Revolutionary and idealists often looks to women as incubators of their causes. But there is a revolutionary women and then a revolutionary. A woman who takes up a cause because her ideals compel her to, such as the Palestinian Leila Khalid, is a true revolutionary. She is not there to be dictated to nor to be told what her role should be. She stands as a blazing equal to the men.
But then there are revolutionaries who are made to adhere to a sexist paradigm of seeking to determine the roles of women. Women are told what their purpose should be in serving the nation or cause. Often: it is to have babies. ‘Do the patriotic thing and have children,’ they are told.
Such a view of women as nothing more than the traditional role of bears of children is not only an insult to the intellectual abilities of women, but it is egregious because it dehumanizes women. Because women are told not to have children as an innate and natural matter, but to have children so those children and grow up and uphold the schemes devised by male leaders. In that sense a women becomes nothing more than a machine for future soldiers or what have you in the minds of male revolutionaries.
And I thought about this after reading this quote from Israel’s first prime minister
“Any Jewish woman who, as far as it depends on her, does not bring into the world at least four healthy children is shirking her duty to the nation, like a soldier who evades military service.” Ben-Gurion, David. 1971. Israel: A Personal History. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. p. 838.
Which got me thinking about this poem I read once by a Syrian-American poet: My Body Is Not Your Battleground.
My Body is not your battleground
My breasts are neither wells nor mountians,
neither Badr nor Uhud
My breasts do not want to lead revolutions
nor to become prisoners of war
My breasts seek amnesty: release them
so I can glory in their milktipped fullness,
so I can offer them to my sweet love
without your flags and banners on them
My body is not your battleground
My hair is neither sacred nor cheap,
neither the cause of your disarray
nor the path to your liberation
My hair will not bring progress and clean water
if it flies unbraided in the breeze
It will not save us from our attackers
if it is wrapped and shielded from the sun
Untangle your hands from my hair
so I can comb and delight in it,
so I can honor and annoint it,
so I can spill it over the chest of my sweet love
My body is not your battleground
My private garden is not your tillage
My thighs are not highway lanes to your Golden City
My belly is not the store of your bushels of wheat
My womb is not the cradle of your soldiers,
not the ship of your journey to the homeland
Leave me to discover the lakes
that glisten in my green forests
and to understand the power of their waters
Leave me to fill or not fill my chalice
with the wine or honey of my sweet love
Is it your skin that will tear when the head of the new world emerges?
MY Body is NOT Your Battleground
How dare you put your hand
where I have not given permission
Has God, then, given you permission
to put your hand there?
MY body is NOT your battle ground
Withdraw from the eastern fronts and the western
Withdraw these armaments and this siege
so that I may prepare the earth
for the new age of lilac and clover,
so that I may celebrate this spring
the pageant of beauty with my sweet love.
– Mohja Kahf, 1998
I do not know of a more beautifully put feminist response to all the Ben Gurions and Yasser Arafats who called on Israeli and Palestinian women to serve as nothing more than the machines for their revolutions.