Who Can Talk About Palestinian Misogyny?

Who Can Talk About Palestinian Misogyny? April 22, 2015

Palestinian rap group Dam’s latest song “Who You Are,” featuring newest member Maysa Daw tackles misogyny and “make believe feminism.” As one of the groups members, Tamer Nafer, puts it: we need to “criticize the hypocritical part of our society, which likes to play ‘make believe feminism’ from time to time.”

This is not the first Dam song that tackles misogyny– an earlier song, “If I could go back in time” featuring Amal Murkus, was about honor killing in Palestine, sparking a debate about whether the group have been “seduced by the ‘Honor Crime,’” as Lila Abu Lughod and Maya Mikdashi argued. Their article claimed the video was “depoliticizing this violence and relying on cultural narratives that have served to racialize and ethnicize Arabs as one of liberalism’s ‘others’”

Wafa Ben Hassine disagreed with this view: “It’s really due time we, as Arabs, identify our issues and address them head on. We cannot keep relying on an occupation to explain everything in the Middle East.”

Dam’s latest video does just that, featuring a woman (Maysa Daw) who sings “I am the spinster, the barren, the divorced by triple declaration/ who is told “better the shadow of a man than the shadow of a wall” (my translation). She then asks “but tell me/who are you?”

Through the role reversal in the video, the viewer is encouraged to ask questions about the stereotypes we have about women and men, femininity and masculinity in Arab societies. Personally, I loved the song – although I’m not sure about the hipster aesthetic, the words and the images of the woman throwing the washing off the balcony and driving off are a nice mix of humorous, powerful and self-critical.

Of course, talking about misogyny in Palestinian society is easily turned into ammo for xenophobes – as seen in this article, with the title “Violence Against Women ‘Part of Palestinian Culture,” where “an expert” is quoted as saying that “Palestinian men view women as property; most Palestinian women say domestic violence is justified” – implying that therefore, Palestinians don’t deserve a state.

The danger of being co-opted in this way has been seen in the reaction to documentaries such as Ibtisam  Mara’ana’s Three Times Divorced, which asks, “How does a Palestinian woman in Israel survive an abusive husband?” The documentary was the 2007 Winner of the Best Documentary Award at DocAviv, the International Film Festival in Tel Aviv. As a result of this impact, Zehava Gal-On, a member of the Knesset, tried to arrange for the woman featured in the documentary to be granted a permanent residence permit.

As Ebru Buyukgul writes, Palestinian women are often “caught between Zionism and patriarchy”. Buyukgul points out that:

there are two prevailing paradigms; the first points the finger at a misogynistic culture and society in which the ‘honour’ of a family is largely judged by the actions of the women in it and the second blames the loss of masculinity among Palestinian men as a result of Zionist colonialism and oppression…And it is women who become the victims in these crises of loss of masculinity.

While it is important to talk about the “crises of loss of masculinity” in relation to the occupation– as Rema Hamami does here – to focus on this is to ignore the continuities between Palestinian misogyny and broader Arab  patriarchal practices.

I am glad that Dam continue to ignore the danger of being used as ammo against the Palestinian cause– in fact, I think that their politics and their work makes it impossible for them to be used to further “racialize and ethnicize Arabs as one of liberalism’s ‘others’”. In tackling the misogyny of their society head on, making it clear that the feminist struggle is not secondary but complementary to and an essential part of the Palestinian cause, they take ownership of the issues plaguing our societies in an honest, forthright way that is long overdue.


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