It was a wonderful session yesterday at the Emirates Literature Festival. I was super happy to see friends, family members, and readers filling the room. My friend, Hani Yakan, did a great job in moderating the session. He introduced me eloquently and was right on point with his question which he masterfully prepared to take us through the one hour session.
He started off with the most important question that lies at the core of the idea of the book and subsequently the discussion of the session. What is gender? Whats the difference between gender as a social construct and sex as a biological one? And from there we moved to talk about the concept of the book. How, building on the complexity of gender and related issues, and its definition of being a set of attributes built over a single biological attribute (sex in our world), I decided to examine it and project it on another world where the human awareness develops differently, to divide gender per height, rather than sex.
That’s the core of the story of “A Needle and a Thimble“, a concept which allowed me to explore gender getting constructed differently. A world where two gender exist; tall people and short ones. A world where gender roles are strict, and attributes are divided per the hight of a person.
After explaining the concept and part of the storyline that takes us through a love relationship between the narrator and middle height (socially rejected) Tawalan. A relationship that follows how the narrator’s gender awareness develops as the storylines unfolds. Hani moved on to ask about important questions related to how I managed to create this parallel world. He asked about the language and the importance of language in developing our gender awareness. Knowing that Arabic language, which I wrote the book in, is a gendered language at its core. He also asked about the solution to the gender issue. Does it lie in a needed revolution, similar to the failed one I presented in the book? or it is an evolutionary process? He also highlighted the gender neutral language forms that started emerging in different languages around the world, asking if that is a natural progression or a forced one?
From there he moved on to asking me about my choice of narrating through women characters in my books, echoing floating criticisms of having male authors using female voices. And here we had the chance to discuss my other books, Laila and The Bride of Amman, which revolve around similar issues we deep sensitive in our society. Some deem them provocative, but that’s the issue of gender now, gender equality, body rights and sexual freedoms are hot topics, and the fight for a more tolerant and just society is a daily struggle.
One of the important questions he asked me is the difference between equality and justice. A discourse that opponents of women rights have been using a lot lately, emphasizing that women are different than men, and consequently it is more important to talk justice than equality. A very critical point here, which I answered from the concept of the book itself, we don’t set different laws for people from different height, do we? when it is clear that in certain situations, people of very tall or very short stature need special attention. In law, people are equal in general, and that what should be applied.
When we opened the questions to the audience, I was happy to hear good feedback from those who read the book. Two sisters said that the book made them realize how silly is the gender issue, when they have been taking it seriously for a long time. Others asked about the impact of creative work in shaping our reality. Which is better starting from reality in creating fictional words, or starting from fictional constructed worlds into shaping ours?
It was an interesting session, a nice discussion, and beautiful audience. Ended with a book signing and a nice dinner with my dear friends who came for support.