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A Message to My Egyptian Mother

This week, the bitchy Sally Sampson writes about her Egyptian Mother woes (that we can probably ALL relate to)...

Let me set the scene for you.

It is early morning in Cairo. There is a serenity that the city only knows in the first hours of the morning. It is quiet, except for some distant sounds that are barely distinguishable: the slam of a car door, the meowing of a street-cat rummaging for its breakfast, the footsteps of the porter cleaning the entrance of the building…

Meanwhile, one wrathful Egyptian woman flips the fuck out!

“Young lady, this is AN EASTERN CULTURE! We have MORALS, we have PRINCIPLES, we believe in GOD! This behaviour is unacceptable! You are embarrassing me constantly. Where shall I hide my face? Look at you! Your overall state is poorly; and if you keep being hard-headed and refuse to listen to my advice and partake of the fruit of my life-experience that exceeds you by a mile, you little shit, you will NEVER get MARRIED (Heaven forbid, of course)! ”

My poor mom; she’s screaming hysterically, her eyes are bulging from their sockets, her index finger is pointed at my nose and is wagging itself in my face, like it’s not properly attached to the rest of her hand and might fall off at any given moment.

All of this because I looked at her, nonchalantly and told her that having a curfew is something that should be set aside exclusively for oppressive political regimes. Little did I know I was waking the beast. I didn’t quite clock this at the time, but my mother is an oppressive political regime in her own right…I should’ve seen it coming.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this bitter rant from her. In fact, I hear it often. It is emphasized frequently, time and time again, sometimes forcefully, and other times, very casually, in passing.

“Sally, can you pass me that spoon?” I pass the spoon. “You call that passing a spoon? You will never get married, Heaven forbid, if you pass a spoon with that attitude.” (Statistics say that at least one person a year dies after being bludgeoned to death with a spoon by their spouse…)

“Sally, why are you yawning like that? You will never get married, Heaven forbid, if you yawn like that in public,” she says to me, in the privacy of my living room.

“Sally, you need to learn to listen; otherwise, heaven forbid, you’ll never get married.” My mother has been married to my father for over a quarter of a century…my mum hasn’t listened to him since 1992. He has since stopped speaking altogether.

I wish I could say to you that I was a horrible kid growing up. I wish I could say I never listened to anything my parents had to say to me, that I partied all night, and that I took drugs and binged on alcohol. I wish I had a mug shot and a sex tape and all sorts of other good things like that under my belt, so that I could comprehend why my mother thinks that I am such a horrible creature that NO MAN WILL EVER WANT TO MARRY! (God Almighty, King of the Heavens and Earth Forbid!)

I wish I could say I was an awful child to live with… but the reality was quite different.

I was a ‘good girl’. I was polite. I was an A student, particularly in high school. I took a BA in Mass Communication and graduated at the top of my class. I didn’t go from guy to guy; in fact I can actually count the guys that I’ve fallen for on my fingers. I didn’t smoke nor did I drink (unless I was in the presence of my parents) and I never thought of touching drugs. I spent my time reading and learning more about world religions, art and culture. I became opinionated and developed my own beliefs, which I slowly started to live by. I went to London to pursue my life-long dream of being an actress and got a Master of Arts (which was the only way my mother could comprehend that acting was of any use to the world) and worked to put a roof over my own head. I became actively involved in women’s rights and human rights. The only thing that I ever really binged on (and still occasionally do, from time to time) was chocolate.

And, I have to say, my parents, being Egyptian, are eternally proud of me…but it’s still not good enough to ENSURE that if for some reason the man of my mother’s dreams (No, not Ahmed Shafik, mom. Thanks.) was to knock on the door, he would immediately snatch me up and marry me and save me from the path of bitch-dom that I, apparently, have been possessed by some evil and mischievous sprite to ardently pursue.

Fuck me! I don’t get it…

They have taken the time to invest in me and educate me; they have given me opportunities to explore different cultures and new horizons and the moment I hit my mid-twenties…BAM! It becomes a race to see how fast I can get married before I end up losing my virginity because apparently, as a girl who is unmarried and is constantly around members of the opposite sex, I simply cannot help but throw myself into the beds of strangers (I know, I know Mama, Heaven forbid!!). And the value of everything I do is defined by whether or not the man I marry (whoever the poor bastard is) will approve of it, down the line.

Can I be honest? (Ha! You know by now, I hope, that I’m going to be just that anyway…You were waiting for the bitch to come out, weren’t you?)

I CANNOT BELIEVE the audacity of this society underestimating, reducing and yet ultimately, defining an entire female population by the presence or the absence of what Wikipedia describes as “a weak membrane covering the external vaginal opening” called a HYMEN (oh yeah…I went there!), before the sound of wedding bells and a loud voice pronouncing that she shall be someone’s “wife so long as they both shall live” echoes in their ears!!!

The bitch that I am goes ape-shit! We don’t define men by whether or not they’re virgins before they settle down and decide that they’ve found the right girl for them. In fact, we encourage them to “explore the world” (let’s just stick with that word for now); we make it a part of their journey to self-discovery and ultimate manhood!

“Yalla habibi, go sow your wild oats, just don’t get anyone pregnant (because then, Heaven forbid, we’ll have proof that you were bumping uglies with someone and only then will we have to intervene!)”

But a girl doing that same shit?? What do you get? Honour-killings. You get “the shame that has been brought down on the family.” You get eternal guilt. You get a straight to hell with no stops on the way card!

I want to be clear. I am not against men. This is not about men. This is about double-standards in the society. I would never dream of reducing the men that I know and love to a series of sexual encounters that they have embarked uponwhilst “discovering their manhood”, whatever the hell that means.

I’m also not advocating a society modelled after a Spanish sitcom where everyone is sleeping with everyone and people are constantly opening doors and discovering that the person they’ve slept with is their mother or their sister, or someone else equally revolting.

Let’s bring this back to my mother’s bitter diatribe and I’m going to give it one big HEAVEN FORBID, before I break this down, just so I have that covered, for my mother’s sake, whose pulse weakened when I even thought of typing the words “vaginal opening” and “hymen’”. To her, now I’m really never getting married! *evil laugh*

I love being from what my mom terms an “Eastern culture”. That wasn’t always how I felt, but it is how I feel now.

I have morals. I have principles. I believe in God. I respect the experiences of my elders, but I also acknowledge that I do not have to walk the same paths that they have walked and that my life is my own.

I also know that, within my heart of hearts, even though my mom and my dad and my best friend’s mom and my aunt and my mom’s aunt and my dad’s fourth cousin twice removed disagree, that marriage should not be the singular hope and goal of my life. And it is not.

Does that mean I’ll never get married or that I hope I’ll never get married? Certainly not! I’d love to meet someone and build a life with them, provided I am not compromising myself in any way or rushing into anything.

I am NOT going to marry some random dude because that’s what everyone else is doing, or because I’m afraid my biological clock, if left too long, is going to turn into a bomb and explode in my face.

When I marry and if I marry, it will be to someone that I have chosen in my own time! It will be to someone who can meet and challenge me intellectually! It will be to someone who is respectful and caring and responsible. It will be to someone who recognizes my right, my inarguable, unequivocal, fucking undeniable right to be me and not be overwhelmed or intimidated or emasculated when I raise my voice and say things that would make most people cringe or shy away. This person, whoever they are, will be happy to love me, BITCH and all!!

So screw having to come back at a certain time because what will the neighbours say about us…

Screw having to learn what to say and what not say because people will think you’re not respectable…

And screw anyone, ANYONE, who thinks that I am defined by any body part that is not my brain! (Particularly, if that body part is located on the lower half of my body!)

I also have to stress that if you disagree with what I have said and imagine you even have a shot at my heart, I have only one thing to say to you… “Thank you for your application; we have your number, but please don’t call us, we’ll call you!” (Not!)

There is an amazing quote in the book Persuasion, one of my favourite classics by Jane Austen, that captivates and speaks to me on this issue:

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” 

And of course, Madonna, the Queen of Pop herself gives it to us in layman’s terms, for those who are not inclined towards the poetic:

“I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay!”

Sssh! Did you hear that? That’s the sound of my mom’s head finally exploding. Better get the paramedics…

Side note to my mother: Mama, don’t worry! Your little bitch will be fine… regardless of whether or not I get married. (Heaven-forbid!) Love you!