#47: This is how I embody rebellion

A guest piece by Nadine El-Roubi, plus, writing about trauma, and more...

Hi, I’m Alya Mooro and you’re reading The Greater Conversation, a weekly newsletter honestly addressing all aspects of life through the eyes of a Middle Eastern / third-culture / woman / human. Alternately, there’ll be some thoughts from me, or a guest piece, along with recommendations of articles, books*, podcasts and etc worth consuming. If you’ve just subscribed, welcome! If this issue was forwarded to you, add your email to join the list.

Nadine El-Roubi, 25, Cairo

I was originally going to write a piece to promote my new single “Hair Up”. It’s a song about self-love and feeling comfortable in your own skin, despite the ideal standards of beauty. But in light of the darkness of recent atrocities (Sarah Everard and the recent “honour” killing of a 34-year-old Egyptian woman), it feels superficial to talk about that.

Who cares that Instagram filters are breeding body dysmorphia? Who cares that plastic surgery and dieting programs are shoved down our throats daily? What significance does that side of oppression hold, when women are still getting murdered and assaulted? When FGM is still practiced both legally and illegally in at least 92 countries?

There are so many channels of oppression against women that manifest so blatantly and frequently on any given day that it’s impossible to know where to start fighting.

Should I take to the streets or take the academic route and write a think-piece? Should I flex my confidence in a world where women are primed into self-consciousness (because capitalism thrives on insecurity)? Should I wear a provocative outfit? Something modest? Bold lipstick? No make-up at all? Should I read a book? Pole dance? Maybe emulate SZA and do both at the same time?

What act of rebellion shall I embody to address the ever present and looming male gaze — or otherwise, what shall I do to invoke it; mock it — how can I reclaim my power?

The sad reality is that being “woman” has, in and of itself, become a performative act that we learn to play. Cue Simone De Beauvoir’s famous line: “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.” There is no way to unbecome her.

Being a Muslim Afro-Arab singer/rapper in a culture that grounds itself proudly on “3eib” and “bit nas” ‘logic’, I often get asked if it’s difficult to be a woman in the industry. I used to respond to that question in the way people would expect: “Yes, it’s challenging; yes, sexism prevails.” After a period of self-reflection, I now say: “There is nothing difficult about being a woman - period.” I say this because I will not allow the patriarchy and the suffering it causes to be the sole definer of my celestial experience as a woman.

We are divine in our very nature, in the way we are so elegantly and daringly able to embody the masculine while channeling our natural femininity. How we are able to be beautiful and feel ugly; feel invincible and be scared. There is no greater complexity and simplicity than that of being a woman. I find no challenge in that. The only challenge is living in a society that is challenged by our presence and sees us as a problem. Well, good. We are a fucking problem.

Regardless — it is infuriating to live in a world that has been shaped — no — deformed, to fit a man’s unkind hands. This Earth, feminine and womanly in its very nature, has itself been utterly r*ped and ravaged by mankind.

Do you understand the extent to which femininity and womanhood have been ripped from the very soil? From the forests to our wombs — this is the locus of male control. Yet somehow, in every story, woman is blamed. Sarah Everard did everything she could to avoid this tragedy — blamed. The Egyptian woman whose name I have yet to hear — blamed. This pattern of blaming the female victim dates back quite literally to before Christ.

Eve is the villain of the story; promiscuous and cold, vain, corrupting. Medusa, though based in myth, is renowned as an evil goddess with a head of a snake and eyes that turn her victims to stone. Little do people know that the true origin of this story is that she was, in fact, raped by Poseidon while worshipping in Athena’s temple. Athena deigned Medusa with these powers in an act of solidarity, to protect her. 

A woman, raped by a man, and still painted out to be the villain, with only women coming to her rescue. In Greek mythology. The parallels are frightening.

So, where does the fight start? Screaming for justice on the very streets we fear to walk on? Painfully sharing the very stories that people mock, belittle? I am tired of fighting this way.

This is how I embody rebellion: smoking the plant “bit nas” should not be smoking, with my “mankoosh” hair with a “tired”, make-up-less face. Reading Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and watching Keeping Up with The Kardashians. Made-up, in heels and a dress too tight, next day in sweats and a T.

You will find women fighting in the places you choose not to look, where edges crumble and labels go to die. We are ever malleable and multifaceted, soft and destructive — iridescent. I will fight in my music and in these words I write. Let it be known that my very existence is revolution enough.

Nadine is a singer/songwriter based in Cairo. Listen to her new song ‘Hair Up’ and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.


TGC alternates weekly between a guest piece and my own shares. If you identify as a Middle Eastern woman and would like to contribute a guest piece, please email me. You can share anonymously too if you prefer.

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This is my last newsletter to be sponsored by The Doe, a digital publication which shares unfiltered, anonymous stories in an effort to encourage conversation and engagement with new ideas. I’ve so enjoyed working with them over the last few months! For my final narrative I want to share: The NBA Is More Liberal Than Hollywood. It’s an interesting and important read into how the powers that be that lie behind what are even the most seemingly progressive of industries, aren’t really all that progressive at all.

Read the narrative on The Doe

  • Book: Everyone’s been recommending this book to me for months (years?) but because I’m so annoying I’ve just started reading it. I’m only a couple of chapters into Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly and it’s already a life-changer. She addresses vulnerability and why it’s not a weakness, but rather the biggest strength and the most important thing any of us can tap into.

  • Newsletter: What your Asian friends need right now is solidarity, and what we can do to help."None of us experience racism in exactly the same way. That doesn’t change the fact that it comes from the same place, and if we want to actually overcome it, that’s where we have to focus our work."

  • Podcast: I loved this episode of Arab American Psycho in which host Noor chats to Marwan Abdelhamid, a Palestinian activist, entrepreneur, content creator and rapper. He talks brilliantly about growing up in Gaza, survivors guilt, double standards between men and women, his mission to connect diasporas to entrepreneurs in their home country, and more.

  • "Publicly shaming is effective — it does make people feel bad. What it doesn’t do, however, is change their behaviour." Why Covid shaming doesn't work.

  • "If someone wants what they can’t have, they never have to deal with the reality of achieving their goal." Why we romanticise rejection.

  • In Japan, married couples have to have the same surname and 96% of the time, it's the woman who changes hers. These are the couples not down to adhere.

  • An interesting read on polyamory and how polyamorous people are coping with the pandemic.

  • Roxane Gay and Monica Lewinsky on how to write about trauma.

“I hope my music makes all people feel empowered and that they can do anything without any limitations. For young Arab girls in particular, it’s less about them engaging with the music as it is just to know that they have a place there too. That they can exist in a creative space — dream big, dance, and sing their hearts out…”

I’m a big fan of Abir and her music and so enjoyed getting to chat with her for a Q&A for AMAKA, a new platform which celebrates the diversity and dynamism of Pan-African womxnhood.

Read my interview with Abir

A quote from a book you should read:

“‘Troubles come uninvited,’ the woman said, ‘but we have to bring the happiness ourselves.’” - Anat Talshir, About the Night.

Thanks for subscribing! I'm Alya, the person behind this newsletter. I am a freelance journalist and the bestselling author of The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes. You can follow me on Instagram here, and Twitter here.
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