Fatima Mernissi

Excerpt from Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood, by Fatima Mernissi 1994.
"The main thing for the powerless is to have a dream," [Aunt Habiba] often told me while I was watching the stairs, so that she could embroider a fabulous one-winged green bird on the clandestine mrema she kept hidden in the darkest corner of her room. "True, a dream alone, without the bargaining power to go with it, does not transform the world or make the walls vanish, but it does help you keep ahold of dignity."
Dignity is to have a dream, a strong one, which gives you a vision, a world where you have a place, where whatever it is you have to contribute makes a difference.

You are in a harem when the world does not need you.

You are in a harem when what you can contribute does not make a difference.

You are in a harem when what you do is useless.

You are in a harem when the planet swirls around, with you buried up to your neck in scorn and neglect.

Only one person can change that situation and make the planet go around the other way, and that is you.

If you stand up against scorn, and dream of a different world, the planet's direction will be altered.

But what you need to avoid at all costs, is to let the scorn around you get inside.

When a woman starts thinking she is nothing, the little sparrows cry.

Who can defend them on the terrace, if no one has the vision of a world without slingshots?

"Mothers should tell little girls and boys about the importance of dreams," Aunt Habiba said. "They give a sense of direction. It is not enought to reject this courtyard--you need to have a vision of the meadows with which you want to replace it. But, how, I asked Aunt Habiba, could you distinguish amoung all the wishes, the cravings which beseiged you, and find the one on which you ought to focus, the important dream which gave you vision? She said that little children had to be patient, the key dream would emerge and bloom within, and then, from the intense pleasure it gave you, you would know that it was the genuine little treasure which would give you direction and light. She also said that I should not worry for now, because I belonged to a long line of women with strong dreams. "Your Grandmother Yasmina's dream was that she was a special creature," Aunt Habiba said, "and no one has ever been able to make her believe otherwise. She changed your grandfather, and he got in her dream and shared it with her. Your mother has wings inside, too, and your father flies with her whenever he can. You'll be able to transform people, I'm sure of it. I would not worry if I were you."

Last Modified: 15 Jun 1997
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