[If this is too long jump to the end for the tl;dnr version]
How often “ignorance is bliss” has meant the ignorance of a perceived ‘other’ in proportion to the bliss of a privileged frame of reference.
A few days ago Brad Warner posted a link, International Topless Jihad Day: FEMEN Activists Stage Protests Across Europe (NSFW PHOTOS), on Facebook about the FEMEN protest in which white women removed their clothes in order to protest the detainment of a Tunisian women, Amina Tyler, who posted a topless photo of herself online and faced a backlash in her community. The Tunisian student went into hiding after some of the more conservative elements in Tunisia called for harsh punishments. Some in the FEMEN group posted outrageous exaggerations of Ms. Tyler’s situation such as she was being threatened by the state with lashes or had been put in a mental hospital. These have been proven false:
Several media outlets reported that the woman had disappeared, with FEMEN leader Inna Shevshenko saying she was unable to reach the Tunisian activist. Le Monde reported on Monday however that according to her lawyer, Tyler is in safety. Famous laywer and feminist Bochra Belhaj Hmida told the AFP that “Amina told me she was doing fine and was going to take up school again soon.” She added that “she didn’t disappear, wasn’t admitted to a hospital,” addressing rumors that Tyler’s parents had her admitted to a mental hospital.
It is not unusual for the FEMEN group to distort the truth in order to further their own cause.
Along with posting the link to the story Brad also wrote, “I totally support this!”
This piqued my curiosity so I asked Brad, “Why?”
This did not bring a response from Brad on this posting but it did bring some random dude out to immediately “mansplain” everything for me because you know, I was totally asking for his opinion and don’t know how Google or feminist politics works and am completely ignorant about anything to do with Brad Warner. How kind of Random Dude. He even explained Brad’s position, or his interpretation of it, for Brad too. Doubly kind. [Men frequently “mansplain” to and for other men as well. It’s a dominance tactic.]
[I’m even going to protect Random Dude’s privacy here on the open Internet because I don’t know if he wants his name beyond Facebook’s walled garden. Aren’t I also kind?! ]
Sometime later I posted another link on the topic from Al Jazeera, Muslim women send message to Femen and tagged Brad Warner on the item. He did respond to the tag with:
Interesting. I have no qualms with women who wear hijab because they want to. But I do have a very big problem with societies and governments who require them to be worn. I also have very serious doubts concerning the burqa and (to a lesser extent) the niqab. I find it very difficult (not impossible, just very difficult) to believe anyone really wears those by choice, especially the burqa.
[As an aside it is good to know that a woman with an opinion can get a response from Brad Warner on a political issue without flashing her boobs. So maybe some of Brad’s mansplaining followers should take a hint.]
So I made a big response to his response, which is polished up a bit here and which I want to expand in subsequent sections of this post. I’ll emphasize the most relevant points.
1) In the FEMEN situation it’s less about what women wear and more about the fact that well-off white people are playing white savior (again). Rather like the US government “liberating” Iraq, Afghanistan (and possibly soon Iran). There are lots of feminist activists in the Middle East…lots. That includes women directly challenging regimes by getting in cars and driving alone (Saudi Arabia), by setting up women’s anti-rape protection squads in Cairo, by going to school despite bans by the Taliban (Pakistan), I could go on (and on). Where are the FEMEN supporting all that? They aren’t even aware of it or if they are they don’t give a shit because it requires them to get over their ego image of themselves as saviors to these women.
It’s even more stupid and dangerous than that Kony2012 bullshit.
As well FEMEN have demonstrated they are not in any way inclusive. They deliberately don’t let women who don’t “look good naked” into their groups, that includes disabled women, fat women, older women. In their main groups they also don’t have women of color. They have literally attacked other women (sex workers in various parts of Europe and in Brasil among others) It’s all about young, white, educated, well-off European women demanding society 1) pay attention to them, 2) do what they say is right without regard to any of the people actually involved in the situations they bring attention to. Look at their website. http://femen.org/en/about There are no women of color in their groups. They do all their actions without a coherent politics. Their few statements on anything are incoherent babble. They scream “Patriarchy” but act in a wholly patriarchal manner to anyone who questions them if they allow questions at all. [no comments allowed to any of their posts] They decide, without consultation, what is supposed to be good for other women [based on their biased, narrow viewpoint]. Why aren’t they focusing on the Catholic or the Ukrainian Orthodox churches in their own countries? Why aren’t they challenging their own governments policies? It’s all about a certain privileged kind of feel-good self-promotion. In other words they don’t give a shit about burqas or whatever, they only want to get in the news. They have fucking photo shoots of themselves all dressed up (or undressed) in their “radical” outfits. They challenge nothing. And are full of shit.
2) Also get your FEMEN merchandise here http://femenshop.com/ [It’s a highly commercial aka capitalist enterprise]
3) The FEMEN mission statement such as it is: “The mission of the “FEMEN” movement is to create the most favourable conditions for the young women to join up into a social group with the general idea of the mutual support and social responsibility, helping to reveal the talents of each member of the movement.” also “We build up a national image of femininity, maternity and beauty based on the Euro-Atlantic women’s movements experience.” from http://femen.info/about/ They also support castration and the death penalty. There’s a whole lot more if you look beyond the boobs. And it ain’t pretty.
Brad further incorporated his response into his most recent blogpost, Brief Comments on Burqas, Hijabs, Niqabs and Nudity in General
There he amplified his remark and also said:
The first link I got was to Femen’s “Topless Jihad Day.” Femen is a group of women in Europe who protest naked for various feminist causes. I like them. Sometimes maybe they go too far. But sometimes maybe one has to go “too far” to make a point.
OK Brad likes them. I’m going to primarily deal with the FEMEN aspect of that post because burqas aren’t really the FEMEN’s issue. Sure they use it for their own purposes but their lack of understanding of it is woeful.
Brad apparently likes the stated point of their causes and perhaps their tactics. I can agree with that. I’ve got no problem supporting other women who are resisting oppression and certainly have no problem with “diversity of tactics” (aka Black Bloc for the origins of that term and what it means in it’s entirety) when situations call for it. The tactics of the FEMEN encompass direct action, violence (they have attacked and beaten other women, particularly sex workers), visibility, confrontation, property destruction, social disruption and many others.
What I don’t like about the FEMEN is their politics, such as they are. Their politics supports the status quo far more than even perhaps they would like to believe. I’d even go so far as to say their politics is pretty right wing if not fascist in some instances. That is their understanding of other women’s lives and their disregard for the same, their motivations which are highly self-serving, their stifling of other women’s voices, their co-opting of other women’s struggles, particularly those of women of color and their celebrity seeking narcissism at any cost. I’m not sure Brad has thought about that or is even aware of it.
So let me “womansplain” it to y’all. (or whoever may still be reading)
Oh the burden imposed upon us white people. It is so fucking enormous. Gotta save everyone else from their oppression, especially if that oppression is caused by more of their own people. The more it supports our own self images the better, the more it reinforces sexual stereotypes of our own culture the better, the more it keeps those “ugly girls” away from us the better, the more famous it makes us the better. As to the oppressed, the further away the better, the stranger the culture the better, the less we know about it or have to actually talk to them the better. Doesn’t matter if they don’t see it as oppression because, in the words of the FEMEN leader, that white girl whose name I can’t spell, responding to Muslim women telling her and her group to GTFO:
“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.
Yes the beautiful young white topless women will save the world! Not because they understand the larger socio-cultural, religious and economic context, not because they’ve had experience being a family of color trying to parent while holding down 2 minimum wage jobs (for example), not because they’ve understood what they studied in grad school about religion, politics or culture, not even if they’ve done some kind of “I’ll be your savior” fieldwork in “the heart of darkness” of Africa, not because of the “self-empowerment” of rad-fem encounter groups, not because they actually associate with anyone of a different demographic than themselves [Does the maid count?], but because…?
I can’t think of a reason. Narcissism seems to fit best though. What they lack in objectivity, they make up for with hubris. Idiot compassion on media screens everywhere.
What About Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian, Egyptian, Syrian, Palestinian, Iranian, Iraqi, Turkish, Omani, Yemeni, Indonesian, Moroccan, Algerian, Sudanese, Libyan, Cambodian and other Muslim and non-Muslim Feminists Around the World?
Muslim and non-Muslim feminists from all parts of the world can and do speak for themselves. There are many.
For example a number of Muslim women have come together and produced An open letter to FEMEN. In that letter they write:
We understand that it’s really hard for a lot of you white colonial “feminists” to believe, but- SHOCKER! – Muslim women and women of colour can come with their own autonomy, and fight back as well! And speak out for themselves! Who knew?
We are proud Muslimahs, and we’re sick of your colonial, racist rubbish disguised as “women’s liberation”!
BECAUSE we are fed-up and tired of hearing from women of privilege perpetuating the stereotype that Muslim women, women of colour and women from the Global South are submissive, helpless and in need of western “progress”.
BECAUSE it is these kinds of colonial attitudes that commit more harm than good, so stop trying to kid us.
BECAUSE we are sick of the appropriation of our terms and our customs, done without our permission for whatever reason people see fit.
BECAUSE we don’t have to conform to your customs of protest to emancipate ourselves. Our religion does that for us already, thank you very much.
BECAUSE rubbing shoulders with far-right, racist and Islamophobic groups is just ANTI-FEMINIST beyond bounds, not to mention EXTREMELY DANGEROUS.
BECAUSE you don’t really care about violence and harm being inflicted upon women, you only care about that when it is perpetrated by brown men with long beards who pray five times a day.
BECAUSE not all of us are white, skinny, physically non-disabled and willing to whip off our tops merely for press attention. Check yourselves before you go into the streets again.
BECAUSE we live in a messed up world, what with heteronormativity, white supremacy, empire, the class system and capitalism, but FEMEN are concerned most about contributing more to a climate of rampant Islamophobia instead. Take aim at male supremacy, not Islam. Your priorities are messed up.
So, next time you decide to take the crusade for global women’s liberation into your own hands, JUST REMEMBER that before FEMEN came along, there have been and will continue to be women all over the world dreaming and fighting for their own emancipation, and WE DON’T NEED YOU!
SMASH THE WHITE SUPREMACIST CAPITALIST PATRIARCHY! POWER TO THE MUSLIMAHS!
Sofia Ahmed, Student
April Reilly, Student
Ayesha Latif, Student
Zarah Sultana, Student
Sabeeha Mahmood, Photojournalist
Malia Bouattia, Student
Rabi’a Khatoon, Student
Sajidah Ali, Student
Zaira Ejaz, Student
Sumreen Rashid, Student
Shakira Akther, Black Students Officer at the University of East London
Sumaya Abdullahi , member of the Muslim Student’s Association at the university of Alberta
Fatma Musilma, Fellow of the Institute of Swimming Teachers and Coaches
These are the women that the FEMEN leader calls “slaves”?!? I don’t think so.
Here’s a few more women that have some lessons to teach:
Taslima Nasreen of Bangladesh, author who is exiled from her country @taslimanasreen on Twitter
Arundhati Roy of India, author, Booker Prize winner, activist.
RAWA of Afghanistan. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan is the largest and oldest women’s organization in Afghanistan. They are based in Kabul. Many of their members have been killed, imprisoned, raped and beaten. They are also on Twitter @RAWA77
There are hundreds if not thousands more I could list here.
Here’s a sampling of some of the changes women in the Middle East and other places are fighting for and have brought about themselves:
Image: Women in Cairo, Egypt protesting against rape and rape culture. Feb, 2013. From Think Progress
Here’s a few headlines from the past few months from Ahram Online (my comments or updates in brackets):
Egyptian women’s group proposes new sexual harassment law:Proposed law contains broader definition of sexual harassment with stiff sentences for repeat offenders and those convicted of offences in the workplace
Egypt women’s council slams Islamist rejection of UN rights document:Head of Egypt’s Women’s Rights Council criticises Muslim Brotherhood’s negative stance regarding controversial UN declaration on women’s rights (Egypt did eventually sign onto the agreement BTW)
Egypt’s president denounces discrimination against unveiled student:President Mohamed Morsi condemns recent discrimination incident against a student in Alexandria for not wearing Islamic veil. (That’s the Morsi of The Muslim Brotherhood)
Saudi religious police lift bicycle ban for women:Saudi newspaper says kingdom’s religious police are allowing women to ride motorbikes and bicycles in recreational areas, as long as they are accompanied by male relative and dressed in full Islamic attire (This may seem a small victory but it is a victory nonetheless)
Saudi women given unprecedented permit to attend book fairs – with men:Women in the Kingdom, as well as men will be permitted to attend next week’s Riyadh book fair, says the head of Saudi Arabia’s religious police.
Saudi Arabia frees all arrested women protesters:Saudi police say all women arrested earlier this month in the city of Buraida are released except two who refused to leave even after all procedures for their release were completed.
Saudi king swears in first women members of Shura Council:Saudi King Abdullah swore in the country’s first female members of the Shura Council, an appointed body that advises on new laws, in a move that has riled conservative clerics in the Islamic monarchy
Pakistani woman makes history with run in May vote:Pakistani housewife becomes first woman to run for parliament in conservative Bajur region
Syria Kurd women set up battalion: NGO:Human Rights groups reveals that a group of Kurds women formed the first women division in the city of Aleppo to fight against the government forces
This is what it can be like on the ground. This is the battleground of biopolitical sexism in the world beyond the privileged borders of white Europe, Australia and US/Canada.
This is resistance.
Where are the FEMEN supporting these efforts? Where are their statements of solidarity? Do they even have a clue what is happening in the rest of the world? Do they even care? Will it disrupt their photo shoot schedules and body painting sessions to take the time to learn about any of this?
As For Nudity…
…that’s not even the real issue. I’ll talk about the real issues first then about the nudity.
The FEMEN stance is not much different than that of Sheryl Sandberg, privileged COO of Facebook, who blames women for their own failure since they haven’t embraced the same slavery-to-ambition work ethos she has. See my post on another site Lean In and Fall Off the Edge about that since I don’t want to repeat all those arguments here. It is also no different than the ivy league pseudo-progressive ivory tower feminists telling working class women, single mothers, women of color and all those not within their tight little chattering class social circle, how to live their lives and even what their lives mean, not to themselves but to these self-appointed feminist spokeswomen.
Now about the boobs.
Maybe Brad should know that none of the Suicide Girls would be allowed to be FEMEN because of their choice to pose on the SG website. If FEMEN found out they’d be ejected from the group. It’s pornography, which FEMEN allegedly despise, though they have no problem using a soft core version of it to try to make their muddled point. [Not unlike PETA posturing about animal welfare only to end up killing around 85% of the animals in their care.]
As Elly Badcock wrote in the article That’s not what a feminist looks like on Counterfire:
Women’s liberation cannot be reduced to measuring the amount of flesh we’re permitted to show….
They [FEMEN] might join Muslim women in asserting the right to wear hijab or niqab without fear of attack [by whites primarily]. Interestingly, activists in the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan (RAWA) have mentioned that the burqa can sometimes make it easier for them to carry out political activity, as it can disguise political leaflets and hidden cameras. FEMEN could listen to these women, the women they are patronisingly attempting to ‘save’.
The banning of headscarves in France is another example, which FEMEN applauds. [I mentioned the stupidity of the head covering ban before What Else Needs to be Banned in France? back in 2010] It only oppresses already oppressed women further and punishes them economically as well in that they will not be accepted for jobs and could face fines and even imprisonment. Now there is talk of further bans, Muslims worry about broader France headscarf ban. So much for the liberté portion of the famous French motto liberté, égalité, fraternité.
This is far more complicated than flashing one’s boobs for attention.
Naked protests as a form of civil disobedience are also nothing new. Here’s a whole Wikipedia article about it Nudity and Protest.
As for hijabs, abayas, niqabs, burqas, chadors, and the like…
It’s really tempting to say when Catholic and Orthodox Christian nuns are no longer wearing habits (many still are) and women aren’t required to cover their heads when they go into some of these churches, and when American and European female Buddhist teachers are no longer shaving their heads, and when … but you know that’s fish in a barrel.
In my opinion clothing is often used to control women’s role in society. High heels, corsets, dresses, burquas all limit mobility and activity. All the cultures with these arcane dress codes also decree women to be weak, subject to victim hood, and needing to be “protected”. It’s about control and subjugation.
This is true. With clothing, without clothing, women’s bodies are policed by their societies, not just by the men but also by other women who have inculcated their societies social values regarding appropriate gender presentation. Scantily clad women are called “sluts” and “whores” and modestly dressed women are called prudes, oppressed, etc. There is no way to win that game. It’s something played on the surface and signifies much deeper structures and beliefs that support those structures including patriarchal/heirarchical beliefs.
Those beliefs are something worth examining. Fortunately Brad Warner has provided a unique insight into some of those beliefs although I don’t necessarily think he meant to. Since it’s such a good example I’m going to use it as a departure point for this portion of my post.
Brad Warner wrote in the past of his admiration for and the usefulness of the idea of “The Prime Directive” which came from the Star Trek franchise, in the post FLORIDA and THE PRIME DIRECTIVE. I like Star Trek as a bit of entertainment and I don’t have a big hate-on for Brad either, but there’s some deeper issues. There are a great number of things that are overlooked in the post (such as talking about material conditions like technology as different then economics…not so much…but that’s a long digression) or that are contradictory, that I could comment on, but I’ll stick to the main point. Brad wrote this, emphasis mine:
It is impossible for us to adopt a kind of Prime Directive when it comes to our dealings with cultures on our own planet that have yet to adopt a humanistic outlook. They’ve already been contaminated. Technological knowledge is spreading across the globe at a rate never seen before in history. It may take thousands of years for a society to develop sufficiently to be able to create a jet airplane. But because human beings are all basically equal in intelligence and ability, a fanatic from a far less developed society can learn to fly one in a week or so.
It is imperative that this un-stoppable spread of technological knowledge be paired with the spread of a more realistic and humanistic worldview. And this worldview is, itself, highly threatening to fundamentalist religions.
Some people get pretty upset at the suggestion that what is seen as the Western worldview should be pushed upon people who have their own worldviews. But I don’t really see the humanistic realistic worldview as fundamentally Western. It is the worldview that the West has used to get as far as it’s gotten. But it isn’t our view. It isn’t one viewpoint among equals.
I know some people recoil in horror at the suggestion that any viewpoint is fundamentally better than others. But it seems to be to be undeniably true that some worldviews are actually better. Humanism and realism work because they are more in line with how things actually are than with how we might wish them to be.
We can play spot the contradictions and unfounded assumptions there if we want to but I’m going to sum it up with two points—colonialist thinking and American exceptionalism. That’s the worldview Brad is expressing.
Colonialist thinking is tied very closely with cultural imperialism. The Star Trek perspective is very much one of cultural imperialism. Cultural imperialism presently, in our world, not the post-scarcity world of Star Trek, is closely tied to neo-liberal thinking. The term cultural imperialism itself means:
…the cultural aspects of imperialism. Imperialism, here, is referring to the creation and maintenance of unequal relationships between civilizations favoring the more powerful civilization.
Within the current cultural imperialist viewpoint the most prominent is American (or Western) exceptionalism which:
…is the proposition that the United States is different from other countries in that it has a specific world mission to spread liberty and democracy. It is not a notion that the United States is quantitatively better than other countries or that it has a superior culture, but rather that it is “qualitatively different“.
That difference is expressed as the “better than” view vis-à-vis other nations or peoples. It is a view that is at the heart of imperialism and oppression. European exceptionalism may not be as prominent as American exceptionalism but it is no less pervasive. The FEMEN not only express European exceptionalism but one that drastically excludes ALL that is not personified by them. They seek to institute and reinforce a narcissistic monoculture in which they stand at the center, admired.
The origins of what has been called the humanist or rationalist perspective, which many of the “exceptionalists” espouse, are tied very closely to European philosophers. Big topic but briefly stated from the Wikipedia entry on Colonialism:
In A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (1999), Spivak explored how major works of European metaphysics (such as those of Kant and Hegel) not only tend to exclude the subaltern from their discussions, but actively prevent non-Europeans from occupying positions as fully human subjects. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), famous for its explicit ethnocentrism, considers Western civilization as the most accomplished of all, while Kant also allowed some traces of racialism to enter his work.
[Subaltern is a term most often used by Antonio Gramsci from post-colonialist theory. It means “the lower classes and the social groups who are at the margins of a society — a subaltern is a person rendered without human agency, by his or her social status.” It is a position within oppressed classes and marginalized groups that is more extreme than the oppression of being lower class and is often the result of deliberate exclusion.]
There is a tendency to explain, or explain away, the perspective of non-European peoples and to view them and their cultural practice as objects upon which the European (Western) viewpoints are to be imposed. [This happens with the adoption of Buddhism in the West all the time in case nobody noticed.] There is a certain luxury in being able to impose these views, not just by way of shaking one’s boobs at TV cameras, but it also often manifests at the point of Stinger missiles and cluster bombs, extortion clauses of IMF aid programs and loans, corporate expropriation of lands for the purposes of mining and other resource extraction, etc.
The viewpoint that Brad has espoused in his previous post is the same thinking being demonstrated by the FEMEN group. He wrote the Star Trek one a couple of years ago though. One hopes that over the years further experience and knowledge provides an opportunity for gaining a more mature, nuanced and less somewhat jingoistic approach. Time will tell.
The takeaway (or the tl;dnr version)
FEMEN is to feminism what Genpo is to Zen. An insincere, opportunistic, profiteering, exploitative, narcissistic, self-indulgent aberration.
Oh yeah…if your comment starts with “I didn’t read this but…” or “I only skimmed but…” don’t bother commenting. Use your own blog.