By Juliana Yazbeck, Now Lebanon
And so Mia Khalifa emerges from the murky waters of the porn industry. Naturally, Lebanon responds. Lebanon always has an opinion, and its opinion is the only opinion that matters.
It seems the big question is whether or not she is “free to do what she wants with her body.” Social media comments flood our newsfeeds, divided between: “Of course she is free, it’s her body! It’s not up to men to tell her what to do” and “No, she is not free to do something like that with her body when we are fighting for respect and against domestic violence.”
We are forgetting the main issue here. It is not whether or not she is free. Of course she is. That isn’t even debatable. What we are forgetting are the contexts: one being the porn industry; and the other, Lebanon.
As a Lebanese woman, I spend what feels like 70% of my energy fighting against sexism, especially intellectual sexism. It got so bad that I left the country. Some women — and I admire them for taking on such an arduous cause — have chosen to stay in Lebanon and continue to fight. Sexism in the workplace, sexism in social situations, sexism on the street… these are all very real. Sexism exists everywhere, but in Lebanon I found it unbearable. I could no longer bear being censored in my work. I could no longer accept that being intelligent meant being single, because I could not dumb myself down for the sake of being with a man. It was affecting my professional life, social life and romantic life.
For someone who has struggled so much to assert their presence as a human being with a working, thinking brain, I cannot deny that I felt a pang of despair when Mia erupted across social media and entertainment news. It never even crossed my mind to think, “she doesn’t have the right.” What did cross my mind was: “Really? Of the very few Lebanese women who are making global headlines, it had to be a porn star?” It felt like I had traveled for months, and just as I was nearing my destination, someone used my passport to wipe their ass, undoing all my hard work and sending me back to square one.
The general excitement and support Mia has been met with, especially from the “liberal” male population of Lebanon, is understandable. After all, the more sexual liberty Lebanese women find, the easier it will be for the average Lebanese male youth to copulate. But that is not our issue. We have no problem whatsoever finding opportunities to copulate — in fact, more often than not we find ourselves fending off potential sexual partners.
One of the most intelligent people I know (and I think in this instance it is well worth mentioning that she is a woman) once said to me: “There is no such thing as being ‘sexually liberal.’ You are either liberal or you are not.” I found this particularly enlightening. To be liberal means to be so towards religion, education, politics, race, social issues, and sexuality. You cannot be ignorant in one field and still call yourself “sexually liberal.” This is where I think some of us Lebanese women are struggling. It pains me to see a fellow Lebanese woman — or any woman really — turn to sex when she finds it nearly impossible to use her brain in such a patriarchal society.
I was recently asked to read a script and give a cultural opinion on it. I came across a line in the script: “I used to think George Clooney was smart, until he married a Lebanese.” It stung. When asked for my opinion, I told the director: “This line is racist.” I found myself thinking about the line over lunch. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t just racist, it was horribly sexist. The joke was not on the Lebanese, the joke was on Lebanese women. The joke was on a particularly intelligent, exemplary, successful Lebanese woman: Amal Alamuddin. Despite all of Alamuddin’s achievements, her crime is that she is a Lebanese woman.
The exploitation of women is immensely widespread. It is a complex issue that we continue to study and challenge. It seems that somehow Lebanese women are particularly skilled at finding — dare I even say placing — themselves in exploitative situations: talent-less pop stars, international footballers’ “WAG”s, and now porn stars.
We are all free. But that also means we are free to fight with our brains, not just our vaginas.
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