The mere mention of Iraqi women in my mind brings out such contradictory feelings and paradoxical images, leading me into a momentarily confusion.
Again this is where the personal, subjective and the political, objective experiences overlap.
Had I written a similar post with the same title, let's say 20 years, or 10 years ago, I am certain that the images associated, would not have been a combination of such opposites as they are today, in my mind and in my reality as an Iraqi woman.
I will try to clarify myself to the reader...
When I think of Iraqi women, just as when I think of Iraq as a whole...I always have the images that pop up in my mind - The Before and the After. Before 2003 and after 2003. It is really as simple as that.
No it was not perfect. But it was getting there...
Putting aside, the Iran-Iraq war and its widows. Putting aside the 1st Gulf war and its share of more widows and D.U deformed babies. Putting aside post 1991 and the embargo years of struggling and endurance, years that would make Superman look like a fucking midget, put them aside....
Of course they had its toll on Iraqis and Iraqi women in particular. We are not bionic women, but then, when I think again - we are bionic women.
How many of your pampered, spoilt, nagging, empty females would have put up with ?
How many of your women would have put up with so many deaths, so much grief and bereavement, so much loss, so much destitution and for so many years ? My bet is not much. Paper tigers all of you.
I want to tell you about the Iraqi woman. I can tell you all about the Iraqi woman from Inanna until today. I can tell you all about Her.
I will make exceptions though.
I will NOT include the earlier generation, the earlier generation of MTV and Facebook. I will neither include the earlier generation who lived in the UK, America or Iran or anywhere else...These for me DON'T count. I consider them empty recipients and you can just about fill them up with anything you like. They don't represent Iraqi women and they certainly don't represent me.
Nor will I include the trash that landed from Iran, nor the trash that emerged in the 90's with Iranian backing and funding. The masochistic, self flagellating, misogynistic, backward females, brainwashed by Qum. They are not part of us either.
I deliberately chose not to include the two above categories. Because the two above categories are a product of the Occupation.
Not only are they a product of the Occupation, but they have been instrumental in it too.
For me, they are not considered Iraqis at all. Even though, they desperately try to get onto the Iraqi bandwagon, to gain some sympathy or a reputation. For me they are the mental rejects of England, America and Iran...
Why mental rejects ? Because they have lost all dignity...As simple as that.
Dignity - that word again. Oh, what a bothersome word. Yet, very à propos.
If there is one thing that characterizes a true Iraqi woman, it is dignity. Dignity regardless of her class, status, educational level, or religion and in some cases (albeit rare ones) her sect.
Inanna had dignity. The dignity of a Goddess. It is still there in the collective unconscious, even though it is hiding behind grief, resignation and black Abayas.
And this is where the personal becomes a bank of treasures...A storage room of collective memories from which I constantly draw strength and more dignity.
Each one of us has had some influential figure in their lives, a mentor, an example, a teacher and a lesson....
Mine were the women in my family.
The first one was my great grandmother - Layla. A woman of great beauty and strength.
She had lost many of her off springs, and she kept repeating "the worst thing in life is not losing a child, it is losing your sanity." She had understood early on, that sanity was limited, but insanity was limitless...
Another one was my grandmother. A so-called illiterate woman, forced into marriage at a young age. But by God she was no crumbling cookie. Her self defense was the plastic pair of slippers that she would voluntarily throw in the face of any abusive bastard...And her art, was her story telling.
Then came my mother. An intelligent sweet soul, loyal and enduring. But by God, when she reached her limits, no one could stand in her face...and remain intact.
Then, there were my aunts. Some of them were smooth talkers, some were not. But all had a core they could fall back onto. A true strength, not aggressive but not yielding...hard to explain.
Then there are my female cousins. Sharp, bright and very aware. A product of a willing emancipation. Veiled or not, did not matter. They knew what they wanted and were clear about what they stood for as women.
And if I dig deep into my memory, I can add a few more...
There were also my mother's friends. Sophisticated, creative, beautiful women. Some were artists, some were writers, some were poets, and some were just themselves...
Sure of their femininity but without much boasting. A calm self assurance that did not need mini-skirts or tons of make-up. Contrary let's say to other Middle Eastern females...
I had the impression then, that they were steady and at the same time mysterious... I felt it to be a very interesting combination. A very potent one.
I also remember when my parents took me to other Arab countries, like Lebanon, Syria and Egypt...I felt the women there were too revealing, not just physically, but also emotionally, making themselves preys, easy preys...
My first impressions were not all that wrong. There is something desperate about an Egyptian, Lebanese or even Palestinian, Syrian or Jordanian woman, that would you not find in an Iraqi woman. Unless she has become the prototype, product of the Occupation.
I am well aware that this may not go down all too well in "women's solidarity" contexts or contests, but I care not. I say the Truth the way I see it.
For instance, I take proverbs or popular sayings as metaphors or indicators of the state of things.
In Egypt for instance you have a popular proverb (mainly by women) that says "Dhil ragel ahssan min dhil hayta". Literally translated - "the shadow of a man is better than that of a wall".
In Iraq, we have or had a very popular saying amongst women and it went that way
"Al chalb aboo baytain, ma yenrad" - Literally translated, "a dog (man) that belongs to two homes, is not wanted/needed".
The first one refers to the desperateness for any man, the second refers to options, choices...and Freedom.
And this is where the difference lies.
And I have used popular proverbs, in a deliberate fashion, to make my point. I suppose you got it by now. Right ?
What am I trying to tell you here ?
I am trying to convey to you, the essence of Her, of Inanna, of the woman in a black Abaya...I want to demystify your preconceptions. I want to tear away at your myths. I want to do away with your stereotypes...I want to tell you all about Her.
I want to tell you about the Iraqi woman before you occupied and forcibly penetrated her in the name of Freedom.
I want to tell you all about her. The memories I have kept of her. Her reality...
I want to tell you all about Her.
She was a poetess well before your Keats or Chaucer. She was a warrior well before your Joan of Arc. She was all of a lover well before your Lady Chatterley's. She was also a Queen well before your prudish Victoria.
Sorry can't include America here, you had nothing then.
And above all, she was a Goddess. A Goddess of Might and Power, of Sacrifice and Endurance, of Love and Forgiveness, of Sensuality and Wrath...When you were not even conceived nor born.
Yes, that's Her.
And she carried it on. Quietly, ever so quietly...
P.S. There was one Man who knew it and understood, having been an avid reader of History himself. For more on Her, from the great - Saddam Hussein - read here.
Painting :Iraqi female artist, Betool Fekaiki.