A version of this article originally appeared on NOW Lebanon.
Life in Lebanon slowly but surely resets the dial on anyone’s “normality” barometer. You adjust to power cuts at home, at work, and in public places. You grow used to headlines constantly predicting impending war. You even learn to laugh these off once enough near-crises have passed you by. You stop thinking twice about buying twelve dollar cocktails while a refugee child stands outside the bar, selling Chiclets for one hundredth the price of your shoes. I’m not proud of this, but all of these things have become my new normal.
Perhaps out of self-preservation, there is one thing I have never come to terms with: my inferior status as a woman.
Yes, in Lebanon, we don’t have it all that bad. We can drive, dress as we like, study what we wish and have successful and fulfilling careers. But these norms should not be hailed as some kind of liberal victory, but rather, as minimal requirements for a state that at least tries to manage itself democratically. These so-called modern practices did nothing to help Roula Yaacoub when she was brutally murdered, allegedly by a husband who beat her regularly, and who remains a free man.
It frankly doesn’t mean much that women can dress provocatively and order a drink when their husbands can also legally rape them. Nor should we feel empowered by our right to date freely (within our religions, of course) when any woman who has lost her virginity is treated as damaged goods, or worse.
No society whose laws reflect the belief that a woman’s moral compass lies somewhere between her legs can logistically advance in any capacity. If anything, Lebanon’s toxic mix of sexual objectification and repression enhances the extent to which women are seen as lesser beings. Expected to remain simultaneously desirable and chaste, all sexual agency disappears when women are pressured to change their appearance to please men without being entitled to any fulfillment of their own. The narrative of Lebanon’s plastic surgeries – from breast enhancements to reconstructive hymen procedures – has been so well documented that it borders on cliché. If anything, it reflects the extremity of a country that marinates in superficiality, as half the population lacks basic rights.
This by no means implies that the situation is much better across the region, or in some of the world’s most developed countries. While the horrific mass sexual assaults on women in Egypt have rightfully been vilified by international media, rape culture and restrictive laws in regards to women’s health continue to surface in the United States. But when pacifist feminists are threatened at gunpoint, and a mother of five is brutally murdered by a husband who then retains custody of her children, Lebanon may just take the cake in terms of ironic gender politics. And that should never pass as “normal” for any of us.