Another dog’s breakfast

Oh christ, not again. This time it’s Laurie Penny getting it all wrong.

This isn’t ‘feminism’, says the title, It’s Islamophobia. The title isn’t directly the fault of the author, since editors write the titles, but that one does reflect what the article says, and it’s the same old crock of shit.

As a person who writes about women’s issues, I am constantly being told that Islam is the greatest threat to gender equality in this or any other country – mostly by white men, who always know best.

Well that can happen, yes. (Dear Muslima? Yes. It can happen.) But that doesn’t mean that there is no problem with conservative Islam and Islamism when it comes to gender equality, just as there are problems with conservative Christianity, the Vatican, conservative Judaism – you get the idea. Liberal, secular versions of religion are mostly benign, epistemology apart, but it doesn’t follow that all versions of religion are.

…from the Rochdale grooming case to interminable debates over whether traditional Islamic dress is “empowering” or otherwise, the rhetoric and language of feminism has been co-opted by Islamophobes, who could not care less about women of any creed or colour.

The recent blanket coverage of the “gender segregation on campus” story was a textbook case. This month Student Rights, a pressure group not run by students, released a report vastly exaggerating a suggestion by Universities UK that male and female students might be asked to sit separately in some lectures led by Islamic guest speakers. The tabloids went bananas. Extremists were taking over the academy.

Never mind that it wasn’t strictly true, the non-controversy spread to every level of government. Labour MP Chuka Umunna declared: “A future Labour government would not allow or tolerate segregation in our universities.” Even the prime minister stepped into the debate, saying the proposed guidelines, which have since been withdrawn, were “not the right approach”. The elite all-male Oxford club of which both he and the chancellor were members was presumably the perfect approach.

Sigh. Notice how completely she ignores the December 10 protest. Notice how wrong she gets the facts – the Student Rights report was not released this month, it was released last May. Naturally it said nothing about the UUK guidance, because the UUK guidance didn’t exist at the time. Notice how she jumps from that to the spread of the controversy, thus getting the whole thing completely wrong.

(I should say that people are arguing with her on Twitter right now, as I type this, and she is admitting some omissions. Fair dues. [But I wish people would get this right before writing about it instead of after.] But she persists in saying she supports “Muslim feminists.” I’ve asked her about six times now, what about ex-Muslim, Muslim background, allies? And she’s ignoring me. Ok, I’m a nobody, and I’m not a “Muslim”…but then that’s my point, which is that she’s excluding allies, and that’s…neither progressive nor helpful.)

I have spent weary weeks being asked to condemn this “policy of gender segregation” by “Islamic extremists”, despite the fact that no such policy exists.

Yes it does.

I am not writing here on behalf of Muslim women, who can and do speak for themselves, and not all in one voice. I am writing this as a white feminist infuriated by white men using dog-whistle Islamophobia to derail any discussion of structural sexism; as someone who has heard too many reactionaries tell me to shut up about rape culture and the pay gap and just be grateful I’m not in Saudi Arabia; as someone angered that so many Muslim feminists fighting for gender justice are forced to watch their truth, to paraphrase that fusty old racist Rudyard Kipling, “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools”.

In short, by the whole genre of “Dear Muslima.” Fine, but that’s not what happened in this case.

For decades, western men have hijacked the language of women’s liberation to justify their Islamophobia. If we care about the future of feminism, we cannot let them set the agenda.

We’re not. That’s not what happened in this case. Start over.



  1. zibble says

    I think a big problem in American politics is the mentality behind political movements. The conservative mentality worships obedience and conformity, which is a very effective mentality for political action. The liberal mentality tends to value individualism, which isn’t.

    In every political battle, conservatives rush to blithely support their guy, liberals rush to push each other under the bus to show how much more enlightened they are.

  2. hotshoe, now with more boltcutters says

    Actually, she’s doing a “Dear Muslima” herself:

    have spent weary weeks being asked to condemn this “policy of gender segregation” by “Islamic extremists”, despite the fact that no such policy exists. Of course, I condemn all sexism within the academy. I condemn segregated drinking societies and the under-representation of women at the top levels of academia. I condemn rape culture on campus, traditions like “seal clubbing” and “slut dropping” where male students are encouraged to sexually humiliate their female classmates. If I’ve enough breath left, I’ll condemn the suggestion that guest lecturers be allowed a segregated audience for religious reasons.

    She’s saying “How dare you ask for support in a fight against classroom segregation, when there are so much more important problems (ie rape culture) facing campus women?” IF you haven’t been raped or sexually humiliated, shut up – you’re just having a childish reaction to being told that you have to sit on one side so men don’t catch your cooties. And the serious feminists – that is, Ms Penny – don’t have time to listen to such childish talk.

    Here, she does it again in the next paragraph:

    Structural sexism does take place every day in our universities, as it does in our offices, shops and homes – and we should oppose it everywhere. But demanding that feminists of every race and faith drop all our campaigns and stand against “radical Islam” sounds more and more like white patriarchy trying to make excuses for itself: “If you think we’re bad, just look at these guys.”

    Yes, how dare anyone point out that a particular brand of fundie Muslim enforcing sex-segregated lectures is even a tiny bit of a bad thing. Dear Muslima, you think you have misogyny to complain about! Well, WE have structural sexism to oppose, and I assure you, as an important, white, university-educated “feminist” named Laurie Penny, that I know better than you who our real enemies are.

    That’s leaving aside the outright lie that anyone is demanding feminists “drop all [their] campaigns” …

    What a terrible hypocrite Penny is.

  3. hotshoe, now with more boltcutters says

    Weird, how’d that repetition get in my comment? Sorry. I did preview, I didn’t see it …

    Okay, worth saying once, worth saying twice, I guess.

  4. karmacat says

    There are 2 kinds of people in the world (I know, I know too simplistic, but bear with me). There are those who say “but” a lot. Essentially, Penny saying “but what about all the other issues women face.” An “and” person would say, we can support protest against gender segregation at conferences and other support other issues that affect equality. I don’t get why people view the world as “either/or.” This is on a tangent, but (sorry for the but) it reminds me of MRA’s. Some MRA’s just can’t believe that someone can be a feminist and still be supportive with men.

  5. says

    (I fixed it, hotshoe.)

    Laurie Penny has amended the article in response to (some of) the criticism, which is good, but she still hasn’t figured out what to call the people who protested or objected that doesn’t exclude most of them, and she still has the howler claiming the Student Rights report came out this month and was the reason for the protest. All wrong.

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