By Ranim Hadid
LAU Tribune staff
Saad sat in class, tapping his pen on the table while rolling his eyes at the “over-used topic.”
“Almost every English or literature teacher I have taken a class with focuses her material on feminist issues,” he said. “I enjoy learning about equality but after the completion of many courses, one is bound to see a trend in the material.”
Saad, whose name has been changed for the purpose of this article, feels that female instructors at LAU, and especially at the humanities department, stress on the rights and roles of women in society.
After conducting interviews, I found that, indeed, many humanities professors focus at least a portion of their readings –or more– on “feminist” issues.
Dima Dabbous, director of the Institute for Women Studies in the Arab World, defines feminism “as a political movement, just as Marxism and socialism, that seeks to have justice by fighting for equal rights between men and women.”
Students may not understand the reason behind this “feminist” culture at LAU but the fact is this is not a trend that emerged recently. It came with the very establishment of the university –first a school, then a college– as an institution for the education of women.
Dabbous explained that LAU was the first school for women in the Ottoman Empire during the 1930’s. It became a college in the 1950’s, when women wanted to pursue higher degrees but were unable to do so because the American University of Beirut had an all-male student body.
“LAU has a big role in the emancipation of women in the Arab world because it offered them education when no one else did,” Dabbous said.
Reine Azzi is teaching Sophomore Rhetoric, a class that trains students to avoid fallacies and implement persuasion in their writing. “The simplest form is to make sure students do not fall under such stereotypical generalizations such as ‘women are soft,’” she said.
Azzi describes feminism as a “continuum.” Extreme interpretations exist within our society and they have generated the stereotype of “men haters.”
Azzi describes herself as “somewhere in the middle” of the continuum.
To her, feminism is about human rights, whether it be for men or women. She believes societies must be open to equal opportunities and services for both genders.
“I don’t believe that it is an attack on men,” Azzi said. “It is an attack on an unfair system in society.”
Among the readings Azzi assigned in her class this semester is The Demise of Guys, which focuses on the “the fall of men,” with women becoming more skilled in certain business circles.
“It is not necessarily feminist. It’s about gender differences and whether there is a difference,” she said. “It’s for the improvement of both genders, which is my feminist fight.”
A senior theatre student who preferred to remain anonymous expressed “how sick of feminism” he is in general. “I think feminists everywhere are becoming too radical,” he said. “They overemphasize superiority and, for me, this is bias.”
Mona Nabahani, education professor, feels very strongly about women rights, and especially in Lebanon because she believes “women here do not have rights.” She agrees that the laws exist somewhere on paper but they are not active and this is something she raises in her class.
“I have a chapter where we talk about gender differences. I take this as a gate to discuss the lack of rights in Lebanon,” she said.
During her class discussion, Nabahani realized that women are unaware about their lack of rights. “They feel as though they are fine and think that Lebanon is more advanced than surrounding countries,” she said.
During her class, Nabahani discusses women in rural areas and towns and tries to create awareness in the minds of young men and women because “they tend to be oblivious.”
It was not until 1953 that women were allowed to participate as candidates and vote in parliamentary elections. Today, Lebanese women still suffer because they’re unable to give their nationality to their children –unlike men who can give it to both their spouses and children. Also, adultery laws do not apply similarly to men and women. But the biggest fights for women in Lebanon relate to marital rights, divorce proceedings and child custody.
But a female graphic design student who preferred to stay anonymous feels that the call for women rights at LAU has been overemphasized. “It’s a topic that has been overused and abused and it’s getting pointless,” she said.
Samira Aghacy, professor of modern literature, considers herself to be a supporter of the movement –rather than a feminist in the strict sense of the word. “In my class, we read poetry and novels, where many of them are written by women,” she said.
Richard, a student from Aghacy’s class, explained that female modern literature is discussed in class because it is part of the material. “In class, I don’t feel as though she is a ‘feminist.’ I wouldn’t have known she was if someone didn’t tell me,” he said
A female student currently taking Sophomore Rhetoric and Cultural Studies feels women rights in Lebanon should be an important part of class material. “There are many things I didn’t know about that I learned in my classes,” she said.
Samira Shami, who teaches sophomore rhetoric and oral communication, considers herself to “a feminist in [her] life but an individual in the classroom.”
“I don’t believe that the classroom is the place for me to advocate feminism,” she said.
Shami only shares her opinion in class when she is asked. “I am with abortion but if someone wrote a paper where they argued that they are against it and provided evidence, they can still get an A,” she said.
Saad, meanwhile, is still skeptical. He doesn’t necessarily have a problem with feminism but thinks the topic shouldn’t be so highly emphasized in classroom settings.
“As students we should be fed bits and pieces of various viewpoints, not conditioned to believe certain expectations of society,” he said.