Being a young woman in a patriarchal society and having what our society calls feminist tendencies is not easy. I study English literature in Cairo University and 95% of my professors are women. When you are a 17 year old who is still trying to find herself and is surrounded by women who are strong, talented and independent, you start wondering why the society around you gives more importance to males and treats you as the inferior sex. Unlike many young women my age it was easy for me to understand and embrace feminism and gender equality because of the women I am surrounded, with beginning with my grandmother and mother, to my professors and friends. Knowing these women has definitely changed my perspective. I came to be more tolerant. I came to realize that our society does not just rate women as inferiors, but there are stereotypical images of men that all boys are expected to grow up and fit into. Those images do not just erase the male's identity but they enhance the ideas of male superiority and at times chauvinism. Being aware of that changed my anger into positive anger and that was when I started writing.
Speaking about women rights in our society is not easy. What I have noticed is that it is just as hard to speak about gender equality to women as it is to men. People just don't listen when you start talking about a husband helping his wife with the dishes, or accepting that she has a career of her own where she finds herself. I feel that the one way someone would listen is entertainment. An indirect or direct message in literature, movies or songs might make someone stop and think.
When I started writing creatively a year ago I didn't just decide to write from feminist point of view. Rather I was just letting out ideas and beliefs in the form of short stories. I try to bring out the beauty of a woman in my work. I also try to break the stereotypes of the good girl who doesn't experience sexual desire until marriage for example, or the mother who should sacrifice everything for her. When I come to sketch a female character I look to the women I know to come up with a fictional character that would make the reader think about the role and space occupied by the women she/he knows.
I joined a writing workshop last April hosted by the Women and Memory Forum. Joining the workshop was a wonderful experience. Even though I have been writing short stories while bearing in mind gender equality, feminism and showing a fresh and true image of women, being in the workshop and trying to write something while being fully aware of the purpose of writing it was quiet different. Writing something and knowing that people might stop and think when they listen to it was over whelming. At times I felt that it was a chance to give a voice to all those who couldn't speak because I was given that chance. My stories are not yet published and the number of people who read them is restricted to my friends and family, but writing with WMF gave me the chance to see how one of my short stories would be received by an audience, especially given that it advocates equality for women. It was an experience that I hope will be followed by much more. People tell me all the time that I am crazy and dreamy when I call for a little respect. Yet every other day I see something that makes me feel that young women are not settling for second best anymore. They are starting to think and the core of the problem is that this is exactly what scares men the most.
Click here for a podcast and more pictures from the Women and Memory Forum in Cairo
Image: Zainab Magdy, by Tessa Lewin