By Molly Lower
On June 16, Women’s Voices Now and the Moshe Dayan Center of Tel Aviv University co-hosted a film screening and lecture by Samir Ben-Layashi at Tel Aviv University. WVN screened “You Can Dream: Stories of Moroccan Women Who Do” and “Thorns and Silk,” stories on the successes of women in Morocco and the West Bank, respectively.
The films highlight themes of persistence in the face of adversity and emphasizing the importance of education in first identifying and then achieving personal and communal goals. The lecture centered around the effect of the Arab Spring on perceptions of women’s bodies in public and private spaces, focusing on Morocco and Egypt.
A lively discussion followed Samir’s lecture that drew together several themes within the discourse of feminism and sexual revolution. In Muslim-majority societies where there is a sharp divide between the private and the public space, Samir identified that women can be sexually repressed by other women even in the private sphere. To illustrate this point, he showed the nude picture that Aliaa Elmahdy famously published on her blog in October 2011 to challenge the social structures in Egypt that contribute to the oppression of women. In the photo (pictured below and here), aside from her immediately apparent nudity, she notably stands with one leg up on a stool. She apparently chose this posture after absentmindedly holding the same pose, clothed, in front of a religious woman who criticized her for its inherent provocation. To break the barrier of shame imposed in the public sphere and perpetuated in the private sphere by other women, Samir advocated the addition of shock value to any enterprise women undertake to liberate themselves. He also identified how the discourse on women’s rights is often framed in terms of national or religious responsibility, and suggested that not until this connection was severed would there be a truly free space to discuss women’s rights
Among the questions raised were what are the goals of the women’s liberation movement, and should such goals be overtly articulated at the risk of interfering with an organic process? What happens when the revolution is won, and what is considered a victory, since equality in legislation does not necessarily mean equality in society?
A video of the lecture will be available on the website soon. We hope you will contribute your thoughts in the comments section!