Lebanon’s Joumana Haddad: A risqué writer who ‘loves to be hated’
While she fights for women’s rights, she is a feminine feminist
Al Arabiya News is marking International Women’s Day, and the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration on gender equality, with a special series profiling leading women around the world, among them Lebanon’s Joumana Haddad.
Lebanese poet, journalist and women’s rights activist Joumana Haddad knows exactly what it is like to be unpopular – her poetry is personal and some feel too explicit. She is described as a writer who “loves to be hated.”
While she fights for women’s rights, she is a feminine feminist – in an interview with British newspaper The Guardian in 2010, she said: "I would never want to look like a man or act like a man. I don’t need to. I mean, I love men, and I love being with them, and I love communicating with them, but I don't want to be them. I don't want to feel like I have to be like them in order to be heard."
And she said she did not believe that women should be defended simply because they were women. On voting for the likes of Hillary Clinton simply because she is a woman, Haddad said: “No, and a thousand times no, for such an insulting, superficial kind of solidarity. Women deserve more. Much more."
Born in December 1970, she was named as one of the world’s 100 most powerful Arab women in March 2014 by CEO magazine Middle East for her cultural and social activism.
She has a number of books of poetry published in a number of different languages. And in 2009 she co-wrote and appeared in the movie “What’s Going On?” by Lebanese filmmaker Jocelyne Saab.
Over the years she has won a number of prizes - in 2006 she was awarded the Arab Press Prize; in November 2009, she won the International Prize North South for poetry.
Four months later in February 2010 she won the Blue Metropolis Al Majidi Ibn Dhaher Arab Literacy Prize. In August the same year she scooped the Rodolfo Gentili Prize in Porto Recanati, Italy.
And two years later in November 2012 she received the Cutuli Prize for journalism in Catania, Italy.
She was appointed honorary ambassador for culture and human rights for the city of Naples in July 2013.
And in February last year she was awarded the Career Poetry Prize by the Archicultura Foundation in Acquiterme, Italy.
Her website is regularly hacked by critics - at the time of writing this article it was listed on Google as being ‘under renovation’, with the warning message ‘This site might have been hacked.’
She receives emails carrying threats of rape, murder and stoning, from people who call her debauched, immoral, criminal and wicked.
She says she accepts these threats as an ‘unavoidable consequence’ of what she does – which is write purposely personal and often explicit poetry.
Her portfolio of work includes editing the cultural pages of Lebanon daily An-Nahar. But the role that gets her some of the most amount of scorn is publishing the glossy quartley magazine Jasad – which is dedicated to the body.
It focuses on subjects such as polygamy, virginity and forced marriage – as well as erotic stories and personal testimony.
‘The Arab mind is in crisis’
On one particularly disturbing occasion she received a threat of an acid attack – it was one of the few occasions she admits to have been shaken. She said she had nightmares and was even afraid to drive her own car.
She controversially said in an interview with The Guardian: "Being an Arab today means you need to be a hypocrite…The Arab mind is in crisis. And because of this it wants everyone to be in crisis with it … The Arab mind cannot handle questions, because questions can hurt and upset the murky calm of the swamp."
She added: "We constantly and obsessively think about sex, but dare not talk about it. We rid ourselves of one so-called abomination with one hand, then practice intellectual debauchery, which is much worse, with the other."
Her life has been filled with drama – her parent have fought throughout her life, she said. And when she was seven she walked into the kitchen to find her grandmother - to whom she was close – lying dead on the floor, having taken her own life.
At university she studied biological sciences – despite always wanting to write.
At 19, she wed, two years later she had her first child and seven years later she had her second son.
She said that having her children so early in life meant that by the time she was writing, they were already at school.
By 29 she and her hotelier husband were divorced in what she has described as an amicable separation.
She married again to a man 20 years her senior who she has been with for 10 years - the pair live in houses 15 minutes apart - because she believes it is important to keep some distance, even in a relationship.
She said that while he does not like the magazine she publishes, he remains supportive.
This article is part of Al Arabiya News' Special Coverage on International Women's Day.