Waad Janbi, a Saudi feminist and aspiring filmmaker, has long fought against misogyny using her hands–furiously typing on her smartphone or laptop. But last month, for the first time, she fought it using her feet.
When I marched for the women’s rights, it was my first time marching for anything, ever. And seeing all those women, strangers with different backgrounds coming together for one cause, it felt like my poem would tell my story.
Coming from a conservative country where freedom is clearly uneven between the genders but mass protests are unheard of, she had never participated in a march before. On the day after President Trump’s inauguration, however, she joined the surging crowd that marched for women’s rights in New York City.
Janbi seemed simultaneously bewildered and at ease as she walked the jammed streets, recording the foreign scenes in front of us with her phone, not knowing what she would do with the footage.
After anti-feminism news continued to populate our various screens over the weeks, and President Trump’s persistent push to banish people who look and sound like her from the Land of the Free, Janbi felt like she had to take a stand. She decided to literally let her voice be heard.
On a recent night, she sat on her bed in the Brooklyn apartment she shares with her brother and recited an Arabic poem she had written many years earlier. Strong and defiant, she addresses all men—and women—who have misunderstood feminism and underestimated her during her lifetime.
Then she juxtaposed her words with footage of mostly Western women marching for the same rights that she speaks about in her native tongue. She edited out the sound of her brother snoring in the background and quietly uploaded it on YouTube.
Why did you use spoken word as the chosen form of storytelling?
When I marched for the women’s rights, it was my first time marching for anything, ever. And seeing all those women, strangers with different backgrounds coming together for one cause, it felt like my poem would tell my story. But it would not just about me; it would be about all of these women who can relate, in one way or another, to my story. The empowerment I felt [during the march] made me want to empower other people, too. Since poetry is what I do, and making films is what I’m studying at the moment, it seemed like they would be the right tools to tell my story.
Women in New York and in Saudi Arabia use different methods to protest. Some speak with their feet, like in protests, and some with their fingers, like using smartphones. How can feminism be the future in both worlds?
Feminism is the future; otherwise, we’d go back and live in caves. Without feminism, we wouldn’t have Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Sia, Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga and others. The future can’t be THE FUTURE without feminism.
Whom are you speaking to?
I’m probably sending a message, a warning if I may call it that, to all the misogynistic men and women out there who still believe in gender inequality. My target was mostly Middle Easterners, but those kinds of people exist everywhere. Plus, an important part of my audience is young females. My baby sister is 13, and I have six nieces—the oldest is 8 years old and the youngest is 7 months. They need to know that they can be whoever they want to be, and being a woman is never a curse — it’s a blessing.
What do you hope the video achieves?
I didn’t have any particular hopes for it—it’s a very simple, humble video. Now, I just want people to see it, understand it, and maybe inspire some to do something better.
Currently pursuing a degree at Long Island University in Brooklyn, Janbi dedicated this video to her former ESL writing teacher at NYU, who is battling cancer. During the Women’s March, she searched the crowd for the face of her former teacher, who told her that she had been a prominent protestor in her youth. She wasn’t in the crowd. Janbi marched for her and all women who weren’t able to be there.
Here is the translated text to the poem she recited in Arabic:
The Future is Female
I know what kind of boy you are.
I know where you’re going and the path you’re going to take.
For it’s easy to distinguish males like you.
You’re that boy who used to pull my braid and spill blueberry juice on my dress –
The same boy who told me when I turned 15 that he loved me since we were five.
You’re that questionable man on TV
Who speaks to women in arrogance and command us to dress modestly,
Or else our bodies will be a nozzle to his sperms.
You are, for sure, my school’s guard
His stick never leaves his hand and never miss our thighs.
I know what type of male you are.
If a woman denied your approach to her,
You’d lose your mind and accuse her of adultery.
Even though she did the opposite.
You make sure you buy products that say for men only.
That’s how fragile your masculinity is.
You’re the young man who told me he never knew a woman with my integrity and independence –
Then he asked me to cook so he can marry me.
You’re the old man who peeps on other’s women
Then he chains the doors on his daughters.
I know what kind of men you are
But you don’t know what kind of woman I am.
You haven’t met me yet.
And perhaps you’re squeezing a fake blonde, with a face covered in makeup.
You’re holding her, but your eyes are chasing
A double-size lips brunette.
And maybe after you f*ck both
You lean into your corner to f*ck your cigarette
And some book that’ll make you a genius
And helps you collect more women like them in your jar of hearts.
You haven’t met me yet.
And when you do, you won’t be attracted to
My choppy and unfit body
Or to my boyish haircut.
My five minutes’ makeup won’t turn your head.
You won’t look at me twice when I pass by you.
Your eyebrows will rise in disapproval when you hear my queer laugh.
And you’ll wonder why I frame myself with my hands once I start speaking.
You’ll be puzzled by a Middle Eastern woman who’s proud of her flaws, and discusses in
liberality her fascination and attraction to her gender.
You’ll appreciate your mother, the conservative traditionalist when you hear me cheer
other cultures and criticize our Arabic world.
When you meet me, you’ll wonder: Why women like me exist in this world.
Women who are made of steel.
Women who eat with their hands and never say no to dessert.
Women who scream for their rights and equality.
Women who’ll read instead of spending hours in the kitchen.
Women who’ll sway to music and won’t wait for your applause.
Women who get on planes with a small bag – in it a few clothes, and a lot of books.
Women like me, disturb the world balance and ruin it.
And when you finally meet me, and I don’t mean when you see me or when we exchange
the words of courtesy.
When you meet me, and listen to what I have to say.
When you feel my thoughts, and see behind my confusing appearance.
When you find that your soul sways with my music unwillingly.
When my song reaches that abandoned part of your mind.
When I only reply with a smirk to your tacky praise.
When your attempts to dance with me fail.
When you realize you never knew real beauty until you met me.
When you meet me that way, you’ll adore me.
You’ll love my extremism over my music, my goals, my radical principals,
to the way that I wear my hair short and colorful, to my holding on to my black clothes.
Chaos will fill your life.
You’ll hate all the women who ever fell in your traps.
You’ll curse your mother, who told you that strong women are a myth or a shame.
And when you meet me after all this, I won’t be able to distinguish you.
As you see, I know what kind of boy you are.
But you don’t know what kind of woman I am.
That’s why you always lose to me, and I always win over you.
Only this life is not a competition, and until we both realize that,
You’re going to make way for me.