Egypt and a lot more Arab countries are now witnessing an unprecedented case of vibrancy and mobilization in what is called the Arab spring. As I said before such state of revolution are not only political, but transcend it to personal barriers as well. It is at times like these when we should reconsider where we stand and where we want to be in the future.
Patriarchy is one of the biggest problems we have and it affects the lives of women and men alike. Women are controlled in different ways. They have limited options; their bodies are under control; which manifests itself in various forms, ranging from dress style to female genital mutilation.
Another way to control women's sexuality is keeping their virginity. An incredibly huge amount of pressure is placed upon women to stay virgin. Society has constructed several methods to make sure that women stay virgins until marriage.
In Egypt, a practice called dukhla baladi used to and still exists in some parts of the country, especially remote rural areas. On the wedding night, the bride and groom are accompanied by members of their family. The bride is usually held down and a woman inserts her finger in the vagina after folding her finger with a piece of cloth to receive the blood that results from the breakage of the hymen. This blood is usually called the blood of honor.
Although this practice is on the wane, other practices exists to ensure the virginity of female on their wedding night. The bride prepares a white piece of cloth, commonly called al-mahrama, is placed beneath her during the first intercourse.. The blood received on the cloth is later displayed to family members of the husband and wife, as a proof of virginity.
What's interesting is that it doesn't only place pressure on women, but also on men. It proves the man was virile enough to do his task. It is not uncommon that men do not perform well on the wedding night due to all the pressure, the lack of experience and sexual education.
Sometimes the girls do not bleed, not because they lost their virginity but because the hymen could be elastic or has pores which allows penetration without significant bleeding. This could cause serious troubles. In many cases the bride is taken to a gynecologist to check on her hymen and if it was "used" before. This test can determine the bride's fate forever. Either her dignity is restored or she's tossed to a life of shame, and in some cases it results in "honor crimes".
I was struck when I talked to family members that this tradition is alive and well, even among upper class and educated people, perhaps more commonly in Upper Egypt, where more conservative gender values exist.
What struck me though is to find origins for such practice in the Jewish tradition. In The Bible, Deuteronomy 22: 13-21 recounts how men should handle whether finding out their wives were virgins or not. It also mentions using a piece of cloth to prove the bride's honor but in this case, it is shown in front of the elders of the town.
What disturbs me most is the extent to which such personal and delicate affair can become the center of attention of the whole family. Such interference undermines the will of the newly married couple and can sabotage their private relationship. I personally believe that these matter should be only handled within the couple themselves.
Society should realize that it is not the hymen that determines honor. Honor is a broader concept that entails honesty, integrity and trust. Women can have sex without losing their hymen. Also, The society must stop the double standards about male and female virginity. While female virginity is a necessity, men are forgiven if they have pre-marital sex.
It is now up to the young generations to revolt against those traditions and choose to have their private sexual life, away from the interference of the old guardians. They should be able to discuss and share their feelings and concerns.
Once again, revolutions are not only political, but also personal!