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.
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.
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.What 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 http://www.facebook.com/groups/408107599288286/?ref=ts&fref=ts 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.”