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Revolutionaries, not 'babes': Lebanon's women protesters call out sexist Arab men for objectifying them Open in fullscreen

Sarah Khalil

Revolutionaries, not 'babes': Lebanon's women protesters call out sexist Arab men for objectifying them

Images and videos of Lebanon's anti-government protests have flooded social media platforms [AFP]

Date of publication: 22 October, 2019

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Why have some chosen to focus on the appearance of Lebanese women in the recent wave of nationwide protests?
As images and videos of Lebanon's anti-government protests flood social media platforms, a number of Arab media outlets and high-profile Arab figures have come under fire for their objectification of the movement's women protestors.

A number of public articles and comments from leading daily newspapers and primary figures of the Arab political elite have sought to judge the appearance of women participating in Lebanon's anti-government protests.

A wave of condemnation has labelled these as sexist and symptomatic of the gender inequality in parts of the region.  

The Saudi daily Okaz on Tuesday led its coverage of Lebanon's protest movement with a piece entitled "Lebanese babes: All the beautiful women are revolutionary".

The article itself was mainly a montage of pictures of those protesters the paper deemed "attractive" and "not just beautiful, but also revolutionary".

Lebanese media and social media users were quick to slam the paper in response. Critics condemned Okaz's coverage for objectifying women, for being unprofessional, and for seeking to reduce the importance of a movement that many are now considering a watershed in Lebanon's recent history.

A number of public articles and comments from leading daily newspapers and primary figures of the Arab political elite have sought to judge the appearance of women participating in Lebanon's anti-government protests

"This is poor journalism that employs the language used by perverts. The images selected are provocative and should not be published by a reputable newspaper," a Twitter user said.

"This is embarrassing and stupid! How can an official newspaper descend to this level?" another Twitter user said.

Women in Saudi Arabia have been protesting for decades to have basic rights upheld, including the right to refuse the mandatory abaya dress code enforced by the kingdom's authorities.

A number of Saudi female protesters remain imprisoned with accusations of sexual abuse and torture after having publicly rejecting the kingdom's policy against women drivers. 

Okaz's article however followed a number of other public comments that together have been criticised for their demeaning of women and for minimising the importance of the protest movements in other places of the Arab world.

Sexist memes and belittling remarks

The son of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Alaa, was the subject of rebuke after sharing a meme appearing to show Lebanese women protesters and captioned: "If people like these had come out here on 25 January, Alaa and Gamal themselves would have gone to the square and chanted against their father."

The post referred to the events of January 2011 - which marked a highpoint of the Arab Spring - that saw protestors overthrow the rule of Hosni Mubarak after the Egyptian regime sought to violently suppress the movement.

Alaa Mubarak's comments on women were for some social media users especially galling, given the sexual abuse rife in the Egyptian regime's security apparatus.

Alongside the brutal force used by Mubarak's regime to suppress the revolution, leading to the death of over 800 protesters, sexual assault against women became a prominent factor during the uprising.

The post sparked fury as the plague of sexual harassment in Egypt and lack of political freedoms came to the fore. 

"[Lebanese] women are able to be that way in their everyday lives because they do not face sexual harassment like we do," a Twitter user said.

"You noticed what Lebanese women were wearing, but you did not notice that they were not being sexually harassed," another twitter user said.

"The Lebanese people have proven that they can hold protests in a civilised and peaceful country without being attacked," another twitter user said.

Egyptian billionaire tycoon Naguib Sawires also lent his voice by sharing a comment that belittled the suffering of war-torn Yemen.

"I was sitting watching the demonstrations in Lebanon. As soon as my wife entered, I changed the channel to the war in Yemen," he said in a tweet that garnered over 24,000 likes.

Many slammed his comments as demeaning both to the Lebanese protests and the suffering of the people of Yemen.

"What Naguib Sawires wants to do with his silly joke is to portray the events in Lebanon as a porn film for which you have to change the channel. This is not strange for those who described women protesters as sex jihadists and even more so, from virginity tests to stripping the bodies of Egyptian women in front of the world," one Twitter user said.

Egypt's military regime has been widely condemned for subjecting female protesters to virginity tests after their arrest since the uprising in 2011. 

It has been extremely uncomfortable seeing Lebanese women as they protest, being fetishized by Arab men from various different countries where women are harassed at or excluded from public spaces including protest/political spaces

Reducing female participation

Women have also taken to social media to voice their outrage that images from protests can be used in a manner to draw away from the movement in Lebanon and reduce the importance of female participation.

"It has been extremely uncomfortable seeing Lebanese women as they protest, being fetishized by Arab men from various different countries where women are harassed at or excluded from public spaces including protest/political spaces," one Twitter user said.

"It's repulsive how Lebanese women are heavily sexualized by the misogynist Arab societies who hardly see women as normal human beings other than sex tools," another Twitter user said.

Amid the controversy however, they have found solidarity from other women of the Arab uprising, most notably from the 22-year-old Alaa Saleh, who shot to fame when she was photographed standing on a car in a long white dress and addressing a vast crowd of demonstrators who brought down the 30-year-old rule of Omar al-Bashir.

Saleh, alongside other Sudanese women, took to the streets to show their support to the women of Lebanon.

Sarah Khalil is a journalist with The New Arab.

Follow her on Twitter: @skhalil1984

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