In my younger and more vulnerable years,* I had a ferocious argument with my mother about patriarchy. She was born and raised in 1960’s Egypt (an Egypt caught at the cross of roads of the point of no return and crushing reality) and moved to the US in the 80’s. She argued that Arab patriarchy was the worst of all patriarchies to be endured: men control their wives, daughters, sisters like property, honor killings occur all over the villages of Egypt. Women don’t have the option to work. Women’s bodies are deeply sexualized.
As an Egyptian/Muslim/American girl growing up in the apocalypse that was post 9/11 America determined to desecrate my identity, I felt compelled to defend Arab patriarchy’s honor! Well, at least argue that Arab women aren’t the only females who suffer from patriarchy. Men are also controlling in the US, Mama. 1 out of every 3 women who are killed in the US are killed by their husbands or boyfriends. In America, women work–up until their maternity leave which they will go through unpaid. And women’s bodies are just as deeply sexualized in America. Just look at those Carl’s Jr commercials! Why does she need to wear a bikini and lean against the wet hood of a car to eat a hamburger?
So there we were, arguing about which type of patriarchy was worst. Phrases like, “I would much rather be a prostitute than covered up and hidden away to suffocate and die” and “At least the house serves as some sort of refuge from people othering me and trying to see behind the veil!” were furiously exchanged.
About half an hour later, as the pain of actually imagining ourselves in these horrible situations began to sink in, we took a break from the argument, apologized for yelling, and moved on to lighter subjects like our excitement for the spring nectarine season.
When I went to bed that night, I dreamt that I was walking to school when I spotted a large house tucked atop a forested hill. I snuck into the home and found a large group of men–white, brown, black, Christian, Muslim, Hindu men–seated at a large dining table and laughing hysterically at a screen.
“Play it again, King Abdullah!” cackled Rush Limbaugh.
“Yeah! Go back to the part where they start thinking about being prostitutes!” begged Clarence Thomas.
King Abdullah, struggling to hold his laughter while controlling the remote for the DVD player, played the scene of my mother and I arguing about which patriarchy we would rather endure. The room roared with laughter. Rush Limbaugh ordered four more pizzas as they watched other tapes of women drowning in the patriarchy that engulfs them, so entrenched in their own pain and agony, that anything, any situation seemed better than what they were going through right then.
When I woke up the next morning, I headed downstairs to have a bowl of cereal with Mama, pieces of freshly sliced nectarines in each of our bowls, and I asked her what it was like to be the first single woman of the family to move out of Egypt? Did your family root for you? Did your neighbors ostracize you? What about the extended family? And were you scared when you moved to the US by yourself? You must have been so brave.
*Like, 2 months ago.