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Essay: #FUCKFASCISM #FUCKTHEPATRIARCHY
This essay, this letter of love, first appeared in the anthology Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times, edited by Carolina De Robertis
Dear Sally, We met tonight in Cairo when I was out grocery shopping, and you asked me if my name was Mona. You said you recognized my red hair. We spoke for just a few minutes. My beloved took a picture of the two of us, which I shall treasure, before you continued on your way with your friend and we continued our shopping.
Like me, you are of two countries—Egypt and the USA. The day we met, I was thinking of the bad guys who have been winning in both our countries. In Egypt, a military dictator has filled jails with his opponents, including young people your age, and banned protests in a bid to instill fear and obedience in a country that rose up to demand freedom and dignity in the revolution of January 25, 2011. Despite his blatant disregard for our rights, his Western allies continue to sell us out by selling him weapons, justifying it with that euphemism “solidarity.”
When we met, hate was being rewarded with power and wealth in the United States.
A racist, misogynist bigot was just days away from being sworn in as U.S. president; a TV anchor who made a name for herself peddling racism had just signed a multi-million dollar contract with a TV network; and a neo-Nazi blogger had been offered a quarter-of-a-million-dollar advance for his book.
All day long, on that day we met, I was consumed with the question: How do we make antifascism, antiracism, antimisogyny, and antibigotry rewarding and powerful? I was angry. I have been angry ever since Donald Trump was elected president. Anger fuels a lot of my work. It helps me to bulldoze my way to the words I need. All day long, as a writer, I live with words. And because I appreciate the power of words, and anger, and because I know that angry women are free women—nice and polite is how we’re socialized as women, but these are not nice or polite times—I do not mince my words. So the theme of my letter to you, Sally is this: #FuckFascism and #FuckthePatriarchy. (I live on Twitter, and those two hashtags have become rallying cries for me.)
Make your heart too rebellious for the patriarchy’s attempts to plant itself within you. Make your mind too free for fascism to chain your imagination.
If we’d had more time on that Cairo sidewalk, I would have shared with you the ways I have determined to #FuckFascism and #FuckthePatriarchy. Instead, I came home and wrote this letter to you.
You spoke to me in Arabic; an English-accented Arabic that reminded me of my Arabic and of my younger self. Our ability to move back and forth, between countries and cultures and identities, is a tremendous privilege that enriches you in ways we need more than ever during these days of tribalism and nationalism. It can also be exhausting. Resist the demands to choose between your identities; resist the demands that you translate for one side or the other; resist the attempts by those on all the different sides of you to dilute you to one thing or to shrink you into one box.
Turn those boxes upside down! Complicate and confuse! I’m a big fan of complication—it humanizes us—and confusion—it scrambles the signals of the racists and bigots and creates space for you to be marvelous you in all your multitudes.
You are more powerful when you complicate and confuse.
I am turning fifty this year. You are turning seventeen. I wish your entrance into adulthood wasn’t accompanied by such tough political times in our two countries. But I love a good fight, and I hope you do, too. In the heritage of both our countries, there are revolutionary women whose words are fuel for my revolution. I want to share some of them with you, in the hope you will find useful ammunition among them. I have learned to carry the revolution—be it against patriarchy, fascism, or bigotry—within me, so that my resistance travels with me like a beloved totem. These women’s words keep that revolution—and my anger— sparkling and alive.
A nation cannot be liberated whether internally or externally while its women are enchained. —Doria Shafik
I am first and foremost a feminist, so I begin with an Egyptian woman whose activism was central to our political rights in Egypt. In February 1951, Doria Shafik and some 1,500 women stormed the Egyptian parliament, demanding suffrage. Their action was one of the catalysts that helped gain Egyptian women the right to vote and run for political office in 1956.
I began with Shafik because I want you to remember that we have a feminist tradition in Egypt. The fight for women’s equality and liberation does not belong to one nation or culture. It is global. There are women everywhere fighting patriarchy and whom I am proud to call sisters and comrades. Whether I’m fighting military rule or religious fundamentalism in Egypt, my feminism is my best weapon. Military rule and religious fundamentalism are two sides of one coin. They are both authoritarian and patriarchal. Neither of them is a friend of women’s rights.
Complicate and confuse! I’m a big fan of complication—it humanizes us—and confusion—it scrambles the signals of the racists and bigots and creates space for you to be marvelous you in all your multitudes.
I met you, Sally, just days before the inauguration of a U.S. president who openly boasted about using his fame to grope women without their consent. Donald Trump also made racist comments against Mexicans and other Latinx people and bigoted remarks against Muslims, and mocked a journalist with a disability. Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, has a long record of homophobia and enmity toward women’s reproductive rights. As we prepare for the election of those two men to the highest office of the country, my feminism is once again my biggest weapon. The fight for women’s equality and liberation must always target racism, bigotry, classism, ableism, and homophobia. Because as Black lesbian poet and feminist Audre Lorde explained: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
Lorde’s words, from a keynote presentation at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, in 1981 are a reminder that intersectional feminism was and is the most effective way to fight patriarchy. That speech is included in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde—a book that I return to every year. In it, I find many life lessons that are vital for our fights to come.
My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. —Audre Lorde
Patriarchy and misogyny thrive on silence. Our job in the months to come is to yell! We must shout our opposition against injustice! Silence benefits racism, misogyny, and bigotry. We must yell and shout to ensure that no one can ever use the excuse “I didn’t know.” As author Zora Neale Hurston put it: “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
We must expose injustice. We must name and shame it. And we must stay angry because angry women are free women. Remember: fuck being nice and polite. These are not nice or polite times. Be angry. Be loud. And be free! And find your sisterhood with other angry women. Unite with them. Organize with them. Find strength with them.
The hardest and the most important revolution always has been and will continue to be in the months ahead, the revolution of the self, the revolution of the mind, and the revolution of the heart.
Revolution begins with the self, in the self. . . . We’d better take the time to fashion revolutionary selves, revolutionary lives, revolutionary relationships . . . If your house ain’t in order, you ain’t in order. It is so much easier out there than right here. The revolution ain’t out there. Yet. It is here. —Toni Cade Bambara
Cherish those words from Cade Bambara’s 1969 essay “On the Issue of Roles.” They are touchstones that help me feel at home anywhere and everywhere because they remind me that the revolution is within me, no matter where I am. The revolution of the self is what will help you upend those boxes so many people will try to squeeze you into. That revolution of the self will help you resist demands that you choose between your identities. And that revolution of the self is what will free the multitudes you contain. Be intersectional. Make your heart too rebellious for the patriarchy’s attempts to plant itself within you. Make your mind too free for fascism to chain your imagination.
And above all, as you fight patriarchy and fascism, in Egypt and in the United States, as you make yourself a mobile and transatlantic revolutionary against racism, misogyny, and bigotry, remember these words—they are my words for the revolution ahead: resistance, stamina, survival. The foundation for those words and the foundation of our revolution must be: joy!
Those of us alive and able to resist and fight mustn’t capitulate to misery. What we fight for must be better.
In love, solidarity, and sisterhood,
Mona Eltahawy is a feminist author, commentator and disruptor of patriarchy. She is editing an anthology on menopause called Bloody Hell! And Other Stories: Adventures in Menopause from Across the Personal and Political Spectrum. Her first book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution (2015) targeted patriarchy in the Middle East and North Africa and her second The Seven Necessary Sins For Women and Girls (2019) took her disruption worldwide. It is now available in Ireland and the UK. Her commentary has appeared in media around the world and she makes video essays and writes a newsletter as FEMINIST GIANT.
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