On being a “nice feminist”… and a “nice Arab”

Lina AbiRafeh
4 min readDec 2, 2023
I said that once — long ago. Clearly, I’ve been angry for ages.

I am many identities. Most of them make people uncomfortable. I’m a feminist and I’m an Arab. First of all, these can actually coexist. I actually just wrote a whole damn book about it. But that’s not the point right now.

I’ve noticed that I’m only accepted, acceptable, palpable as a feminist if I’m not too angry. If I’m relatively “nice” about it. A polite feminist who stays in her lane and doesn’t get out of hand.

The world has always tried to suppress or deny women’s anger. Just ask Soraya Chemaly — she wrote a whole damn book about it.

Today, as an Arab — as a Palestinian-Lebanese, to be specific — I’ve noticed the same thing. I’m only accepted if I’m a “nice” Arab. If I remain well-behaved and not too angry and not too… Arab. (Hummus is ok. Headscarves are not. The world has always reduced us to simplified stereotypes — even now.)

What level of anger is acceptable, I wonder? Especially right now — when those in power perpetrate a genocide — killing brown bodies and destroying a generation. And then wondering why we are so angry.

And with both of these identities I own, I am still expected to manage everyone’s Whataboutery… What about men? What about Israel? What about Hamas? As if I have to answer every question and politely appease the opposition in order to be acceptable. Moderate. Nice.

No, right now I am not nice. And I wonder how much life-blood I’ve drained being nice, thinking I could ignite change if I managed to politely convince people that it was the right thing to do.

“Look,” I’d say, “equality is better for everyone!”

“Look,” I’d say, “peace is better for everyone!”

(If I actually have to make this case to someone, it’s already a dead-end.)

If only I had a dollar for every Whataboutery diversion people tried to throw at me… “Catch this one,” I hear them saying, “so we can watch you drop what’s really important.”

Well, if I did actually have a dollar for every Whataboutery, I’d be able to buy my way onto corporate boards and into politicians’ pockets. (Ironic that those with the most money are so easily bought.) And then, I’d make sure my voice was heard, my issues represented, my views immortalized into policy, my policy formulated into plans, my plans finally fixing this shit.

“How much do you charge for equality for women?” I’d ask. “And what about justice for Palestinians? What’s the going rate there?” And I’d pull out my checkbook.

Is that a “nice” way to make change, I wonder?

“Gee, Lina, you’re so angry. It’s hard to be around you these days…”

Yup, that’s right. I’m absolutely fucking angry. Why?

The silence of the feminist community on Palestine — or the desperate need to appease “both sides.”

Sure, there are crimes on both sides. Sure, there’s violence on both sides. Sure, there’s anger on both sides.

But right now, I am angry as an Arab because we are not safe and free to speak, to act, to think, to do. We’re not safe in our communities, at school, on the street, in the office. We’re not safe to look “too Arab.” We’re not safe to speak Arabic. We’re not safe to engage in peaceful protest. We’re not safe to grieve. We’re not safe to post “ceasefire.” And we’re certainly not safe to object as we’re being slaughtered. We’re not safe to be “too angry.”

Again, I wonder what level of anger is acceptable — a nice, polite, tolerable level of anger — in the face of injustice? Let’s make sure it is just-enough-but-not-too-much anger — we wouldn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable now, would we?!

All of this feels exactly like being a feminist — there too, we are not safe. We’ve never been safe. We are “granted” just enough rights — but not too many. We’re told to be patient, to make the case (again again again), to charm and appease the opposition, to accept half-freedoms.

We’re given crumbs to keep us satiated — but deprived of the full meal.

I’ve been marching and protesting since I was a teenager — demanding peace, rights, dignity, equality, respect, freedom from violence. I’m not a teenager anymore, and we still don’t have that stuff. Am I allowed to be angry about that?

As Palestinians, we’ve been denied all those things — peace, rights, dignity, equality, respect, freedom from violence, and land. Is the solution really to kill us so we stop being angry about it?

Our bullshit so-called “pause” is done — and we’re back to being pummeled by Israeli and American military rage. Is that going to drive out extremist groups — or fuel them? I’ve been in quite a few warzones, and I’ve never seen peace established by exterminating a whole population.

(20+ countries, 26+ years, 3 books, 1 PhD — as women we’re always expected to credential ourselves so we are “credible,” so there you go.)

But then again, I’m just a “nice Arab woman,” what do I know?!

How about this: allow people to live full, free lives and see what happens? Give people economic opportunity and see what happens? Ensure everyone is treated equally — regardless of sex or religion or any other divisions — and see what happens? Fight to protect and preserve peace and see what happens?

Maybe we should just try those things — for a change — and see what happens?

Until then, I’m angry. I’m angry as a woman, a feminist, an Arab, an American, a Palestinian-Lebanese, an aid worker, an academic, an activist, a humanitarian, and a HUMAN.

You might not be all of those things, but let’s hope you are one of them. Why aren’t you angry?

So right now, if you don’t want to see me angry, you’d better not see me at all.

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Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights expert, author, speaker, aid worker, feminist activist with 25 years of experience in 20 countries worldwide - and lots of stories!