Dividing gender based on height? My next project!


I miss blogging. It has been a while since I wrote anything on my blog, and even when I did, it has been more of an announcement or photos without much of written words or ideas or opinions like I used to do back in the days.

Keeping a blogging habit has been challenging in the past few years, and I don’t think that I am ready to overcome this challenge anytime soon, but I feel the urge to write something today and happy to use this platform. And as I have been doing lately, using it as a platform to talk about my writing projects, I feel like pitching the idea of the next novel I am working on, with a working title ‘Khait Hareer’ (A silk thread).

I am not sure how well the title goes with the idea and how well it will be weaved in the storyline. I have actually finished writing 9 chapters already and working on the 10th. It is kind of exciting but challenging, more challenging than writing my previous books as I am trying to imagine a fictional world. I have done this before with ‘Heaven on Earth’, and it was challenging too, but I think it was a bit easier, because in that book I tried to imagine the future, but in the new one, I am trying to imagine a parallel society.

So here is the pitch in simple terms. I am trying to imagine a society where gender is divided based on height, not sex. I know, it might be a tough sell, as not so many people understand the concept of gender and how much it is related to sex. For me, I understand that gender is a social construct, it is a sectioning system that divides people into two categories based on their perceived sexual organs. On top of the sexual division, comes a huge burden of dividing every single human attribute in an attempt to exaggerate the sexual organs distinction and make clear divisions between two types of humans – in our world today we call them men and women.

In a nutshell, we build on a single human characteristic our main human classification. And we divide all of the other thousands of human attributes, that are irrelevant to our sexual organs between the two types of humans we created. It is the most dangerous classification of humans in our history, one that most believe is natural and has always been their in every single human society. A division that clearly over simplifies the sexual organs shape and size spectrum and ignores the power of nature in brining in a wide range of manifestation to every single human attribute.

Sex is not different than height. The sexual organs come in all shapes and sizes. And if we can hold a knife and cut human populations into two sexes based of the state of development of male/female sexual organs, hiding a big portion of human beings that fall under what we call ‘intersex’, then we can use the same knife into cutting human populations into two heights (tall and short people) and hide those of middle height.

And yes, like what we do top our sexual organs distinction or dividing other attributes between two sexes, we can do the same, and divide human attributes based on the height of a person. In my story for instance, tall people will have to be thin and weak, while short ones will be thick, stocky and strong. It is not physical attributes that I divide, but also psychic ones, same like we do men and women. I even outline a dress code, a behavior code and strict gender roles that these tall and short human beings have to adhere too.

It is a very exciting practice trying to imagine how such humans would behave under these constraints. How they build their life and how they define things! There is a lot to explore and I might fell short in bringing up all of the angles such a drastic change might mean to us. It is a challenge that I decided to take, one that I am pleased with its outcome so far.

The most challenging aspect of imagining such society, is the language to use in describing it. I am writing the story in Arabic, and for those familiar with the language, it is pretty much gendered. For Arab speakers, everything has a gender, even unanimated objects. It is either a thing is feminine when it has the ta’ at the end of the word, or is masculine when the ta’ is not there. Yes, we have queer objects, but thats not the rule of the language.

In their world, their language is gendered too, and it is gendered based on height. But inventing such a language is beyond my capacity. I can outline it, and maybe try writing few phrases, but even then, no one would understand it. So I had to come up with a twist for the book, one that I hope will give you an “aha” moment and a smile once you get to it.

Not sure if I succeeded in pitching the idea, but if you got what I was trying to say, please let me know what you think. Try to imagine that society and let me know what comes to your mind. That would help me adding to the story.

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WOMEN CROSSING BORDERS: SHEREEN ABOUELNAGA, HUZAMA HABAYEB & FADI ZAGHMOUT


Saturday 2 March, 6pm-7pm

Al Ras 1, InterContinental, DFC

Authors: Fadi ZaghmoutHuzama HabayebShereen Abouelnaga

Don’t miss this session at Emirates Literature Festival. I look forward to seeing you all there and look forward to a wonderful discussion with these amazing and inspiring ladies.

What is the nature of boundaries that women in novels have to contend with? How do these boundaries reflect the real world? Who sets boundaries? And is there a big difference between boundaries facing men and women? What is the difference between boundaries imposed on men and those imposed on women in the contemporary narrative experiment?

Dr Shereen Abouelnaga is an Egyptian author, literary critic and professor at Cairo University – Egypt.

Huzama Habayeb is a Palestinian novelist and winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature 2017 for her novel “Velvet”. 

Fadi Zaghmout is a Jordanian author who started writing in 2006, motivated by desire to achieve social justice and challenge narrow gender roles.

Language: Arabic with English translation

Book your ticket now!

رؤيا لم تخطيء.. التوعية الجنسية مطلوبة ولو في برامج فكاهية ساخرة


من المحزن أن يؤدي الرهاب الجنسي في الأردن إلى قتل كل ما هو جميل وناجح في هذا البلد. نتفهم الخوف من الجنس في ظل غياب توعية جنسية في المدارس، سياسة فصل الجنسين في المدارس، وثقافة شعبية تربطه بالشرف. ولكن الهوس في تحديد جنسانية الفرد وتجنّب الخوض في الأمور الجنسية في النطاق العام (للبالغين) تضخمت لتطال كافة جوانب الحياة الطبيعية الأخرى، وأضحت حجة لقمع أبسط أشكال التعبير من فنون وموسيقى وطريقة ارتداء الأفراد لملابسهم ولهجتهم وطريقتهم بالكلام والحركة. ومن الطبيعي، في مجتمع تضخمت فيه الذكورية، أن تدفع المرأة والأقليات ثمن التراجع الثقافي والبلطجة الشعبية.

فالفيديو الذي تم عرضه على قناة رؤيا، وفيه ايحاءات جنسية، مطلوبة في سياق نقد الرسائل الجنسية في برامج الأطفال، لم يكن ليقابل بمثل هذا الغضب الشعبي لو لم تكن مقدمة البرنامج فتاة. فترسيخ المرأة على أنها سلعة جنسية في كافة البرامج التلفزيونية والدعايات والأغاني العربية والأجنبية منع المتلقي من رؤية الرسالة النقدية من خلف البرنامج، ليقرأها على أنها مقدمة كإثارة جنسية من قبل مقدمته. فلو كان المقدم رجل، لما هبّ من هب ليدافع عن محافظة المجتمع المزعومة. فالرجل مسموح له بالتعبير عن جنسانيته، كان ذلك في الشارع، أو البيت، أو أية مساحة خاصة أو عامة، ومجتمعنا يجب أن يعرف بأنه مجتمع ذكوري لا مجتمع محافظ. حجة أنه مجتمع محافظ تستعمل فقط لتقنين جنسانية المرأة وتحديد حرياتها وحركتها. كذلك فإن الأصوات الطائفية التي ربطت مقاطعة القناة ب”الإسلام” ونعتت مالكها بأنه “نصراني” (لا يوجد نصرانيين في الأردن، هنالك مسيحيين). تدل على دفع الأقليات ثمن التراجع الإجتماعي والتضخم الذكوري.

وبالعودة إلى البرنامج موضوع الطرح، ونقده الموضوعي، ووجود ايحاءات جنسية به. ما هي طبيعة الإيحاءات الجنسية التي وجدت في البرنامج؟ المقدمة لم تقم بأي تمثيل يدل على إغراء أو أي حركة في وجهها أو جسدها أو حتى في لباسها تدل على رغبتها في إثارة المشاهد جنسيا. كل ما قدمته هو قراءة لقصة تهدف إلى توعية المشاهد إلى وجود بعض الإيحاءات الجنسية في المواد المقدمة إلى أطفالنا. فالبرنامج لم يقدم “ايحاءات جنسية” كما زعمت الصحافة، بل قدم نقدا مباشر لتلك الإيحاءات الجنسية في قصص الأطفال. فلو قدم البرنامج “ايحاءات جنسية” حقيقية، بمعنى لو قلدت المقدمة هيفاء وهبي مثلا في فيديو كليب “بوس الواو” لما كانت ردة الفعل بهذه القوة. وذلك يذكرني بردة الفعل الشارع “المحافط” (اقصد الذكوري) لحملات التوعية بمرض نقص المناعة، فالتوعية بطرق الوقاية من المرض مرفوضة ولكن تجاهل انتشار الجنس غير الآمن مسموح! وهذا يدل على تناقد صارخ في الفكر الذكوري يغطي عن تفشي آفات اجتماعية عميقة طالمة قشرة “المحافظة” براقة وتحمي الميزات التي ينالها الذكر في هكذا مجتمع.

ولكني أتساءل هنا، متى سيتصالح الأردنيون مع جنسانيتهم؟ ومنى تكف تلك الحساسية في التعامل مع احدى أهم الصفات التي تعرف الإنسان؟ متى سننضج ونحسن التعامل مع الإنسان؟ اليست الايحاءات الجنسية اليوم أفضل من ايحاءات العنف والكراهية والقتل؟ وأين المشكلة إن كانت تلك الايحاءات تقدم لكبار بالغين متصالحين مع أنفسهم ومع طبيعتهم وهويتهم الجنسية؟

لم يكن على رؤيا الإعتذار، بل كان عليها أن تنتهز الفرصة وتقدم لنا برامج أخرى ترفع من الوعي الجنسي وتصالح المجتمع مع الجنس، ولو قدمت هذه البرامج بشكل فكاهي ساخر أو ترفيهي.

نحتاج اليوم إلى ثورة جنسية تعيد الحيوية إلى المجتمعات العربية، فقمع الحقوق الجسدية والحريات الجنسية يعد من أكبر الأبواب اليوم التي تستغل لقمع الفرد العربي. وصحية المجتمعات تبدأ بتصالح المرأة مع الرجل وتصالح الإنسان مع جسده. 

My Kali Interview, Celebrity of the week and Alef book club


Photo shoot My Kali Magazine

Photo shoot My Kali Magazine

It feels good to see the buzz of Arous Amman is still going through the country after more than two years of its debut. On thursday, I was hosted by Lama Zakharia for her radio show “Celebrity of the Week” on Beat FM. The interview was great, went super smooth with Lama being smart, spontaneous and professional as her audience know her. I am a big fan of her myself since I saw her performing last year in the Christmas’s musical of Dozan Awtar. I have also posted a while ago a video for her fighting sexual harassment by singing. She has an amazing voice and great talent. Watch out for her next projects. My interview will be aired next Thursday.

My interview with my kali magazine is published today after  much anticipation. These guys are really talented. We are blessed to have such artistic styled magazine in Jordan. The write-up is really good from the mutli-talented Mike Derderian. Mike is another one to admire, he is an artist who produces amazing illustrations, he is a brilliant writer and a great radio show host as well.  Along with the interview, my kali ran a stylised photo shoot for me. The photographs was taken by the wonderful Hiba Juda, make up by Amer Atta, hair by Ahmad Al Sa’ady, the making of video by Ala’a Abu Qasheh, and the cover/promo design by Atef Daglees. I feel so blessed to get to know all of these talented people. I also would like to dedicate a special thank you to Kali himself for putting the efforts into sustaining this magazine.

I like the smart headline of the interview “Here Comes the Groom!” in reference to me, the one behind the brides in Arous Amman.  And from the interview, I specially like these few lines:

Of course, don’t just take my word for it! It is a brilliant social commentary on an Arabian society filled with mothers, daughters and sisters; working women; married women; divorced women; women pursuing academia; sexually active women; and forlorn spinsters dreaming of the perfect Arab catch. Of course it also sheds light on the misogynistic Arab man; the oppressive father; the married man; the cheating husband; and the self-righteous cousin, who is looking for an excuse to burst the bubble of any of the over-achieving females in his tribe. The main controversy surrounding Aroos Amman most probably erupted from within the pages of the chapter in which a man thinks aloud after making love; making love to another man. I have to admit it was a shocking instance to read in a book written by an Arab Jordanian writer; almost as shocking as the rape scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, back in 1994.

I also had a very nice discussion around Arous Amman with Alef book club at the Good Bookshop. The discussion was complimented with a homosexuality debate. Before the debate started I had the chance to give a short presentation about gender and sexuality.  The issue was discussed openly from social, scientific and religious perspective. The event was organised very well and the crowd were respectful and polite. I was pretty much impressed by those youth (around 40 from both genders) discussing such matter openly and logically with full respect to each other opinion. At one point there was a veiled girl arguing against homosexuality talking closely to an openly gay man. Both were addressing their points of view genuinely with no sense of hatred towards each other. When the crowd were asked if they are with giving homosexuals their rights, most of them raised their hands in agreement! That’s something one doesn’t expect to happen in Jordan where a recent stat shows that 97% that society shouldn’t accept homosexuality! My Kali videoed the whole event, they should be posting it soon. I would also like to seize the chance and thank Tarek Abdo and Sanad Nowar for running this book club and organisation this event. That is courageous of them to tackle such issue.

Through Arous Amman I got to know about many book clubs in Jordan. I am happy to see these book clubs growing everywhere. I have to admit, Alef has just became one of my favourites. I wish them all the best.

One last good news, we are almost run out of copies of the 2nd edition of Arous Amman and will be working on a new print.

سي السيد لتامر حسني صحوة أخيرة لرجل يحتضر


من الممكن قراءة كلمات أغنية سي السيد الجديدة لتامر حسني على أنها خطاب ذكوري متخلف يدعو إلى الإعلاء من شأن الرجل وإعادة القوامة له على المرأة في شكل الشخصية النمطية لسي السيد بطل الثلاثية الروائية لنجيب محفوظ: بين القصرين، قصر الشوق، والسكرية. فعلا، فالواضح من الكلام هو خطاب تامر الأستعلائي في الأغنية كزوج فاض به الأمر ولم يعد يتحمل معارضة زوجته الدائمة له فقرر لعب ورقة الميراث الإجتماعي المبجل للذكر وتذكيرها بأنه سي السيد، وبأن كلامه هو “اللي هيمشي”. كلام مهين لكل من الرجل والمرأة العربية المعاصرة لأنه يصور المساواة والندية بين الجنسين على أنها منحة أو هبة من الرجل للمرأة يستطيع سحبها متى شاء، لا أنها حق انتزعته المرأة بعد سنوات عديدة من النضال مازالت تصارع للحفاظ على مكتسباته. كما أن الكلام مبتذل، وكذلك خطير، لأنه يصور المساواة بين الجنسين على أنها أساس المشاكل الزوجية ويحمل المرأة مسؤوليتها ويصورها على أنها ضحية لقيم غربية شوهت الحقيقة البديهية المزعومة في الثقافة الاجتماعية العربية لتفوق الرجل وسموه على المرأة.

سي السيد تامر حسني، كاتب الكلمات ومغنيها، فاته بأن المشاكل الزوجية المعاصرة يعود سببها الأكبر هو تمسك بعض الذكور بعقلية سي السيد الرجعية ومحاولتهم البائسة للحفاظ على ثقاقة شعبية أكل عليها الدهر وشرب. الحياة العصرية الحديثة لم تعد تعطي أفضلية للرجل، وذلك النموذج الذكوري لم يعد يمجد سوى بالفانتازيا الجنسية لأشكال تامر حسني وغيره من الذكور ممن يخلطون بين خيالهم الجنسي الخصب في غرفة النوم وبين الحياة اليومية. الوعي الإنساني تطور اليوم ليقر بالمساواة بين الرجل والمرأة في كافة مناحي الحياة. المشاكل الزوجية الحديثة لا تحل بالهروب إلى الخلف ومحاولة إحياء سي السيد بل بالتقدم إلى الأمام وترسيخ مبادىء المساواة الجنسية وقتل ما تبقى من عناد ذكوري مازال لا يستوعب مبدأ المشاركة في الحياة الزوجية.

بالرغم من الرجعية التي تحملها كلمات الأغنية إلا أني أقرأها بشكل إيجابي على أنها صحوة أخيرة لرجل يحتضر. سي السيد على وشك الإنقراض، وذلك لربما ما يفسر الهجمة الذكورية التي نجدها في بعض الأغاني الشعبية المعاصرة. قد يكون نجاح أغنية “جمهورية قلبي” لمحمد اسكندر هو ما شجع تامر حسني على كتابة هذه الأغنية. لكن ذلك النجاح هو نجاح مرحلي، قد يعود جزأ كبيرا منه لفكاهية الطرح لا لمحاكاته للرغبة الشعبية، ولكنه كنجاح لن يطول، بل سيدفع ثمنه شعبية كل من اسكندر وحسني على الأمد الطويل مع تزايد الوعي الشعبي لخطورة هذا الخطاب.

للأسف حاولت أن أجد شخصية ذكورية معاصرة تصلح لتكون بديلا لسي السيد لكني لم أجد. أعتقد بأنه هنالك ضعف في الأدب العربي بشكل عام من حيثية رسم شخصية رمزية للرجل العربي بعيدا عن سطوته وهيمنته على المرأة.

A tale of two singers: Elissa and Fadel Shaker – the ambivalence of the Arabic culture


Fadel Shaker holding a gun

Fadel Shaker holding a gun

Elissa winning two Murex D'or Award 2013

Elissa winning two Murex D’or Awards 2013

A few years ago, Elissa and Fadel Shaker came together into a duet song called “Gowwa Al Ro7” (inside the soul); a romantic song of two lovers conversing how much they love each other. At that time, it was a perfect match for two of the most popular Arab singers who excelled in these types of songs. Fadel was no less romantic than Elissa, and his songs carried no less love.

Fast forward to the 23th of Jun, 2013 (yesterday), Elissa is on stage in one of the biggest celebrations of the TV industry in the Arab World, The Murex D’or, celebrating her success with two awards: Best Lebanese Singer, and Best Arabic Song “As3ad Wahdah” (the happiest). On the other hand, Fadel Shaker is sieged in a Mosque in the Lebanese town Seida, and fighting with a terrorist Salafi group against the official Lebanese army. On stage, Elissa appears in an extravagant white dress, she talks about how she doesn’t feel being the happiest tonight for one can’t help it not to be affected by the killings happening on the ground, but yet what makes her happy is the fact that this event is actually taking place and that people are still celebrating music and life. In a video that came out early in the same day, Fadel Shaker appears with a long beard, cursing Hezb Allah and his leader Hassan Nasrullah and threatening – actually promising that he will – to kill the mayor of Seida.

Seeing Fadel Shaker in video talking like that is mind boggling. I can never understand how a man who has an angelic voice and who has been singing for love for many years drops everything and becomes an agent of hatred and murder. I don’t want to play the devil advocate here, but watching other videos for him, he comes across to be sincere in terms of believing in the cause he is fighting for. One can’t deny the horrors happening in Syria, and the urges of wanting to stop the killings is totally natural, still the means of defending those innocent people are questionable. I would rather see him fighting with his voice, singing for that nation, singing for peace and harmony, that would be much more effective than joining the devilish game. That’s what Elissa is doing. She has never shied of speaking up her political stand. She probably hates Hassan Nasrullah and Bashar Al Asad even more than Fadel, but she expresses that in words, not bullets.

But looking at the photos of both singers above, I can’t help myself thinking about the gender divide in the Arab world. We regularly talk about the injustice women face in the Arab world, and that is totally true and I am an avid advocate for the fight against that injustice, but taking a closer look, one would wonder if men are in no less horrible situation. In fact, Arab men are on the track of a death discourse. The value of life has taken a backseat next to distorted values of honor and pride.

If one looks at the most Arab followed tweeps online, one would see the list is divided between the female lebanese singers and the religious Saudi leaders! In fact Elissa herself enjoyed more than 1,375,000 follower and is ranked at number 4 in terms of online influence in the MENA region according to Klout. In comparison, Fadel Shaker’s twitter account shows 147,830 follower. That is a huge indication of the polarisation taking place in the Arab world between religious and non-religious people and how men and women fit into that.

While no body can deny Elissa’s popularity, one can not also deny that there is a big side of the Arabic culture that looks down at her and what she represents. In her fist video clip she appears with no clothes, only a blanket that covers her body and moves along with the wind. The song, “Baddi Doub” was a big hit, but Elissa had to fight for years to prove herself and break out of the accusations of her using her body to overcome her weak voice. The “blanket singer” is still how many sees her today after more than 15 years of her career.  It is also true that her appearance in that clip opened the door for a new wave of singers that flaunted their sexuality and femininity to gain popularity, something that is rejected by many men and women in the Arab world.

If you look at Fadel Shaker’s singing career, he had to face nothing of that. After all, he is a man. He has been pretty much respected for his voice and his songs. Sadly, he asked people not to listen to his music for he believes it is forbidden (haram!). What is interesting is the reaction of people to that change. While many people have been cursing and insulting him for appearing like a terrorist and fighting the Lebanese Army, others on twitter have been applauding him for “repenting” and choosing Allah’s path. They see him as a hero who is fighting to protect his fellow Sunneh.

For me, I would vote for Elissa heroism all the way. We had a history of looking down upon female artists especially those who escapes the boundaries of the culture and celebrates their femininity. For some, it may be an over exposer of women sexuality and objectifying of the subject of women, yet it may very well be what were are missing these days; more women celebrating their gender expressions in whatever way they see fit.

I really wish Fadel Shaker was there yesterday next to Elissa on stage, receiving an award for celebrating life.

The Culture Trip: Revealing the Best of Art and Culture from Around the World


This is a guest blog

The Culture Trip

The Culture Trip

The Culture Trip is an organisation which seeks to highlight the best of what each country has to offer in terms of culture, arts, literature, film and music. We exist in the nexus between travel and culture and seek to broaden the relation between the two, by offering a hand-picked selection of cultural sights, events and resources alongside articles on arts and culture. We want to attract like-minded individuals who are culturally curious and constantly seek new avenues to navigate through the global canon of arts and literature, wherever they may be.

Various places across the globe are only perceived through the prism of tradition and heritage whilst their contemporary cultural output is dismissed. We seek to redress this imbalance by focusing on the contemporary, to reveal the thriving cultural output which exists in many countries. We also focus on cultural icons – figures that have played a role in defining a particular culture through their art, music, cinema or literature.

Our writers are volunteers who come from 70 countries around the world and reflect the multicultural team within The Culture Trip. We seek contributions from people with an interest in arts and culture and are conscious of the need to find local expertise and knowledge on contemporary cultural output. As well as seeking articles on contemporary culture we seek new insightful angles on history, politics and society.

Too much travel writing offers only a glib, superficial experience of a place; an outsider’s temporary perspective on centuries of culture and history, we seek to go beyond those facile impressions to other a comprehensive guide to cultural experience in a given destination.

This cultural deficit is something we hope to redress in our own small way, by shining a light on artists, writers, filmmakers and musicians who despite our globalised culture still don’t achieve the international renown they deserve.

We are particularly interested in focusing on the Middle East and Asia, two regions which for different reasons have somewhat distorted international profiles but which also have underappreciated depths of culture and art to explore. These regions are also experiencing something of a growth period, in which artistic expression is becoming both more prominent and writers and artists are able to engage with the world in more innovative and expressive ways.

If this sounds like something you would like to be interested in contributing to, we would love to hear your ideas. Please contact us at articles@theculturetrip.com.

By Thomas Storey