Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Of Jasad, Body and Soul

Here I was at Bardo Cafe, Hamra listening to Joumana Haddad, Lebanese poet, translator, journalist and editor-in-chief for Jasad Magazine. Joumana was launching the second issue of the magazine in a salon like setting where she engaged in a discussion about the Jasad or the "Body" along with topics that are mainly considered taboo in Lebanon and the Arab world such as sexuality, virginity, eroticism and relationships to name a few. Joumana started off by reading an essay entitled "I killed Scheherazade" because as she put it, Scheherazade was a master of negotiation, negotiation leading ultimately to male approval. She, on the other hand, was looking for her own approval in this jungle of machismo and penis ruling. And so she mentioned a few points that drew the crowd's attention and mine.

I will not be mentioning the fact that Joumana would have been more credible in her quest to abolish female attempts to seek male approval through the way they look, had she had less make up or less screaming clothes on. She claims it is for self satisfaction, and this just goes to show you how this dilemma is in the mind of every Lebanese woman, living in Lebanon. And I shall not be afraid to generalize, because we all want to be recognized for our intellect and our capabilities and abilities at work and in society, and we strive, and we try, and we do succeed, however we have got to look good. Women are more listened to when they look good. Whether they are taken more seriously is another issue. I will not claim to have a solution or an explanation. This is more of an observation.

It is what has come to be expected from Lebanese women competing amongst each other, for whatever prize (and is it really a prize). To the point that, nowadays, in malls around the country, when you are walking nonchalantly, with your significant other or by yourself, as a female, YOU are the one being checked out by same sex vultures, trying to discern what it is that you might have as added potential, what it is they could acquire or maybe even get done. Even physicians, artists, scientists, those who are stereotypically not expected to look as good as models are now putting more emphasis on the way they dress or dress up, because, well, is it just not enough anymore?...

Anyways, this shall not be what this post is about. Jasad is your Arabic Language Magazine about social and private thoughts that might be inferred or mentioned out loud in Lebanese and Arabic circles, never to be put in words. Joumana sums it up by describing it as a "serious cultural, intellectual, literary, scientific and artistic project, which demanded a great deal of thought and thorough examination before crystallizing and becoming manifest. It is a project related to the Body, the body of life, the body of the mind, the body of the heart and the body of language." It is not a pornographic magazine, nor an activist one, nor sex ed, it is a social one as I most humbly gather, tackling serious subjects to reflect on.

However, what do YOU really picture when you read or hear the word JASAD. Do you really imagine a man, or a body of things coming together? No. "Shou hal Jasad ya Asad". Jasad is a woman, a sensual one. Ironically, just as I am writing this post and cruising through other blogs, I come across a JASAD as presumed by our culture on a fellow blogger's website PLUS 961.

Here it is, that JASAD is selling YOU a car! And who better to drive this car than a Wealthy Arabic Male Businessman? Of course, with his main (or not so main) squeeze on his side. He might even get the JASAD attached to the car as a complimentary bonus!

So here is my post, throughout the discussion, two main points were maybe personal enough to have me put my drink down and listen closer. When do YOU as an Arabic woman get in touch with your sexuality? And What about sexual language in Arabic?

The way I see it, an Arabic woman, whether liberal or conservative, will be learning (or used to at least when I was growing up) about her sexual identity through her male companion. My sex ed class was summed up as a one hour biology video about reproduction and mainly the microscopic aspect of it (and by microscopic I mean Egg and Sperm) sponsored by Always Hygiene Pads. Yes my teachers were afraid to get scolded for putting ideas in our heads, or maybe they did not know enough themselves, especially as to how to approach young innocent girls. However, sexual desire and appetite comes naturally, and I was thrown in the teenage world and its hormones, with no genuine education on the matter, to discover my identity on my own, through teenage boys who wanted to get intimate, going through said bases respectively. And holding hands, led to touching, to kissing... You get the picture.

I then started reading magazines and erotic literature, to discover how to please my significant other. But did I ever do it to learn for myself? Was this curiosity to learn about my own body instilled in me while I was growing up? Was I taught to respect my body and cherish it? No. It was a means to please males. It was not to be touched by me, or even asked about. At that time, my significant other was getting his own sexual education through porn movies, so you might imagine how this led to problems, seeing how, by instinct, and NOT by educated decisions or conscious choices, I said NO. Leaving me confused and perplexed as to what was right or wrong, as to whether I should trust him, and were all the other girls doing it?
Because, again, being a taboo subject even among girls who mostly claim to be virgins, being forbidden to even kiss or touch, feeling guilty about having a significant other in my twenties if we are not to be married eventually, getting physical with someone who I love but who I am not committed to officially, this brings about a feeling of blame and maybe even disgrace. So shut the hell up and do NOT mention it!

The other issue was about sexual language. Rarely do we use words in Arabic when talking about sexual behavior in a serious and legitimate context. Rare are the people who KNOW the words to use. Everyone can cuss using words like a woman's pussy or a guy's penis in Arabic. You hear it more often than not. But what if you want to open the taboo subject in a sensible and purposeful way? Are you comfortable using the word "2adeeb" which is the official written Arabic word for penis? NO. And why is that? Does this further prove the point that the lack of sexual education is at stake here? Yes. Yes it does. We need to be sensitized to sex, not as a dirty deed, or a taboo, or a means to please your man. We need to be comfortable with it, with our bodies, our JASAD. Because, here I am, in the medical field, embarrassed to ask a male patient about his "Adeeb", as he is embarrassed to answer me. And even more embarrassed to ask an unmarried woman about any sexual behavior because God Forbid I assume she is not a Virgin!

So here you go, this needs to be out in the open, publicized, in Arabic, not to lead to a more decadent and immoral society, because as mentioned, sexual desire comes by instinct and by nature, but to become more comfortable with our bodies, our identity or at least part of it. OUR JASAD. And Kudos to the Magazine for bringing this to the table.