Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Feminism does not belong exclusively to non-Muslims

I don't agree with everything she says, especially the attack on Amina Wadud, but I think her point is an important one - it's too easy for feminists to push us out of the conversation because we don't look like them. I argue that this applies not only to women who wear the hijab but all Muslim women:


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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(c) Copyright 2007 Michigan Journal


Chaoyang said...


Here, in Beijing, Women's Day is quite the thing. I don't remember it being so popular when I was in the US (other than vague recollections of the WCL having Founders' Celebration During March - I think that had something to do with Women's Day.)

So I got into a discussion on it with a friend working here at Greenpeace. I mention her employment so you can apply the appropriate stereotype of the woman working at Greenpeace - in all the right ways. She's intelligent, outspoken and full of ideas. And she's not afraid to act on them. All around, a woman I'm happy to call a friend.

Well,the deal was that for Women's day we all got a half day off. Celebrations were held around the city. and charity events, too. We were invited to an event for orphans, to which she or another friend responded, "only the women care about orphans?"

Which brought me to the bigger picture. of the group attending these extravagant celebrations and charity events, none of these women needed whatever it was that "women's day" was promoting. I certainly didn't feel oppressed.

Granted, many societies and situations exist where women do get marginalized and oppressed, but this crowd wasn't one of them.

Which might be why they chose to do charities - to pass their benefits onto those who needed them more.

or, you know, cuz it's cool to do that stuff.

okay, women's day.... feminism and the hijab... not quite the same, but I hope I've managed to partially explain why I thought there was a connection.

either way... when you'r not oppressed its funny to imagine the world acknowledging your oppression (or wanting to help you out of it.)

omg said...

Very interesting, and an excellent point to make.

You are downright prolific lately, friend.

pfr said...

Interesting article. I don't think about feminism enough these days.

homeinkabul2 said...

C: Frida wrote a very interesting write-up of women's day in Afg that I particularly agree with. She has similar points to yours. I'll try to find the specific link so you can read it.

O: Well, I'm merely re-posting this article. i didn't write much. I have grand plans for your corruption comment though

omg said...

Uh-oh. Perhaps I should be worried. Time for my five-minute theory to be raked across the coals (or whatever the term is).

I haven't forgotten that I owe you a post about the meme thingy, but I really haven't found the other blogs that make me think, so it will have to be devoted to ... well, you'll have to wait and see, as I have yet to write it.

homeinkabul2 said...

Oh no, no raking on ths blog (Unless it is weight watchers only giving me 20 points a day, but that is another story). You brought up very insightful and thoughtful points, that I would like to address.