Sunday, March 8, 2009

at the corniche, we celebrated that something has tried to kill us and has certainly failed.

As long as I remembered the Corniche, it was the space to hang out with friends to chitchat about some vital personal issues; also, it was always the space that required certain attire, something that would make me the least visible.

At the corniche, the notion of womanhood should meet the constructed idea of what a female in a public space should be. Nevertheless, women do break this pre-assembled idea by exercising within that space. The image is quite powerful for such a context, a woman who might be for example jogging, while wearing her tight sportswear, is certainly breaking the social codes, that is of course male constructed, yet it remains acceptable since these kinds of women are immediately labeled as rich or bourgeois. This labeling doesn’t mean that they are exempt from sexual harassment that might occur, but it fits within the idea of who comes to the corniche and the things they can do there. Women's liberty to practice a certain action is dependent on the economical class she belongs to.
Today's action at the corniche was both intimidating and exhilarating at once. The idea of using a public space that is fully functional on traditional dynamics and behaviors of men and women in public spaces combined too many layers. Before arriving to the space, the Corniche was as usual occupied by those who are familiar with its rules. It was the Corniche where people are enjoying their sunny afternoon. When we, the Feminist Collective appeared with our banners, attitudes and "looks," the space was immediately interrupted; an event was happening (whether we had planned to actually have a sit-in at 5 pm or chosen to simply walk) regardless of what we wanted to do there.
The interruption of the "mechanics" of this space influenced the already constructed idea of women being at the Corniche. It has done so by transforming the idea of a female, on one hand being in a state of proving constant decency and seeking invisibility, and on the other, to being one that is standing, fully co-owning the space and using it to her sole and complete benefit, one that does not comply with any of the already made tags for women within that particular space (such as " walking the kid, walking with male/family friend/ jogging, etc" but completely doing a different form of action that was clearly sending a very strong message " I'm not afraid to be seen"). This was all very intense, and perhaps very offending to the male pedestrians, which have made it very clear to us that we were not welcome. Yet, a question lingers in my head: "What about the women? Did their feelings/experience of the corniche change due to our presence?"

Our presence that corniche also created a spectacle, in which specifically, the "male viewer," was intrigued to watch, yet he was constantly offended by the message that "our" spectacle was delivering. Simply, the messages that we sent revolved about a new presentation of the notion of womanhood, where "he" specifically as a male had no role in that at all; and moreover, there we were, in his face, and completely out of his "control."

The intimidating experience of all of this creates a certain territorial relationship for us as women in Beirut. Some territories are friendlier to women than others. In addition to the amount of hostility that the women demonstrating had to endure, I personally felt that we endured as a collective and not as individuals an amount of hostility that might discourage some of us to continue or would create a certain preference to work only in certain areas. We need to understand that everything is changeable, and the few hours that we spent at the corniche is a vivid example, all we have to do is to gather around each others, regardless of where we live, what history we had and what do we know about life.

Today at the corniche, we celebrated that something has tried to kill us and has certainly failed.


Sara said...

i would like to the Lynn for helping me bel editing .

Pazuzu said...

Awesome, that's all I have to say. When we first got to the corniche I had doubts, inno kiss ikhta shou 3am na3mel hon? Bas this is the Lebanon that we all live it, I don't want to move to another "class" of Lebanese people, I don't want to be a bourgeois that would be allowed to walk on the corniche

amy said...

this is a great entry.

Lebanese From Abroad said...

I am glad your collective exists. I am Lebanese living in the US, and an advocate of women's right. I was shocked to realize that violence and immigrant workers at home are the main issue. I didn't realize the situation was so dire, I was focussed on sexism in the work place, not hiring women, authoritarian tone of voice that is so second nature to Lebanese men, they don't even realize it constitutes harrasment, highjacking a woman's property...

My sense of justice made me adopt, in 1989, the anti-religious segregation cause, lead by the patriotic movement in Lebanon. Those who reject a first form of injustice (religious segregation) tend to reject the second, which is sexism. Maybe this was not articulated enough, and if you'd like to educate this movement on your cause, I can recommend a women-leader in the movement to contact. I can also send you background information about it. Here in the US activists contact every politicians who would listen (whether they support their politics or not), hoping to influence the legislators to pass the laws that help solve the problem. We're starting to see a younger generation of political leaders, include women, who would listen to such a notion in Lebanon. I'm at halayc at gmail if you want me to help you reach one of them.

I wish the best, look forward to following you on facebook! I recommend twitter too, it's a way to update us, your supporters anywhere in the world, by writing one-sentence long updates.

Micheal said...

I can understand the frustration of the people when they are denied their rights. Most women are now getting even more bitter because they have not been given the rights that religion has given to them. firstly there are restrictions from the religion and then there are certain social restrictions that we have created just for the sake of self satisfaction and it has nothing to do with religion and I guess religion is not that harsh to women as is seems to be in this particular scenario. Yes there are certain limits but those are there for the men as well. Its just our perception that makes us feel like that...
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