Find Your Tribe

As a person I am passionate and I am very highly driven. Most of the time I follow my heart and my emotions, but I am fully aware of the situations where I need to use logic more than emotions. I make my choices consciously and I embrace who I am, because I simply won’t have myself be any other way.

I dream big and I take risks and I refuse to be scared or to back down. I stand up for myself and I stand up for others, I speak my mind. I am vocal, I am assertive and I am comfortable in my own skin.

I know that I am different, simply because we all are. We are all unique and we are all different in our own ways. I understand that one size doesn’t fit all, and I believe that if I was created and came to be then I have a purpose.

I appreciate my talents, and I praise my strengths, I am aware of my flaws and I embrace my imperfections. I know that my flaws make me human, and that in the imperfections lie beauty and balance. I am real, I am true, and I am me.

Along the path I will evolve and I will develop, I will grow and I will change. Along the path of life my desires, my aspirations, my likes, my dislikes, my passions and my tolerances will vary; change is the only constant in this world, so why would I be an exception to the case.

I believe that how others treat me is on them, and that I deserve to be respected, to be loved, to be safe, to be appreciated and to be acknowledged. I have the right to exist within society and no one has the right to violate me. I am a woman, but that is just my gender, it doesn’t rank me in society as superior or inferior. It is simply a trait assigned to me like my hair color, my eyes, or my age. My gender is simply that, a gender.

I am not strong for a woman, or assertive for a woman, or smart for a woman or independent for a woman; I am just strong, assertive, smart and independent, that’s it.

The one thing that I am also fully aware of is that I haven’t always felt that way. This is a process that took three decades of mental and emotional evolution. It is a process that entailed me accepting so much that I should not have accepted, before I grew into my own skin.

Growing up as a female is hard work, I’m not victimizing us, but this is the reality of it all. I used to think that it’s just part of being an Arab female, but let me tell you ladies and gents, no matter where we are; the struggle is real, the fight is real, and the statistics don’t lie.

As women we are taught that our gender plays a much bigger classification role than it should. We are made to apologize for things that men don’t, we are placed in molds and boxes of society norms, cultural expectations and gender appropriations.

Out intelligence is undervalued, and we are taught to expect a different treatment, people constantly believe that they need to simplify things for us, and that there is this weird and rather unrealistic notion that we cannot handle tough situations. We are viewed as irrational and weak; sometimes told we are too “emotional” and that we need to “toughen up” like being in touch with our emotions is weakness, or that our physical appearance structure automatically places us in the weaker gender column.

Yet us women, are the same ones to blame for men’s inability to use their words and process their emotions when they abuse and beat us. The same women are the ones to blame when men feel insecure when their wives/partners make more than them at work or outperform them in sports and life. The same women are the ones to blame when men are incapable of handling their hormones and their emotions and sexually abuse women.

We as women are blamed for other’s insecurities, other’s incapability and other’s inability to express and handle emotions. Yet, we are the weaker sex and the inferior sex.

Somewhere along the journey of life we are told not to be too vocal, not to be too assertive and not to dream big. We are sold the notion that the biggest accomplishment of our lives is to be wives, and to be mothers and that as women on our own, we are not enough, that we need to be associated to someone, as their daughter, as their wife, as their partner or as their mother to be of value. The labeling was so essential to our upbringing at certain stages.

The first time I was violated, I was a child. I was a little girl in a supermarket aisle, this older man, as old as my father kept brushing up against me. First time I thought it was by mistake, but he kept doing it, and he whispered something about how I shouldn’t be wearing shorts. I was seven, I was a child, I was told that the reason this creepy person was violating me was my fault, because I was in shorts. Every time I was groped, violated or inappropriately touched, I didn’t talk about it, because I blamed myself. I would first go through a checklist of what was I wearing, what was it that provoked him, what did I say, how did I act. I always put myself at fault. We all know, that this is one small part of what happens out there in the world, I don’t need to tell you how horrifying the stories are or how painful it is to read about women being forced to marry their rapists, and even bare their children!

I remember when I started my career, my ex was still in university, it really wasn’t his thing and he just wasn’t graduating. Year after year, I started making career advancements, I started making more money, and I started investing more in my career because I loved the self-fulfillment and the growth, and because I was good at what I was doing.

It was during that period that I suffered most of the mental and emotional abuse out of him, it was the constant putting me down at every chance, the constant feeling of guilt because I was “working too hard”. Before I knew it, I was apologizing for my achievements, I was apologizing for my work, I was afraid to be vocal about my promotions and my advancements. I always felt guilty for developing my own career and my own life. The abuse progressed, and along the lines I always justified it, because I always felt that I was in the wrong doing for wanting a career, for wanting success, for outshining him. The height of it all came when I had to choose between him, and my career, two different choices that had nothing in conflict with one another, but to him, I couldn’t have both. If I wanted to be with him, then I needed to be a stay at home wife, I needed to forgo my dreams, my hopes and my aspirations, he said that I shouldn’t want anything more than to be his wife and the mother of his children. He believed that my association to him should be my biggest dream. Years later when we met and we spoke, he still believed that I was in the wrong for choosing my career, he believed that his abuse was justified and that I brought it upon myself.

I am not the first or the last person in the series of women who have been downplayed, degraded, or abused; and I’m also not the first or the last of a series of women who are taking matters in their own hands now and refusing to conform to the boxes and molds we are placed in. We are the women that are fighting to break through the glass ceilings.

To all the women out there that are fighting for their place in society, their rightful place, thank you. Thank you for being part of my tribe, thank you for inspiring women to keep fighting and for changing the current situations so future generations have it better than we do.

Thank you to the single mothers who decided that they can do it on their own, to the mothers who decided to embark on motherhood. Thank you to the ladies that taught us that it is ok to be single, and that it is also ok to be divorced or separated and to stand up for what you want. To all the women out there choosing careers, or motherhood, thank you for making a choice. It’s not what you choose that concerns me, as long as that choice is yours. To the mama’s raising their daughters to take no shit from people, I am happy to have you in my circle. To the female entrepreneurs and teachers, you are inspirations and guides that have touched more lives than you know.

To all the women who walked away from abuse, who put themselves first, and who chose their wellbeing over everyone else, thank you for setting an example, thank you for re-calibrating the bar. To the women who embarked on careers that were deemed “men’s jobs” thank you for breaking the stereo type. To everyone who pursued what is rightfully theirs, and was never afraid to dream big, I admire you.

They say find your tribe and walk with it, and when I reflect on the women in my life, the circle of women I associate myself with, I am proud to walk amongst them. A lot of the women I have worked with, I have trained with or I am friends with have proven day in and day out to be strong, to be independent and to be someone who has shaped me into who I am today. To all these women, thank you, thank you for walking along this path and not giving up, for getting back up and fighting every time you got knocked down. Thank you for all the lives you have touched and all the lives you continue to inspire.

Happy women’s day ladies! Happy everyday to you, and may you continue to grow, to prosper and to be successful till your last breath.

The Greater Freedom-Book Review

Scrolling through social media I saw that Diwan Egypt (one of the most influential and prominent bookstores in Egypt, and a place I proudly worked for) was hosting an event for a book signing of “The Greater Freedom” by Alya Mooro. The title intrigued me and the excerpt they had on the post about how the book discusses the stereotypes facing Middle Eastern Women definitely caught my attention.

So on a Thursday evening, I drove to the iconic Diwan Zamalek, and took a seat amongst the crowd. It was a full house, the place was packed, and the crowd was interesting. So diverse; young females, older ladies, young men and a few older gentlemen were there as well.I went with intrigue, but to be very honest, I didn’t have very high hope that I was going to fall in love with the book. For some reason I went to the book signing thinking it was going to be some “angry feminist book” if that makes any sense. So why did I go? Because curiosity is one of my most prominent character traits ever since I was a child.

Then Alya started reading a small passage from the book and I was instantly hooked. Why? Her writing style, the way she read, it was like hearing my thoughts outloud!! She wrote in the manner I thought. She spoke the same written language as me. I involuntarily smiled as she read, I could tell that I would love the writing style and enjoy it very much, even if I wasn’t so sure about the content (remember this was still the very beginning of the book signing), so I decided, there and then, that I would buy the book.

Alya describes the context of this book as the greater freedom to not be oneself, to step out of the stereotypes and the cultural norms. I’m not gonna get into details about the actual content because I don’t want to ruin the book for you. She believes that this book is relatable to Middle Eastern women living in the western world, or outside what we call “home”. But I disagree with Alya, this book relates to every woman, period.

The struggles, the stereotypes, the realisations the author makes in this short, but irresistible read, are to me universal to all females. It speaks of the truths, the frustrations, the joys, the fears and the journey that is applicable to practically every modern day female.

The book took me by a very pleasant surprise. Mooro discusses the thoughts we are forced to internalise sometimes because of the cultural norms. She discusses all these “norms” we are taught as children, and breaks them down for us, explores them with us, and speaks the reality a lot of us wish to, but are afraid to say it, because we are scared of society judging us.

Females are always taught to be a certain way, since birth, regardless of our ethnicity, social class, education or upbringing. We are taught to be timid, we are taught to be non-sexual (publicly, but a man-pleasing seductive goddess in private), we are taught to be second in drive and ambition to men, we are taught so many “norms” that generations before us believed without thought, accepted with minimal fight and expected us to follow in their footsteps.

Thankfully, our generation is taking a more challenging approach (some of us, that is) to believing these norms. We now learn to question, to fight back, to push back, and we learn, not to settle. Alya in her book, speaks on behalf of most of us that are walking that walk, and it’s universal. She vocalises the thoughts that a lot of females in the Middle East, and other cultures are afraid to speak. She pushes the boundaries for us, covering relationships with partners, with parents, with our home countries, cultures and friends. She explores the consequences of certain thought processes, parenting styles, and personal boxes we confine ourself to because of our thoughts.

I was brought up in a very cosmopolitan environment, I was brought up with what is considered very liberal parents by Egypt’s standards. I was born and raised outside Egypt, and lived a free, independent life as a female. I moved back a few years ago, and I experienced all the things I “should be” according to my culture here. I first hand experienced all the stereotype that other females, thousands of miles away, who have never met me, or met my family or my circle of interaction experience in their parallel worlds. This is why I found this book relatable, this is why I believed that it speaks to more than just the Middle Eastern female mind.

To all the men out there as well, in case you’re wondering if you should read this book, I definitely recommend that you do. This book gives you a small window to see the world through your female friend, girlfriend, sister, wife, partner’s view. It gives you an insight on the world we live in, the struggles we feel, the liberations we’re after, and why some of us won’t settle.

So, thank you Alya for this excellent read, thank you for verbalising a lot of our thoughts to so many masses. Thank you to Diwan for this opportunity and supporting such discussions, authors and progress and bringing it forth to Egypt. Finally, thank you to every female who refused to settle, to fit in a confined mould that she doesn’t feel she belongs in.

I really hope you check out “The Greater Freedom”, and that you enjoy reading it as much as I did. In the meantime, to every person out there: Be inquisitive, be a challenger, be yourself, be free and never settle.

One of my favorite passages from the book