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Dec 26 2013

Your Mean Girls Cis White Feminism

It’s funny how feminism gets it in the neck from both directions, isn’t it. On the one hand there are people who say “feminists are silent about stonings and forced marriage and FGM!” To which I murmur replies to the effect that not all feminists are silent about that. On the other hand there are people who claim that “Mean Girls Cis White Feminism” is silent about the marginalization of women who wear the hijab. To which I murmur replies to the effect that I don’t want to see anyone marginalized or bullied, but at the same time I reserve the right to say I think the hijab is a bad, regressive, sexist custom, and why I think that.

I’ve noticed that the position between those two poles is not always a popular one.

 

14 comments

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  1. 1
    Katherine Woo

    The problem is prominent feminists with a mainstream media following like Amanda Marcotte, Jessica Valenti, and the various feminists at the Guardian, pretty much are completely silent on Islamic misogyny. They pretty much discuss Islam to bemoan ‘Islamophobia’ as we saw with Laurie Penny.

    In turn, it seems like feminist academics have a similar mindset. i view intersectionality as one running excuse to not make gender equality the top priority for feminists. Does Judith Butler demand boycotts over gender apartheid in the Muslim world? Nope.

    Like I said last night, I tremendously respect what you do, but when it comes time to call myself a feminist or not, I have to make a call based on what seem to be the prevailing trends. If your wonderful colleague Taslima Nasreen were the one with a regular Guardian column and Penny was just a clown throwing out accusations of Islamophobia in the comments, then I might have quiet a different view.

    Sorry, I hope you can understand where women like me are coming from.

  2. 2
    Ophelia Benson

    I do understand it, I think, but I also refuse to let feminism belong exclusively to people who draw a magic protective circle around Islam or any other religion (or all religions).

    And there are prominent feminists with a mainstream media following who are not silent on Islamist misogyny. Joan Smith, Katha Pollitt, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Taslima Nasreen are a few.

  3. 3
    rosiebell

    Not to mention Polly Toynbeee. But I get the impression it’s the older ones that aren’t awed by Other Cultures, Other Relgions, and it’s the young ‘uns like Laurie Penny who are producing the relativist crap.

  4. 4
    Ophelia Benson

    I was going to say Toynbee first but then didn’t remember anything specific so decided not to.

  5. 5
    Shatterface

    Kinda the same with socialism. Lots of socialists are happy to provide a socialist critique of capitalist societies but bracket theocracies to one side as if economics stops where god starts.

    It’s the non-overlapping magisteria bit again with economics as the ‘science’.

    They’ve forgotten the ‘opiate of the people’.

    Maybe it’s because second wave feminism emerged when Britain, the USA, Australia, etc. were less ethnically diverse than they are today (or else ethnic groups were so marginalised they didn’t register on the feminist radar): they don’t have the language to articulate inequalities that don’t break down into white men vs white women.

    Sadly the newer generation which has grown up in a diverse culture hasn’t found a language of its own.

  6. 6
    Shatterface

    Not to mention Polly Toynbeee. But I get the impression it’s the older ones that aren’t awed by Other Cultures, Other Relgions, and it’s the young ‘uns like Laurie Penny who are producing the relativist crap.

    Is Toynbee of an older generation than Butler or Greer? I do think she’s been particularly good of late though.

  7. 7
    Raging Bee

    Does Judith Butler demand boycotts over gender apartheid in the Muslim world? Nope.

    In fairness, what do we import from the Muslim world that we can stop buying? The US already gets most of its oil from Canada these days.

  8. 8
    SallyStrange

    I don’t talk about Islamic misogyny often. I also don’t talk about Shinto misogyny. Sometimes I talk about the flavor of misogyny found in India because I traveled there and it was a real eye-opener for me in terms of feminist struggles for basic things like freedom of movement. I sometimes talk about European misogyny, but generally I leave that to the European feminists.

    I don’t get this whole thing about not denouncing Islamic misogyny. I’d rather err on the side of knowing what the heck I’m talking about than inadvertently appropriating and patronizing Muslim feminists. As an American uterus-haver, Christian misogyny is far more relevant to my life.

    This seems like a uniquely British fight to me. I don’t understand why people expect to have Marcotte to have something to say on the subject. It really isn’t her beat. The Guardian, yeah, I suppose. I don’t know enough about Valenti to say one way or the other. It seems like it’s more a question of getting the feminists who DO have Islamic misogyny as part of their beat to get better exposure.

  9. 9
    Shatterface

    I don’t see how non-Muslim feminists can bracket Islam aside when Islam doesn’t bracket non-Muslim feminists aside.

    The proposed segregation at British universities would have applied to non-Muslim women too.

    In any case, solidarity crosses cultural boundaries. As a union activist I identify with the struggles of union members in other countries: it’s not racist for me to support union rights in China, or South Aftica, or the USA: in fact I’ve hardly ever heard the suggestion it might be. Why should it be racist to support women’s rights elsewhere?

  10. 10
    Ophelia Benson

    Sally…But you read here pretty often, I think – aren’t you aware that ex-Muslim and secular Muslim feminists WANT solidarity from other feminists and secularists?

    It’s not a matter of pretending or claiming to know all about it, it’s a matter of supporting and sharing the views of people who do.

  11. 11
    KBPlayer

    @ Shatterface – I didn’t mean that the older feminist generation hadn’t gone that way, most notably in Germaine Greer’s Sex and Destiny. But I think the younger generation of UK & USA feminists don’t speak about women in other cultures at all or if they do, fall over themselves to be sensitive. I’ll admit to not being very well acquainted with what they’re up to.

  12. 12
    Katherine Woo

    I don’t talk about Islamic misogyny often. I also don’t talk about Shinto misogyny.

    One of those religions has something like 1.5 billion followers scattered all around the world and linked to multiple social issues, the other has a few million believers at most, virtually all in one nation, and has no global impact I can articulate.

    The fact you think dismissing them as a focus of feminist criticism is of equal consequence is just ridiculous, but very telling at the same time.

    As an American uterus-haver, Christian misogyny is far more relevant to my life

    So you only really focus on issues that affect you personally? And you’re proud of that?

  13. 13
    SallyStrange

    Sally…But you read here pretty often, I think – aren’t you aware that ex-Muslim and secular Muslim feminists WANT solidarity from other feminists and secularists?

    It’s not a matter of pretending or claiming to know all about it, it’s a matter of supporting and sharing the views of people who do.

    That’s fair. I guess I see this condemnation of white cis middle-class feminists in the USA and UK as missing the point – but maybe I’m misinterpreting the criticism. If they’re criticizing Marcotte/Valenti/["mainstream" feminist X] for not writing nuanced articles about Islamic misogyny in particular, then I think it’s missing the point (at least for Marcotte, who, as I said, basically covers American politics and pop culture)(which isn’t to blunt criticisms of her for failing to give credence and attention to American feminists of color). If the criticism is for not signal-boosting Muslim and ex-Muslim feminists enough, I agree. If the criticism is for not giving Muslim and ex-Muslim feminists a big enough platform for their own views, I agree too and would also expand that criticism.

    One of those religions has something like 1.5 billion followers scattered all around the world and linked to multiple social issues, the other has a few million believers at most, virtually all in one nation, and has no global impact I can articulate.

    The fact you think dismissing them as a focus of feminist criticism is of equal consequence is just ridiculous, but very telling at the same time.

    Also good points.

    So you only really focus on issues that affect you personally? And you’re proud of that?

    Not ONLY, but yes, I do tend to focus more on things that affect me personally than on things that don’t. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed either and I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of it. It’s a natural human tendency. I try not to opine unless I know what I’m talking about; when it’s something I know nothing about, I try to quote and direct attention.

    I guess I’m having a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction – I’m tired of USA scare tactics about Muslims. They just really don’t have that much power in the States. And “Dear Muslima.” You know.

  14. 14
    surreptitioius57

    On the general point of a reluctance to criticise Islam there is on the left the view that cultural differences make that unwise. And that it should instead be accommodated lest one be accused of racism or xenophobia. Ignoring the fact that a religion is not a sovereign state or an ethnic group that criticism does not apply. There should be a very simple fact that is determined whenever this question arises. And that is whether there has been an abuse of human rights or not ? If the answer is yes then criticise. If the answer is no then do not criticise. The notion that one should never however if one is not from that religion is simply wrong. Human rights as the name suggests applies to everyone not just some. But in spite of that cultural sensitivities concerning Islam exist. The recent film of my own country s citizens justifying female genital mutilation is a fine example of this. That is fundamentally wrong. To say so may invite the accusation of racism but that is nothing compared not allowing F G M to go unchallenged

    Yasmin Alibhai Brown is a very public Muslim. But she has received abuse from other Muslims just for expressing her democratic right to self expression. She does so because she challenges the patriarchy of Islam and so is punished both for questioning the status quo and for being a woman. But in a democracy she has that right. The United Kingdom is not a Muslim state. The law of the land is set by Parliament not by Sharia. And anyone who is resident in the U K can also exercise that democratic right too. Regardless of whether they are Muslim or not. And regardless of the cultural sensitivities of the left. It is not racist or xenophobic to speak out against human right abuses if they are being committed in the name of Islam. Long as one does not have an ulterior motive – as in the English Defence League for example – then such criticism is not only acceptable but necessary too. So the left needs to be more courageous on issues of cultural sensitivity in general and stop hiding under the banner of political correctness. For there is nothing politically correct about turning a blind eye to abuse. Nothing at all

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