This Arab Artist is Fighting for 'Gender Freedom' in the Middle East
“I want to show that a color, an accessory, a behavior, or a lifestyle cannot and should not define our gender identity.”
SOURCE: STEP FEED
BY: LEYAL KHALIFE
Lipstick is for women, suits are for men. Pink is for girls, blue is for boys…
Over the decades, social norms have led people to believe that one’s gender identity is correlated to a person’s assigned sex at birth.
This is one of the reasons “gender fluidity” remains a foreign concept in many parts of the world. This is especially prevalent in the Arab world, where fragile masculinity and homophobic attitudes are at an all-time high.
However, one Arab artist is challenging this distorted idea of woman versus man. Mehdi Bahmad, a 24-year-old Moroccan, began his fight when he decided to pursue a degree in the field of Visual Arts, an industry that is not viewed as “manly” enough in many Middle Eastern households.
“Against all expectations [from my family] I registered in Visual Arts. This was a huge relief, but more so a first step towards embracing who I really was,” Bahmad told StepFeed.
In recent years, Bahmad has been challenging the countless stereotypes surrounding men, women, straight or queer, in an attempt to celebrate individual freedom, gender freedom, and LGBTQ individuals alongside culture.
“It is a fundamental right to feel free. I want to show the world how beautiful and rich my culture can be when it is free,” Bahmad told StepFeed.
Growing up in an Arab household came with a set of challenges for Bahmad, one of which was having to choose between “cultural identity or our values when they go against our culture”.
“I suffered and still suffer in this incompatibility,” he said.
Bahmad’s fight for “gender freedom”
In July 2018, the 24-year-old released a video breaking down the toxic definitions of what women and men should be.
“The intention behind my debut single ‘Rouge à Lèvres’ comes down to releasing certain paradigms by questioning them,” Bahmad told StepFeed.
“Why would a heterosexual man feel his identity or sexual orientation threatened with some mascara on?” the artist added.
In the video, Bahmad focuses on lipstick, a cosmetic product which society has in itself managed to market as “feminine”.
”I find it deplorable that what society presents us as ‘feminine’ is always interpreted as a weakness when adopted by men. I personally believe women in general are more advanced human beings,” Bahmad said.
“Through my personal experience, all the women I’ve been around were closer to what I think is the fundamental purpose of life. But that’s a whole other subject I won’t address for now”, Bahmad said.
“I don’t think the color of someone’s lips should speak for their gender identity or sexual orientation.”
“I fight for gender freedom: the abolition of stereotypes that interfere with the flowering of the true self,” Bahmad said.
He went on to explain that his message is evident within the LGBTQ community in the Arab world, but that he hopes his message reaches beyond that.
“I want to show that a color, an accessory, a behavior, or a lifestyle cannot and should not define our gender identity. It’s simply absurd.”