FEMFACTS
31 Jan 2019

Women without kids deserve no respect

Women with no children will die alone. Their dead bodies will be found only when they start to decompose and stink. This is what popular Serbian-Bosnian author Sara Sabri wrote in one of her self-help books for women.

Lidija Pisker
Lidija Pisker NewsMavens, Balkans
Women without kids deserve no respect - NewsMavens
Woman and dog, PixaBay

Sara Sabri (real name Sanela Karišik Begović), has written twelve self-help books for women, covering topics such as marriage and marital relationships, family matters, and raising children. She’s also a public speaker, giving lectures on these and similar topics in countries across the Western Balkans and Europe. Sara Sabri was born in Serbia but lives in Bosnia and Herzegovina with her husband and five children.

Sabri runs her own blog and has very popular social media profiles: her Facebook page has more than 100,000 fans, her Instagram profile more than 12,000 followers and her Youtube channel “Sara Sabri TV” has around 4,700 subscribers. On her blog, she describes herself as a “mother, wife, writer, lecturer and interlocutor”.

It’s safe to say that Sara Sabri has numerous female admirers in the Western Balkans. But some of them got very upset when fragments from one of her books were posted on social networks. While glorifying those who are mothers, they highlighted her degrading comments about women who have no children or only one. Some social media users described her writing as “wrong, insulting and mean”.

WHAT ARE THE CLAIMS?

On pages 115 and 116 of her book “I whisper to you as a mother to a mother 1” (“Šapućem ti kao majka majci 1”), Sara Sabri described the contrast between what she considers a successful and an unsuccessful woman:

The one who has been giving birth, birth, birth -- when she grows old and looks back and her children have gone their own ways (though out of so many she’s given birth to, some are sure to stay with her) -- she will know that she has lived for someone and something. She will know what she has achieved in life. To put it simply, that she has created four or five human beings.

(...)

But the one who has been working, working, working, has a dog at home, or one (child) to feed, maybe even raise, but one is one. One is alone. One is often selfish, spoiled. One is lost. One is "crippled" without a sister or a brother. One has no one to share joy or sadness with.

Explaining her personal choices between the two, she further writes:

“I would rather be the first one, the one who has been giving birth and who has grown old and is taken care of, and who has someone to mention her when she passes away and someone to pray for her, than to be that other one who retires and ends up caressing the dog and giving it food, sitting next to the dog in silence, waiting for someone to open her doors. She dies and her body decomposes, starts to smell, no one is there to check if she’s alive. They collect her remains only when neighbors call about the smell and then (her body) is taken away.

A commenter on Twitter responded: “This is so wrong, insulting, malicious... I whisper to you as a woman to a woman that you should be ashamed of every word you wrote! Disgusting, I swear to Allah!!!”

Some of Sara Sabri’s female fans who are dealing with fertility issues reacted to the posts on social media, saying that what she wrote had hurt them. Comments also came from women who generally found it degrading for any woman to be spoken about in such a way.

In her response to the criticism on social media, Sara Sabri wrote a blog post titled “Can I say something now?” (“Jel’ mogu sad ja nešto da kažem?”) claiming that her words were taken out of context. She claimed that in these passages she wasn't referring to women suffering from infertility:

How could anyone get the idea that in those 4-5 sentences I am addressing a barren woman, a woman who is trying to get pregnant yet doesn’t succeed, or a woman who has had 3-4 unsuccessful in vitro fertilizations?"

So if we exclude women who cannot have children from her narrative, we can conclude that Sara Sabri targeted those who are “working, working and working”, and those who don’t want children, don’t have them for whatever reason, or have made a choice to have only one child.

In the blog, she failed to explicitly respond to the criticisms in a way that would explain her position and her arguments. Instead, she described herself as a victim of unfair treatment. Specifically, she wrote that criticism of her writing was malicious and that it came from those who are not interested in hearing her side of the story.

WHAT ARE THE FACTS

After her repeated claims that she didn’t write what she was “accused of”, we contacted Sara Sabri, asking for clarification. However, she didn’t want to answer any of the questions we asked and denied NewsMavens’ requests for an interview to clarify a) who exactly she was speaking about in her book, b) if she thinks women do have a right to their choices not to have children and 3) if women -- who were insulted by her words -- had a right to say it. She replied she would be willing to reply to “new, re-formulated questions” because she didn't want to justify herself. She calls herself an “interlocutor”, yet refused to take part in a conversation about women’s rights.

Consequently, it looks like Sabri retains her right to depict certain “categories” of women as lonely, miserable and destined to end up as smelly corpses, but doesn’t believe that any explanation of such an humiliating portrayal is warranted. After NewsMavens approached Sabri with the request for an interview, her blog post “Can I say something now?” was removed from her website (an archived snapshot of the cached version is available here).

This was not the first time that she had judged working women and/or women who have no children. At the same time, childless men have stayed under Sabri’s radar, receiving no such criticism. In a video interview for Bosnian web news site Source.ba, published in September 2018, she said:

I cannot consider a woman to be modern if she -- because of her career, because of her caprices, as I would call them -- neglected to form a family. Or the one who will get married, but will then raise a dog or a cat, rather than children.

Anti-feminist narrative is widespread in the Balkans and this is not the only example of rhetoric against gender equality. Traditional culture puts mothers on a pedestal and promotes the notion that there’s something fundamentally wrong with childless women.

Sara Sabri is an influential public figure. The popular Bosnian daily newspaper Dnevni Avaz recently stated that she is quoted on social media almost as often as Meša Selimović or Ivo Andrić (both famous Bosnian writers, the latter a Nobel prize winner). Even if this is an unverifiable claim, she is undeniably  popular among the general female population in Bosnia and beyond. Her work usually goes unnoticed by feminists (who are not her audience), but is closely followed by many women whom she aims to convince not only that marriage and motherhood should be their ultimate life goals, but also that everything outside of that scope is not worthy of respect.

CONCLUSION

The argument that women are primarily meant to be wives and mothers and the double standards in portraying female and male roles is an example of biological determinism. According to Sara Sabri, women’s professional ambitions are far less important and women who prioritize them over marriage or motherhood are mistaken and irrelevant. Sara Sabri’s statements about women’s choices contribute to a widely spread mainstream narrative against gender equality and we label them as an antifeminist backlash.

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