Joumana Haddad is a poet, a translator, a newspaper editor, a mother, and a speaker of seven languages. She’s also known to be one of the most “unpopular” women in the Middle East.
In 2008, Joumana launched a quarterly magazine about, well, mostly the female body titled Jasad (meaning “body “in Arabic). In Jasad, Arab women and men are able to read reportage about polygamy, virginity, forced marriage, sex, personal testimonies, and even erotic stories. This caused uproar. Joumana has been threatened to have acid thrown at her, people have threatened her family, her posters at book fairs are commonly torn down immediately, her website is hacked over and over again: all for the self-expression she has given to so many who did not have it before.
Shortly after the launch of Jasad, Joumana kept finding herself asked the same questions by western journalists. Questions routed from shock that women like her (liberated, free-thinking, Arab) even existed in the Middle East. This sparked a new kind of rage in Joumana which led her to write her most recent book, “I Killed Scheherazade,” which she wrote primarily in English claiming that her books choose their language on their own as she is writing. In her novel, she speaks of the myopic western view of Middle Eastern women and what harm it causes to not only Middle Eastern women, but Westerners who are quick to judge such a diverse culture. Perhaps the book she is most known for abroad is “Superman is an Arab,” which is a protest novel against the patriarchal system in the Middle East.
“I’m able to make my own decisions and take my own responsibilities. In a patriarchal society, composed of men but also of women, the system is unfair to women. But this conditioning is counterproductive and we should manage to raise human beings without these labels which do not define us.”
Equality is incredibly important to Joumana, but so is femininity and its powers which is apparent in her writing. She continues to challenge the way both Arab men and women think about an array of topics and will continue to do so despite the challenges she has and will continue to face along the way. Thank you for shedding light to what is still a taboo topic in many cultures, we are proud to call you our Feminist of the Month.
I Am a Woman
Written by: Joumana Haddad
No one can guess
what I say when I am silent,
who I see when I close my eyes,
how I am carried away when I am carried away,
what I search for when I reach out my hands.
Nobody, nobody knows
when I am hungry, when I take a journey,
when I walk and when I am lost.
And nobody knows
that my going is a return
and my return is an abstention,
that my weakness is a mask
and my strength is a mask,
and that what is coming is a tempest.
They think they know
so I let them,
and I happen.
They put me in a cage so that
my freedom may be a gift from them,
and I’d have to thank them and obey.
But I am free before them, after them,
with them, without them.
I am free in my oppression, in my defeat
and my prison is what I want.
The key to the prison may be their tongue.
But their tongue is twisted around my desire’s fingers,
and my desire they can never command.
I am a woman.
They think they own my freedom.
So I let them,
and I happen.