Before I begin, I would like to thank Yasmine for having the courage to defy her reality, to find her voice, to grow and continue to heal past the trauma. I hope our women stand together, empower one another and hold each other in times of tragedy.
As I read Yasmine’s story “My Mom Took Me Overseas and Forced Me into Being a Teen Bride” I was appalled. I almost denied the fact that it could be true. Firstly, I thought, it was written on a platform for international audiences (so it must be exaggerated, right?) and secondly because in my position of privilege I simply couldn’t imagine it.
When young Yasmine Koeing came out publically about her story many scurried to show support. However, others (mostly Arabs) were eager to shame the manner in which this young woman courageously shared a private and traumatizing experience.
The reaction of both the Arab community and the western audience to Yasmine’s story divulges two grave realities. The first being on the end of Arab groups who suffer from a deeply rooted inferiority complex. Whereby, almost like a reflex, whenever we see similar stories in western platforms we quickly scurry to show the other side of the coin. To prove that we are not all like this. To quickly fix our tarnished image. But Yasmine’s story is not the anomaly and we must be confident enough to acknowledge and tackle this fact.
The second and more sinister realization, is the west’s innate saviorship complex. Where the interest in these stories largely stems from an inferiorization of the global south. It acts as a reinforcement of supremacy where it is the west who must to civilize and save the “barbaric Arab.” The comments in support of Yasmine reeked of pity and lacked any genuine solidarity.
As an Arab
Being an Arab woman, I am acutely aware of the restrictions and obstacles we must face. What is insidious is the fact that we are incessantly inundated with the idea of secrecy. As women, we must never let anyone know what happens behind closed doors. We are taught that our pain, our oppression and trauma is to be dealt with privately, because publicity will only embarrass us.
It’s not surprising that Yasmine was met with a lot of defensive rhetoric from the Arab community. Some even felt the need to publish counter articles as a misguided attempt to prove that “not all Arab families are like this.”
I am horrified of Yasmine’s experience and I also commend this young woman for having the courage to not only defy what is imposed on her, but her ability to be unfiltered and honest with the world. Our defensive reaction, as an Arab community, only catalyzes and protracts the oppression. We all need to feel safe speaking of our experiences.
Arabs criticizing the fact that Yasmine spoke with Seventeen Magazine should focus less on this young girl -who is merely trying to recover from this experience and expose an ugly hidden reality- and more fixated our own communities who continue to carry out this oppression.
To burden young individuals such as Yasmine with having to think in the lines of “oh maybe I shouldn’t speak with Seventeen because of (insert post-colonial philosophy here)” is a very privileged approach.
The main interest of victims of abuse is not the unequal dynamics between the west and the east. They are trying to recover, to breathe once more. Our criticism only alienates them further.
What is striking is that our defensive nature is rooted in our continued marginalization by the self-entitled supremacy of the global North. We, as part of the global south, are constantly trying to prove our humanity; that we too are civil. It stems from a long history of oppression and a perpetuated inferiority complex.
The overwhelming posts on how “not all families are like Yasmine’s” or that Yasmine’s story is “only one part of the society” should force us to look not only at ourselves but our inability to acknowledge this oppression.
We are so ashamed that such things are still happening, that instead of centering our efforts on stopping it, we’re still exhausting our energy on trying to prove our “civility” to the west. We do not need to prove anything to the west. Terrible things happen everywhere and if the global north doesn’t see that it occurs in their own society as well, that is their own shortcoming. It is not our duty to educate them, rather we must work on our own society so we can truly blossom.
Women continue to endure harsh subjugation. As an Arab woman, I testify to the abuse and repression we face. From stripping of agency, to domestic abuse, to verbal and physical abuse, the horror stories are abundant. However, before criticizing the fact that Yasmine’s story was published on a Western medium we must firstly look inwards, into our own communities and ask ourselves why our own media platforms aren’t doing enough to cover these stories. Or more importantly, rather than delve into the debate of where or who should write Yasmine’s story to ask ourselves why young women like Yasmine are still enduring such grotesque experiences.
The fact that we can sit and comment on what medium or who told Yasmine’s story is a reflection of our privilege. Victims do not think about who listens to them, they just want to be heard. Let us listen.
The West’s Narrative
Western media continues to hijack the stories of the global south and contort it in the way which suits it. It maims narratives and actively strips agency from anyone that is not white.
The truth is, that stories from the global south in western media will always be either to prove the uncivility of the global south or to prove the humanity of the global south. Either way, it is almost always done in the most paternalistic manifestation possible.
Western media continues to perpetuate the colonial dichotomy between the us and the them. This is a serious implication that must be tackled, however it is important to direct our endeavor at the system in its entirety and not the individuals being instrumentalized.