Rarely am I prompted to proclaim “omg she’s amaaazing” about ‘famous’ women. I have never once thought that about Beyoncé, because quite frankly I find her music irritating and her nutcracker thighs don’t make me feel any better about my childbearing hips. But Palestinian-American blogger/vlogger/Intagrammer/comedian Faiza Rammuny – perhaps better known by her moniker Expired N Fabulous – is one of the women I direct a lot of very verbal, very amorous rhetoric towards.
The now 33-year-old, who was born and raised in Chicago, has acquired a cult following with her particular brand of Arab-infused content. From her deeply personal, brutally honest blog posts where she discusses everything from parents to relationships, in diary-esque detail; to her hilarious and highly on point short video skits of her playing herself/an Arab mother/Arab father/Arab someone; everything Rammuny creates comes instilled with not only a filterless candour – no easy feat among a Middle Eastern community, especially as a woman – but with a certain insight and insider knowledge of the Arab mindset that can only come from having lived and breathed this life.
Though she is – now – unflinchingly honest about her experiences, this wasn’t always the case. “I made the decision to start blogging back in 2008 and it wasn't as hard as it is today, because I wasn't as honest then as I am now,” says Rammuny, “I censored myself A LOT for fear of being judged. I made the decision not to do that anymore.”
I censored myself A LOT for fear of being judged. I made the decision not to do that anymore.
Rammuny relays what it’s actually like to be an Arab woman – especially one who has grown up in a Western world with a very traditional, middle class family. It is not the glossed up images we see of accomplished Arab women on Instagram and in the media, with a phrase or two about the hardships they faced in their careers by virtue of their gender, though by and large that’s been balanced out by the privilege afforded them by their relative wealth. Rather, Rammuny relays the intrinsic details of the existence of a regular Arab female in this day and age; the mundane if you will, the day-to-day that they have to live with.
Rammuny takes on the full gamut of issues; from the bigger topics like sexism, virginity, or the pervasiveness of the concept of reputation among Arab societies, to the seemingly diminutive details like how many Arab parents insist on having their children keep their bedroom doors open or how Arab brides act at their weddings. From the provocative to the innocuous, she shies away from nothing, judgement be damned. “I now see how much we can help each other by sharing our stories and experiences honestly and openly,” she says simply.
Judgement is not a concept exclusive to the Arab world but it is most certainly magnified in Middle Eastern societies and its applications and implications run far deeper than its Western counterparts – especially for women, who are judged by an entirely different value system to men. “The sexism that I often speak about is very clearly seen in all parts of the Arab world, here and abroad. Guys can get away with a hell of a lot more than a girl ever could," Rammuny says bluntly, "The expectations set for a man are very different from those set for a woman.”
The sexism that I often speak about is very clearly seen in all parts of the Arab world, here [in the US] and abroad. Guys can get away with a hell of a lot more than a girl ever could.
People will not always understand the Arab mentality, and the unspoken rulebook that dictates the lives of ‘MusRabs’ as Rammuny calls them [Muslims/Arabs] – rules that are often steeped in rampant sexism because they only really apply to women. You do not lose your virginity when you are older and ready; you lose it when you’re married (unless you are a man). You do not move out when you go to college; you move out when you’re married (unless you are a man). You will always have a curfew, even in your thirties when you’re supporting yourself (unless you are a man). You may have a certain way of dressing imposed on you (in fact, Rammuny was veiled as a teenager); you may not be allowed to go places your friends are going; you may not even be allowed to date (unless, of course, you are a man).
An excerpt from Rammuny's Expired N Fabulous blog, published earlier this year
Should you fail to comply to these 'norms', your 'reputation' and that of your family will essentially be scarred forever. "In our culture if you lose your reputation, you lose everything. That's what you're raised to believe," Rammuny says in tear-soaked video she released a few years ago where she went public with the sexism, judgement, and agonising emotional abuse she endured from a fellow Muslim Arab in a failed relationship - simply by virtue of her being a woman who did not comply to the to the norms set by her MusRab society. It was that same relationship and the trauma that came with its ending that eventually prompted her to be so honest about her own life.
...it can be very suffocating to MusRabs growing up in the US surrounded by so many of the freedoms they're not allowed in their own home.
Freeing herself from the manacles of what is deemed Okay and what is Not Okay, did not come easily for Rammuny. They are concepts which were deeply rooted in her upbringing and understanding of the world – as they are for many Arab immigrant families. Though some Arab families who immigrate abroad start to absorb more and more of the culture of their surroundings, and let go a little of the ‘stricter’ values pervasive in their home countries, others do precisely the reverse; they formulate tightknit communities and cling fervently to their traditions and culture, trying to instill as much of them as possible in their children. “I'm a first generation MusRab born and raised in the United States and I saw firsthand how hard, not only my family, but many others, worked to keep their traditions and culture alive,” Rammuny recalls, “They cling to what they know and that can be very suffocating to MusRabs growing up here surrounded by so many of the freedoms they're not allowed in their own home.”
I'm a first generation MusRab born and raised in the United States and I saw firsthand how hard, not only my family, but many others, worked to keep their traditions and culture alive.
For many Arabs living abroad, their experience can feel asphyxiating, doubly so because it is so dichotomous to their surroundings. Their lives and the rules and customs they have to adhere to within the confines of the ‘Arab bubble’ are starkly divergent to what they see around them – in school, in college, on television. “A lot of us grow up with the same mindset my father had which was, ‘Out there is America, but in here (my home) is Palestine.’ It's hard to change that type of mindset, because again, it's all we know. So it becomes a pattern that's passed down from generation to generation. Living in American doesn't change that because it's what you learn at home.”
Can You Relate? (TAG 3 Who Can) ___________________________________ Had to repost this because today’s a reminder that without my dad, I wouldn’t be who I am today. He inspires 90% of my comedy and given me enough content to last a lifetime and in turn put a smile on all your faces. So, today we honor Baba 🐧 #gonebutneverforgotten
In fact, it was Rammuny’s father who unknowingly instigated her first blog and eventually her entire persona. Her first post was titled 51 Fridays, chronicling her Palestinian father’s “journey to marry her off in a year before she officially expired at twenty-five” the unspoken age at which an Arab woman ceases to be maritally desirable – hence the name of her blog. Her father has since then passed away, but he remains the inspiration behind much of her work – she openly admits that much of her comedy stems from the limbo she finds herself in, caught between her father’s traditional values and belief system that he perpetuated in their home, and the values and belief systems she saw around her, growing up in a Western society.
My videos open up a dialogue about things that need to change with MusRabs, while still allowing us to laugh at ourselves
It can be not only grating, but also very isolating to experience this rift between the two worlds, growing up. And that is precisely where the brilliance of Rammuny’s work stems. She is providing a voice for women – and men – who felt like anomalies.
“I think that comedy is one of the most effective ways to start so many much needed conversations and bridge the gap between people from different walks of life,” Rammuny posits, “My videos open up a dialogue about things that need to change with MusRabs, while still allowing us to laugh at ourselves, but also it shows the world that MusRabs are like everybody else.”
I'm no longer a V[irgin], but it doesn't make me a whore
The benefits of are twofold. In an age where Arabs being perceived as Other in America is as pronounced as ever – Trump’s mere existence is a blight upon co-existence; the ‘Muslim ban’ has been upheld by the Supreme Court; and Islamophobia is rife – her humour can function partly as a normalizer of sorts. But more than that, it is a narrative other women can relate to. Women in comedy is hugely important; breaking into a historically all-boys club, and preventing a one-way flow of humour, which stems entirely from a male perspective. Even more important is women of divergent backgrounds being given a platform to reflect and discuss; women like Ali Wong and Aditi Mittal are vital in championing diversity in comedy, offering frank opinions about everything from sex to sexism, men to motherhood, and more pertinently, within the context of views and insights on their own cultures and upbringings. But we have yet to see an Arab woman be put in that same position.
As much as Rammuny uses comedy to tackle certain issues, she also utilises her no-holds-barred blog to break down the stigma about various issues – like virginity. Virginity in the Arab world is highly contentious. It's the type of thing we keep hush hush even if it's something we personally don't have an issue with, because of the way other people perceive it. Rammuny, instead, decided to speak out about her experience. “Because I know how important it is to normalise this subject and begin to have this conversation minus any shame or guilt. So it was sort of this voice that kept saying, If not me, then who? Who's going to be the one to say, 'Well, I'm no longer a V, but it doesn't make me a whore.' You know what I mean? Someone had to do it, so I decided to be that person.”
There's always this fear of reputation, which is something that's universally understood in the Arab world.
Despite the fact that her family already knew, prior to her posting publicly about it – “It wasn't easy at all to face them after that, but we made it through” – talking about it, on the internet no less, is a whole other level of controversy for Arabs. “There's always this fear of reputation, which is something that's universally understood in the Arab world,” Rammuny says. In other words, talking about the taboos is in and of itself a taboo.
An excerpt from Rammuny's Expired N Fabulous blog, published earlier this year, where she went public with losing her virginity to her ex and the ramifications.
“Was it easy?” she asks herself about the decision to go public, “ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! I went through so many emotions while writing and posting it, but the tremendous amount of support by so many, not only Arabs and Muslims, but Jewish, Christian, Roman Catholic, Asian, and many other women from strict upbringings or faiths, showed me exactly why it was so important to just say it.
Her ethos now, is that of a woman who has found her voice, and is using it to help others who feel – much like she did – that they’re navigating the minefield of not fitting squarely into the mainstream. Though she knows her family often disagrees with her choices and she has faced tremendous backlash online from “MusRabs”, she has conviction in what she does, and that is her driving force. “What God wants us all to do is live free and do good by yourself and in turn others.”
So whether she is judged by her community or trolled by online Arabs, the payoff for her is connecting to people all across the world who’ve walked more than a few miles in her shoes, and who find comfort in seeing their experiences reflected in someone else, someone who refused to remain ensconced in the cage of conformity her own culture and community built for her – like many, many cultures and communities across the world do, not just Arabs. “I want to be remembered as a woman who finally screamed out ENOUGH and actually did something about it that changed not only her entire existence, but this fucking world.”
You can check out her blog here or follow her on Instagram @expirednfabulous.