Making a Scene: Young Women’s Feminist Social Nonmovement in Cairo.

January 28, 2021

Nehal Elmeligy was born and raised in Cairo where she taught English as a foreign language. She left to the United States in 2016 to start her academic career. In 2018, she earned a master’s degree in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. In the same year, she started her PhD in Sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Nehal wrote a final paper for a class in her first semester in 2016 that eventually became her MA thesis which then got published in November 2020 in the Journal of Resistance Studies as her first academic publication. This academic paper is entitled “Making a Scene: Young Women’s Feminist Social Nonmovement in Cairo.” 

            The inspiration of this paper had come from several personal changes Nehal herself had gone through, and similar ones she had noticed in other women around her before she left for the US. Nehal had noticed something like a trend or reverberating feminist change over recent years among young women: these women, including herself, were doing many things, privately and publicly, that have always been deemed socially inappropriate, or deemed haram by common religious interpretations. They were doing things that society has always told them they were not supposed to do; things they were raised to believe are 3eib/inappropriate, not feminine or womanly, not respectable; things that will bring shame on them and their family; things they know can cause them physical and/or emotional harm—but they did them anyway. Examples of such “things” that occur in public space are smoking cigarettes, riding bicycles, taking off the hijab, yelling at or talking back to harassers, leaving their parents’ home to live alone, dressing as they please, and staying out late (and so much more!)

            To this day, this topic is Nehal’s passion. In 2016, she noticed that most academic and non-academic narratives and attention on Egyptian women’s feminism has been focused on women’s role in the revolution or their role in organized feminist initiatives. But no one was talking about the changes happening in these women’s everyday lives, changes that did not necessarily happen in the revolution or because of it. No one was writing about many women’s every day feminist actions, ones that are not organized and do not have a political agenda. How are they feminist? Whether or not you agree with them, these are actions that go against patriarchal values and/or ones that occasionally (not always) forced on women; these actions defy these patriarchal values and restrictions whether they are in the form of parental control, male harassment, or society’s refusal for women to have independent lives—or to simply appear in public space the way they want. Nehal’s paper highlights these women, and their everyday feminist actions and resistances to the struggles they’ve faced. 

Even though Nehal is in academia, she doesn’t want her work to remain in academic circles, and this why she reached out to Women of Egypt so her work can reach as many Egyptian women as possible. Unfortunately, the paper is in English, however, Nehal is planning to publish a summarized version in Arabic in the coming months. If you are interested in reading the paper, you can download it for free here

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