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A Recap of Mona Eltahawy’s Moving Speech at UMass Amherst

Mona Eltahawy, a columnist and international public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues and global feminism, spoke before a room packed with students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst as part of the university’s College of Social and Behavioral Perspectives on Resistance speaker series. Eltahawy was on Newsweek’s list of “150 Fearless Women” in 2015 and also on Columbia Journalism Review’s list of “20 Women in the Media to Watch” in 2012. 

She recently declared a powerful and meaningful statement, “I own my body.” This activist urges young women to adopt this self-respecting idea as she fights for women’s rights across the globe

Eltahawy mainly discussed revolutions against oppressive regimes and the trifecta of misogyny and patriarchy in the Middle East: the state, the street, and the home. 

The oppression at the state level is the regime that oppresses everyone. This is a fight that men and women take part in side by side because the regime has power over both genders equally. “I am much more interested in when we go home and what happens to us on the street as women,” Elthahawy said. She believes a social and sexual revolution needs to take place.

The Mubarak, the dictator/patriarch, on the street corner is one that lets men believe they own public space. Eltahawy described the Egyptian military going into Tahir square, picking up and arresting all the women there and forcing unmarried women to take virginity tests. Virginity tests are erroneous tests of whether or not a woman is a virgin by inspecting a woman’s vagina to see if her hymen has been broken or not. It is important to remember that this is sexual assault, and also not a determinant of whether or not a woman has had sex before because hymens can break in ways other than in sexual intercourse.

“These are women we should be building statues of because of their courage,” Eltahawy told the crowd at UMass. 

Apparently, the Mubarak at home is considered to be the hardest leader to overthrow. “The Mubarak at home reminds us that men are entitled to women’s bodies,” she said. 

Eltahawy also spoke about the feminists in Lebanon who proposed an anti-domestic violence bill to the government, but leaders of the church and Muslim communities not only overruled it, but forced language onto the bill that gave husbands the right to sex on demand. 

“The sexual revolution begins with a declaration that I own my own body, not the state, not the church or the mosque and not the home,” Eltahawy said.

Professor List from the journalism department at UMass explained, “I don’t think it’s radical to be believe that women should be treated equally—that they should have political freedom, occupy public space with men and have control over their bodies. That’s just the way it should be. The difference is that it’s much easier for me to say that in the United States than it is for Mona to say it in Egypt.”

“Mona Eltahawy represents a kind of activist-oriented journalism that we don’t recognize enough in the news industry or in journalism higher education. Most news organizations shy away from this kind of journalism, but it plays an important role in public life. It’s important for students at UMass to be exposed to this idea,” said Professor Kathy Forde, the head of the UMass journalism department.

Eltahawy does not want to make her fight solely against misogyny in the Middle East; she wants to fight it across the globe because she understands that, unfortunately, there is a global spectrum of misogyny that connects us all around the world.


Photos: 1, 2, 3

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Cecilia Hennessy

U Mass Amherst

My name is Cecilia Hennessy and I am the President of the Her Campus chapter at UMass Amherst. I am a senior Communications and Journalism major with a concentration in Broadcast Journalism. In my free time I enjoy running, taking photos, traveling and catching up on the latest news!
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