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A conversation with Mona Eltahawy: To be ‘savage and dangerous’

Art: Anh Noel

“International women’s day isn’t just one day; it should be every day.” 

On International Women’s Day, Australian Greens Deputy Leader and Senator, Mehreen Faruqi hosted a conversation with guest speaker Mona Eltahawy at UNSW: Global Feminism. A fierce advocate for women’s rights and one of the world’s most prominent feminists, Eltahawy was eruptive, leaving the audience with motivation and fearlessness all at once. For one hour, audiences were enraptured as Faruqi spoke to Eltahawy about the idea of feminism and what it means to them. 

As the conversation followed, one could see that Eltahawy’s vision is anarchic. 

“Fuck the patriarchy”, she says, expressing that she wants us to challenge our inner feminist fire, and pledge to be ‘savage and dangerous’.  

“To some I will always be too migrant, too different, too loud. But every day I wake up and think, today’s the day I will destroy the patriarchy.” She explains the strength of which her difference has given her.  

 “We are in reality living in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’”, Eltahawy tells the audience. “Identify the theocrats that don’t look like you. The theocrats who look like you, and those who don’t both follow the same ideas; control and desire. Forced hijab, forced pregnancy.” 

 To Eltahawy, the oppression of women and the prominence of white supremacy is closer to home than what we may believe. 

“Australia is stuck in the 1950s”, she says, “a time where misogyny is so prominent, we don’t even realise. So successful has white supremacist patriarchy been at convincing you that you’re lucky to live in Australia and not Saudi Arabia or Iran, that so many of you did not pay enough attention to the theocracy that white supremacy was building right here, at home.” 

 ‘It’s easy to see racism when they don’t look like you’, Eltahawy says, an idea she keeps coming back to 

“What you need to take seriously is recognise the women and feminists who don’t look like you. Take for example, the feminist movement in Iran, the brave, fearless women who took to the streets protesting after a young Kurdish woman was murdered for not wearing the hijab properly. We have to respond to this with our own savage behaviour.” 

“Ask yourself, how you are being savage?”  

Eltahawy used an example of the “Brown Muslim women around the world setting alight a tool of their patriarchy, sparking a revolution and rising up, leaving us breathless at their courage” to showcase how in our society we “cheer at these women whose plight over there you are grateful not to share” and “remain comfortable pointing fingers at the patriarchy elsewhere, and fail to ask yourself about your own patriarchy, over here.” 

She constantly reminded us to think, “When you ask how it got so bad for women in Iran, ask yourself how you allowed white, Christian zealots to use democracy to cut it at its knees by destroying the right to abortion – a right which most Americans/Australians support”. Shame is a twisted thing. It’s a societal and patriarchal construct, one built around boxing us in, “teaching us to behave according to some sort of moral, political, or cultural code.” This prompts Eltahaway’s favourite line, “fuck the patriarchy”.   

She touched further on her example of white supremacy and ‘white women’ being so shocked when their right to abortions were taken away, due to the belief that their rights were inherent. However, all queer and women of colour know that this is not true. “Abortion bans are driven by zealots and puritans – the day-to-day dictators who enforce that tyranny of ‘what will people say?’ What if we stopped hiding? What if we met the tyranny of ‘what will people say?’ with the audacity of visibility? Something that ‘white women’ take for granted”. 

‘Foot soldiers of the Patriarchy,’ is how she describes ‘white, Christian women; a tag team of governors, terrorists and legislators.’ However, they go unnoticed when they look like you. By not choosing to speak out, to challenge our inner feminists, we are fuelling the power of the zealots in our society, who look, and act like us.  So, it’s our time to be savage and dangerous, and do so, or your rights will be taken from you without you even realising.    

Mona used an analogy, comparing patriarchy to an octopus. Describing the 8 tentacles of an octopus as one of the oppressions that keep people alive. 

“What gives you hope?” was the last question asked by someone who remained anonymous. Mona’s response was,  

“People who wake up and say; ‘fuck the law’. People who want to burn shit down. The women in Iran. The feminist who has been a part of the green revolution”. 

As the conversation came to an end, Eltahawy requested the entire audience to stand up and take out their phones to record a video. She explained what we were to do on the count of three, and that was to scream, ‘fuck the patriarchy!’. Everyone did and did so three times. Laughter and passion were shared and felt across the room, and perhaps, even further than that.