BOOK REVIEW

Tales of Lebanese feminism and rebellion

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A map of the Middle East shows Lebanon’s proximity to Palestine and Syria. And like its neighbors, it too is at boiling point. Where to, Marie? Stories of Feminisms in Lebanon showcases the battles in the region as seen through the eyes of female activists. What happens in the region matters to the world. And when women move, so does the struggle.

This fascinating graphic novel is a collective creation of writers, artists, translators and web designers. It can be found at here.

Authored by Bernadette Daou and Yazan Al-Saadi, this publication presents four fictional stories, based on interviews with feminists of different generations as well as archival materials. It brings to life a century of female resistance.

Although specific to Lebanon, the book’s perspective can be appreciated by anyone. It contains many universal, relatable truths. From the start, Where to, Marie? challenges those who denounce feminism as an imperialist “western” ideology and uppity women as outsiders. These feminists are fighting for liberation in the fullest sense of the word: theirs is for everyone.

History intertwined. The novel opens with Lebanon’s 2019 popular upsurge, bursting with the furious energy of women and young people. The insurgents dubbed it the “October Revolution,” recalling Russian workers’ seizure of power in 1917.

The first scene is a public meeting debating the 2019 uprising’s demands. Lara challenges the economic system. A misogynist move by the chair rules her “philosophical details” out of order. How familiar this sounds!

Four women — Marie, Nidal, Haifa, and Noora — talk to Lara afterwards, and their stories begin. Different illustrators and color schemes stamp each story as distinct, and one flows into another. They connect and part, highlighting Lebanon’s “feminisms” as dynamic, always in motion and responding to unfolding events.

Lebanon has had a turbulent century. After World War I, imperialist victors put it under France’s control. Currently, its people live in the debris of economic collapse and political corruption.

Marie represents feminism’s “first wave,” and her life covers many of the generations presented. She saw the fight for an independent country, free from French colonialism, and women’s right to vote. Nidal, a one-time student revolutionary and feminist, was part of the Civil War generation. Haifa represents a more mainstream approach to feminism, working for NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and parliamentary change. And Noora is an active member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Each story links women’s liberation with everyone’s freedom from French domination, Civil War, Israeli occupation and neoliberalism. Each tale brings out internal tensions.

An absence of class consciousness, especially in feminism’s earlier waves, weakens the overall struggle — as do homophobia and transphobia. Sexism causes debilitating division between and within movements, including the most radical. Tired of sexist male leftists, the women decide to organize among themselves.

A timely zine. Women across the world are on the move much the same way women are moving in this publication. (See “Women take up arms for survival, liberation.”) Where to, Marie? speaks of a shared struggle, of sisters fighting patriarchs at home and abroad. The authors rightly call out the predator: patriarchal capitalism. They call for feminist revolution, although they don’t say what that means.

Internationalism weaves through the entire novel — from solidarity with Lebanon’s Palestinian neighbor to the Arab Springs of the region. As does a sense of the commonality of feminist experiences. The apocalyptic ending, which includes natural and system-made disasters, leaves no doubt that the fates of Lebanon and the world are tied.

This zine concludes with the question, “So, where to, Marie?” It feels like an appeal to all. These powerful stories compel an answer they do not quite provide: global feminist socialist revolution!

Contact Brennan, Melbourne Radical Women’s organizer, at brennandebbie13@gmail.com.

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