Beirut Forum on Palestinian Unity and Justice: A Feminist Angle?

6 Aug

A Very Short Addendum re Beirut Forum on Palestinian Unity and Justice


For Stefan


A friend reacted to my post on the Beirut Forum of a few days ago positively with respect to the political analysis. He did have a caveat. I referred to the wife of Nabil Hallak, the principal convener, as ‘beautiful,’ which he warned me would be viewed as sexist by female readers in the current atmosphere of cultural politics.


Although it was my spontaneous reaction to my brief meeting with Nabil’s wife at the end of Forum I saw his point, and maybe that was the point. I realized that if the convener had been a woman, and introduced me to her ‘handsome’ husband I would never have used such an adjective of that sort to describe my favorable response. I might have said‘charming’ or ‘intelligent.’  So I dutifully edited the post, substituting the word ‘gracious’ for ‘beautiful.’


I cannot fully resolve the issue in my own mind. From one standpoint the celebration of the beauty of women seems intrinsic to the magical properties of the feminine, part of the joy of life, and many, if not most, women partake, devoting their energy and resources to make themselves beautiful and appealing, not necessarily, and certainly not only, for the pleasure of men, but also for each other, and for themselves.


From another standpoint, women through the ages and in most cultural spaces have been objectified through demeaning comments about their body, replete with sexual and sexist overtones, which have so often served as the prelude to predatory and macho behavior abusive of women. Especially in the Western sensibility of the early twenty-first century, I want to be respectful of any past pain, present fear, and whatever sentiments, memories, and resentments are attached. At the same time I am deeply reluctant to forfeit the enchantments of mutual attraction that include forms of appreciation, and recognition of gender differences and variations.


Although I write as a conventionally heterosexual male, conditioned to some extent by age, having lived through several earlier generations, and having been brought up by a father who loved women (too much, especially beautiful ones) while harboring conventional sexist stereotypes of his generation, I also wanted to make clear that other sexual identities can have their own distinctive sense of enchantment and beauty that warrant the same thoughtful mixture of reflection, celebration, and sensitivity.


I am grateful to my friend for sensitizing me somewhat to this range of unresolvable feelings and contradictory lessons from the human condition as it continues to unfold struggling to preserve its mysteries in this time of promethean claims on behalf of AI and digital algorhythm. I welcome further commentary.













5 Responses to “Beirut Forum on Palestinian Unity and Justice: A Feminist Angle?”

  1. Gene Schulman August 6, 2018 at 6:33 am #

    Hang in there, Richard. If you like women and find them beautiful, or intelligent, or otherwise attractive, there is no harm in letting them (or others) know it. Nothing to do with sexism, only out of hand ID politics. Of course you wouldn’t say it about a guy (unless?), but a woman might. Is flattery now to be drummed out of discourse?

    • Richard Falk August 6, 2018 at 10:03 am #

      We are among the wounded of our time, neither oblivious to the changing ethos, nor
      entirely comfortable with it. I feel the push and pull of this interface between
      the past and present. I appreciate your encouragement!!

      • Ceylan August 11, 2018 at 11:19 pm #

        Dear Richard,

        As someone who does not believe in coincidences, I can not help but smile with “I told you so” feeling since only a few hours ago in a private email, I have expressed similar sentiments with your ‘friend’ (Stefan?): As a woman, I do find it “disturbing and irrelevant” unless you’re covering maybe a beauty contest, or solely writing about a specific person.

        I am afraid, you may not be aware of it but you seem to like to make this distinction of “pretty or not pretty’ in your writings quite often.

        I doubt if it has anything to do with age or upbringing; we all make some remarks un-consciously which one should try to correct consciously.

        Maybe next time we get together we can analyse it why it bothers me as a woman and why you do make this distinction often.

        Till then I will wonder if I am pretty or not:-)))

  2. Safiya August 6, 2018 at 3:45 pm #

    I appreciate your honesty, sensitivity & openness on this issue. I, of course, noticed the comment but absolutely took no offense. But then I am ” over 60″ and I also ” …feel the push and pull …between the past and present.” In a larger context the objectivation of women is so fraught with pain as you well know, thus such comments can elicit a strong reaction. Not to sound like a total fan, but you are such a good person that I knew where you were coming from. Once again thank you for your comments !

  3. phronos August 16, 2018 at 11:26 am #

    Dear Richard,

    I thought you would take my remark graciously.
    Dalai Lama got into troubble when he was asked about a female successor. It would be ok according to DL, as long as she was Beautiful. You can figure out the reaction.
    There is Another problem realted to sexual identity that is seldomly highlighted.
    There are many who don’t identify themselves as male or female. This third Group consists of different identities. How do we recognize their existence?


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