The Sovereignty of Fantasy Even in the Humblest
by Maya Moumne
What does utopia mean to you?
I’m still figuring this one out.
How/why does pleasure play a role in a utopic future for the Arab world?
“The family honor lies on women’s shoulders, or more precisely between her legs”
We speak of Arab women being more empowered than ever before, with women leading and rising across the region, but how can we be truly empowered and liberated while struggling to experience ownership over our own bodies?
What went into the process of designing mauj?
Practicing masturbation— Studio Safar’s involvement with Mauj started from the very beginning, we designed positioning and naming workshops with the founders, worked on the identity design, the website, the product packaging, and the communication strategy— which is a process that identifies and plans the tone of voice, the activations, goals, and methods of the brand’s outreach activities and how to effectively communicate the core value and product offering in a manner that is, and this was very important: culturally empathetic, generationally relevant, and carefully designed and worded to its primary audience: women in the Arab world. Mauj, which means waves in Arabic, is a platform that offers science-backed resources and expert advice by medical professionals on sexual and reproductive health. The first product to launch by Mauj is a vibrator called Deem, designed and packaged to be extremely discreet and fit in the palm of your hand.
One of the most important things for us in terms of communication, was use a language and representation that de-stigmatizes sex. We wanted to keep the conversation as anodyne as possible, but de-stigmatization is the most important effect Mauj can have.
We’re asking women to consume sexual content in a society where we are raised to be told not to. So we tried our best to use playful and evasive communication that may help women gain access to experiences we might have been socially conditioned to feel too shy about. The challenge was to be careful not to use language that is designed to disguise and perpetuates the myth of the female “discretion”: the idea that in order for women to be sexual consumers, they have to mask their real desires.
So if women have traditionally been encouraged to hide their sexual desire, how do we get them to be comfortable enough to consume anything to do with it? How do we transition from “I shouldn’t be touching myself down there” to “maybe I should try something a little less intimidating”?
How do we heal our relationship to our sexuality? Why is it important for collective liberation?
A Hakawati literally means “storyteller”. But in Arabic, nouns are gendered, so a Hakawati, we’re using the masculine form of the noun. We were curious about the historical significance of this practice. According to our research, hakawatis used to be community storytellers. Storytelling has always been a part of our history and societal practice. Storytelling within communities was one way to give a group of people a sense of unity, and the stories being told often proposed a solution at the end. And because of this, Hakawatis held a certain status within their communities. “A voice of wisdom.”
Women certainly have stories to tell, and we know for sure that for every story told, another woman shares the same story. By harnessing a culture of sharing, we create space to address urgent topics we need to talk about more freely and openly like patriarchal practices, divorce, infertility, sexual harassment, sexual fantasies, pregnancy loss, PTSD, and so on.
But how do we tell our stories safely?
A Hakawatiya is a storyteller, but she’s a woman. One of the activations under Mauj’s communication strategy is the Hakawatiya video series. Each video features one woman, reading out loud the story of another woman. What we wish to achieve with the overarching concept of the Hakawatiya is to unite these stories instead of highlighting their differences, through dialogue.
How does clearly communicating our desires, sexual or otherwise, prepare us for Utopia/ freedom?
This unity creates solidarity, and solidarity perpetuates sisterhood, and sisterhood uses empathy to validate, accept, and acknowledge the differences amongst us.
Studies show that both girls and boys, ages 3—5 years old, touch and rub their intimate parts, without understanding what they’re doing but enjoy the motion and pleasure. At this young age, both genders do it the same amount. By puberty, ages 11—15 years old, the percentage of girls who masturbate drops down to 70%, while boys remain at 99.9%— and with girls only reporting very high feelings of guilt and shame.
The negative labels and associations with our body grow as we grow older. And almost anything related to our bodies is taboo— inappropriate to speak about anywhere or with anyone. With the rise of platforms openly addressing the topic using a language that doesn’t infantilize sex and pleasure (a familiar language growing up that perpetuates female sexuality with a strange emphasis on softness and fragility), perhaps we can turn the tide from feeling nervous about exploring the possibilities for pleasure that our bodies are capable of.
How can readers apply Utopia?
Take to the streets. We’re experiencing one of the biggest women’s rights movements in the world as I type this, happening in Iran.