الحماية و الدفاع WHAT’S WOMEN GOT TO DO WITH IT? by Julia Morgan


Protection usually addresses not independent subjects who require assistance to stay safe from accidents and abuses. A typical example of such vulnerability is the status of children, considered a women’s responsibility at least in all those families where their child rearing duties mirror their husband’s bread winning ones.

Usually protection entails a certain degree of authority and control on the vulnerable ones. Such authority defines social status, as for example in traditional societies a large number of children are considered a sign of power and respectability, while in modern State politics consensus is often grounded on patronage. Those who protect others benefit from a higher degree of agency according to the control they excerpt on the vulnerable ones.

However many women do not gain enough agency and authority from their role of care takers, which is commonly taken as a justification of women’s need for men protection and their consequent subjection to men’s authority.

Women’s interpretations of this logic are presented in this article according to interviews carried out in two Beirut well known commercial locations, ABC Mall and Hamra St.

The interviews focused on women’s capacity to defend themselves from psychological and physical abuses. The large majority of women claimed to be able to defend themselves. Many pointed out that men are the main agents of abuse against women. In the few cases where men were addressed as protectors, women argued that they accept such protection to be kind to their fathers or husbands, rather than actually requiring it themselves.

Most women stressed their need for training in order to overcome two main obstacles. On the physical level, some assumed that most men are naturally stronger than women. On the psychological level, all of them agreed that laws and social values limits the range of means of self defence available for women.

Most women prefer non violent means of self defence. Favourite means are silence and nonchalance as well as speech, meaning insults or negotiating discussion, but also their gaze and their dress code, this one particularly at the workplace. Anyway none of them showed any regret towards possible physical damages to their abusers caused by their defensive reaction.

Women’s kind, tender and nurturing nature, resulting from reproduction and care work, was associated by most informants to their vulnerability to abuse and violence. Men’s selfish attitudes were in turn addressed to explain their tendency to abuse women.

One young woman claimed that women are better than men, highlighting the paradox that puts men in the position to take advantage of women. Women end up paying a high price for their essential social role, instead of being rewarded for it.

While discussing this point with a group of University students, one of them proudly stated: “I am selfish, I know how to defend myself”. Even in this case, self defence capacity seems associated to a form of dismissal of what most informants identified as women’s nature.

In line with the above mentioned conceptions of women’s nature, some girls prefer to digest their anger rather than throw it out. She acts “rakkiza” by walking straight and tests her sense of dignity by ignoring gropers around her. The girl who reacts to a groper will be considered “mustarjila”, “suqiya” and “msharsha7a”. She is also at risk of wasting her energy and end up feeling frustrated and inadequate. Heterosexist meanings and values crop on such frustration, suggesting that she should rather be “khajula” to safeguard her opportunities to be chosen as a wife – thus be protected – by one of those same guys who are practically entitled to harass her in the street. Guys who actually consider “alkhajal” a fault when it comes to men.

Men’s contradictory role of aggressors and protectors mirrors the logic that justifies women’s subjection to men’s authority on the ground of their reproductive role. The transom of this castle of contradictions lies in the social value assigned to reproductive work: as stated above, instead of being rewarded for fulfilling this crucial task, women are deprived of their agency, to the extent that self defence is considered alien to their nature. At least for those women who dream to become the princesses of such a wicked castle.

Most of the informants were proud of their independence. One woman stressed how Arab women are known for their strength and determination, while other two said that Lebanese girls are known for their long tongue, as a metaphor for their tendency to speak out.

Regardless of each woman specific approach, the interviews confirmed that practices of self defence are not at all unnatural features in women’s experience.

Women’s need for training should be addressed acknowledging their daily strategies as a practical and contextual knowledge who should not be reduced to the opposition between khajjula and mustarjila. By developing this approach, Nasawiya is organizing a self defence training aiming to show that women have a much wider set of options to react to violence and gain back the agency they deserve. All women are welcome to join in and contribute with their own experience.

See also the adventure of Salwa …

an ordinary Lebanese girl that has been selected to be the spokeswoman for the campaign launched by a group of young feminists to combat sexual harassment.

Salwa and her sisters felt that the physical sexual harassment and the verbal abuse have reached a certain point that can no longer be tolerated in all the streams of the Lebanese society, being in the streets, transportation, workplace, schools and homes.

therefore, they decided to launch this campaign to say to women who have been subjected to harassment, that the first step to combat it, is to break the taboo and start talking about it.

Salwa also decided to prove that she can take over the reins on their own using her bag with supernatural powers!

Salwa also decided to prove that she can take over the reins on their own using her bag with supernatural powers!

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