“Fuck the patriarchy.”
That’s how Mona Eltahawy begins every speech, every lecture, every talk she has ever given. It is her call to action, her words to live by, her pièce de résistance. And it’s fucking incredible.
I’ve never felt so empowered by a book before. Never have I held a book in my hands and felt myself shaking with every page that I turned. That is the emotion that Mona Eltahawy writes with and the emotion that she puts into this book; that same emotion is echoed in the reader and resonates with something deeper.
At the same time, I have never questioned my own beliefs so deeply. Whenever I found myself thinking, “Well, perhaps there is a way that we can do this and compromise, a way that we can negotiate…” Eltahawy’s words scream back, “You cannot compromise with people who do not view you as equal! You cannot compromise with a group that systematically oppresses and abuses women!” There were many moments that I found myself putting the book down to introspect and realize that I had internalized aspects of patriarchal conditioning. Reading this book was only some of the first few steps towards unlearning those behaviors and thoughts.
Eltahawy lists her seven necessary sins as: Anger, Attention, Profanity, Ambition, Power, Violence, and Lust. Her book focuses on her own relationship with these “sins” as well as the stories of dozens of other women and activists across the world. Vitally, Eltahawy steers her attention away from the Western world and focuses on mainly non-Western countries. She emphasizes that patriarchy is global and appears in many different forms. From required male guardianship for women in Egypt and Saudi Arabia to government-sanctioned assaults and beatings of women to historical systemic mass rapings of women and girls in Serbia. This book is scary and it is real.
There were moments during my reading of this book that I thought, “There can’t possibly be anything else! It can’t get worse than this!” and Eltahawy proved me wrong at every point. She highlights how violence against women is hidden and ignored altogether, how women are expected to obey the patriarchy or face consequences (read: violence and, usually, imprisonment or death,) and how women are abused in every way in every country in every era. There has never been a period of time when women have been safe from patriarchy.
As a queer, Muslim, Egyptian woman of color, Eltahawy prominently focuses on those minority backgrounds—and she has every right and need to. Women of color are disproportionately discriminated against; queer women are attacked and beaten in countries where homosexuality is criminalized; and Muslim women face many of the systemic Islamophobic sinkholes of modern society, both political and social. She is a fighter, activist, survivor, and feminist. She’s a legend and a hero. But she makes sure to share stories that are not her own; she repeats over and over again that she is not the first nor the last woman to be harassed or assaulted or beaten. She’s right, and it’s a horrifying truth.
You can feel her anger and her passion through the pages and you want to scream out at the injustice against women that is perpetrated each and every day but goes unreported. You want to mourn for the hundreds and thousands of women who are assaulted and raped and killed who never see justice. You want to be your own woman and declare your independence from patriarchy—do it!
In the cruelest form of irony I have ever experienced, a friend told me that she had been assaulted as I was in the midst of reading this manifesto. It serves to prove that women—no matter their age, location, academic background, social upbringing, or anything—are not safe. It is women that you know, women that you’ve met, and women everywhere that face the brunt of the patriarchy. In conjunction with reading Eltahawy’s book, I have never been so angry in my life. Angry at the man who hurt one of my closest friends, angry that I couldn’t be there to punch him in the face (following in Eltahawy’s #IBeatMyAssaulter tag and call to action,) and angry that I knew it would happen again. Maybe not to her, but to another friend or someone I know and that it happens to hundreds of women worldwide each and every day.
Eltahawy encourages you to want, to strive, to be, to exist, and to claim yourself for yourself in defiance of the patriarchy. And, most importantly, she underscores the need for the destruction of the patriarchy. Not compromising with patriarchy, not coming to terms with patriarchy, and certainly not allowing it to continue. No, she calls for its outright destruction. And she’s right.
Assta Shakur, founding member of the Black Liberation Army and former Black Panther is quoted by Eltahawy saying, “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”
Read this book. Light your own “pilot light of anger” and let it burn.
And, in Eltahawy’s own words, “Fuck the patriarchy.”