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Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution Hardcover – April 21, 2015

4.6 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Turn to any page of Headscarves and Hymens and you'll find a statistic or anecdote to make your blood boil . . . [Eltahawy] has now expanded that [Foreign Policy] article into a book, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, which blends her own story-an ideological journey toward feminism while growing up in Egypt, England and Saudi Arabia-with a sweeping portrait of what life is like for women in the Middle East. The same righteous anger that propelled her essay fuels her book. It's easy to see why she's so incensed.” ―Bari Weiss, The Wall Street Journal

Headscarves and Hymens is a small but packed manifesto, incendiary by design . . . With this book, [Mona Eltahawy] is wisely exploiting her fame to further her cause, which is the physical and emotional emancipation of Arab women . . . Eltahawy is a relentless cataloguer of all the ways the Arab world continues to cloak misogyny in religious fervor.” ―Connie Schultz, The Washington Post

“Eltahawy has issued a bold manifesto for women's rights . . . For the sake of the 'double revolution' for women in the Middle East, it's a good thing that Eltahawy has remained fearless.” ―Asra Q. Nomani, Ms. Magazine

“Eltahawy exposes hard truths about the current state of gender equality in the Arab world. She is brutally honest in her accounts of the oppression and violence that women regularly face . . . Eltahawy issues a rallying cry in hopes of ending the silence that too often surrounds women's issues globally. . . Eltahawy is unflinching in her look at the oppression of women in the Middle East and North Africa, but she reminds us that women are subjugated across cultures and that it should not be used as an excuse to demonize Islam.” ―Stephanie Long, Bustle

“This is a timely and provocative call to action for gender equality in the Middle East.” ―Publishers Weekly

“A remarkable book . . . Eltahawy is brave, determined, and at times deliberately provocative . . . Eltahawy's voice is full of energy, purposefulness and courage. Her rightful anger helps her to not shy away from difficult questions . . . Headscarves and Hymens is timely, important and much needed.” ―Elif Shafak, Literary Review

“This is a powerful global feminist demand for equal rights.” ―Vanessa Bush, Booklist

“In her debut book, Egyptian-American journalist and commentator Eltahawy mounts an angry indictment of the treatment of women throughout the Arab world.” ―Kirkus Review

“This is not an easy book to read-why should it be? Eltahawy's Headscarves and Hymens is a story of terrorism and torture endured by bodies as fragile as that of a five-year-old girl and as vulnerable as that of protestor splayed by soldiers stomping her bared chest. Why should it be easy to encounter Eltahawy's own testimony of sexual and physical assault meted out as punishment for resisting totalitarianism? This book is not easy because it is born out of the ongoing struggle of how women can bear witness to their own abuse and oppression while trying to shield their families, communities, nations, and faith from the ugly and dangerous presumptions of Muslim barbarism that fuel Islamaphobia. It is not easy because it forces all of us to examine our ignorance, our complicity, our silence in the face of gender violence perpetrated in the name of religion, culture, and tradition.This book is not easy to read, but it is necessary. Necessary because the warrior journalist who is Mona Eltahawy refuses to leave women crushed beneath the feet of their abusers or hidden behind their veils. Eltahawy recovers women's activism, art, voices, humanity, and demands for a revolution that makes a material difference for them, their daughters, sisters, friends, lovers, and teachers.” ―Melissa Harris-Perry, host of MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry”

“‘The most subversive thing a woman can do is talk about her life as if it really matters,' says Mona Eltahawy in this courageous blend of the personal and the academic and the political. In the hands of Eltahawy, so many silences are opened. She writes about what others have largely feared: the body politic and the body sexual. This is a ground-shaping book that defines the edge of so many vital contemporary debates. Hers is a voice simultaneously behind and beyond the veil.” ―Colum McCann, author of TransAtlantic

“Mona Eltahawy brings a journalist's keen eye, a revolutionary's prophetic courage, and a feminist's incendiary intellect to this work, demolishing the last cultural relativist myths. And she writes so well that it's hard to put down this audacious, information-packed treasure about the half of the Arab world that's female. Miss this book--the real key to the Middle East--at your peril.” ―Robin Morgan

“One of the most powerful books I've ever read. And will ever read. No matter where she is-in Cairo during the Arab Spring, in the Saudi Arabia of her adolescence, in Oklahoma talking about American 'purity balls' with students, in a dozen countries across the Middle East and North Africa-Mona Eltahawy skilfully dismantles the religious, political, and familial machines that maim and silence girls and women everywhere. She is fearlessly honest about her own struggles as an Arab Muslim woman-to tell or not to tell when men accosted her in public, to wear or to not wear hijab (and how to take the hijab off), to wait or not to wait to have sex until marriage. She challenges men and boys, too, to transform themselves and their societies. Her honesty, her anger, and her unrepentant joy in being alive make Headscarves and Hymens more than an important feminist manifesto. It is a meticulously, beautifully drawn map to freedom.” ―Karen Connelly

Headscarves and Hymens is a call to arms by a woman who's plainly proud of her justified rage . . . "It is the job of a revolution to shock, to provoke, and to upset," Eltahawy writes, "not to behave or be polite." Mission accomplished.” ―Marcia Kaye, The Toronto Star

About the Author

Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian American freelance journalist and commentator. Her essays and op-eds on Egypt, the Islamic world, and women's rights have appeared in various publications, including The Washington Post and The New York Times. She has appeared as a guest commentator on MSNBC, the BBC, CNN, PBS, Al-Jazeera, NPR, and dozens of other television and radio networks, and is a contributing opinion writer for the International New York Times. She lives in Cairo and New York City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865478031
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865478039
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #265,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You can't read this book without being outraged about the treatment of women in the Middle East. Mona has lived in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and she has worked as a journalist in most of the countries in the region. She draws from a wealth of personal and professional experience. By reporting on the rampant institutionalized misogyny there, she is breaking many taboos against shaming the governments and the religious authorities, against exposing die-hard traditions that demean and cripple young girls and women, and against revealing the behind-the-doors double standards that exist for men and women in the home. The Arab Spring brought government upheavals in many parts of the region, but recognizing the equality of women and their rights has lagged far behind the political changes. Mona names the culprits and the victims, and pulls no punches She writes, "We are in denial if we do not honestly reckon with the role of religion in maintaining the patriarch's rule at home, including how the men of religion help him to uphold his rule."

Mona wants women to speak out about their situations. "As risky as it is to speak publicly about street sexual harassment and assault, though, speaking out against sex abuse, speaking out against the crimes that go on in the home, is riskier. Home is where the hurt is, and home is where we must start to heal." Hopefully, Mona's outspoken frankness will encourage other women to follow her lead. She concludes, "Women -- our rage, our tenacity, our daring and audacity -- will free our countries."

This book is hard to put down, as it dashes from one outrage to another. Along the way, readers are left with countless imponderables -- why is a male baby's urine clean, but not that of a female baby?
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Mona is brave and brilliant, telling her story clear and loud, and calling for all of us to stand and be counted. As a journalist with years of experience in the Mideast Mona is able to tell us exactly what is going on, naming names and not holding back. Gender equality needs to happen now, this book makes it painfully clear that the abuse and subjugation of women goes on decade after decade and must stop. There are women throughout the middle east working for change and gender equality...that is the best way for change to come, from within these country's. We need to support their work. Men who understand this need to publicly take a stand. Women need to see that like Mona they can fight back and have every right to enjoy freedom and respect. Tell everyone about this book!
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Format: Hardcover
I LOVED this book! Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“My own feminist revolution evolved slowly, and traveled the world with me. To this day I have no idea what dissident professor or librarian placed feminist tests on the bookshelves at the university library in Jeddah, but I found them there. They filled me with terror. I understood they were pulling at a thread that would unravel everything. Now that I am older, I can see that feeling terrified is how you recognize what you need. Terror encourages you to jump, even when you don't know if you will ever land.”

“Almost a century after Huda Shaarawi removed her face veil, we are floundering—and we will continue to flounder as long as a woman's body remains the canvas upon which we signal our acquiescence to conservatism and patriarchy."

“Women have fought alongside men in political revolutions that have toppled dictators. But once these regimes fell, women have looked around to find the same oppression, sometimes inflicted by the men they stood shoulder to shoulder with, by men who claimed to be protecting them.”

“Being a woman anywhere is dangerous.”

“Unless we draw the connection between the misogyny of the state and of the street, and unless we emphasize the need for a social and sexual revolution, our political revolutions will fail. Just important, women will never be free to live as autonomous citizens whose bodily integrity is safe inside and outside the home.”

“The god of virginity is popular in the Arab world. It doesn't matter if you're a person of faith or an atheist, Muslim or Christian—everybody worships the god of virginity. Everything possible is done to keep the hymen—that most fragile foundation upon which the god of virginity sits—intact.
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Format: Hardcover
I first spotted Mona on the panel of BBC Doha Debates , a series of tv discussions focused on arab issues . Even back then , she gave the impression of someone who is not afraid to critisize elements within her culture and religion she disagreed with while at the same time being proud of her arab and muslim heritage . The moment where Mrs.Eltahawy truly blossomed as a writer and speaker though, was during the arab spring , when she would participate in panels arguing for the uprising and its ideals with palpabe excitement and dedication. This book is partly a product of the discussions and experiences she went through during that period , with the focus being on the changing status of women in Egypt and the wider Middle East .

" Headscarves and Hymens " is written by a person full of passion and anger . You can sense that almost immediately after reading just the first few pages of the first chapter. Eltahawy has strong opinions on various sensitive subjects such as the niqab and FGM and is not afraid of putting them out there for debate . Overall though , the book falls a bit short of the charm Eltahawy has shown as a commentator in various newsrooms . Her analysis on how the oppresion of women connects with the culture , religion and society lacks clarity and her positions seem to be based mostly on individuals' experiences of either oppresion or heroism which are difficult to be verify .

The best parts of the book are the ones on which she focuses on her personal lifestory . The pages about her loosing her virginity at 29 are both touching and bravely written . Eltahawy is often dismissed by some members of the arab community which seem to believe no complaints are justified when it comes to the Middle East and its treatment women population . I beg to differ .
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