By Nour El-Miligi
Women all over the Middle East seem to be prepared more than ever to fight any misconceptions or prejudices against them, combatting any incident harming women with all that they have in terms of power and means. If you take a look at the Facebook pages of Tunisian women today, you’ll find plenty of women sharing their pictures with red lipstick on and you’ll inevitably come across the name of Mariam Bouzid, so what is all of this about?
It all started with a Facebook post by a philosophy teacher expressing her infuriation after getting excluded from monitoring the baccalaureate exams because of a colleague’s objection to her irresponsible manner; the colleague claimed that the way she deals with her students is not “serious or formal enough”. Yet, after threats to the administration, the true reasons behind her suspension were revealed. Mariam discovered that the main reason wasn’t the way she deals with her students, but rather because of the way she dresses and the red lipstick she puts on, which made matters worse and triggered more anger.
The expulsion of the teacher from the baccalaureate hall because of objections to her “lipstick” and her so-called inappropriate clothing aroused anger among Tunisians, causing widespread controversy on Facebook and resulting in a campaign that didn’t even need organization nor scheduling! It just needed a group of brave women determined to protect the rights of every girl.
Facebook users in Tunisia showcased their frustration towards the professor’s behavior as well as that of the educational institution, considering the decision and philosophy running within the institute as being against the law that guarantees “freedom of dress”, going as far as generalizing their discontent of living in “a male-dominated society that hates women and beauty” as they dubbed it.
The incident prompted women into deciding to wear red lipstick and upload their photos on Facebook on Wednesday, as a way of supporting Mariam’s case. There was no intention of doing so but girls kept posting one picture after the other like it was contagious, finally leading to a campaign created under the name of “Red Lipstick Combatting Donkeys”.
Photos were accompanied by comments, some about beauty, love of life and resistance, and others by expressions of discontent and resentment, and sometimes insults for everyone who sees a woman’s beauty as a crime or women doing so “being unreligious.”
On the other side, groups claiming to support ethics and religion looked at the issue from another scope, blaming “the morally deviant society that blindly imitates the West” as they named it, that encourages unjustified acts. While others claimed that the story wasn’t true and her colleague’s opposition wasn’t about her wearing lipstick but for her irresponsible manner as previously mentioned.
The issue didn’t stem from Mariam’s case nor from defending her colleague, but it was rather an expression of division within society that has always been present, which is unfortunately considered to some extent as natural in our countries.