COLUMN: Feminism does not belong exclusively to non-Muslims By: Rebecca
Mahfouz Posted: 4/3/07
The resurrection of the Equal Rights Amendment isn't stirring up the controversy it did in the 70s. Americans now have more pressing issues to deal with than whether women deserve the "Equality of rights under the law," set forth in the amendment. Aside from the Iraq quagmire and the quagmire-to- be in Iran, we still don't know who will be America's Next Top Model.
With these historic events unfolding, it's no wonder ERA isn't getting much attention. In feminist circles, however, the amendment is generating debate and the usual hostility toward women who don't buy the received definition of "feminism."
A few days ago, I stood outside CASL as some of the women's studies crowd discussed ERA. Being acquainted with two of the young feminists, I offered my view of Phyllis Schlafly and her anti-woman minions. My considered analysis of opposition to the amendment was met with silence and incredulous looks.
One brave young lady finally spoke, "So do you really consider yourself a feminist?" That was it, what it always comes down to with this set; that I cover my hair. This automatically excludes me from any conversation on women's rights. To them, I am a victim of oppression, someone to be "saved."
Attending a mid-Michigan college a few years ago, one of my professors said he was impressed by my thoughtful remarks and surprised because, "Muslim women don't usually hold those kinds of progressive opinions." It's hardly likely that a middle-aged Caucasian Christian man living in Midland, MI, and teaching at a college where about one percent of the students were Muslim knows more Muslim women than I do. But he certainly felt, like most people, that he had a good handle on what we are and are not. So what he was saying, essentially, was, "I'm glad you've absorbed 'our' ideas, God [in the Christian sense of God] knows, 'you people' don't have any ideas of your own."
No matter how many times I encounter this attitude, it's always a surprise that there are still people who believe that a woman's brain shuts down when she puts on a scarf. However enlightened someone seems, seeing a woman in hijab kills the part of their brain used for rational thought, substituting a Fox News-type banner, featuring lines like "Muslim women oppressed, American feminists pledge to save them."
While feminists try to "save" us from our scarves, they refuse to allow us to be a part of the dialogue about ourselves. By the same token, Muslim women often shy away from the term "feminist" because, as American feminists have made all too clear, there is one acceptable brand of feminism and that is the white, middle-class variety that allows for mini-skirts and grrrrl T-shirts, crew cuts and combat boots, but not for hijab.
So, a note to progressive Muslim women who don't care to be associated with the stereotypical man-hating feminist movement: those who yell loudest do not "own" feminism. We have to insist that they hear and include us.
And to the current crop of feminists who like to write about us, but not listen to us: Muslim feminists do exist and need not follow the model of fake-"edgy" publicity-hounds like Irshad Manji and Amina Wadud. If feminists bothered to talk to us, instead of about us, they might find that we doindeed hold some beliefs in common.
And finally, if there's any saving to be done, we'll let you know.
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