Practicing Freedom in the Shadow of Patriarchy’s Crisis

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An Egyptian protester hold up his hand with a slogan reading in Arabic: "Egyptian girls are a red line" during a demonstration in Cairo against sexual harassment on 12 February 2013. (Photo: AFP - Khaled Desouki)

By: Zeina Zaatari

Published Friday, March 8, 2013

In a recent article by Turkish feminist Deniz Kandiyoti titled “Fear and Fury: Women and Post-Revolutionary Violence,” the author comes to the conclusion that patriarchy is in crisis.

I felt that the author was speaking for me, as I and many of my feminist colleagues have been trying to explain the continued violence against women in the Arab world, particularly in countries like Egypt and Tunisia that experienced revolutionary upheaval.

How do we explain the incidents of mass rape that took place in Egypt as of late under the watchful eyes of hundreds? How do we account for the apparent consent of the state who join them in such crimes? And what about the millions more who applaud the violence, believing that these women “deserved what they got” for having taken to the streets?

Kandiyoti proposes that a new phenomenon – something she calls “masculinist restoration” – may help explain. This attempt to restore patriarchy, she argues, comes at a time when male authority is unstable and cannot reproduce itself through its usual means.

The restoration process, therefore, must include even higher levels of violence in order to resuscitate patriarchy.

In this vein, Kandiyoti writes, “The recourse to violence (or the condoning of violence) points not to the routine functioning of patriarchy or the resurgence of traditionalism, but to its threatened demise at a point when notions of female subordination are no longer securely hegemonic.”

She cites the rape of women by Egypt’s military under the guise of so-called virginity tests. She also points to a September 2012 incident in which Tunisian police arrested, then raped, a young woman while sitting with her fiancé in their car.

In many such cases in post-revolutionary Tunisia and Egypt, the courts often blame the woman in one way or another, which only points to the depth of patriarchy’s crisis. Particularly in Egypt, such attempts “to put women in their place,” are due to the growing participation of women in the public sphere.

According to Kandiyoti, patriarchy’s crisis – and the extreme response to it – also stems from the deterioration of the traditional role played by men.

“The male provider image jars with the multitudes of unemployed male youth who are unable to provide for themselves, much less protect women from bread-winning roles and the rigors of exposure to public spaces,” she writes.

“We are witnessing a profound crisis of masculinity leading to more violent and coercive assertions of male prerogatives where the abuse of women can become a blood sport.”

Undoubtedly, this situation requires us as feminists to find new methods of resistance. We can look at similar struggles from around the world in order to develop more effective approaches to our own liberation.

We must also ask men where they stand on this issue, for they have fought and sacrificed in order to free themselves of slavery and oppression, be it from colonialism, occupation or dictatorship. Does that freedom only apply to men? Are we all not better off when equality and dignity applies to all?

I do not claim to have all the answers, nor am I proposing that we dismiss our past struggles and the way we have organized over the years, but I do believe we are witnessing a qualitative shift in the manner in which patriarchy functions and propagates itself – a shift the requires us to find new answers and creative strategies to pursue our freedom.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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