Written by Reem Mahmood
Translated by N.H.
Copy Editor: Eliza Marks
Photos by Diana Amer
Photo Editing by Omar Braika
Styling by Jad Toghuj
Models: Yamin and J. O.
Creative Direction: Khalid Abdel-Hadi

[Note: No form of violence was exercised during the photoshoot. All parties gave their consent to appear in this work, which condemns violence, not encourages it. The photoshoot revolved around the content of this article.]

The song, “Salmonella,” caused much commotion after it went viral on social media. Some condemned the idea behind the song, which blatantly attacks a woman for rejecting a man’s romantic advances. Others believed the song intended to raise awareness and expose men who treat women who rejected them badly.

I followed the comments and reactions to the song with great interest, and found it astonishing that some people were unable to label what women experience after rejecting a man as a form of violence, and a phenomena that needs urgent and serious intervention. I found very little that documented this issue in Arabic when I searched “violence against women who reject romantic advances” on Google. Is it true that nobody is paying attention to it even though it is so common in our society? 

It is this absense that motivated me to work on this article, in which I shed light on some ways women in these situation experience such violence, including stalking, verbal abuse, smear campaigns, threats of bodily harm, or even murder.

Freedom of Choice: A Privilege for Men Only

In our culture and society, men often choose the woman they want to be with, and she then either rejects or accepts his offer. Today, this right is generally granted, but it is conditional, meaning that a woman’s freedom to choose her life partner is subject to certain criteria forced upon her by her family. A woman must have a good reason to reject a man with good qualities, for the sake of her society and her family. This has become so ingrained in men that it has made accepting rejection a very difficult and complicated matter. If a man sees himself as a great candidate and has  feelings he believes are genuine for a woman, he starts to feel entitled to her. In his opinion, it is almost compulsory that she accept his proposal to be together, since he chose and fell in love with her, and decided to spend the rest of his life with her.

We often see stories of men who relentlessly pursue women on television and in movies, because they believe she won’t find a better man or one who loves her more than he does. Persistence and not accepting a woman’s rejection are often seen as the epitome of romance, and a man often justifies his pursuit of a woman through his love and attachment to her. In our society, young men don’t stop at chasing (or harassing) a woman they want to be with easily, and sometimes they’ll even go so far as to damage her reputation or blackmail her. Many women and girls have lived through unceasing horror as a result.


,On J, Trench coat – Hala’s Fashion. On Yamin leather jacket – stylist’s own

Suffering in Silence

Many women suffer in silence as social media becomes increasingly central to how such violence is perpetrated. I interviewed Salam, who is 17 years old, she says:  “After he broke up with me because of an issue we had, he blocked me on social media. I respected his wishes and stopped talking to him. Suddenly, after a while of having blocked me, he unblocked me and began to send me threats that promised a scandal and violence if I didn’t agree to get back with him.”

Many women suffer in silence as social media becomes increasingly central to how such violence is perpetrated. I interviewed Salam, who is 17 years old, she says:  “After he broke up with me because of an issue we had, he blocked me on social media. I respected his wishes and stopped talking to him. Suddenly, after a while of having blocked me, he unblocked me and began to send me threats that promised a scandal and violence if I didn’t agree to get back with him.”

Another 2 girls I interviewed were Nour and Lama. Nour was constantly harassed by a boy who kept sending her messages because he liked her, and he eventually began stalking her. “He turned my life into a living nightmare. He sent me messages full of insults, and he tried to contact a person in power to force me to agree to have sex with him.” 

Lama, recounting a series of experiences she had when she was 19, said, “When I told him I wanted to break up with him, he cursed at me and threatened to share pictures of mine and my phone number along with sexual phrases on Facebook groups and pages.” 

The feeling that women “owe” men  for their choice or good character or societal norms contributes to problems of them stalking, blackmailing, and threatening women. This is a nightmare that many women have lived through.  However, it doesn’t stop there: many women have been murdered by men they’ve rejected or with whom they’ve decided to end a relationship.

Hanan Abu Fakhr, who is 22 years old and a student at the Faculty of Counselling Psychology, was the target of a bomb set by a young man who she had recently rejected.  This event is recent: it happened this year in As Suwayda, Syria. One Facebook user commented on the news story, “That’s what you get for saying no.” Last December in As Suwayda, another young man murdered a 14-year-old girl named Bisan Abu Hamed by setting off a bomb in her home because she refused to be with him. 

The above are dangerous indicators that reflect how deeply normalized such crimes are in our society, how accustomed people are to seeing women murdered or hurt for rejecting a romantic advance, and the subsequent lack of intervention.

On J, Trench coat – Hala’s Fashion. On Yamin leather jacket and pants – stylist’s own

“That’s What You Get for Saying No!”

Lyrics that threaten a woman for rejecting a man become ingrained in our collective subconscious and normalized when we dance to the beat of its song, as do ideas written and circulated through social media. . When you sing along and dance to a tune that at its core is replete with threats, blame, and anger against a woman who rejected a man, trusting in the singer’s voice and tone,  it makes you feel that this woman should have accepted her infatuated admirer’s love. “No” is not an option for a girl who owes her admirer a “yes.”

At the beginning of this year, Egyptian comedian Tameem Youness released, “Salmonella,” a song that revolves around one man’s anger for being rejected by a girl. In one part of the song, he says, 

And if you say no, screw you.
One day you’ll meet someone who’ll reject you.
And hurt your pride.
And you’ll get salmonella.
And wake up so fat that you can’t catch up with me.
That’s what you get for saying no.  

What really surprised me was how many people felt that we were overreacting to the song. “I don’t know why they think it’s degrading to women! He was obviously making fun of men who react badly to getting rejected. Herd mentality is a problem!” read one of the comments. 

Youness replied to the criticism in a video that he posted on his Facebook account, saying, “I didn’t want to respond, but I need to clarify something. Most people loved the song, and only a few comments criticized it and considered it to be degrading to women. The song was meant to make fun of a guy who acts like he’s the ultimate romantic, then goes crazy when a girl rejects him. He then starts insulting her and accusing her of a number of untrue things and acts all chauvinistic.” 

Following Youness’ response, a woman who had previously worked with Youness on an advertisement, Doua Fatat, posted a testimony on her personal Facebook account in which she claimed that Youness himself sexually harassed women. “You’re a sexual harasser. You don’t know how to deal with women rejecting you in a mature way. You’re chauvinistic. You just want to go viral and appear on Mona el-Shazly’s show. You’re free to do so, but not at the expense of feminist issues that many individuals and organizations have struggled to raise awareness of.” 

This reflects a major gap in our society when it comes to understanding the media we consume, which has an arguably greater impact on us than the influences we receive from our homes and schools. Perhaps what makes the impact of media so dangerous is that it becomes entrenched in our subconscious and actively contributes to the formation of our opinions regarding the news and incidents around us.

On J, dress – Hala’s Fashion; Earrings – J’s own; on Yamin, Blue See-through raincoat – VFJ Wardrobe

“Playing Hard to Get”

The mentality behind the phrase “playing hard to get” is ever-present in our society, to the point that some people can’t even acknowledge the idea of a woman saying “no.” Saying “no” is instead understood as being coy, or that women just want men to fight to win their heart. A woman saying “no” in our patriarchal society’s dictionary does not translate to “no,” but instead to “try harder” or “try a different way.” 

“Docile” and “obedient” women, who have been raised since childhood to be so, do not know how to say no.  Even if they did, it is not acceptable to do so. Rebellion is an undesirable trait in women. In romantic relationships, men don’t expect women to reject them after they’ve chosen them, and men don’t even believe they have the option to say no.

So as long as society does not prioritize women and their natural right to make decisions about their own future, there will be more women who fall victim to such attacks. So as long as society continues to bring up men to see women as being created solely for their pleasure, and that women and men do not have the same freedom to make choices, we will continue to hear about murdered and brutalized women. Therefore, it’s worth understanding where such mentalities stem from and why, and the need to change, challenge, and actively work to end this cycle.