American Feminism Can Do More Harm Than Good

Fellow PolicyMic pundit Elizabeth Plank published a piece yesterday about feminist activism via the internet and has some solid points about savvy use of Twitter, Facebook, and even megaphones to get the feminist message out and about to create change.

I can’t agree more with her on most aspects, but have to question her logic when leveraging a powerful medium for useful political discourse on feminist issues in Western culture makes its way overseas and creates consequences.

Enter Amina Tyler, the now terrified Tunisian girl who bared her chest on Facebook causing a furor in the Muslim community. She also sparked the all too obnoxious “feminist” group FEMEN into showing their boobs off to the world in protest of, well, who the hell even knows at this point since they’ve labeled religion, dictators, and the “system” — maaannnn — as their enemies. 

Inna Shevchenko, FEMEN’s self-proclaimed leader has called the group, “a modern incarnation of the word fearless.” If that were the case, she’d be ripping her shirt off in Riyadh, not Europe.

Amina was fearless too, and now she’s very afraid for her and her family’s lives and feels she must leave Tunisia.

Every movement needs its martyrs, but she is yet another product of Western influence via the internet that has instilled a sense of superhuman capability in cultures where there are very real human consequences. Amina said wasn’t trying to provoke anyone, which shows a dangerous lack of understanding of her own culture let alone a much more democratic one.

Western culture, religious norms, and democratic values do not always translate to other societies. The existence of a McDonald’s on every street corner in Cairo does not equal democracy, openness of society, or that you can show your bare chest to the world on Facebook and not expect reprisal.

Equal rights for women is a tricky subject in the Middle East; one that must be dealt with in the context of Islam, Sharia law, and the social and cultural norms that the region has taken on over time. As King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia recently stated, “Balanced modernization in line with our Islamic values, which preserve rights, is an important requirement.”

This is not just a monarch speaking in place of the people, since his views resonate among many young Saudis — both women and men — that I’ve personally spoken to on the issue. This same logic, although from a Saudi perspective, applies to other cultures that struggle with similar issues. 

Social media is an incredibly powerful tool and has been used time and time again to show abuse of power, war crimes, human right abuses, and helped foment positive change. But to assume that it can easily be translated across the globe in a Western fashion leads to dangerous consequences without bearing much fruit.

Tearing your shirt off in front of a mosque does not promote dialog; it promotes vitriolic anger from dangerous radicals who will be that much less likely to accept change, takes the feminist movement backward — including the Mideast feminist movement as they have openly stated — and causes armchair news consumers in Western culture to laugh instead of think. I know Liz is not a fan of FEMEN either, but they are a microcosm of what cut-and-paste Western social media culture can cause if misused.

I don’t think Liz intended to teach anyone a lesson in social media foreign policy etiquette or cultural norms in her article; fair enough, and maybe it’s just me being obnoxious for putting a global view on everything, but given that feminism is symbolic of equality and seeks to use open dialog and professional discourse as its catalysts for change, I would expect a member of the community to take these things in to consideration before advocating for the proliferation of uninhibited social media use at will to foment rapid action.