What is the difference between Alia Al Mahdi’s nude picture, and the forced virginity tests that 17 Egyptian women activists were subjected to on the 9th of march 2011? What is the difference between her body standing steadfast, chest open wide, legs spread a bit showing her clitoris, and the unknown body of a female mutilated and left to rot by the pro-Assad thugs in Syria?
The absence of force, that’s the difference, that makes all the difference. Her ownership of her body as expressed by the photo, have led to the “Alia” frenzy, as the media hovers around her trying to abuse the topic as much as they can. And now that many activists ( men and women) have shamed her, denounced her, and went as far as exiling her from her rightful participation in the Egyptian revolution ( be it as simply the act of sleeping at the Midan El Tahrir), and now that a plead has been made against her to be sued infront of the “law” ( the same old Mubarak law in the admission of the same activists), we need to pay attention to the kind of revolution we are talking about, and the space that this revolution is opening up, or keeping closed.
What is so offensive about a woman owning her body? What is so threatening about a woman deciding to expose her body bare to the eyes of the “anonymous” others. I think some tend to forget that women’s bodies are a fixed symbol of possession in patriarchal societies, where everything else is negotiable: economy, social justice, election, and constitutions. The diverse sects of patriarchy renegotiate who takes what, what should gain more or less value. But never the women question. Women are to live as the inferior others.
Alia asks those viewing her body and condemning it to look at the mirror and burn their own bodies. She asks the person who can’t accept the body of the other, to not accept her/his own body, to mutilate it, burn it, and use force on it. As if the only way one’s body can exist freely, with out the judgement of others, is by using force on it.
She recognizes that ownership and freedom do require big productions, masses marching, and gunfire sprouting. She recognizes that the simple act of reclaiming your body, and understanding the need for the “other” to own her body, is an act of liberation and emancipation. Claiming ownership of one’s body can’t be a colonial agenda, for those insisting on it, body ownership is an instinctive act of freedom. Remember that “slavery is the act of owning other humans, human bodies and their workforce”. On a similar note, wasn’t the mutilation of Khaled Said’ body one of the main causes that started the revolution against the regime?
In Egypt, as everywhere in the Arab region, Alia’s photo is being used to terrorize vocal women and feminists. It has become the reason to silence women calling for immediate emancipation and freedom. It has become the example of how deviant the feminist and women’s right agenda really is, it can all be summed up in a nude picture. As ridiculous as it sounds for many of us, we shouldn’t be really provoked to the extent of denying Alia’s right to do what she needed to do to break free. We must not engage in it if we aren’t planning to deconstruct the attacking choirs and bringing them to face their own demon: their fear of seeing the female body free from their possession. Whatever the arguments are, Islamist or radical leftists, we should be steadfast, this is our body on the line here. These are the times where many of us have a great understanding that the only reason why patriarchy has been reproducing itself is because our bodies haven’t risen up to the challenge, we haven’t radicalized our bodies as much as we have radicalized our minds.
It’s a bit early to have a clear understanding of how Alia’s action will impact the discourses we carry as feminists, and even if this will bring many voices within the movement to “bare” themselves and finally stand in the light, allowing us to asses how many hypocrites are willing to compromise, for personal power or heroic “token” positions within our movements. If there is a lesson we ought to learn from Alia’s action and its reverberations, it is that what’s always been powerful about being a feminist is that we don’t comprise, and the many victories we’ve been gaining is exactly because patriarchy is always in the mood to compromise. We are in a position of power, and Alia’s action is one of the many expressions to re-emphasis this. Alia owning her body scared many, and this is exactly what should we paying attention to. How and why female bodies are greatly feared?