I was 16 when I first recognized that my father was terrified of me. We were at a grocery shop in my town in southern Lebanon when my classmate, a boy, came in. All I did was say "hi" and smile, but that was horrifying enough for my father to spend the night screaming and banging his head against the walls because he did not want to hit me. His little girl had turned into a woman with a natural sex drive that he could not put off.
I was a woman, one who could cause him shame and dishonor by talking to men in a public space. His reaction triggered a tornado of mixed thoughts and feelings in my mind. But in the midst of the confusion and deep fear, I sensed a strange quiver of power.
In the years that followed, I used this power against him and everything patriarchal in my community. I gradually raised his expectations and, with them, his fears. His alarm about me and my body made him more repressive, but it was his fear that exposed his weakness and made me realize that I could break him.
That's how I started to appreciate badass ladies -- ladies who are brave enough to break the chains off their bodies and sexuality, and stress their dignity, not their shame. These ladies, who are not afraid to confront men in the public sphere and turn their bodies from symbols of shame into icons of dignity and self-worth, are much needed now; otherwise, the Arab Spring will not be complete and women will remain, as Mona Eltahawy puts it, the most vulnerable in Egypt, and the region.
When Egyptian feminist Huda Shaarawi removed her face veil in 1923, she did it as soon as she stepped out of the train station in Cairo after returning from a trip to Rome. Although she was severely criticized at first, this act marked the entry of Egyptian women into Egypt's public life. The act was shocking at the time, but the shock made change possible.
Mona Eltahawy is right. They hate us. But they also fear us, as much as our dictators feared us. And we can break them, as much as we broke and will keep on breaking our tyrants. Today, their fear of the public sphere is multiplied because of the revolutions. We should use that fear to our advantage.
Syrian forces are raping women in Syria to stain the Syrians' present and future with shame and dishonor. That's their way of stating their fear of the people in the streets. But the promise lies in the contradiction. We have to constantly offend the status quo and provoke with whatever tools we possess. That's the way to shake off their fear of our bodies and defy the triangle that has dominated women for centuries: the state, religious institutions, and the man of the house.
Ninety years after Shaarawi took her veil off in public, Aliaa Elmahdy of Egypt and Maryam Namazie of Iran decided to unleash their own form of social protest in defense of women's rights. Elmahdy posted a nude self-portrait on the Internet and Namazie created an entire calendar of fully naked women. Namazie described her calendar as a "scream against misogyny," but was surprised that many who opposed the calendar were women's rights campaigners who argued that she and Elmahdy had tarnished the revolutions with their actions.
The message has been missed -- and that's probably our main challenge. Women still do not appreciate the power they hold, and are incapable of using it to break male-dominated society. Women still think of themselves as helpless creatures who need constant protection from men. To grasp our strength, we must accept that freedom involves freedom of expression, which is not about right or wrong but rather the right of choice, including the right to choose and use our sexuality.
We need more badass ladies.
Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of NOW Lebanon and a journalist based in Beirut.