I’m all for women’s rights, freedom and equality. If you look at the issue from all angles, you’ll realize that equality is easier said than done, and that sexism is not necessarily the result of religion but rather a symptom of a general disease, whether a community is religious or not.
Especially or “western” mindset makes us believe that we are the good guys, our way of doing things is the right way, and everyone who doesn’t do it this way is either a madman or an oppressed, weak woman. In this sense, we’re really not that different from all the “madmen” we want to protect women from.
I think this becomes especially evident if you look at the ways many westerners view the Islam, and especially muslim women. A woman who covers her hair is necessarily oppressed and needs our help to be set free. We cannot imagine that any sane person would choose to wear a hair covering because she wants to, Instead, us western, “civilized” and “free” women think we have to stand up for our “sisters” and free them. And if they tell us that they aren’t actually oppressed – well, they’re brainwashed. We have to show them the light.
The result of this is more often than not some sort of movement that instead of uniting women for a common cause tends to dig even deeper canyons between us. Take, for example, the “Femen” movement. All things aside of good intentions, strong women and important political causes. These are women who demonstrate against the oppression and objectification of women by going naked. This is somewhat similar to trying to extinguish a fire by pouring gas into it, in my opinion. In a world where women are objectified in every way possible, is there really a way to get a point across if you make yourself another object? Sure it gets the attention. But what do you think is going to happen in the minds of men who see these women? Are they going to think “Oh, that woman demonstrates against the exploitation of women as sex objects”, or are they going to think “Oh my gosh, BOOBS!”?
While I didn’t mind femen too much when they first started, I started to disagree completely with their methods when they started demonstrating against Islam. I’m not a muslim and have no interest in this religion (or any other, for that matter), and to be honest, I don’t care much whether you are a muslim or not (do whatever rocks your boat), but I don’t think it’s ok that a group of western women comes along as the knights in, well, no armor, I guess, to “free” women they have never asked if they actually need their help. I know plenty of muslims (there are very many in Germany). Some of them cover their hair, others don’t. Some are religious, others not. Some drink and eat pork, others don’t eat pork because they don’t like the taste (not for religious reasons, I was told pork is a taste you have to acquire), some stick to religious laws concerning their diet. Either way, it’s ok to do whatever you feel is right. One of the girls I study with wears a hjiab. She also cares about women’s rights. What makes us think that women who cover their hair are too stupid to free themselves? What makes us think that they’ll end up being thankful for helping them by demonstrating naked?
Even personally, I feel insulted. I used to be oppressed and brainwashed, but I don’t want some woman who hasn’t experienced the same thing to strip down naked and yell “freedom” in my name. It’s not the right way to appeal to the people you want to convince. If you said you’re going naked because you’d rather be naked than wear fur, I can understand why you would protest naked. But that’s not what’s happening here. What is happening is the idea that nakedness is the ultimate way to get what you want, to convince people. Sounds familiar? To me, that sounds about as terrible as any other form of oppression. Do I really want a freedom that we had to undress for? Do I really want to convince people by turning into an object that only gets the attention because it is a highly sexualized form of protest, often causing people to forget why you are undressing?
I think this entire discussion is a very difficult one. Of course there are brainwashed, oppressed women who could use some help. I was one of them. These women aren’t a phenomenon of Islam but a phenomenon of general society, and victims to men all over the world. On the other hand, plenty of women are well able to make these decisions for themselves, and don’t need our help – don’t need help at all because there isn’t a problem to begin with.
I think what should be remembered is that we need to move away from our western ideal of “freedom”. Freedom comes in many colors. Freedom includes the choice of dress, the choice of religion, and yes, also the choice to live a life that might not conform with our image of how women should live. Finding the balance is probably the biggest problem in all this. How do I balance helping women who really need help and hurting perfectly fine women because I demonize their way of life as “oppression”? I don’t have an answer to that, but if I find one, I certainly won’t be writing it on my bare breasts (and I ask you not to do that in anyone’s name either, unless you have their permission to do so).