The highly controversial Arab edition of the movie Perfect Strangers has been everything anyone’s been able to talk about since the very first day it streamed on Netflix.
A war has been raged between supporters and critics of the movie, discussing multiple aspects, from its content to its message to the actors who took part in it.
While I have no interest in engaging in that discussion, I would like to shed light on a vital issue that Mona Zaki was able to highlight through her character in the movie.
Background about the movie
At the movie’s beginning, we see Mona Zaki’s character put her kids to sleep before leaving with her husband, who is played by Eyad Nassar, to attend dinner at their friends’ house.
Before leaving the house, Mona Zaki is seen taking off her underwear and putting it in her bag. When the couple arrives at dinner, they play a game with their friends, where everyone has to keep their phones unlocked on the table so that whenever anyone receives a text or a call, they’d have to read the text out loud or take the call on speaker.
During this game, Mona gets a text from a man, asking her whether she was wearing her underwear or not. It is later on revealed that Mona has been sexting a man she’d never met or spoken to because her husband hadn’t slept with her in over a year.
She explains that while she had no intention of cheating on her husband, she needed to feel wanted and missed having some sexual satisfaction in her life.
Who is allowed to cheat in our society?
Putting moral and ethical judgments aside, we in the Middle East are pretty much used to the idea of men cheating on their wives.
There’s this idea that any man naturally craves or seeks out sexual pleasures, while on the other hand, ‘good, well behaved’ women would not have the same needs.
Any female character in a film or on tv that is seen cheating on their husband is portrayed as a wh*re, an eccentric freak with zero morals that deserves the harshest punishment. On the other hand, we have plenty of excuses for men to cheat, especially if they don’t get enough action in bed. It’s like men were built differently, as if they can’t help it.
Again, this is not to say that we should normalize women cheating on their husbands just like we normalize the opposite when it happens. On the contrary, this is to say that cheating is cheating.
Why cheating is not a gender issue
I know this may come as a surprise to many Arab men, but guess what? It’s not just men that care about sex; women do too! And no, it’s not just ‘loose,’ ‘odd,’ and ‘easy’ women that have a sex drive. This is a basic human desire that everyone experiences regardless of their gender.
Whatever feeling a man may go through if he is dissatisfied with his sex life in a relationship, a woman can and will experience if put in the same position. The way either of them will deal with this issue will depend on the individual’s moral and ethical judgment, not on their gendered needs.
Gender does not contribute to a higher margin of error in the man’s case. In other words, men are not more likely to cheat because they have sexual desires that women do not otherwise enjoy. They are simply more likely to cheat because they are more likely to get away with it.
Why is that? Because women do not have the same right to human error as men. They are not given the same right to care about their pleasure, which may sometimes lead them to consider cheating.
Mona Zaki and the feminist breakthrough
The Arab World experienced a cultural shock when they watched Mona Zaki, who through her character represented an average Egyptian wife and mother, flirting with another man.
Not only that, but she blamed her husband for abandoning her for over a year. They could not fathom that a woman, just like a man, may consider cheating when she is not receiving the attention she expects and deserves from her husband.
Mona Zaki, with this role, broke a curse that had been cast on women in the Middle East for ages. A curse has long disallowed them from expressing their sexuality, claiming that only ‘bad’ women crave sexual attention.
As I said before, I am not defending women’s right to cheat because men cheat; I am defending women’s right to sexual pleasure as equally important as men’s pleasure.
At this point, I would like to remind the society that prides itself in religious conservatism that when it comes to infidelity, God held men and women equally accountable, just like he gave both sexes an equal right to eroticism and pleasure. Also, if you would like to be extra conservative, Eyad Nassar’s character abstaining from sexual intercourse with his wife for over a year would be considered a huge sin in Islam. The same goes if the tables were turned.
So, unless you are team FGM, which would religiously land you in hell and legally land you in prison, you should be rethinking the cultural misconceptions that tell you that men’s pleasure matters more than women’s pleasure.
Lastly, I would like to applaud Mona Zaki for her courage to take on a role that challenges such a deeply rooted issue that nobody seems to be able to voice out.