequality are never justifiable.

In the Middle East, Lebanon is considered more progressive, liberal, and a better place for women to live and be represented within the political sphere. I’ve always encountered people telling me, “Well, at least women can drive here,” or, “Be grateful that you can run for elections, wear a bikini, and speak your mind,” as if I need to thank the authorities and my fellow citizens for offering me my very basic rights. It’s absurd. But my explanation is the following: When you have lived for so long under an oppressive system disguised as a democracy, your rights become a privilege.

At age seven, I was told to “sit like a girl.” I didn’t quite get what the teacher meant, so I just did the splits. But as I grew older, I began to understand. When I became a teenager, a boy in class hit me and the school’s head of section explained to me that it was because he liked me. Looking back now, I figured that this is how you engrave in young girls’ minds that violence is a sign of love. After that, I was bullied by classmates because I “shouldn’t have reported the incident.” The boy was expelled for three days, and for a long time, I felt guilty. But we graduated without him ever apologizing for what he did.

By the age of 16, I had heard my fair share of sexist comments and rape “jokes,” as if there is anything funny about it. I was also shamed for having so much body hair. (My thought: Get over it, so do you!) But “boys will be boys “and it’s just “locker room talk”, right, Mr. President?

At the age of 17, I made a project for my French Baccalaureate about homosexuals in Lebanon. This topic always fascinated me because I could never grasp how individuals can be attacked for whom they love. Classmates called me hysterical for arguing that according to science and a significant amount of research, women can be attracted to other women. If that’s being hysterical, then I’m completely fine with it.

At 18, I went to college and was told that I should save myself for marriage because I must offer my body to that special person; because, you know, I was created to please men and I am just a property with no bodily autonomy whatsoever. He, on the other hand, has to have experience because he is a man. In many countries around the world, a woman’s self-respect and her family’s “dignity” are located between her legs. Sexuality should only be discussed in biology class. And the hymen should be intact. I hate to break it to you (LOL), but virginity is just a social construct.

At age 19, my friend was questioned about what she was wearing when she reported that she had been sexually assaulted. She was also asked if her harasser was drinking because that would somehow explain his behavior. She was then shamed, because she allowed him to walk her home before the incident occurred, so technically, she was the one who gave him the opportunity to assault her. This same man was later found to be a rapist in another country. Believing women seems to always be too difficult.

At age 20, I was told over and over again that I was too bossy. I used to behave exactly like my male friends. I was ambitious, I worked extremely hard, I was opinionated, I knew my worth, and I never allowed anyone to cross me. It seemed like everyone was OK with me until they realized that I stood up for myself and others.

At age 21, I was shamed for speaking up about mental health. “People might say you’re a crazy woman.” “I don’t think any man would want to date you.” “This is something you should keep to yourself.” I heard all of this constantly, but I didn’t care. Mental illness is a struggle, but stigma is the real pain, with women being the majority of sufferers.

At age 22, I could not comprehend how abortion was still illegal in some countries, such as Lebanon. In the 21st century, some women cannot terminate a pregnancy, even if it was the result of rape or incest. How can governments and religious institutions believe that they have the right to make choices on our behalf?

Today, I am 23 years old, and I am told that I should be grateful and accept the status quo; in other words…silent, obedient, and passive. I am among those young women asked to lower their voices and to “remember where you belong.”

Let me tell you where women belong. We belong in the army. We belong in governments. We belong in academic institutions. We belong where decisions are being made. We belong where justice is at work. We belong in peace talks. We belong in every office, every class, every fight, and every dream. We belong in every single place filled with men, because we are their equals and society cannot be whole with just a half.

About the Author | Yaz El Sabeh

Yaz El Sabeh (LLM) is a 23-year-old Lebanese woman currently residing in the Hague, Netherlands, undergoing her training at the Special Tribunal of Lebanon. She has a special interest in law, human rights, criminal justice, and gender studies.

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