Misogyny has reduced women to headscarves and hymens.
'WOMEN have very little idea of how much men hate them,'' wrote Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch. So outraged were men that wives reportedly took to concealing their copies by wrapping them in plain brown paper.
More than 40 years later, Egyptian-American commentator Mona Eltahawy has caused a storm with her Foreign Policy essay, Why Do They Hate Us? ''They'' being Arab men and ''Us'' Arab women. Forget America's so-called inequality, Eltahawy implores, ''The real war on women is in the Middle East.''
Women, she writes, have not benefited from the Arab Spring because they remain oppressed by the men in their lives who consider all is ''well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home''. ''Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.''
Not surprisingly, Eltahawy has also sparked outrage. What is surprising is that so many of her detractors are Arab women. Gigi Ibrahim, a blogger and activist who came to prominence in the Egyptian revolution, called the essay ''disgraceful''. Samia Errazzouki, a Moroccan-American writer retorted, ''Dear Mona Eltahawy, You Do Not Represent 'Us'.''
The consensus is that Eltahawy uses simplistic, Orientalist arguments to ''otherise'' Arabs and drive a wedge between Arab men and women. ''Women in the Middle East are not oppressed by men out of male dominance,'' writes Ibrahim. ''They are oppressed by regimes (who happened to be men in power).''
This is a facile argument. Men do not just ''happen'' to find themselves in power. Men are in power because the patriarchal system that dominates the world favours men by systematically demeaning and marginalising women based on sex and sexuality.
Astonishingly, Eltahawy's critics have managed to miss her central thesis: men hate women out of a deep fear of female sexuality, which has reduced women to ''their headscarves and hymens'', and it is up to women to wrestle control of their sexuality back from men.
Eltahawy made two vital errors leaving her open to those claims of Orientalism. The first was her decision to ''put aside what the United States does or doesn't do to women''. The second was her failure to explore how women themselves also perpetuate patriarchy. Consequently, she divorces the struggle of Arab women from millions of others around the world, thus making misogyny appear a peculiarly Arab problem. In doing so, she unwittingly adds fuel to the myth that Arab men are more monster than human.
As an Australian woman of Arab Muslim background, I have often been struck not by how different but by how similarly women are treated in the West and in Arab/Islamic cultures. In both societies women's sexuality is treated with suspicion and distrust.
Muslim women are required to dress ''modestly'' to ward off attention from men. With the onus on women to alleviate male desire, victims of sexual assault are likely to find themselves blamed for their attack.
So too in the West. How many rape victims have had their sexual history and choice of clothing called into question? How many times have we wondered if ''she asked for it''?
They may not be required to cover their hair or faces, but Western women are derided for being sexually active in a way men never will be, as Sandra Fluke, the US college student who testified before Congress about the necessity of including birth control in health insurance, can attest. Fluke was called a prostitute and a slut by shock jock Rush Limbaugh.
Limbaugh is not known for his reasoned commentary but, sadly, women also joined in the attacks. Political pundit Michelle Malkin called Fluke ''a poster girl for the rabid Planned Parenthood lobby'', while Everybody Loves Raymond actress Patricia Heaton tweeted: ''you've given yer folks great gift for Mother's/Father's Day! Got up in front of whole world & said I'm having tons of sex - pay 4 it!''
The Fluke saga demonstrates how patriarchy isn't just men oppressing women. It's a system so entrenched in our collective psyche that it demands and acquires unconscious participation of both men and women in order to perpetuate itself.
Moroccan teenager Amina Filali swallowed rat poison after being forced, by the courts and her mother, to marry her rapist. Shortly after her death her mother pleaded, ''I had to marry her to him, because I couldn't allow my daughter to have no future and stay unmarried.''
This mother is not a monster. She has simply internalised misogyny to where she honestly believed her daughter, no longer a virgin and thus doomed to a life of spinsterhood, would be better off married to her rapist.
Yes, the magnitude of Arab women's suffering is greater because of the lack of laws protecting them. But, while their oppression is different in degree, it is the same in kind. It all comes down to sex. How can women ever hope to attain equality when an act as natural, and vital, as sex is regarded an acceptable means to devalue them?
Both Greer and Eltahawy are correct. But I would change ''men'' to ''patriarchy''. Patriarchy hates women.
That some of Eltahawy's fiercest critics are female only serves to show that many women continue to have very little idea of just how much.