Salma El-Wardany | June 14 2016
“Oh my god – you’re Arab – just like Jasmine in Aladdin!”
Humanity is stupid, and it insists on asking me stupid questions. I know I sound pessimistic and bitter, but honestly, as an Arab woman, you hit pessimistic and bitter pretty quickly. Somewhere between, “did your parents have an arranged marriage?” and “can you teach me how to belly dance?”, you begin to lose hope in the world, and by lose hope; I mean you feel like screaming at everyone. This feeling is most familiar when hitting the dating scene.
Dating, as an Arab woman, is a world of pain that even my over waxed body can’t handle. One minute into a date, and all of a sudden you’re transformed into some Arabian princess who sleeps on a magic carpet. I’ve been asked to speak in Arabic, because it’s just so sexy, and I’ve been told that my “fiery temperament” and “kohl-rimmed eyes” are a turn on. I’ve lost count of the number of men who have whispered about seeing the desert sky in my “exotic” eyes. Boy, it’s just eyeliner from Boots, not a pigment ground down from the dust of pharaohs. I mean, what the hell does the desert sky even look like anyway? I thought the sky was just the sky, but apparently not.
Of course, Arab women have the right to revel in their beauty, sensuality and passions as much as the next woman – hell, I’m all for it – it just can’t be the thing that leads the conversation anymore. There’s a huge difference between taking an interest in the sum total of another person’s culture and traditions, and stamping your own desires onto another person’s ethnicity. That is never okay. Men hyper-sexualizing us is not a compliment, it’s exhausting, and quite frankly, it makes me want to throat punch them.
It’s not just white male fantasies that we have to deal with, Arab men can be just as bad. Arab men don’t dream about making sweet love in a tent in the desert, because a) everyone knows that sand gets everywhere and it’s totally impractical, and b) they’re more concerned with how well you can cook and if your jeans are too tight. There’s a huge part of me that hates making that statement, because I want to believe that Arab men today aren’t part of that narrative; that they’ve evolved and are able to transcend the typical gender roles that our culture laid down so many decades ago; that they’ll allow their wives and girlfriends to live independent lives; that they’ve emancipated themselves from the shackles of traditional masculinity…
But alas, they remain colossal pricks.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule: not every white man will assume that you’re a byproduct of Jasmine and Aladdin, and nor will every Arab man constrain your behaviour for the sake of his ego.
But fuck the exception; we’re not talking about the exception.
Often, they barely know of the existence of the exception, let alone fulfill it – that’s the reason why there’s an exception in the first place! Knowing that your friend’s brother’s cousin’s mate doesn’t mind if his wife wears a miniskirt is of little consolation to me.
Arab women deserve more. We deserve better.
We’re multifaceted and brave; rising above tradition to forge incredible lives for ourselves.
We’re clever and powerful, because we’ve faced oppression and bigotry every step of the way.
We’re resilient and strong, because we’ve had no other choice.
And we’re creating brilliant opportunities for each other from across continents – and that right there – that’s a whole new world.
Salma El-Wardany is a half Egyptian, half Irish writer who thoroughly enjoys defying stereotypes. She’s pretty bored of hearing Arabs, Muslims and bombs in the same sentence, so she’s currently working on her debut novel, Burkas & Bikinis, to shake things up a bit. You can find her on her blog and on Instagram.