Feminist activist Mona Eltahawy, an award-winning writer and prominent public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues, recently gave a TED talk about healing after her assault at the hands of Egyptian police. In 2011, Eltahawy was arrested during a massive protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. She was sexually assaulted and beaten by Egyptian police, and detained for 12 hours. Her left arm and right hand were broken.
In her TED talk, Eltahawy explains that while her arms were still in casts she decided to reclaim her body and celebrate its healing by getting tattoos. She goes on to explain the significance of her two tattoos. The first is a depiction of Sekhmet, the ancient Egyptian goddess of retribution and sex. Or, as Eltahawy puts it, the goddess who will “kick your ass and then fuck your brains out.” Her second tattoo is the Arabic word for freedom, alongside the name of the street where she was attacked.
Eltahawy was born in Egypt, moved to the U.S. in 2000, and now splits her time between New York and Cairo. A dual citizen, she is known for bridging the perceived gulf between American and Egyptian culture. Her discussion of sexual assault, tattoos and healing branches out into a larger discussion of the need for a social and sexual revolution in Egypt, and the need to defend women’s reproductive rights in the United States. She also touches on the sense of shame associated with sex and the desire for sex, which she says must be eradicated in order to end the oppression of women.
“Without that social and sexual revolution, the political revolution will fail,” she says. “We’ll just keep replacing Mubarak with another form of Mubarak.”
Eltahawy is brave, outspoken and articulate. She effortlessly incorporates humor and wit into her talk without diminishing her message, and is basically a total badass. Watch and be inspired.