Book Review - Superman is an Arab

Joumana Haddad, a Lebanese poet and journalist, has written a bold and often very funny polemic on patriarchy in the Arab world. The macho species, Haddad argues, see themselves as "Supermen", and Arab men, in particular, find it hard to reveal their vulnerabilities or share their anxieties with women. Like Superman, they have "the same split personality: the same macho manners; the same 'I'm Good and the rest are Evil' stance; the same 'I am indestructible' delusion".

She is quick to point out that her book is not a diatribe against men but "a howl in the face of the patriarchal system". She equally takes to task those women who refuse to fight against sexism, who don't assert their independence, who tolerate bullying males, and the mothers who keep silent while their daughters are abused.

Haddad rails against child marriage, honour killings and the sexual double standards of the Arab world – in particular the overvaluing of female chastity. As she points out, many Arab women are expected to remain virgins until they get married, while men happily "collect sexual experiences". It's all about controlling women's sexuality, and one of the worst manifestations is female genital mutilation. Shockingly, this barbaric practice still affects millions of girls and women.

As well as its humour, there is much that will resonate with Western readers. One "rant" – "Penis: directions for use" – contains tips on how to sexually please a woman.

Haddad received death threats after founding the Arab world's first erotic cultural magazine and continues to be harassed for her feminist writing. So there is something celebratory and defiant about her rallying call for women to destroy "the rotten system" in order to rebuild, with men, something better.

She outlines the need for "a new kind of man: the kind that doesn't require the subjugation of women, the hijacking of their rights and the degradation of their feelings in order to feel 'manly'". And she urges women not to rely on a super male ego for their needs but to seek financial independence, engage in politics and strive for equality.

Originally published in The Independent on 23 October 2012