lip lit: Superman is an Arab
I’d never really thought about it before, until I started reading Joumana Haddad’s Superman is an Arab, but Superman really is a disastrous invention. I’ve never been drawn to the character or the stories surrounding him and have never seen the movies, but still, why doesn’t it raise more eyebrows that Clark Kent is only attractive once he becomes Superman? When he is his own self, Lois Lane wants absolutely nothing to do with him. Haddad raises this question immediately, and from there her book evolves into discussions about other disastrous inventions, such as God, marriage and macho men, which exist only to torment and control women.
Haddad grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, and has experienced firsthand the discrimination against women in the Arab countries. Despite the title of the book, and despite the anecdotes she uses to illustrate her points, Haddad makes it very clear in the first couple of chapters that this book is not a tirade against men. It is a tirade against a system which creates, amongst other things, that “superman” species of man, who believe they are God’s gift to the world. It is a tirade against a system where women are disadvantaged simply for being born a woman. But make no mistake. Haddad has not written this book in the hope of changing the world. She does not write to change anyone’s opinion, or the way someone acts: ‘My key aim [in writing this book] is my right to be whoever I want to be; my right to say whatever I want to say; my right to take whatever I want to take; my right to do whatever I want to do; notwithstanding the responsibilities which come with those rights, and that I joyfully embrace.’
I didn’t understand this at first. Haddad writes so passionately about women’s rights, about religion and about the societal norms religion dictates, that, to me, it felt careless for her to proudly claim her reason for writing this book was not to change the world. She has the luxury of having a platform to do just that, so why wouldn’t she use it? But about halfway through the book, after an anecdotes about a teenage Arab girl who was killed by her brother as punishment for dishonouring the family after “getting herself raped” and becoming pregnant, it all started to make sense. Haddad is so thankful that she even has the freedom to be a writer, and to write about what she wants, that first and foremost, she is writing for herself. It is books like these that remind me to never forget how lucky I am to live in the country I do and to have had the upbringing I have had. And to be able to write what I like, without having to think twice about it.
There isn’t a lot in this book which hasn’t been written before, but, for me at least, it was refreshing and eye-opening to read an Arab woman’s perspectives on the treatment of women and the role of religion in the Arab countries. It is easy for a Western woman to write about these things from a distance, but to actually read Haddad’s passion and outrage for the situation in Arab countries made it much more confronting, and, much more hopeful, as Haddad has empowered herself, not without challenges, to be a voice for the women in the Arab world who do not have the freedom to do what Haddad does. Haddad writes exactly what she thinks, and leaves no concessions for men or women. She truly believes the fight to improve women’s lives, not only in the Arab world, but worldwide, is a fight for both men and women, and will never succeed if both sexes don’t work together to make a change. She has been accused of adopting a Westernised view of women’s rights and religion, but she blatantly argues against this, and is quick to remind the reader that the Western world is no stranger to discrimination against women either.
Superman is an Arab is a challenging, inspiring and, at times, confronting read. Haddad’s passion and fury leap off the page, imploring the reader to think and marvel at the injustice of it all, and, indirectly, challenging the reader to take action. But what comes through more than anything in this book, is Haddad’s bravery in speaking out about God, sex, marriage and religion when these are taboo subjects in her culture. Haddad is a person who does not take her freedom for granted, but at the same time knows it is her right to have that freedom, and she is going to most the most of those rights, to write about what she thinks is important, regardless of the consequences.
Superman is an Arab is published by The Westbourne Press.