Fiercely feminine – Kaouthar Darmoni
She is the link between ancient Arab goddess wisdom and Western feminism, between the head and the body, between Cleopatra and you. When it comes to Feminine Feminism, I cannot think of a more dazzling and delightful role model for women’s empowerment than Dr. Kaouthar Darmoni (PhD). During our exhilarating conversation, the university professor and goddess dance coach let me experience hands-on – or should I say hips-on? – how women unleashed their feminine power 4000 years ago. “It’s about taking back ownership of your vagina, your body, your self!”
Kaouthar: Can I just start by saying how honored and delighted I am to be interviewed by you, a true feminine feminist? And I absolutely adore your lingerie! When I studied at Sorbonne University, I had a job at one of the most exclusive lingerie boutiques in Paris. And guess what? Your lingerie was considered too kinky, too ‘vulgaire’ to be sold there. Whereas the Arab women that I knew loved your designs. Let me tell you: most kinky lingerie is sold in Muslim-Arab countries, not in the West!
Marlies: Wow, that is so interesting! When I started designing, over 27 years ago, the idea of wearing lingerie to seduce yourself instead of pleasing a man was quite revolutionary. Something the French definitely didn’t understand yet. Why do you think Arab women were already more open to exploring that kind of sensuality?
Kaouthar: In Arab culture, women’s sexuality is seen as active; male sexuality is passive. Women are in charge in that area; the men are merely guests. I have a sign here that says ‘Femme = Fierce’. That sums it up perfectly! Lingerie plays a big role in our expression of our sensuality. We buy it, and before any man gets to see it, we show it off during one of our women’s gatherings. No men allowed! We do little stripteases for each other, we laugh, dance, give and receive feedback about how to maximize the effect of the lingerie. The more daring, the better!
Marlies: I love the idea of a sisterhood and a safe space to explore your sensuality!
Kaouthar: When I came here from Tunisia, I realized that you were lacking that concept in Western culture. Instead, there seemed to be a sexual co-dependency with the male gaze. As in: “I only feel attractive when I am desired by a man.” But by doing that, you give away your erotic power! During one of the first Goddess Dance workshops I gave in the Netherlands, one woman told me: “Sorry, but I’m not lesbian!” She was shocked by our sensual intimacy. Well, her sexualization of what we were doing, was shocking to me! Our movements are focused on the power of female sensuality. It’s about taking back ownership of your vagina, your body, your self!
Marlies: Luckily, it seems that young European women are starting to adopt that idea. My daughter Zilver – a millennial – has these wild get-togethers for girls only. They dress sexy, dance with each other and go absolutely crazy. She always comes home so happy and energized! Can you explain how a 4000-year old dance can restore our feminine power?
Kaouthar: The Goddess Dance, or ‘Raqsat Alaliha’ in Arab, is the oldest female dance ritual in the world. It originates from a period when society was egalitarian, before we started to trust the mind and mistrust the body. Coming from a sex-segregated culture, I used to believe the West was the mecca of emancipation. But as long as you live in a patriarchal society, you will be oppressed as a woman, whether you’re East or West! Here in Europe, we have internalized the system, opting to masculinize our emancipation because it was safer. But in that process, emphasizing our masculine qualities and neglecting feminine ones, we have forgotten how to live and lead from the womb. The ancient movements of the Goddess Dance help you connect your head with your heart and your womb. Once you have made this alignment, you are ready to unleash your feminine power!
Marlies: You teach workshops and give free online classes, but could you share an exercise that we can do right now?
Kaouthar: Let’s do it! First, you need to know about ‘kabasa’ which means ‘grip’ or ‘squeeze’ in Arab. While we dance, we continuously contract and release our vagina muscles.
Marlies: Like pelvic floor exercises?
Kaouthar: Exactly. Women even used to insert special egg-shaped stones into their vaginas to train those muscles during their temple dances. Now we know from research that the pelvic floor muscles of any woman after 40 weaken – even of those that didn’t have babies – which can result in incontinence or worse. In other words, if you don’t use it, you lose it! Okay, now stand up and slightly bend your knees. Stabilize your hips, and start moving your chest to the right, the front, the left and the back and continue to do so till you are making slow circles from your heart. With every circle, imagine expanding your heart, letting it grow bigger and bigger! Don’t forget to use ‘kabasa’ to stay anchored. Do you feel your heart leading you? It can also help you to put up boundaries. When we are angry in Tunisia, we throw our chest forward, like a warrior of the heart: “Back off!”. Women, especially big-chested ones, are so used to hiding their chests. But by doing so, you are suppressing the power of your heart!
Marlies: I can feel it! It’s about showing and owning it, on your own terms.
Kaouthar: Which is exactly what your lingerie is about! I often think of what you once wrote about reclaiming the scent of your vagina. Do you remember that?
Marlies: Oh yes. We have learned to disguise it, but our personal scent can tell us so much about our state of health and wellbeing.
Kaouthar: It’s another great example of feminine knowledge. Growing up in Tunisia, I could tell when my grandmother was in a sensual mood because she would start drinking a lot of mint tea, knowing that it would affect the scent of her sweat and vagina. Then, when she was ready to have sex with my grandfather, she would take some of her ‘juice’ and rub it behind her ears! (both laugh)
Marlies: I love that; the most precious perfume! Thank you so much, Kaouthar, for reconnecting us to inner feminine wisdom and power.
Kaouthar: And thank you for doing the same with your fierce and fabulous lingerie! Keep on dancing, Marlies!
fall|winter 20 preview
In January, I presented my newest FW20 collection during a show full of dance and entertainment in Rotterdam. All my work as a feminist designer is inspired by muses, powerful female icons from past and present. And for FW20, my muse will be crime writer Agatha Christie. A few months from now, you will get to discover the collections, and see how they tell stories like Agatha’s thrilling books do..
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