"Losing your virginity does not mean that you are a slut, having sex with a man you love makes you human – nothing less and nothing more. We live in a society that loves lies and is in love with liars [but] you are better than them, way better," is one advise Marwa Rakha, Egyptian blogger-turned-novelist, gave one of her website readers, a tormented young woman who said she was eaten-up by guilt and shame for losing her virginity to a man who is not her husband.
Rakha's attitude towards female sexuality, virginity and relationships often shocks (and entertains) her readers and listeners in a country where pre-marital sex is considered a sin and talking about sexual passions incurs the wrath of the country's Muslim and Christian priests. In fact, female virginity is so sacred in the Arab world that most women who have engaged in sexual intercourse before marriage undergo hymen repair surgeries to restore their "virginity". In her book, The Poison Tree, written in English, Rakha meditates on such oppressive beliefs, questions age-old traditions and challenges the entrenched principle of male supremacy in Egypt and the Arab world – without a single attempt at political correctness.
Writer, blogger, TV and radio show host, and advise columnist, 35-year-old Rakha is all that despite starting small. She launched her writing career through a blog, where she wrote under the pen-name Jennifer Anderson. "At the time I was totally intoxicated by the hypocrisy of the Egyptian society, the double standards, the gaps between who we are and who we want to be, and I did not know what to do with myself," she tells Reflections. "I resorted to writing as an attempt to heal myself. I had to vent. When I began venting people began identifying with me – and that's how it all started."
In her semi-autobiographical novel, Rakha spoke about personal and intimate experiences which above all reflected some of the rights violations and emotional distress that women in a patriarchal society endure. Despite focusing on women's issues, she refused to be labelled feminist. She jokes, "My war is not against men; it's against stupid men, and stupid women."
It was difficult at the beginning of her career to be outspoken, Marwa admits. "I was hesitant and I avoided any controversial topics. I admit I was scared."
"But when my TV career took off in January 2007 and I began writing for more and more magazines I gained the strength I needed to just take off all my masks and to be me. I still face a lot of criticism, personal attacks, and resistance but there are other people out there who tell me that my words changed their lives," she adds.
The solution for Egypt, and perhaps the Arab world: "Not burying our heads in the sand," she answers confidently. "I see people on TV saying that Egypt is fine, Egyptians are fine, family values are fine, our girls and boys are fine, our religion is strong, and our economy is getting better. Then I look at the emails in my inbox and I see what a big lie they are promoting. We are not fine! Everything is a mess – religion, relationships, sex, politics, everything."