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#MeToo: current theme, Medieval phenomenon

Anyone who thinks that #MeToo is a new phenomenon, can think again. Subjects such as sexual intimidation, female self-defence and subjection to male desires can be found as early as in Medieval Islamic literature. Senior lecturer Asghar Seyed-Gohrab explains further on the Leiden Medievalists Blog, which is one year old this month.

Is Harvey Weinstein the new Alexander the Great?

Ousted film producer Harvey Weinstein and King Alexander the Great: two personalities from two totally different periods that you would not necessarily connect with one another, but Seyed-Gohrab sees a link. The chain reaction that triggered Weinstein's behaviour towards women to develop into how certain men in general treat women reminded him of an anecdote about Alexander the Great, told by Persian poet Nezami from Ganja.

In the story, Alexander and his soldiers arrive on the plains of the  Kipchak in Central Asia. There they see some beautiful, uncovered women carrying out their daily tasks. It has been a long time since the soldiers had seen a woman and they are barely able to control themselves; they all rush towards the women. In the commotion, Alexander asks the head of the tribe to see that the women cover themselves with veils so that his men will be less aroused. In short, the chieftain's response was that it was the men that should cover their eyes with veils, rather than telling the women how they should dress. 

This answer, which Nezami put into the mouth of the tribal head even at that early point in history, is so topical today that opponents of clothing codes in the Islamic world use these powerful verses to reinforce their point of view.

Women in a patriarchy

And this is just one example of many in the verses. Seyed-Gohrab also refers to a novel by Nezami in which women are successful in defending themselves against men who act as sexual predators; one example is the love story of Layla and Madjnun, in which Layla‚Äôs husband treats her badly, at which she strikes him with so much force that he falls to the ground unconscious. It is not only the work of Nezami, but that of other poets - such as Zhale Qaem-Maqami (1883-1946)  - that contain issues relating to women, such as pregnancy, miscarriage and the position of women in a pariarchal society dominated by men.


According to Seyed-Gohrab, Nezami is the most feminist Medieval poet that he knows. In many of his poems, women stand out for both their moral and their physical qualities, they often teach men important lessons and if necessary they use physical violence to protect their own integrity. Persian poet Nezami from Ganja died in 1209 but his literary legacy lives on.

Curious about the poems to which Seyed-Gohrab refers? Read his  blog 

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