Femen’s efforts to exclude the Muslim voice for deliberative democratic discussions, foreshadows why they will fail in their feminist endeavors.
Last week Jeffery Talyer, journalist and Russia correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, wrote an article titled, “Topless Jihad: Why Femen is Right.” He argues that Femen has created a new form of discourse that “has courageously broken rules and enlivened the debate over religion’s role in our world.”
He believes that this discourse should not be challenged and instead welcomed. And I completely agree with his argument. All forms of expression, no matter how controversial, should always be included in the public forum, because, and as Tayler put it, “only through debate and discussion, sometimes painful, often unsettling, will we progress.” However, I feel inclined to point to the fact that Tayler fails to recognize that Femen’s attempt to silence certain voices from this public discourse destroys the notion of deliberative democracy and highlights their failed attempt at a “feministic” revolution.
It’s necessary to put the term "feministic" in quotation marks to demonstrate one group’s complete and utter inadequacy in understanding the complexity of a term they proclaim to so strongly defend.
Feminism, despite what many may think, is a multi-faceted movement, and its application demonstrates a somewhat equivocal nature to the term itself. On the very surface, it delineates the desire to establish the position of women within society by both demanding and creating equal political, economic, and social rights for women. The beauty about feminism is that it extends the opportunity to define this position to every woman regardless of her ethnic or religious background. This can be both extremely useful and problematic as was clearly demonstrated in the recent Femen controversy.
Femen feminism is a failed feminism because it attempts to impede a Muslim woman’s right to define her status and role in society. The exclusion of any women from the feminist movement is a failed attempt at achieving that which we most desire: an equal status for all females around the world. One group’s feminist activities should never hinder another group’s free expression, and this includes religious expression.
Femen leader, Inna Shevchenko, proclaims that they use nakedness as a means to attack “the system” that considers women “little more than satisfying sexual desires” who are “treated as sex objects.” Ironically enough, this nakedness perpetuates this system to many Muslim women because it suggests that nakedness is the only way women can assert their worth in society.
The idea that using your bare breasts is the only means to politicize women’s status in the world is ludicrous. Muslim women have attacked the so-called system for hundreds of years by choosing to cover or dress modestly. Hijab is ultimate freedom for Muslim women as it provides them with complete control over their physical appearance. It is freedom from emphasis on physical sexuality. It is freedom from being looked at as a sex object for males’ approval. Femen’s failure to acknowledge that Muslim women’s choice to cover is another means of feministic expression further demonstrates why they have failed.
I recognize that a Muslim woman’s attempt to attack “they system” isn’t the only approach — and doesn’t always yield successful results. However, the implication that her voice should be excluded defies the very notions of the feminist movement itself. When Shevchenko demanded that Laila Alawa, Arab-American Muslim blogger, take off her scarf to prove that she is a real feminist she has destroyed the idea of inclusive public discussion and thus threatened the feminist movement itself.
Femen activists seem to believe that they exemplify a superiority that provides them with the authority to determine what voices should be recognized in the feminist movement and what voices should be excluded. For this reason, I oppose their approach.
Femen does one thing correct and that is highlighting the need to establish gender equality and women’s rights. This includes recognition that in many so-called “Islamic” societies women have been in fact abused and mistreated. I do not oppose Femen’s attempt to liberate women by highlighting the oppression of women in certain regions of the world. However, the manner in which they try to achieve this will not succeed as it excludes many women — not just Muslim women — from these efforts.
A successful women’s rights movement must be inclusive of ALL women and not merely women willing to bare their breasts. Femen may have ignited a much-needed feministic war but they will not win this war. Instead, it will be won by women who accept the diversity of the feminist movement, and create an inclusive environment that allows women of all religious or ethnic backgrounds, both naked and covered, to participate.
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