Safe Haven (International Women’s Day Post)

I’ve surrounded myself with women for most of my life. Although I was fortunate enough to grow up with both parents in my household, I was, and still am closer to my mother. I received an all-girls Catholic education for fifteen years, and most of my best friends are women of multiethnic backgrounds of different religions. I was raised Muslim, placed in a Catholic school when I was nine years-old, made friends with Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’i, spirituals, atheists, agnostics, and other Christians. I learned that I was bisexual when I was nineteen years-old.  I have met women in other socio-economic backgrounds, both wealthy and disadvantaged who have either expressed love or utter disgust for me because of who I am. Additionally, I have met women I have also shown either a liking for or whom I find odious for various reasons. Nonetheless, these are the women who have inspired me to write. I thank every woman who has confided in me as I have with them. I am grateful to be graced with passionate, understanding, ambitious, influential women whose compelling stories will be featured here in hopes of allowing others to achieve their voice and use it to recover, to heal, to learn, to grow, to succeed, to educate, and to be. 

But enough about myself. Onto the ladies.

Khameinei’s Twitter Rant 

A recurring theme I’ve acknowledged with women I’ve encountered has been abuse. The word abuse is a multifaceted term that encompasses the emotional, the physical, the psychological. While abuse can most certainly be external, it is only truly embedded when people are psychologically attached. In most countries around the world, women are taught to conform to domesticity and are models for public decency. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini posted a thread on Twitter today about his views on how the West influences women to lead a “deviant lifestyle” that breaks down their immunity to sin.

By promoting modest dress (#hijab), #Islam has blocked the path which would lead women to such a deviant lifestyle . Hijab is a means of immunity not restriction.

— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) March 8, 2018

A woman can have active presence & deep influence on social arenas—as Iranian women are so influential. The features of today’s Iranian woman include modesty, chastity, eminence, protecting herself from abuse by men, refraining from humiliating herself into appeasing men.

— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) March 8, 2018

Today, according to the western model, the most sought after characteristics of a #woman involve her ability to physically attract men and appease them: one distinct image (portrayed in society) of the western woman is her nudity.

— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) March 8, 2018

The western model for women is symbolic of consumerism, cosmetics, showing off for men as a tool of male sexual arousal. All they claim, including gender injustice and so on, is just talk. The reality is different.

— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) March 8, 2018

In Iran, women have been protesting against mandatory head covering, some publicly removing the hijab, allowing their hair to spill freely. Women have been arrested and sentenced for such gestures because they are against civil law.

In no ways do these laws abide by Islam, nor are they an accurate representation of Islam in the least. In short, Islam recognizes that men are women are equals. A woman’s identity and humanity is fully acknowledged and encouraged. With regard to hijab, the word hijab in the Qur’an is seen in Qur’an 24:30-31 when Allah explicitly addresses women when He asks them not to show off their “adornment,” except that which is apparent, and draw their veils over their bodies. These are known as verses of the hijab that support the mentality that male public figures such as Khameinei use to feed into the culture’s fear of women, and in turn to subjugate women. However, hijab does not solely refer to the veil. While it can refer to the English word scarf, it also refers to different varieties of clothing styles. It can refer to Pakistan’s shalwar-kameez, or the burqa, yet the common perception that is unduly enforced is that hijab refers to the veil. It is also a personal choice for women to wear the hijab. Some may feel a repressive impact from it, others may see it as a revival of Islam in certain places in the world where Islam is discouraged from being practiced. Others may even wear it to resist conventional beauty standards that deliberately expose women’s sexuality as a way to draw mass audiences into consumerism and idealistic fashion culture.

These regulations that countries such as Iran, Pakistan, India, Somalia and other countries where women are persecuted, raped, murdered, condemned for wanting to live how they want to live without being hypersexualized, without living in fear of public shame is why I want to be a lawyer. I want to advocate for these women. I want to make sure that the laws protect them instead of sabotaging them. One day, as unrealistic as it may seem, I will.

Serenity’s Story

I will now digress to talk about a story from a woman who was an abuse survivor. We will call her Serenity. She’s currently working at a strip club to provide for her two year-old daughter. The daughter’s father is in prison. His relationship with the mother is nothing less than mortifyingly abusive. She had her face broken in by this man not once, but twice. Her cheekbones, her nose, her skull…fractured. She had internal bleeding in her brain and died in the hospital three times before coming back. He also broke bones in her arms, five ribs, not to mention survived sexual abuse from him as well. He cheated on her with people whom she knew just to brag about it to her. He relished the control he had over her because he knew she loved him. What he doesn’t know is that she suffered a miscarriage when she was pregnant with twins. One twin died. The other lived. She told me she did not want to tell the man whose knuckles had thrashed her from head to toe that while she was cherishing the birth of one child, she was grieving the loss of another, a ghost who could have given her the other half of her heart back. To this day, he still does not know. Nor will he ever deserve to know.

Serenity’s dream is to be a social worker with a Master’s in Psychology. She told me that her experience as an abuse survivor caused her to want to help other women, assuage their fears, get them out of whatever situation they are in. She wants to help others not merely survive, but live a fulfilling life for themselves. She says that since she has been through everything that would make most women turn against themselves, she wants to be able to work toward a future by whatever (legal) means possible to give her daughter a life, to give others a life. To take her own life back.

The World Health Organization reports that nearly 40% of all murders of women worldwide are by an intimate partner. One in three women has experienced physical or sexual violence by her partner. In the United States alone, the CDC reports that 1.3 million women are assaulted by their partner each year.

I’m grateful that I live in the United States where domestic violence laws are implemented, because there are countries across the globe including Algeria, Armenia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Haiti, Iran, Kenya, Latvia, Lesotho, Mali, Niger, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Yemen that do not. As of April 1, 2014, Lebanon passed a domestic violence law, but it does not fully protect women.

Lebanon’s Domestic Violence Law: Do’s and Don’ts (More information available on HRW website https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/04/03/lebanon-domestic-violence-law-good-incomplete) 

What Lebanon’s domestic violence law does do:

-calls for establishing temporary shelters for abuse survivors

-assigns public prosecutor in each governorate to receive complaints/investigate

-establishes specialized family violence units within Lebanon’s domestic police, ISF to process complaints.

criminalizes a spouse’s use of threats or violence to claim a “marital right to intercourse”

What it doesn’t do:

-provide a full, comprehensive definition of domestic violence, thus fails to provide adequate protection from all forms of abuse.

-criminalize marital rape, which is not a crime under other Lebanese law.

criminalize the non-consensual violation of physical integrity itself.

According to HRW, “Advocates also criticized a reference to a “marital right of intercourse,” which does not exist under Lebanese criminal law, and fear it could be used to legitimize marital rape.”

Domestic violence laws everywhere need to be fast, efficient, and remedial. There are many flaws and other provisions that affect domestic violent laws from being effective. HRW additionally notes that the Lebanese government needs to address personal status laws that contribute to domestic violence. “These laws, which govern marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, and other matters…discriminate against women in several aspects…they can make it hard for women to obtain a divorce or custody…often trapping them in violent relationships.”

My View

I’ve been learning through my relationships with men that an important part of sustaining a relationship is by understanding the psychology of the opposite and the same sex. I never understood why men needed space from women. I never understood why I looked to men for protection when I wasn’t safe from most of them at all. I dated a drug addict, a recovered drug addict, and another drug addict. All of them either molded me so I would be more palatable for them, or they didn’t care at all. I was simply a toy for them. A tool for their objectification fantasies, a fantasy I learned to willingly become a part of. I loved making the men I was with happy. I forgot to focus on my own well-being because I cared so deeply and so hard and so fully. I would brim with tears when they would be upset with me, because I would feel like it was my responsibility to uphold the relationship to provide them with a better life because I was capable of doing so. I was also selfish and wanted so desperately to be with them. I wanted them to understand that I loved them. These con-artists that laced their fingers through me like I was their puppet.

Some of my favorite female authors include women who have written extensively about the power of other women. These authors include Audre Lorde and her discourse on the erotic, Toni Morrison and her novel Beloved, which investigates women’s sacrifices, and Jhumpa Lahiri and The Namesake which offers a view on diasporic women. I hope that women can start reading other women’s books and start engendering ideas about how to converge, instead of separating their identities to withhold themselves from freedom. In each of these books, I have found strength to face the boiling feelings that churn my blood and that have allowed me to challenge myself significantly in order to advocate for the voiceless. We must be one with our integral self, we must acknowledge the choices we make and why we make them in places where we may feel alienated, where conditions are tentative, where we may know so little. But we must learn. And we must rid ourselves of self-guilt and hatred. And we must love hard no matter what society says. But direct that love toward yourself first.

Women, you need to put yourself first before any man who isn’t your child. I don’t know what it is like to be a mother because I do not have any children, but I can only imagine the pain that mothers go through to make sure their children are safe. I’m mentioning this while keeping Serenity in mind, but also because women all over the globe who are not protected by legal provisions have families. They have people they are in love with who may threaten them on a daily basis or who may act completely narcissistic toward them. I’m grateful that we have a Women’s Movement in motion which has provided a platform for women to openly speak out about their views. What’s important for women to remember is that helping other women does not mean resorting to third-wave tactics. Women are natural healers and leaders, embedded with maternal love and instinct. Women have more powers at their disposal than they realize. They don’t understand how men fear them for their beauty, their personalities, their love. They are stigmatized as crazy more prevalently than men are because women are taught to suppress their emotions and be docile and decent. They are taught to lower their voices, avoid their gazes.

To women everywhere, I encourage you to be louder. I encourage you to stare straight in the eye like amber-eyed tigers. I encourage you to not hold your tongue, but let your voice betray you. Be intense, be provoking. Be the nectar and the poison. Let your dreams settle in the clouds and hang from stars as you submerge others in your beauty, as you make them succumb to your unending fountain of mystery. Let them drink from the rivers of your soul, and stay rooted so no one can pluck you, so you never die in calloused hands. Let yourself be colorful, vividly defined, dancing on marble floors and walking on glass ceilings, blinding every dry eye that looks at you with your color. Be born again from ashes like the phoenix, and let every flame that has ever burned your heart reinvigorate you to learn more and love more.

To anyone who has ever had a problem with how I represent myself as a woman, I want to tell you that I never do or say things intentionally out of malice, ever. I act for those who are oppressed and provide a haven of protection for you. I genuinely try to fix this world of flaws and I will keep pushing and representing for the voiceless to attempt to have a greater sense of newfound direction. All I want to do is lift people higher. I hope you’ll find your wings with me.

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