In May 2012 an article about misogyny in the Middle East by journalist Mona Eltahawy sparked massive criticism. In a response writer Nesrine Malik considered the various dimensions of discrimination, but several people accused Eltahawy of falsely implying that Arab men despise women. Her article, which criticizes the absence of civil liberties for women, reminded me of a Yemeni girl (referred to here as Jasmin) whose suffering still haunts me. I think of her when I discuss women's rights and I realize that women often facilitate abuse. Jasmin, a calm, quiet, gentle girl, has the qualities most revered in Yemen. This is her story.
Following the death of her father, Jasmin and her mother went to live with her brother, who had become the women's guardian upon the elder's passing. When she was in the sixth grade, Jasmin's brother stopped her from going to school. This was partly motivated by his belief that the young girl should not walk alone. Although the family could have arranged for Jasmin to walk together with female classmates to school, her brother would not consider it—he wanted Jasmin at home.
Her life began to change dramatically. Jasmin now spent whole days at home performing domestic tasks. The brother's wife, rather than feeling grateful for Jasmin's work, felt annoyed by the girl's presence. Soon she demanded that Jasmin leave and find another place to live. In traditional Yemeni society this usually translates into demand for an arranged marriage. Without reticence the family found a husband for Jasmin.
On her wedding night Jasmin felt frightened. She had not known the man before and had never undressed before a man. In Islamic teachings, the Prophet Muhammad advises men to be gentle with their wives on the first time of intimacy, but Jasmin's husband would feel compelled by aggression to assert manhood.
As the two prepared to consummate the marriage, their families awaited outside the bedroom for the traditional blood stained cloth—which stands as proof of a bride's virginity and her husband's virility.
When the man approached her, Jasmin's heart began to race. She felt terror and instinctively tried to resist him. Although terribly frightened, Jasmin knew that Muslim women should not reject their husbands—she was a “bad wife condemned to hell” as some might say. But her fear was so great it took hold of her body. She struggled and tried to push the man away, but his force was greater. He held her under his weight and raped her. Then he left the room with a cloth wet in blood to present to his mother.
The mother-in-law took the cloth. “It is not much blood!” she protested before storming in the room and seizing the girl's abdomen. She pressed violently in search of crimson honor. Tradition demanded that she extract more blood, she justified. Jasmin gasped in agony.
When morning came Jasmin bled still. Finally the family decided to visit a doctor. In the waiting area, a woman noticed marks on the girl's face. She seemed bruised and pained, commented the stranger, adding that such a wedding night did not seem normal. The doctor examined Jasmin and turned to her husband. After a brief exchange, he gave him a prescription for the ailing wife.
In the months that followed Jasmin experienced chronic pain. Her wounds healed poorly. When her husband approached her—always with sexual desire, never affection—Jasmin vomited. She despised him and the love he practiced. Eventually the man divorced Jasmin to seek a more sexually yielding wife.
Jasmin now lives again at her brother's house, where she performs household chores from sunrise to night. She will likely remain alone, as Muslim men seldom marry divorced women. To protect her reputation, Jasmin's brother is now even stricter than he was before her ordeal. He keeps her inside at all times.
Yes, Eltahawy is right; there is abuse in Islamic societies—but it does not come from men alone. Women all too often instigate abuse, standing as the agents of a putrid misogyny.
Hind Aleryani prepared this text with assistance from e-feminist staff.