Jezebel’s Callie Beusman has taken on FEMEN and their ongoing support of solidarity with Amina Tyler. And there are a few issues with it and some strong points.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with fighting against Islamic extremists however both sides (like any argument) have made some daft statements.
While it is unquestionably necessary, brave, and noble to stand with Amina (who is reportedly not free to move or speak safely), the protests were distressingly and distractingly Islamophobic. A photo from one of shows a white woman with crescent moons covering her nipples, wearing a fake beard, a unibrow penciled in with eyeliner, and a bath towel on her head. Another photo, highlighted onFEMEN’s Facebook page is of a topless woman protesting at a mosque in San Francisco (because, when you’re fighting the good fight of “TITS AGAINST ISLAMISM,” standing topless in front of any mosque anywhere will do) with the following caption:
1. The first picture is pretty “racist”. I won’t defend that and will condemn it. You aren’t helping by making a photo like that.
2. The second is just out of the concept of taste in many parts of the west mainly because
TODAY IS AMINA TOPLESS JIHAD DAY. I was at the Islamic Mosque in San Francisco. Some Arab guy tried to grab my sign and pushed me in a violent way. My friend stopped him. MY BODY IS MY TEMPLE.
3. The right to freedom of expression is protected by us in the west. The issue here is that there is a values dissonance. We don’t see anything wrong with human nudity. I may like “breasts” in a sexual manner but I also understand that there is context. A breast feeding mother is no more insulting to me than this woman. This woman is making a point. That Islam doesn’t let women have agency as much as other faiths.
Further down is a cartoon of a woman crawling out from under her burqa to light on fire the beard of a caricature of a Muslim man (or should I say “some Arab guy”?). In the comments, a woman posted a link to an Al Jazeera article about Muslim women counter-protesting the protest, as they rightfully feel that it was condescending and imperialistic in both tone and intent. FEMEN fans responded to her link in the following ways…
4. One of the strangest things in India is that when a bride burning or harassment occurs leading to a death of a woman, the major perpetrators of this are “other women”. The system is broken. In order to be a good muslim woman you have to follow certain rules by the dictims of Islam. Any who do not follow those rules are “not” good women. So Amina’s protests mean she is not good in the same way that no matter what I do, I am not good due to my atheism. The very fact she is rebellious and has exposed her body excludes anything else that she may say by a large part of Islamic and by extension, muslim society. And if we are being specific? The Tunisians regard themselves as arabs and arguably the caricature is of the Salafist Extremists who are the ones calling for her death/imprisonment. And while FEMEN’s problem is a lack of ability to distinguish between different Muslims the argument here is that specifically if they are caricaturing Tunisian Arabs then sure.
Now, many women may think that they should argue against Amina but here is the thing. They believe their freedom is universal. One of Tigasuku’s best friends is a lovely muslim lady who has agency. However I cannot use her as an example to determine the treatment of women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or indeed Amina. If she stood up and said “No! We are not oppressed!” then i would have to disagree. She specifically is not oppressed due to her family’s moderate nature. However I know for a fact that even her family has social pressures on them that encourage them to behave in ways we would consider “unacceptable”. The freedom that she DOES have is not universal nor is it as total as we think it should be.
You know that there’s something wrong with your protest when its ardent supporters find it appropriate to repeatedly call the women they are “saving” stupid and to affirm that they have no capacity for making decisions of their own.
This was where I clashed with some people over Atheism +. Some people do not have the education background nor grasp of a subject to understand why we do something. Indians have for centuries walked barefoot. In fact there is a major pilgrimage here where you have to be barefoot for a month before hand before climbing a hill barefoot.
I have to tell people that this practice is unhealthy and bad for them. That this practice is harming themselves. That when their kids do it, it harms them too. I have to fucking explain why SHOES are important.
Don’t look too smug. When I asked the question “Why should you wear shoes” most westerners couldn’t specifically tell me what disease is reduced by wearing shoes. (It’s hookworm infestations which cause anaemia which cause a variety of issues ranging from low birth weight, cerebral palsy, increased mortality to measles and failure to thrive and neurological impairment in growing children). It “kills”.
Many people do not realise how bad things are in reality, even rich educated westerners. To this day people still send me crates of stuff like “10 cans of pineapples” and the charity that sends it delivers it with such earnest joy of doing something good that we haven’t the heart to tell them that pineapples are not only available where I live but they are cheap and considered “street food” (Pineapple + Salt and Pepper or chili powder). Sending me a tin of them is like mailing me curry powder. Educated, Smart People Are Doing Something Stupid that most Indians Would Consider As Mad.
Hell! I even had someone send me a giant tin of coffee that said “Made in India” on the bottom. One of my co-workers got a giant box of TEA. Do you have any idea how batshit crazy that is?
Then realise why we need to “TELL” some people that their support for a regressive and repressive culture isn’t healthy.
The counter-protest, Muslimah Pride Day, calls for women to speak out for themselves on social media:
[P]lease post pictures of your beautiful selves, whether you wear hijaab, nikaab or not. This is an opportunity for Muslim women to get a say and show people that we have a voice too, that we come in many different shapes and sizes that we object to the way we are depicted in the west, we object to the way we are lumped in to one homogenous group without a voice of agency of our own.
You may have agency, but others do not. My cousin’s pretty free to do what she wants.
I cannot have her protest against people fighting the Purdah System or sexist Indian Culture.
I can marry who I want.
I cannot protest against people who are fighting for the rights of young men and women in India to not be forced into marriages by claiming that my agency in that matter means that someone else’s oppression is invalid.
I have agency. These women are happy with the agency that they have.
And honestly? If you are free then take off that Hijab and Niqab and then see how much agency you have. In fact these women often only have agency because they adhere to the rules and haven’t sought agency outside the dictated rules of the society they live in. If a niqab/burkha clad housewife in Saudi Arabia wants to post a photo of herself being driven to the shops and claim that she is free then she is fine. However I am damn sure if she wanted to go down to a hookah bar in a business suit by herself in a car she would suddenly find out that her agency has “run out”.
The best way to explain this is through the analogy of the bird in the cage. Different Muslim women have different sized cages. Some of them have no cages, some of them have big cages and some of them have small cages. Now the problem is in Islam there are a larger number of cages that seem to be very small and the punishment for trying to escape the cage is a lot more harshly enforced than similar “cages” in the west.
FEMEN needs to recognize that Muslim women do in fact have agency, and the idea that Muslim women are helpless, passively indoctrinated by the alleged evils of Islam, and desperately need of Western feminist help is oppressive and orientalist. Patriarchy is not specific to Islam — although there are inarguably extreme and truly saddening examples of misogyny in the Muslim community, patriarchy is a global issue. Furthermore, feminism is not only a Western institution — to assume that Muslim women need someone to “speak for” them is insulting to all the grassroots political organizing and activism that Muslim feminists have done. It’s disturbing how a the rhetoric of “women’s liberation” has been co-opted to justify aggression, violence, and prejudice against Muslim communities. In what way is it appropriate to “rescue” women by indulging in and re-circulating essentializing, stereotyped, and offensive depictions of their culture?
Patriarchy is not a universal theme. Different cultures have different problems with it male domination of women and for different reasons.
Feminism in muslim countries is often stifled and people cannot say anything. Let’s take an example in the KSA. I want to see the feminists who tried defending her.
It’s more disturbing how an unwillingness to speak out has allowed people to play footloose and fancy free with women’s rights in many parts of the world. The problem here is the inability to differentiate between stereotypes and actual arguments on both sides.
I cannot stress this enough, when showing support for Amina realise that not all muslims disagree with her. And when standing for Islame remember than not all women have your rights.