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Apr 11 2013

Balance – Muslim Women vs. Topless Europeans

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.

17 comments

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  1. 1
    S Mukherjee

    Thanks — you articulated all the thoughts I was thinking. One does not have the ‘choice’ to do a certain thing if one is never allowed to do the opposite thing. It’s like those sham elections in totalitarian states where only one party is on the ballot.

  2. 2
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    Amen.

    That’s really all I can say here.

  3. 3
    HaifischGeweint

    Exposed tits aren’t part of the problem. The fact that this same ignorance of western arrogance and racism has plagued the feminist movement since before women’s suffrage in north america, and continues to be repeated, unchecked and not even slowed down a little, is the problem.

    And in case it wasn’t clear, north american Muslim women are exercising autonomy when they decide to cover their hair. It’s like you think that the act of any woman uncovering some part of her body in north america “proves” autonomy. Are you in denial of systemic sexism on this continent? Women are murdered for doing that here, it just isn’t sensationalized the way it is overseas, as some sort of religious evil-doer’s plot to keep women in cages, because we’re also incredibly pig-headed and racist in divergent ways on this continent.

  4. 4
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    HaifischGeweint…

    And in case it wasn’t clear, north american Muslim women are exercising autonomy when they decide to cover their hair.

    I don’t think anyone’s denying that.

    But I’m going to say it: I do not believe that, in most countries in the Middle East, women, especially Muslim women, have that autonomy. In at least a large part of the Middle East, Muslim women get the following choice: wear the hijab or be brutally tortured/killed.

    That ain’t much of a choice, and doesn’t say much for any supposed autonomy people claim they might have.

    Of course, FEMEN cannot and should not be forgiven for the racism displayed by those who flaunted a fake beard. I don’t like FEMEN all that much because they don’t accept the existence of sex workers who aren’t slaves. They ignore the voices of sex workers who do it because they want to do it, and will even bully them.

    FEMEN is not a great organization, unfortunately. They are extremists, IMO. Privilege-blind extremists with zero tact, lost of racism, transphobia, and even sexism.

    But I would argue that those North American Muslim women talking about how they have all this autonomy and wear the hijab of their own free will without any threat of brutalization/torture/rape/murder are being quite privilege-blind. I would very much like to see the day when women around the world have total autonomy, but we aren’t there yet. And the fact is, in the Middle East, Muslim men treat women worse than cattle; and that is unacceptable.

    Not everyone who thinks Islam can be as evil as Christianity is Islamophobic. Islam here in the US does appears to be largely benign… at least here where I live. Hell… when I attempted to start a branch of the SSA at my college (an endeavor still going on), it was the Muslim group who first welcomed us with open arms. They even defended us against the evangelical Christian group tabling against us (Hillel and the Jewish group, the Catholic group, and the Pagan group also supported us, which was really awesome). Of course, that Muslim group also put up flyers in support of Amina (almost all of the women in the group wear a hijab or at least a head-covering), as well as flyers asking that support of Amina not be couched in Racism and Islamophobia, which is a message I whole-heartedly agree with.

    I’m just getting sick of all support of Amina being couched as “Islamophobic” and/or “racist”. Is it possible for me to support Amina and damn the patriarchy inherent in, I guess, Islamism without being Islamophobic/Racist? Can I worry about Amina’s life and believe that getting her to safety is infinitely more important than any kind of cultural relativism (at least right now) without being a bigot?

    To be clear, HaifischGeweint, I’m not saying that you are making the claims in the last paragraph. But it has become a rather annoying trope ever since Amina’s story broke. Unfortunately, it has made me side-eye claims of Islamophobia in relation to this case (much the same way I side-eye claims of antisemitism in relation to criticisms of Israel), which is a very bad thing because Islamophobia is a very real problem (as FEMEN and Tea Party conservatives are all too happy to illustrate).

  5. 5
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    And the fact is, in the Middle East, Muslim men treat women worse than cattle; and that is unacceptable.

    I forgot something…

    That should say that, in the Middle East, SOME Muslim men treat women worse than cattle.

  6. 6
    HaifischGeweint

    Here’s my problem with the protests, which took place in Europe and San Fransisco:

    Yes, I get it. These are women who have freedoms that are not shared by the women for whom they are protesting in the first place.

    Did they forget that when they were running around with towels in their heads, baring their tits and inflammatory bullshit at the front steps of a random mosque, and name-calling the Muslim women who disagreed with them?

    How is their protest helping the cause for which they stood?

    How is their protest helping the women for whom they stood?

    When was the last time they stopped to think about their strategies, so that at the end of the protest, they have successfully swung favour to the cause and women for whom they protested, rather than exacerbating the problem with racism, islamophobia, and unchecked culturally imperialistic attitudes, which they are no doubt promoting, thus putting Muslim women all over the world in even greater danger?

    Is anyone actually thinking about the repercussions of this protest on racialized and Muslim women, or is this just a defense of white chicks showing everyone their boobs?

    I sure am tired of the old trope, “you’re only free if you can prove to me you’re not a caged animal the way I’ve already decided you are because you aren’t baring yourself to me”. Talk about entitlement issues.

  7. 7
    Avicenna

    And in case it wasn’t clear, north american Muslim women are exercising autonomy when they decide to cover their hair.

    They often aren’t.

    How many atheists pretend to not be atheist in order to remain with their families? How many gay men remain with their homophobic families, pretending to be straight or worse…. homophobes themselves. Sufficient numbers for atheists and gay people to fear this scenario.

    Muslim women in the west wear the burkha/hijab due to the social pressure from muslim communities to do so. It’s the same reason why Fundementalist Mormon women don’t flee. For the same reason that abused women often don’t flee their relationships. Because the current social pressure in their lives punishes them for fleeing.

    Hijab or Burkha is worn by women often because they have no choice. Either wear the damn thing or lose the entire system of support they are forced to rely on. Or worse… There has always been the spectre of honour crime over muslim youths and it’s mainly women who face the brunt of it. There is also the notion that “good” people do x, y or z and if you don’t do x, y or z you cannot possibly be good.

    The stance both sides are taking is wrong. You are only free if you can strip and prove it? That’s stupid for the same reason why no one in the UK is baring their bums at random. However, the “WE ARE FREE” argument is just daft particularly when you are charting the system abuse of women in the countries where these women claim to be free. They are free merely because they haven’t run into the wall of the cage yet.

  8. 8
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Muslim women in the west wear the burkha/hijab due to the social pressure from muslim communities to do so. It’s the same reason why Fundementalist Mormon women don’t flee. For the same reason that abused women often don’t flee their relationships. Because the current social pressure in their lives punishes them for fleeing.

    That’s absolutely true. And here’s the thing we can do: listen to them, listen to what they want us to do and support them in what they’re doing. We need to make room for them, even if they arrive only “half-there”, like still wearing a hijab.
    Everything else is imperialist racist bullshit of us pretending to know what’s best for them. That’s France banning the Burka and then being very smug about how they liberated all those poor women-folks.
    Western feminists should think about whom they’re adding most pressure on and who’ll have to pay the price. If the answer to that question is “non-western women” then they’re doing it wrong.
    And I have also become very suspicious of western people who are oh so upset about the plight of muslim women. Because quite often the same people will turn around and abuse western women, from condoning to sending rape-threats if said women misbehave. In short, we have a cage, too, it’s just a different one.

  9. 9
    Avicenna

    The France thing? I don’t think they handled it well but the issue is that “Niqabs and Burkhas” are “Taking the piss”. They are clearly a method of oppressing women by physically removing them from society and making them faceless and unapproachable. I know many people consider the new british doctor hygiene laws to be anti-muslim because they ban niqabs/burkhas and require you to be bare below the elbow. You know, for hygiene purposes (I cannot wear a watch).

    And the French ban is on ALL face coverings except in specific circumstances such as safety, movie shoots, carnivals and costume parties.

    The French ban was actually heavily supported by Muslims in France. In fact the biggest protests against it were OUTSIDE France. Just 2000 odd women in France live under the Burkha and the French Muslims themselves think it’s bullshit. Yes roughly 2000 women find it harder to live their lives under this system but the remaining muslim women get protection and make a stand on a system that is harmful to women and actively punish those who enforce it.

    The bill also penalises, with a fine of €30,000 and one year in prison, anyone who forces (by violence, threats or by abuse of power) another to wear face coverings; these penalties may be doubled if the victim is under the age of 18.

    Again, who represents your women? The women who think the Burkha is empowering? The women who think we should bend over backwards to accomodate people who don’t wish to adjust? The women who think we shouldn’t bend over backwards? There are so many view points.

    Amusingly enough? Pussy Riot members in France were arrested and fined for being in breach of the ban. Because they were wearing balaclavas.

    It’s not as cut and shut as you think. And it’s actually a pretty heavily supported ban amongst muslim moderates and liberals who fear creeping right wing Islam.

  10. 10
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Yes roughly 2000 women find it harder to live their lives under this system but the remaining muslim women get protection and make a stand on a system that is harmful to women and actively punish those who enforce it.

    See, this is exactly why this is bullshit. You think that those 2000 women’s quality of life is a price worth paying without listening to them when all it gives the other ones is some points on a score-card. There’s a good reason why a modern democracy isn’t “majority rules”

    The bill also penalises, with a fine of €30,000 and one year in prison, anyone who forces (by violence, threats or by abuse of power) another to wear face coverings; these penalties may be doubled if the victim is under the age of 18.

    And how realistic do you think it is that this is prosecuted? If a woman has been forced to wear the burka before the ban by her husband, and she couldn’t get away from him while she was able to move out in public, how much chance do you think she has to get him prosecuted now? Those provisions are meaningless figueleaves. The only ones who carry the burden of the law are those 2000 women who may wear the burka because they’re forced to wear it or because they think they’re right to wear it.

    Again, who represents your women?

    Those women affected represent themselves.

    The women who think the Burkha is empowering?

    I think they’re wrong. But I think that forcing them to take it off is just as wrong. It doesn’t empower them any more than wearing a burka if it’s not their own decision.

    The women who think we should bend over backwards to accomodate people who don’t wish to adjust?

    What’s that supposed to mean? How much do immigrants (and their descendants) have to adjust to the dominant culture? What’s beding over backwards? Really, I can hardly believe that you of all people on FtB would make that argument.

    The women who think we shouldn’t bend over backwards? There are so many view points.

    Yes there are, and clearly some of them are wrong. Women aren’t automatically right on women’s issues because they are women. That’s a problem feminism has had from the start, it was racist as shit. Epecially women aren’t automatically right on the issues of women to whose group they don’t belong.
    No, I don’t want to see any burkas and hijabs and niqabs on women’s heads as a sign of religious chastity. But I clearly also cannot judge why a woman is wearing any of these items from looking at her.
    Does she wear it because she is forced to wear it? In what position do I get her if I force her to take it off? Will she happily donne a miniskirt and dance through the park? Or is it more likely that her world becomes much, much smaller because I have just taken away her possibility to move in society?
    You know where I see most women wearing a hijab or a niqab?
    In college. I don’t see them much on the muslim women and girls in Turkish community of my working class hometown. But I know what happens there and happens there often. The girls being married off to cousins in Turkey, their brothers getting their wives imported, their social contacts being heavily monitored, especially when the girls get too friendly with a German guy, usually by their own brothers.
    So, how can I interfere from headscarf to level of oppression?

  11. 11
    Codi Johnson

    I just want to point out the usage of the made up word ‘islamophobia’. We are to presume it’s used the same way as homophobia is used, that is, to point out unjust bigotry towards Islam. Wait. Islam is a RELIGION. Not a race, not a genetic characteristic; but a choice. At least, a choice just as far as Christianity is a choice in the west. But we know why it’s used: It’s used as a smoke screen. That way, they can practice their brutal misguided mythology and when anyone takes issue with it, accuse them of being racist and/or intolerant. There is no such thing as tolerance of intolerance. That’s not being tolerant, that’s…what’s that old saying? “Be open minded but not so open minded that your brain falls out.”

    What is it with the atheist/free thinker community that one can mercilessly criticize Christianity and Christians, but say something about Islam and ten different people pretend they’re all offended.

  12. 12
    Gareth

    Did they forget that when they were running around with towels in their heads, baring their tits and inflammatory bullshit at the front steps of a random mosque, and name-calling the Muslim women who disagreed with them?

    Thats their tactic in general, they aim to be as offensive as possible, whether their targets are Orthradox churches in Ukraine, or otherwise. Did they really need to chop down a memorial to people killed during Stalin’s purges in the 1930s? Do you think that helped their cause?
    Do you think they went for the cartoon mad muslim look by accident, or on purpose?
    The cynic in me thinks that their recent stunts got more attention because it fits into the whole clash of civilisations vibe, when they protest against women being sex trafficed in Ukraine, we can safely ignore it, even have a giggle at how silly it all is. Its in Ukraine, who cares.

    Codi, I think your race/religion distinction is moot, they didn’t dress up like your typical Indonesian Imam, they went for an outdated mock-Arab look with a somewhat questionable history. They way I’m reading it, they chose it intentionaly.

  13. 13
    William Liberty

    Despising a certain culture like Islam for example is not racism. In fact calling that racism is manipulation. There is no particular race singled out and even if there was if the focus of the intellectual attack was on the cultural beliefs and standard practices then that is not racism. Islam is despicable culture – even moderate Islam because of its submission to fundamentalists, terrorists and immoral cultural practices like Sharia Law.

  14. 14
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Despising a certain culture like Islam for example is not racism.

    Thinking that about 1 billion people from all over the world share one single monolithic “culture” from Turkey to Indonesia, Australia to Norway and that they are all despicable is the very essence of Islamophobia. The word might not be particularly well coined (muslimophobia might work better), but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t describe a real phenomenon.
    Ever heard of a guy called Geert Wilders?

  15. 15
    hoary puccoon

    Avicenna @ 9–

    I think there have been at least two laws passed in France concerning what Muslim women and girls can wear. Besides the one you mentioned, I believe there is a ban on head scarves in public schools. I didn’t Google it, but I think it bans any religious apparel, including headscarves and, for instance, Catholic cross pendants.

  16. 16
    Melanie V

    Although I believe that an individual has the right to mock any religion or religious freedom as they see fit in any fashion they see fit, I disagree with the assertion that patriarchy and sexism are confined to Islam or Muslim countries.

    Amanda Todd, Rehtaeh Parsons, Felicia Garcia (less publicized, but check out the story here http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local/new_york&id=8860235).

    Do any of these names ring a bell? They should. Each of these three young women had something in common:

    They were bullied to death (each committed suicide) as the result of being labelled a slut.

    Although we may not physically or forcibly veil women in the West, there is a symbolic veil of protection granted to women who conform to societal expectations of appropriate sexual conduct for women. Women in the west who deviate from these sexual norms are still subject to harassment, abuse, rape and death (check out the stories of the three young girls mentioned above).

    Although sexism and violence against women are not officially condoned in Western society, the underlying beliefs about women which give rise to the violence we see against women are the similar the world over. We in the West are merely construct a narrative of tolerance and then proceed to bash and disrespect women’s rights in a subtle fashion.

  17. 17
    Headphone Murah

    Baiklah, Saya temukan www kamu dari Yahoo
    Sangat membantu dan akan di kasih bintang.
    Kita Beli Haedphone sangat senang dengan
    apa yang dilakukan dengan semangat dan antusias.
    Salam Tetap Semangat.

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