A Response to Topless Jihad Day
April 19, 2013
In the wake of Topless Jihad Day, organized by the group known as Femen, Muslim women have come out in protest of the event, declaring Femen to be “white colonial feminists”. What is the reason for this? Why has Femen been received negatively by Muslim women—the very group Femen is supposedly trying to help?
The problems with Femen start with its undercurrents of Islamophobia. It targets one religion, ignoring the fact that the idea of imposing image standards on women is not unique to Islam. My previous post on Sam Harris and Islam touched on this. Harris had expressed his concern about the ways in which Islam oppresses women. My argument was that oppression of women is not unique to Islam, and that the real focus should be on the larger problem of patriarchy. This stance is shared by Muslim Women Against Femen, one of the groups opposing Femen’s efforts.
Where Femen fails as a feminist movement is that, in my view, if you are telling other women that there is a certain way to dress, and that one group’s way of dressing represents oppression, then you aren’t doing a good job at being a feminist. The focus should be on creating a world of choice—one where women are free to dress as they choose, and not be judged by society for doing so. Yes, there are likely women out there who are forced to wear the hijab against their will. That should be a concern to us. However, when a group of Muslim women takes it upon themselves to write a letter to Femen outlining why they think the Femen protests are wrong, and that their wearing of the hijab is not the result of oppression, maybe Femen should listen. Instead, they’ve done the opposite.
Without understanding the reasons why a woman chooses to cover her body, Femen goes ahead and acts as if the choice to do so is a sign that the woman is oppressed. No way could it be her own choice, she must be oppressed! Seriously, if you think I’m creating a straw-person here go ahead and read the words from Femen leader Inna Shevchenko:
They say they are against Femen, but we still say we are here for them. They write on their posters that they don’t need liberation but in their eyes it’s written ‘help me’. You know, through all history of humanity, all slaves deny that they are slaves. We are proud to share progressive ideas for all over the world, all ideologies have the place where they were born but ideology of freedom doesn’t have nationality or specific location, it’s a universal idea that is shared by Arab women too!
This response comes off as being highly-paternalistic, smeared with a sense of “West knows best”. Apparently, Shevchenko can tell what a woman wants by looking into a picture of her eyes. Her “pride” in sharing “progressive ideas” comes off as arrogant as it assumes the ideas are progressive as opposed to backwards and oppressive. Counter-protests to Femen should have it made this clear: Femen, you aren’t helping. Your help isn’t wanted. The response from the spokesperson for Muslim Women Against Femen, Ayesha Latif, sums up the situation:
It is incredibly inappropriate and offensive that they’re taking advantage of the stereotype that us Muslim women have to face in order to further their questionable cause. The assumption they promote is that we are subjugated creatures controlled by men, who need to be liberated by a group of perfectly groomed white women posing nude and using shock tactics. For them, the more you strip the more of a feminist you are - that’s Western feminist ideology. That’s not liberation for us, but that doesn’t make us anti-feminist. We wonder how many Muslim women they have actually spoken to?
“We wonder how many Muslim women they have actually spoken to?” Here’s a simple rule: Before you go out to protest for the rights of a group of people, start by asking said group if they actually want your help. Have you done your homework? Do you understand the situation that group is currently facing? When the group in question responds with, “I DO NOT need saving”; “Shame on you”, etc. Do not respond by saying something such as, ‘Well you are oppressed, you just don’t know you are’. In other words, don’t do what Femen is doing.
About the Author: Chris BurkeChris Burke holds a Bachelors in Environmental Studies: Honours Environment and Business from the University of Waterloo. Next he will be working towards a Masters of Environmental Studies in Sustainability Management. He's an active member of the Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers of Waterloo student group. In his spare time he enjoys reading and playing music.
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