Salma El-Wardany, according to her Twitter bio, is a ‘shouty woman’.
But it’s her work advocating for women’s rights that has propelled her to influencer status.
The Egyptian-Irish writer has been championing gender parity through her work, particularly her spoken word and written poetry.
A two-time TedTalks speaker, Salma explores heritage, identity, sexuality and body image.
As an opinionated Muslim woman who is highly visible and comfortable with her sexuality, it has also meant she deals with hate from both sides; from Muslims who deem her too controversial and from Islamophobes who have preconceived notions about who a Muslim woman should be.
But Salma has never let that stop her from being her authentic self.
Over on Instagram, she constantly shares sources for learning, whether on the Black Lives Matter movement or her Dear Men series, which documents what it’s like to be a woman and how men can do better.
The last time we spoke to Salma, she had acted as a celebrant at a queer wedding and continues to do so, showing support for the community.
We caught up with Salma again to see what she is up to now.
As a visible Muslim woman online, Salma’s work centres on her experiences and that of other women.
She tells us: ‘I’m a writer, poet, broadcaster, and business owner. So, lots of different things, but feminism is the thing that ties it all together.
‘I write about women, whether that’s articles, novels or poetry. I’m always working to centre women in my radio show and tell female stories.
‘And my business is a marketing business focusing on diversity and inclusion. Basically, anything to do with the freedom and liberation of women, I’m on it.’
Salma’s poetry, detailing heartbreak, sex, the #MeToo movement and more, gets thousands of shares online.
She got into poetry in 2016 and had her first spoken word gig in LA a year later.
‘I remember coming off stage feeling exhilarated and thinking “yup, that’s what I want to do with my life”,’ she tells us.
‘My poetry is all about the experiences of womanhood and I try to tell those experiences in a really honest and raw way. I’m not interested in sugar-coating the pain women go through or telling something in a pretty way.
‘Womanhood is a messy business; it’s raw and dirty and bloody and full of sweat and toil. It’s hungry and lustful and full of anger and rage. That’s what I try to communicate with my poetry.
‘When I can’t make sense of my feelings or I’m flooded with emotion, I write. I’ve always been that way.’
Salma wasn’t always the creative she is now. Prior to getting into poetry, she was working in the corporate world, heading up marketing departments, working fourteen-hour days, and ‘aching to be anywhere else’.
She says: ‘I made the change because the corporate grind is the most soul-destroying thing you can do, and the remarkable thing is, it takes your soul quicker than you can even imagine.
‘I always thought I’d last longer than I did, but making millions for someone else, working every hour of the day in an office, and being constantly attached to your inbox is actually no way to live and that dawned on me pretty quickly.
‘I knew that life was happening elsewhere, and this wasn’t what I wanted for myself. I was also going through terrible heartbreak and a lot of personal loss and my chest cracked open and out poured the poems.
‘I never intended to be a poet or ever wanted to be, but sometimes the poems choose you. My pain came out in the form of poetry and gave me another tool to reach women and share stories.’
Salma has had quite the battle with Instagram after artful nude images she shared of herself kept being deleted.
Her Dear Men series has also been told it violates community guidelines.
The series is aimed at men, addressing some of the most common things they say to women.
Salma explains: ‘For example, Dear men who keep saying “not all men”, or Dear men who keep asking why we date bad guys. The point of the series is to put to rest the most common misconceptions or to explain what’s really happening from a female perspective.
‘I recently did a “Dear men who keep asking why I hate men” post and Instagram classified it as hate speech and kept taking it down.
‘These tech platforms really need to address their censorship and their algorithms. Let’s not forget that a bunch of men make decisions and a bunch of men make algorithms. These boardrooms and companies are still male-dominated and so their platforms are built with inherent biases in them.’
Salma’s public battles, her poetry, and social media presence do make it hard for her, she says, as she often gets abuse from both sides.
‘Not a day goes by when I’m not trolled or receive some kind of abuse,’ she says.
‘People are forever arriving in my DMs just to tell me I’m going to hell or that I’m a terrible Muslim. Because I’m open about sex and post pictures that show my body while still talking about being Muslim and how much I love my faith, a lot of people can’t handle it.
‘Muslims will tell me how bad I am and non-Muslims weirdly like to weigh in with their opinions too. If I say anything that they disagree with or if I speak up for Muslims they’ll bring up every bad thing every Muslim has ever done as if I’m somehow responsible.
‘The idea that a woman can be religious, sexual and in love with her body, and want to willingly show it off, is a bundle of contradictions for most, but I think it’s the most beautiful acceptance of ourselves as spiritual and sexual creatures.’
Proud Of What We’re Made Of
This article is part of our weekly series, Proud Of What We’re Made Of, celebrating inspirational women with powerful stories.
Each Wednesday we’ll share the story of a woman who’s overcome challenges to achieve something amazing. You can read every Proud Of What We’re Made Of article here.
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