I may not look it, but I am proud to say that I am Iraqi. My mom was born in a small village north of Baghdad, then immigrated to the United States. Due to my upbringing, I identified to be more culturally Iraqi than American. I love my cultural and ethnic heritage, but to say it didn’t have its drawbacks is an understatement.
Though I could write about living in post 9-11 America or what the 2013 ISIS-Crisis has done to my role as an Iraqi American, I want to address a more universal topic that we are seeing more and more: women.
Recently, Arab artist Sarah Bahbah launched a photo series called, “3eib” meaning, “shame on you.” This derogatory slang term was used toward women who were being too sexual or too outspoken in the eyes of Arab society. The purpose of the project is to encourage women to take back their sexuality for themselves and bring awareness of sexual abuse.
Honestly, this kind of project didn’t surprise me when it came across my Instagram feed. In the days of the internet, WAP and people wanting Kamala Harris to be vice president, hearing about feminism manifesting in other countries isn’t too far-fetched.
For me though, it isn’t another country. The Middle East consists of many countries, but culturally, being Middle Eastern allows for some common ground that feels familiar and cozy. Seeing another Arab woman embrace her beauty in all her entirety is inspirational. Added with the layers of sexual abuse, I can’t help but have a massive amount of respect.
It’s a little-known fact that some cultures aren’t known to talk about the hard stuff. Personally, in my general household, I didn’t have this problem, but in social gatherings, I noticed it.
Growing up, I felt like girls were taught to have a certain level of performance and expectation that they needed to meet to feel socially accepted. Because I was “American” and “only half” on my mom’s side, the level of expectation was different and unfair.
Nonetheless, if something were to happen to a young lady’s integrity, regardless of the situation, the girl victimized. Thankfully, it’s not like that now, but I can’t forget how that way of life impacted me as a child and how that mentality is still prevalent around the world.
Seeing “3eib” be shameless and celebratory of self and culture has allowed me to gain a deeper sense of pride for myself, especially in the slightly taboo place of my sexuality and the potential guilt that comes along with it. Sure, I was always proud of being a woman.
But could I have conversations about my desires and “Western” views of feminism with my mom and aunties? No. But now I connect the two realms of being Iraqi and being a woman together with no judgment of myself.
As the series comes to an end, I can’t help but think of what Bahbah said in an interview with Forbes, “The reason I’ve called this series ‘3eib’ is to claim my power back. There is going to be critical lashing from the Arab world—it’s almost guaranteed—and this is the weapon they’re going to use against me, so I thought I might as well own it.”
Might as well own it. Own the fact that I may not be a size two, but still beautiful nonetheless.
Own the fact that I’m not pursuing to be a medical doctor, but I love that I get to write every day.
Own the fact that I may not know all the customs of my Iraqi culture, but I am still proud to be a part of it.
Own who you are, in all your authenticity.
If you want to see Bahbah’s series “3ieb,” you can go to her Instagram, @sarahbahbah, to see her work.