As It Happens

Sex and Revolution: Author Mona Eltahawy argues the Middle East can't have one without the other

In a feature interview at North York Public Library, the Egyptian-American journalist discusses her own decision to stop wearing a headscarf, to become sexually active, and why she believes sex and agency for women go hand-in-hand.
Author Mona Eltahawy speaks to As It Happens host Carol Off at a April 27, 2015 event at the North York Public Library. (Photo: Pacinthe Mattar)

Sometimes, the political is intensely personal.

Egyptian-American journalist and feminist Mona Eltahawy was arrested, beaten, and sexually assaulted on the streets of Cairo in 2011 while protesting.

As she explains in a feature interview with As It Happens host Carol Off, it was an indication of how close to home revolution and the quest for freedom can strike.

Her latest book, "Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs A Sexual Revolution," has raised eyebrows for its call to women across the Middle East to get rid of dictators not only in the streets and governments, but in their homes and bedrooms.

She argues that the political revolutions in the Middle East have failed if simultaneous revolutions don't occur for women's rights.

Mona Eltahawy reads from her book, "Headscarves and Hymens: Why The Middle East Needs A Sexual Revolution." (Photo: Pacinthe Mattar)

"I believe that that trifecta of the state, the street and the home - and the misogyny and the patriarchy that they all share in common - has created this awful distrust between men and women," Eltahawy tells Off.

"For too long, women in the Middle East and North Africa have been reduced to what's on our head and what's between our legs."

She believes that until women are allowed to choose when and how they will be sexually active, they will not be allowed any control over their lives. And that the hymen and they head scarf do not represent choice. Instead, the demands of virginity and modesty are forced upon women.

"For many young women, [marriage] is not a choice. Marriage is something they go into knowing it is their only way to survive. Clearly, it's about much more than sex. But sex is part of it. We need a social and sexual revolution," she says.

"At the heart of it is consent and agency and that solves all the other problems."

In her book, she shares her own process of deciding to no longer wear the head scarf and her choice to become sexually active.

"I cannot tell people to go do this without sharing how I did it," she explains.

Eltahawy told her parents about the book's revelations about her sex life before she left on her promotional tour. It wasn't easy.

"I told them, either don't read the book or skip Chapter 6," she says. But they told her, even if they don't agree with her, they are proud of her.

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