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Feminspire | April 17, 2014

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Topless Jihad Day: Discrimination at its Finest

Topless Jihad Day: Discrimination at its Finest

| On 08, Apr 2013

If you’ve been following the plight of Amina Tyler, a 19-year-old Tunisian activist who staged a lone protest by posting topless pictures of herself, you’ve probably heard of Femen’s questionable reaction: Topless Jihad day.

imagesAmina Tyler posing topless, smoking a cigarette, with “My body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone’s honour” scrawled across her chest in Arabic.

Amina, who posted the pictures in an attempt to voice her opposition of oppression in her country, hails from one of the more liberal Muslim cultures in terms of women’s rights. However liberal it may be, there is still an association with honour and the female body, which provides a hostile environment for many women and leads to other misogynistic cultural tendencies like victim-blaming – a problem in all cultures, but particularly rampant in cultures that synonymise the female body with their “honour,” whatever that is. Her protest was brave, commendable, and inspired many women, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, to let their voices be heard.

elyse muslim bodyElyse Claassen, a hijabi Muslimah living in the U.S., shows her support for Amina’s protest

Femen too is an organization fighting against this association and are most well-known for their topless protests. Sadly, this is where the similarities between Amina and Femen end. For some reason, Femen thought it would be a good idea to help a sister out by staging “Topless Jihad Day,” a ridiculously offensive protest where women are essentially shaming Muslims and in some cases donning the Arab version of blackface.


There are so many things I could say about this picture; the fake unibrow, the towel on her head, the fact she’s doing a terrible imitation of the way Muslim’s pray, but I’ll let the image (and the fact Femen are totally okay with it and put it on their facebook) do the talking. I have no idea how a feminist organization fighting against discrimination thinks promoting racism is a good idea, but that just goes to speak for the kind of organization Femen is.

It’s not necessarily the topless protest Muslim’s have a problem with. As a Muslim I believe you can dress however you want, and no one has the right to judge an individual as fashion choice is a private decision, and many progressive Muslims agree with that statement. Consequently I expect no one to judge me when I wear a hijab; wishful thinking, but that’s besides the point. “Topless Jihad Day” is also a pretty accurate name for Amina’s protest. The word “jihad” means struggle, and it is most commonly used to describe non-physical struggles that we encounter everyday. Feminism itself is a form of jihad as it’s a struggle against patriarchy, and Amina’s struggle against the association of her honour with her body is jihad as well. Putting a towel on your head and giving yourself a fake unibrow is not a protest, it’s not a struggle, it’s racism. So congratulations Femen, an organization that supposedly fights against discrimination, for manifesting exactly that. Seriously girls, you’re doing a great job liberating the poor “savages” who apparently can’t speak for themselves.164651_456972184371295_1403736930_nWhat is seemingly more puzzling than arabface (if possible) is the leader of Femen, Inna Shevchenko’s reaction to the criticism:

They write on their posters that they don’t need liberation but in their eyes it’s written ‘help me’.

Why do they have to cover their bodies? This is beginning of the process.

No Inna, maybe you’re mistaking bewilderment as a cry for help. No one is saying Muslim cultures don’t need liberation, they’re saying they don’t need you to rip off your shirt and write offensive slogans all over yourself insulting the very culture you are attempting to liberate. Also, “but it’s in their eyes” — really?! This sounds painfully similar to the logic within misogynistic mindsets that women cannot speak for themselves, and say “no.” Furthermore, why does anyone cover their body? How is that even a question? It’s a choice, and we believe that we are liberated by hijab for many reasons. It helps us feel protected, it allows us to let go of the superficial prison built by patriarchal societies that pump into our heads from childhood that our appearance is our self worth, it allows us to put emphasis on things that actually matter, like our personalities and intelligence. That’s not to say you have to be hijab to have these things, but it’s just the way many Muslim women view things. To tell us that our view is wrong and your way is the only way is, well, presumptuous and offensive.

Naturally, in a counter-reaction to Femen’s reaction, Muslims have been busy organizing Muslimah Pride Day, with actual Muslim women (yes, we can speak) protesting against both patriarchy and Femen’s discrimination. The event info states:

“…please 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.

Why do you feel proud of being Muslim? Why do you choose to wear the Hijaab/nikaab? Why do you choose not to wear it? Which muslim woman inspires you? How do you feel about constantly being Fetishized by the media/feminists/policy makers in the west?

Write signs on paper, telling YOUR story, hold them up and get someone to take a pic and post on the Group and on twitter using the #MUSLIMAHPRIDE also tag #FEMEN so we can get the message across. Lets show the world that we appose FEMEN and their use of Muslim women to reinforce western Imperialism.”

Thanks for the help Femen, but I suggest you read Robinson Crueso to see Western imperialism in action and understand that other cultures and societies *gasp* don’t really respond well to being insulted under the guise of liberation. Othering a gargantuan group of women is counterproductive to the work feminists have accomplished during the beginnings of the third wave of feminism when they realized “Oops! We can’t tell a different culture how they’re oppressed, they’re not voiceless entities, let them speak. We listen, and ask how we can help.”

Written by McKayla Reilly
Eat with her, tweet with her, or contact her!

  • Bobbie Pahl

    There are many slaves that have come to love thier Master … this doesn’t make slavery acceptable.

    • BirdieBlue

      Thank you for illustrating the author’s point perfectly.

      On second thought, maybe stop doing that. :|

      • Bobbie Pahl

        Maybe explore the similarities that so many are trying to point out. Organized religion … Yuk! Male superiority and dominance …Yuk! Misogyny Yuk! There is nothing to be gained, nothing intelligent in religious debate …. Man created sanctioned bullying. So let us just agree to disagree.

    • R

      I’m a Muslim woman. You seem to be comparing me to a slave, so I would just like to point out to you, that my CHOICE of religion, and my CHOICE on what I wear is not oppressive.

      What is oppressive however, is the fact that people like you seem to be comparing me to a slave? I am a free woman.

      Just because people are telling me I am oppressed doesn’t mean I am. You cannot dictate to me how I should dress to be “liberated”; this is imposing YOUR beliefs on me, I have my own, thanks.

      I’m not telling you how you should dress right? That’s because I’m not comparing you to a slave. I’m recognising you as another human being who is free to dress how they please, according to your own moral/belief system.

  • Tonima Tasnim Ananna

    great work! :D

  • Amber Williams

    I get your point. But I disagree.

    “We can’t tell a different culture how they’re oppressed.” I sure can. Especially since many people in, to keep it relevant, Muslim and/or Middle Eastern cultures have spoken out about how they are oppressed. There were a few Arab women, for example, who took part in Topless Jihad. I believe it was in Italy, if I remember correctly.

    When Muslim leaders, who are often political leaders in their respective countries, make comments about how nude and free women cause natural disasters, they’re not hurting just Muslim and/or Middle Eastern women, they’re hurting all women. And when they make comments about women, I have a duty to stand up against them. Also, a lot of those leaders do look like how she dressed herself in the that picture. However, I do not condone that action but I’m not going to let that woman’s arguably poor choice in expressing her disdain prevent me from seeing the bigger message. A message that I agree with.

    • Mothr Nght

      Thank you for your point! I think we are agreeing here on more than you think.

      As for telling another culture how they’re oppressed, you can speak with the women in these cultures as to how you can help and what they want to change, just as you said! That is entirely different from assuming they are blind “slaves” as someone else here put it who are waiting to be saved by a superior culture.

      I think there was some confusion about what this Femen protest was actually about. The intention, which is made apparent by the slogans and their actions, was to slander Muslims and was not the same as the protest Amina and Elyse, the two examples above, were partaking in. Elyse for example is a practicing Muslim and was totally okay with that type of protest, but also part of Muslimah Pride Day protesting what Femen did. Part of the intention of the article that I may not have articulated well was to show the difference between what Amina and Elyse did and what Femen did. Amina may not be Muslim (I have no idea and I don’t think it matters personally) but she didn’t insult a group of women, instead she fought a culture. Femen mistakenly in some sort of attempt to liberate women in this Muslim culture attacked these very women, which I think is where their logic went haywire. Many people, including Muslims themselves, struggle to differentiate religion and culture, and I believe this is what happened with Femen. It would’ve easily been avoided by just asking Muslim women “What’s going on? How can we help?”

      Arab does not equal Muslim, and the fact that there are non-Muslim Arab women in Italy slandering Muslims doesn’t exactly make it okay.. It is never going to advance any feminist cause to discriminate against a group of women who are themselves in a battle against patriarchal culture; we must help them, not attack them.

      Your last paragraph is completely right! I do everything I can to stand with my Muslim sisters who feel they are oppressed, only I don’t tear my shirt off and write insulting, offensive slogans pertaining to their identity. Again, I ask them, how can I help? It is a bit easier for me being Muslim, because I understand much more their culture and needs, but that doesn’t mean non-Muslim’s can’t! Once again, it’s just about listening. The idea is not to alienate them, patronize them and pretend Muslim women cannot speak for themselves, because those women are some of the bravest most outspoken feminists of our time if you are just willing to listen. What Amina did, what Elyse did, this is helping the cause. What Femen did, Muslim women were offended by, and no matter what you say to try to justify what they did it is Muslim women who get to dictate what is and isn’t good for them. They are not children, and we in the West are not their superiors to tell them what they should and shouldn’t be doing.

    • kdk

      So many things wrong with this.

      1. “Also, a lot of those leaders do look like how she dressed herself in the that picture”. Yes. And Obama is a black man. So it’s okay for me to put on black face! Cause Obama is black too! It’s not being racist, it’s being factually correct. Can you see the WRONG with this argument? “Arguably poor choice”? No. Racist choice. Terrible choice. This is exactly the kind of argument that was used to support the recent Slutwalk debacle involving the N word. “Lets look at the larger picture! Yeah, she did something bad, but her intentions were okay!” Intentions mean NOTHING when the actions themselves are racist.

      2.”"We can’t tell a different culture how they’re oppressed.” I sure can.” No. You can agree with individuals from cultures who speak up and say they’re oppressed. You can say that certain male leaders have made stupid and misogynistic comments. You CANNOT say to Muslim women who CHOOSE to cover, in cultures which support this covering, that they are oppressed.

      So I get your point also. and I STRONGLY disagree.

  • Hahaha

    Femen are completely racist. I totally agree with you. As a woman and a Muslim, I found what they did absolutely disgusting. I don’t even agree with their point, but especially the way it was done has totally overshadowed what they good they thought they were doing!

  • Shahla Khan Salter

    We will not be saved by bigots at Femen. We are creating change in the Muslim community. We are creating spaces where women lead prayers and stand shoulder to shoulder with queer brothers and sisters. We envision and are working towards a world where the only Islamic governments shall be secular., We are fighting like hell to make change in our communities. Femen has no idea. Femen protested at the Ahmadiyaa mosque in Berlin – did you know Pakistani Al Qaeda is bombing Ahmadiyaa mosques? Femen is helping Pakistani Al Qaeda.

    • Mothr Nght

      Shahla thank you so much for this point! More people need to be aware (particularly Femen) of groups like Muslims for Progressive Values! These are the voices that need help and not silencing or shaming.

  • Beez

    Femen is asking for respect of their particular cultural understanding of feminism, informed by the large role the “modeling” industry in plays in the Ukraine, which to many of us looks like a pedophilia/prostitution industry (and I am aware of Femen’s criticism of it… ), while not respecting another cultural understanding of feminism, one informed by some Muslim women’s idea of modesty being a type of freedom for women, a freedom FROM having to show or use their bodies the way Femen does.

  • Mztress Isis

    What a bunch of “white man’s burden” bullshit! In this case, it may be more appropriate to call this a “white woman’s burden.” Fake beards and towels on their heads–there’s an example of bloggers who should have a lifetime ban from social media.

  • hatinonwhitefeminists

    White feminists doing white feminist things. Non-intersectional feminists doing non-intersectional things. Fuck them.

  • Molly A.

    That cartoon of the lady trying to “free” someone by tearing off her hijab is very powerful. If I still had a facebook, I’d repost it.

  • Mansman

    Feminism is now, officially…AWESOME!!!