A brief history of ‘gender’ by @wordspinster

Cross-posted from: Language: a feminist guide
Originally published: 15.12.16

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In New York City in 1999, I heard a talk in which Riki Anne Wilchins (self-styled ‘transexual menace’, and described in the Gender Variance Who’s Who as ‘one of the iconic transgender persons of the 1990s’) declared that feminists had no theory of gender. I thought: ‘what is she talking about? Surely feminists invented the concept of gender!’

Fast forward ten years to 2009, when I went to a bookfair in Edinburgh to speak about The Trouble & Strife Reader, a collection of writing from a feminist magazine I’d been involved with since the 1980s. Afterwards, two young women came up to chat. Interesting book, they said, but why is there nothing in it about gender?

From my perspective the book was all about gender—by which I meant, to use Gayle Rubin’s 1975 formulation, ‘the socially-imposed division of the sexes’. Feminists of my generation understood gender as part of the apparatus of patriarchy: a social system, built on the biological foundation of human sexual dimorphism, which allocated different roles, rights and responsibilities to male and female humans. But by 2009 I knew this was no longer what ‘gender’ meant to everyone. To the young women at the bookfair, ‘gender’ meant a form of identity, located in and asserted by individuals rather than imposed on them from outside. It wasn’t just distinct from sex, it had no necessary connection to sex. And it wasn’t a binary division: there were many genders, not just two.
Read more A brief history of ‘gender’ by @wordspinster

The feminist classroom as ‘safe space’ after Brexit and Trump by @alisonphipps

Cross-posted from: Alison Phipps
Originally published: 10.11.16

So it’s happened. Donald Trump is President-elect of the United States. He ran on a white supremacist ticket, and multiple allegations of sexual harassment and assault failed to stop him taking the White House. There were reports of racist, homophobic and misogynistic hate crimes within hours of the result being declared. David Duke called the night one of the ‘most exciting’ of his life, and the Vice-President of France’s Front National declared: ‘their world is collapsing – ours is being built’. The Israeli Right took the opportunity to announce that the era of a Palestinian state is over. This only months after the British public voted to leave the European Union, ushering in a hard right agenda which ensures that the US and UK will (in Sarah Palin’s words) be ‘hooking up’ during the Trump administration.

These events are not surprising, even as they are shocking. Both Brexit and the election of Trump are national outpourings of long-held resentments, and a validation of the racist violences on which both the UK and US are built. Voters want to ‘take their countries back’ from people of colour, migrants, and Muslims. Entwined with this is suspicion and hatred of other Others: trans people, queers, disabled people and feminists. This ‘whitelash’ against globalisation and the very meagre gains which have been made in race equality targets all other social justice movements along with it. Under the pretext of ‘anti-establishment’ sentiment and suspicion of liberal political elites, white supremacists are trying to wrest back full control. There is no greater sense of victimhood than when entitlements and privileges are perceived to have been lost. 
Read more The feminist classroom as ‘safe space’ after Brexit and Trump by @alisonphipps

The Women’s March Washington: The Speeches by Angela Davis and Gloria Steinem

Here’s the Full Transcript Of Angela Davis’s Women’s March Speech via @ElleMagazine

“At a challenging moment in our history, let us remind ourselves that we the hundreds of thousands, the millions of women, trans-people, men and youth who are here at the Women’s March, we represent the powerful forces of change that are determined to prevent the dying cultures of racism, hetero-patriarchy from rising again.

“We recognize that we are collective agents of history and that history cannot be deleted like web pages. We know that we gather this afternoon on indigenous land and we follow the lead of the first peoples who despite massive genocidal violence have never relinquished the struggle for land, water, culture, their people. We especially salute today the Standing Rock Sioux.

“The freedom struggles of black people that have shaped the very nature of this country’s history cannot be deleted with the sweep of a hand. We cannot be made to forget that black lives do matter. This is a country anchored in slavery and colonialism, which means for better or for worse the very history of the United States is a history of immigration and enslavement. Spreading xenophobia, hurling accusations of murder and rape and building walls will not erase history.” …

Here’s the Full Transcript Of Gloria Steinem’s Historic Women’s March Speech  via @MarieClaire

“Friends, sisters and brothers, all of you who are before me today and in 370 marches in every state in this country and on six continents and those who will be communing with us in one at 1 [p.m.] in a silent minute for equality in offices, in kitchens, in factories, in prisons, all over the world. I thank each of you, and I especially want to thank the hardworking visionary organizers of this women-led, inclusive march, one of whom managed to give birth while she was organizing this march. Who else can say that?

Thank you for understanding that sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are. Sometimes pressing send is not enough. And this also unifies us with the many in this world who do not have computers or electricity or literacy, but do have the same hopes and the same dreams.

I think that because I and my beloved co-chairs, the Golden oldies right?–Harry Belafonte, Dolores Huerta, LaDonna Harris–all these great people, we may be the oldest marchers here today, so I’ve been thinking about the uses of a long life, and one of them is you remember when things were worse. …

WHAT FEMINISM MEANS TO ME.

Cross-posted from: The All Women Show
Originally published: 14.08.14

Our feminist society is making a zine, the theme is ‘What feminism means to me’ and here is my contribution!

F = Freedom

The most important notion in feminism is a woman’s freedom. Freedom covers a whole lot of things, freedom over her own body, freedom of speech, and freedom in the public domain. Feminism works towards giving women freedom. So we can wear what we want, say what we want, walk where we want and be who ever we want, without anyone taking advantage of us, in any situation.
Read more WHAT FEMINISM MEANS TO ME.

A Room of Our Own: An Anthology of Feminist & Womanist Writing

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A Room of Our Own: An Anthology of Feminist & Womanist Writing is now available:

Paperback

Kindle

CreateSpace

 

A Room of Our Own: An Anthology of Feminist & Womanist Writing is a collection of essays, poetry, and short stories written by women. The proceeds of this book will be used to support this platform covering the costs of hosting and website maintenance and development.


Read more A Room of Our Own: An Anthology of Feminist & Womanist Writing

Andrea Dworkin – Behind the Myth by @Finn_Mackay

Cross-posted from: Finn Mackay
Originally published: 01.09.15

Andrea Dworkin was, and remains, a Feminist legend. It is too bad that what most people know about her is nothing more than anti-feminist myth.

I first met Andrea in Brighton in 1996, at the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Women’s Citizenship. I was then lucky enough to meet her on two other occasions, including several conversations that I will treasure. I will never forget listening to her keynote speech in that hall in Brighton, amongst rows and rows of over one thousand women, all mesmerised by the honesty and strength of Andrea’s testimony. I will never forget the passion with which she spoke and the clear, steely determination behind her low, slow, measured and husky tones. She did not mince those words; a lot of her speeches are visceral, they reference the physical suffering of abused women and children, they reference the legacy that scars the bodies of those in prostitution and pornography. 
Read more Andrea Dworkin – Behind the Myth by @Finn_Mackay

Familiarity and contempt by @wordspinster

Cross-posted from: Language: A Feminist Guide
Originally published: 22.08.16

Earlier this month, in an English court, a man who had just been sentenced to 18 months told the judge she was ‘a bit of a cunt’. To which she replied: ‘You’re a bit of a cunt yourself’. Complaints about her language are now being considered by the Judicial Standards Investigation Office. But plenty of people applauded her, calling her a ‘hero’, a ‘role model’ and a ‘legend’.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the New York Times reported that sexist endearment terms like ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie’ were no longer acceptable when addressing women in court. The American Bar Association had adopted Resolution 109, which makes it a breach of lawyers’ professional standards to engage in ‘harmful verbal or physical conduct that manifests prejudice and bias’.
Read more Familiarity and contempt by @wordspinster

The Snowflake Awards: A Review of White Feminism™ in Pop Culture by @GoddessKerriLyn

Cross-posted from: FOCUS: Feminist Observations Connecting Unified Spirits
Originally published: 29.10.15

Last month at the Emmy’s, Viola Davis became the first black woman in its 67 year history to win Best Actress in a Drama Series. In her acceptance speech, she quoted Harriet Tubman:Snowflake poem

Though it was written in the 1800’s, “that line” is still there, and it represents the racism that separates Intersectional Feminists from White Feminists™.


Read more The Snowflake Awards: A Review of White Feminism™ in Pop Culture by @GoddessKerriLyn

‘Rethinking Feminism’ by @Finn_Mackay

Cross-posted from: Finn Mackay
Originally published: 13.04.16

Institute of Arts & Ideas ‘Rethinking Feminism’ debate, Kings College London, in association with Unilever. 25th April, 2016.

First, I’d like to start by pointing out that there are probably as many definitions of feminism as there are people who identify as feminist.

For me, I understand feminism to be a global, political movement for the liberation of women and society, based on equality for all people.

However we may define it, what is clear is that feminism is in resurgence today. This is a resurgence that has been unfolding here in the UK since the early 2000s. Sometimes it is called a third, or even fourth wave. Feminist activism is visible once again, online and on the streets. Feminist commentary and political theory is also seen in the mainstream in ways that it was not before. Young women are often to be found leading this resurgence, finding a home in one of the oldest and most powerful social justice movements the world has ever known.

Alongside this rise it is not surprising that the anti-feminist backlash has also mobilised and grown, rightly sensing this latest threat to the fragile and defensive status-quo.

This backlash manifests in the base harassment of women that we see online and in public space also. The threats, stalking and intimidation of women who dare to be women and achieve; who dare to be women and speak their mind; who dare to take up space.

There are also the more insidious elements of this backlash, powerful as they are, hidden often in plain sight. This is the co-option of our movement, the gender mainstreaming, the steady dripping dilution of the radical and revolutionary political theory which forms the basis of the Women’s Liberation Movement.

Feminism has become nothing more than a marketing ploy, advertising gimmick or soundbite. We are told that feminism is about buzzwords such as ‘choice’ and ‘empowerment’ and ‘having it all’. It is not these things. The act of choosing for example is a daily fact of life, it is not a feminist act. We may as well say feminism is about breathing.

In fact, that these sort of buzzwords are chosen to simplify and demean feminism in the first place actually show just how far we have to go and how much a real feminist movement is needed. What kind of world do we live in where a woman having a job, earning money and also having a family or caring for dependents including children, is seen as some sort of impossible dream and labelled as ‘having it all’? Many men have jobs, families and children and earn money without this being seen as some sort of incredible step for their sex class. Choosing where we work or how much we work, choosing whether or not to have children, choosing what space we take up, choosing which way we walk home, choosing whether we speak or not….these things are not some sort of privilege. They are fundamental necessities of life in a community and society; fundamentals that we know are so often denied to women around the world, including here in the UK. The fact that we cannot guarantee such basic rights is the very reason feminism exists.

The backlash against feminism can be seen in every sphere, in all elements of the media, advertising and the beauty industry for example.

What has happened is that our language of liberation has been stolen, bastardised, turned on its head and sold back to us under the guise of ‘empowerment’. This is an empowerment that funnily enough can be found in some new consumer good, a diet or new make-up or new fashion magazine. An empowerment that can be found for example in products like ‘Fair & Lovely’ the leading skin lightening cream, marketed in Asia and Africa and produced by Unilever. Proving that through the prism of capitalism, racism is just another bargain basement.

Another way the backlash shows itself is in the way we are now expected to laugh at our own oppression. Where old fashioned sexism has become some sort of nouveau retro-banter and harmless fun. As seen in adverts for products marketed at men, such as that teen-boy staple, Lynx, also produced by Unilever. As if we have supposedly come so far now as to achieve some sort of silent equality where all our struggles have been won, while yet miraculously the world has stayed just as it was and where feminists are the moaning prudes for pointing this out.

Feminism has not been won and is not over because feminism is a revolutionary movement for change, not just a changing of the guard. We certainly don’t want equality with unequal men and we understand that ultimately we cannot have equality in an unequal world. A world where wealth flows upstream, a world of gross and growing inequality that has brought us to the brink of a planet crisis.

We have ever more sophisticated technology and yet we use these skills to invest in the tools of killing, such as the planned £100billion renewal of Trident missiles, 1000 times more deadly that the bombs that decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Our science can put humans on the moon, but it can’t seem to find a way to save the planet the rest of us are still on. It is surely vital that we focus technology on the preservation of life, instead of the eradication of life; lessons explored in schools of feminism such as Eco-Feminism, making the links between patriarchy and capitalism.

We are here today debating ethics and universal goals, and we must be able to talk about ethics that apply to all, otherwise these ethics mean nothing. It is dangerous for example when ethics stop at borders, borders of nationality, race, religion, sex or indeed species. Ethics are not something to be bestowed only upon certain peoples or certain species and yet denied to others who are ‘othered’.

Yesterday, the 24th April, marked the World Day for Laboratory Animals and the abuse and exploitation of animals in vivisection conducted by companies, such as Unilever, can never be ethical. There can be no human liberation without animal liberation.

All of these are feminist concerns because feminism is about building a better future for all life, indeed it is about whether we can even have a future at all. Feminism is indeed global, because justice is not.

 

Finn Mackay: Feminist activist and researcher.

International Women’s Day 2015 and why you should never apologise for being a feminist

Cross-posted from: Reimagining my Reality
Originally published: 08.03.15

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^^International Women’s Day represents an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality. The theme this year is Make It Happen. You can get involved by sharing your support on social media and wearing purple (the colour used by suffragette’s to symbolise justice and dignity)^^

I’d hoped to write a post about International Women’s Day before, erm, International Women’s Day. But life got in the way. An insomniac* baby, a poorly 4-year-old, and an insurmountable pile of work to do by tomorrow has left me a bit weary, and I considered not writing this. But then I remembered how much today matters, and how the voices of women are too often stifled by brute force, guilt, shame, and exhaustion.

* I jest. Kind of.
Read more International Women’s Day 2015 and why you should never apologise for being a feminist

When women attack feminists – self-hate in a woman hating culture at Shack Diaries

Cross-posted from: Shack Diaries
Originally published: 11.01.15

As feminists, when we stand together to challenge the misogyny embedded in our culture we have learned to expect to face the patriarchs, the MRAs and the violence and ignorance of men. However sometimes we find ourselves confronted on such issues by other women who will side with the sexism of men. Women who will vehemently uphold, for example,  rape myths, to the detriment of every female victim of rape and actually – all women.

In a culture of misogyny in which they too are intrinsically and literally greatly harmed, this can be shocking to us all.

So why?
Read more When women attack feminists – self-hate in a woman hating culture at Shack Diaries

Calais: Migration and Asylum IS a feminist issue.

Cross-posted from: Sister Hex
Originally published: 02.08.15

Ever thought about women migrants in the Calais migrant situation?

All the migrants and refugees in Calais come from countries beyond Europe, such as Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan.

The women migrants/refugees in Calais are mainly from Eritrea. The government there is considered to have one of the worst human rights records in the world. Such is the scale of the state’s abuses that more than 5,000 people leave the country every month. Women, as in many cultures, suffer particular and horrific gendered oppression (FGM, forced marriage, rape, sexual abuse in the military) from which they try to escape and seek asylum.

Female migrants/refugees then suffer particular gendered hardships on the journey to escape state and societal oppression.
Read more Calais: Migration and Asylum IS a feminist issue.

BDSM & Feminism – Are They Compatible?

Cross-posted from: Zusterschap Collective
Originally published: 09.12.15

Nobody knows why one thing turns them on over another. Would you ask me why my sexual orientation is the way it is? In the same way, enjoying BDSM does not feel like something I can (or want) to change. A lot of feminists argue that I’ve just internalised the patriarchy, that it’s not my fault but, y’know, I’m not very ‘feminist’ for enjoying it. I find this theory unappealing because I think the false consciousness they are talking about refers to things you can rationally think your way out of:

“Do I belong in the kitchen? No, I can’t cook for shit!”

But I can’t programme myself out of what turns me on. For the sake of argument, let’s say I have internalised oppression via the media – then what else have I internalised? Do I really find Kiera Knightley attractive or have I just internalised a false beauty ideal? This line of argument is vague and attributes right and wrong arbitrarily. For example, I could easily argue that caring about makeup and beauty is internalised patriarchy, but I’m not going to go around telling women they shouldn’t wear or enjoy wearing makeup because it’s wrong. These sorts of things (beauty, fetishes, humour) are non-morals with no right or wrong to them; they’re just preferences.
Read more BDSM & Feminism – Are They Compatible?

Introduce more female key thinkers on the Politics A Level syllabus by @juneericudorie

PETITION

The government has just announced plans to revise the Politics A-Level Curriculum. Feminism has been removed entirely, apart from a mention of the Suffragettes and Suffragists and the proposed curriculum only contains one female political thinker out of seven: Mary Wollstonecraft. The problem with erasing and writing women out of history is that we only get half the story.

When women are underrepresented in society, the government should be working to address this problem. It has been said that you cannot be what you cannot see. Female role models are important. Women like Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the theory of intersectionality, Catherine MacKinnon, an American feminist lawyer, Emma Goldman, anarchist and political activist, Audre Lorde, black feminist writer, Ayn Rand, Russian novelist and philosopher and Simone de Beauvoir, French writer, political activist and social theorist. We must show women to be inspired by and be taught that the ideas of feminism and gender equality are important.

Earlier this year, Jesse McCabe used a petition to keep women on the music curriculum. Together we can use public pressure to make sure that the same happens with the Politics curriculum. There is no excuse for this. There is no reason why the Department of Education and Ofqual shouldn’t get this right. Join me in asking that they change this, so that the curriculum reflects the work, thought and achievements of women.

On social media, use #femalethinkers and let us know who your favourite female political thinkers are.

PETITION

‘Surf’s Up! In praise of the second wave’ by Finn Mackay

Originally published: 19.04.04

Where were you in the 1970’s? If you were anything like me you were probably in the process of being born, going to primary school and watching ‘Bagpuss’, ‘Basil Brush’ and other such frivolities. At my tender 27 years I missed out on so much, the communes, the town hall politics, Greenham Common… Its certainly not the 1970’s any more, but one thing hasn’t changed – and that’s the fact that there is reason to be angry!

There is so much to be angry at in the world, and so many people who seem not to notice or, worse still, to see our own oppression as some kind of progressive liberation. Really, the oppression of women is nothing new, its only been going on for centuries and it isn’t over yet. In this country 2 women every week are murdered by a male partner[1], women in Britain still earn around 20% less than men in like for like jobs[2], rape convictions are plummeting while reporting continues to rise[3], 1 in 4 women in the UK will experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime[4], women have better political representation in Rwanda than here in the UK, globally women make up over 70% of those living in absolute poverty and everywhere in the world women earn on average at least 25% less than men[5]. Its hardly equality is it? So why do so many women think the battle is over and where is this perfect rosy world they speak of where women have got it all?
Read more ‘Surf’s Up! In praise of the second wave’ by Finn Mackay

Navigating Sisterhood

Cross-posted from: The Arctic Feminist
Originally published: 17.12.14

Women are consistently held to higher standards than men are, even by other women, even by feminists. Its interesting because how I personally feel about that is two-fold. On the one hand I recognize the sexism inherent in expecting women to be pure, perfect, unsullied by fault but on the other hand I know that women are capable of change and how they think, feel and act about the world actually matters.

Karl Marx was a chauvinist who consistently mismanaged his family’s meager wealth – making them live in squalor and poverty while also impregnating servant girls in his spare time. He was a fucking prick, however very few people would sit and chastise this fucking prick about his personal life, his faults when discussing his ideas. They are irrelevant to the equation in almost everyone’s eyes. What woman of thought and brilliance can ever say the same as to her legacy?
Read more Navigating Sisterhood

Yes we should debate, but also celebrate, Islamic feminism

Cross-posted from: The Joy in my Feet

A few weeks ago I was drawn to the launch of a new project by the group Maslaha on the topic of Islam and Feminism. Maslaha, which means ‘for the common good’ in Arabic, is a social enterprise that strives to bridge the gulf of misunderstanding that exists between non-Muslims and Muslims so that, instead of current negative stereotypes, Islam ‘becomes synonymous with social justice, compassion, and creativity’. To coincide with International Women’s Day and World History Month this March, they launched a new website www.islamandfeminism.org to explore the relationship between these two, supposedly conflicting, identities, creating a wonderful archive of Muslim women’s contributions to female emancipation in the Middle East and around the world. The website makes for fascinating reading, telling the stories of diverse women’s activists from Egyptian founder of the Muslim Women’s Association Zaynab al-Ghazali born in 1917, to British artist Hannah Habibi Hopkin exhibiting in London almost a hundred years later.

Whilst I think this work by Maslaha is incredibly positive, stimulating and engaging, I can’t, however, say the same for the public response. Ordinarily I am all for a big debate, as a healthy and enjoyable expression of democratic ideals. Of course I’m a feminist, so I love a big argument, right? So I was confused by my unwillingness to get involved in the debate that ensued following the launch of this online resource – perhaps I am getting old, losing my youthful, strident flare that characterised many a drunk night and almost ruined many a friendship of my uni days. Or perhaps it’s because the debate that ensued, about whether or not you can even be a feminist if you are Muslim, fits into an increasingly large category of feminist debates that are becoming, quite simply, tedious. These are the ‘Can you be a feminist IF…’ dialogues, and every week a new one will be unfolding across my Twitter feed…IF you are a man, IF you shave your pubes, IF you love Beyonce, and now, not for the first time, IF you are a Muslim.

These debates are irritating because they construe feminism almost as if it has a restricted-access door policy, which not only plays into stereotypes of feminism as being the chosen identity of hairy, belligerent, angry (white) lesbians, but also puts people, young women in particular, off from engaging with the movement. The amount of times someone has said to me, ‘well I guess I’m too girly to be a feminist’ or ‘feminism doesn’t really speak to me, I’m more for equality for everyone’, like that’s not what feminism is, and too often these portraits of feminism as a closed off cult suspicious of intruders haven’t been painted from the outside but come from within the feminist movement itself. These debates about the supposed rules of the group, on who’s out and who’s in, do so much of the work of misogyny because people who are still in the process of working out their identities are immediately made to think that their views won’t be accepted, and they come to reject what is seen as dogmatic. As Hannah, the contributor to islamandfeminism.org, states ‘feminism should not be an exclusive club.’ So lets get this straight – it IS not an exclusive club, it does not have a door policy. It is a form of identity, and like all identities it is fluid, contested, and ultimately your own. People are so quick to suggest that there is a criteria for being a feminist but actually, bar being a misogynist or acting in cahoots with patriarchy, I would like to go out on a limb here and suggest that there isn’t actually any criteria at all. I identify as a feminist because I care passionately about opposing the patriarchy that I see all around me and because I have chosen to identify as one – it is ultimately my choice, a label that I give myself and a badge I am proud to wear, and not one that needs any validation or verification from anyone else. Likewise we should stop acting as if we are in any position to give verification to anyone else. I might, for example, view prostitution as structural violence against women and I might disagree with someone who argues that it is a source of empowerment for women exploiting patriarchy for their own financial gain, but I would never have the audacity to say she or he is not a feminist if that’s how they identify. And I would certainly never have the audacity to ask if a Muslim woman can even be a feminist.

Far too often though people make this point or ask this question entirely without irony or shame. It comes back to back to that image of Muslim women that we are spoon fed by the press as timid, meek, voiceless, always oppressed and forever victimised. It’s become so entrenched that even when a Muslim woman stands up boldly, perhaps in hijab, perhaps not, and declares herself the agent of her own life and maker of her own choices, the fallback response is ‘oh but she just isn’t even aware of her oppression, poor thing doesn’t even know that her decisions were actually made by someone else’. It staggers me, the arrogance of it. And the thing is, the people who hold these kind of views are, and I’m willing to bet on this, people who have probably never even engaged in a real conversation with a Muslim woman. Because there is no way you could watch an impassioned lecture lead by a fiery 20 something-year-old university student wearing a hijab on the empowerment she gets from her faith, and look her in her steely eyes afterwards and say ‘oh love, if only you could see how fooled you are’.

The other shameful thing about this debate is that it makes out that Islamic feminism is a new phenomenon. Even The Guardian, a paper I normally enjoy for being less ridiculous than others, released an article that might as well have had the headline ‘BREAKING: Muslim women finally entertain the idea that they might have rights!’ In the opening paragraph of this article, the author states that ‘now there is a small but growing number of Muslim women looking to take their places in Britain’s rapidly expanding women’s movement’, going on to assert that Islamic Feminism first appeared in the 1990s, suggesting that the first Islamic Feminist magazine was published as late as 1992. This is simply poor (mis)information. To cite just one example from one country, Huda Shaarawi, an Egyptian feminist, was organising one of the largest, female, protests against British colonial rule in Egypt in 1919, just after women got the vote in the UK. She founded the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923 and shortly after went on to publish the feminist magazine, El-Masreyya. Commentators often conclude that Huda Shaawari drew her feminist strength from a rejection of her religion, with the oft-cited anecdote that she famously threw her veil into the sea upon returning from a trip to Europe. But what this hasty conclusion overlooks is that whilst she certainly did chuck her face covering into the waves, her hijab remained firmly on. She was a committed Muslim and a committed feminist campaigning for the exact same things as her English counterparts – political representation, economic empowerment, education, family planning – way back in the early days of the 20th century.

What’s more, she was in pretty good company; Egypt’s and Lebanon’s histories in particular are full of stories of powerful women like her, their stories just don’t get told as often.

 

The point that cynics seem to be missing here is that Muslim feminists aren’t a rare breed of feminists who are feminists in spite of their faith, they are many and they are feminists because of it. There is a long and little known history of women’s rights within Islam and when the religion was introduced in the seventh century, it was actually a giant leap forward for women, outlawing female infanticide, until then a common practice, and significantly limiting, although allowing, polygamy. When women in Europe didn’t have property rights, Muslim women owned property under rights protected by law. The first Muslim feminist in fact is often said to be Aisha, Muhammad’s youngest, and most adored, wife. She was an active citizen, standing up for vulnerable women to demand that Islam and the law protect them, and she held public office in a way that angered many men and still inspires many young Muslim women to this day – she even led an armed rebellion, leading an army of male soldiers into battle on her camel in the desert, against her adversary Ali. Ali crushed her rebellion which is perhaps why her story and her feminist teachings within Islam are little known to those outside the faith, which is a shame because it’s a lot more radical than some of the stories read to a lot of little girls.

 

 

Even the hijab, probably and I think quite annoyingly (it’s is just a piece of clothing after all), the most contested symbol in the debate on Islamic feminism, can be justified and reclaimed as a feminist symbol. I remember Myriam Francois-Cerrah, a guest lecturer at my university, saying that in her scarf she feels that when she speaks she is listened to with more respect – she is not seen for her body or her sexuality, but heard for her ideas and her intelligence. With women sexualised so much in Western society, she asked, are women really more liberated when they are subject to jeers in the street and harassment in the workplace? Do the bill boards and magazine ads that adorn Western culture really create a better body image for young girls? This contradiction is the subject of a Parisian grafitti artist going by the name Princess Niqab, who goes around Metro stations spray painting head scarves and burqas onto scantily clad underwear models, angry at the outrageous sexism that has become so naturalised to the point of being almost invisible. As someone who notices, notices for example the infuriatingly ridiculous poster of women in their underwear advertising noodles in the window of Itsu (seriously?!) on my way to work, I find these questions interesting and I don’t doubt their answers provide clues to the large demographic of white middle-aged, single, successful women converting to Islam, which comes as a surprise to many.

Of course it is true that whilst Muslim feminists may cite their faith as the source of their gender liberation, Muslim misogynists will cite it as the justification for their gender oppression. And there are many passages in the Quran that do nothing for equality and much for patriarchy. But this isn’t about a petty contest of point scoring or of endlessly weighing up advantages and disadvantages in the vain hope of coming to some ultimate truth. This is important because there is no ultimate truth – it is an interpretation that is always in the process of being defined and in a world where narrative means so much, those who win are those who have a monopoly on the narratives we listen and give our attention to. This came to me when watching a TED talk by Julia Bacha, a brazilian film maker who documents non-violent protest in Palestine. In this she says that non-violent protest does exist but we don’t read about it in our papers – and the power of attention is such that this silence carries profound consequences for the likelihood of social movements to grow. She compares activism to a form of theatre, pointing out that if violent actors are the only ones with an audience, it is very hard for non violent actors to win the support of their community.

The same case can be made for women’s rights in Muslim societies. Women’s rights in Muslim societies and in the Middle East are in transition, they are in the process of being evaluated. Religious doctrine isn’t always doctrine, it is malleable and changes with the ages. Islamic law accepts slavery, for example, and Muhammad set the tone by keeping slaves himself, but the Islamic world has come to condemn it universally. Is it so implausible that all Muslim societies will one day emancipate women too? For that to happen we need to pay attention to Muslim feminism – it will not be able to grow and leave its legacy on the Muslim world unless it is given support, and the very first act of support we can give is to believe that there can be a place for feminism in Islam, and, likewise, a place for Islam in feminism.

So on that note, sure, let’s debate Islamic feminism but let us celebrate it too.

 

The Joy in my FeetInspired by Maya Angelou’s poem, my blog The Joy in My Feet is about celebrating the work of women activists and artists around the world campaigning to end gender oppression. I am an intern with Equality Now working on a campaign to end FGM in the UK, so most of the posts you’ll find are covering current issues of sexual or gender based violence against women, interspersed with poetry and art.

Playboy Feminism TM isn’t feminism, it’s the same old misogyny by @sianushka

Cross-posted from: Sian & Crooked Rib
Originally published: 01.07.15

No one wants to be ugly. No one wants to be the unsexy one. No one wants to be rejected.

And that, I think, is what makes this weird phenomena of ‘Playboy Feminism TM’ so attractive.

Okay, if like me you read the phrase ‘Playboy Feminism TM’ and went WTAF, I thought Playboy was rather antithetic to feminism seeing as it involves Hefner’s insistence on being flanked by much younger women and the magazine’s 50+ years history of treating women as disposable objects for male consumption, then you have my sympathy.

But no! It’s 2015 and let go off your anti-porn hang ups ladies, because apparently these days Playboy is totes feminist. In fact it always was, and the proof is that they got a bloke to write an article telling all us boring women feminists how we’ve done feminism wrong, and Playboy-reading men have done feminism right (sorry guys who read Playboy thinking they were sticking it to the feminist movement. Turns out you were feminists all along! Oops!).


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Dictionaries, dick-tionaries and dyketionaries by @wordspinster

Cross-posted from: language: a feminist guide
Originally published: 30.06.15

Exactly ten years ago, in June 2005, I was contacted by a man from the British Potato Board. He wanted me, in my capacity as a professor of the English language at Oxford University, to endorse the Board’s campaign to get the expression ‘couch potato’ removed from the Oxford English Dictionary. It gave potatoes a bad name, he explained, by suggesting they were unhealthy, when in fact they were virtually a superfood, packed with fibre and vitamin C. The Board wanted the OED to replace ‘couch potato’ with ‘couch slouch’, which would convey the same meaning without unfairly maligning potatoes.

Initially I suspected this was a wind-up; but then a group of people turned up, dressed in potato costumes, to protest outside the offices of the OED’s publisher, Oxford University Press. Basically it was a publicity stunt: I’ve never been sure how serious they were about getting the dictionary to alter its entry. But even if the aim was just to get media coverage for the health benefits of potatoes, the campaign still traded on the popular belief that dictionaries function as a kind of supreme authority on the existence, validity and meaning of words. As if removing ‘couch potato’ from the dictionary were equivalent to banishing it from the language.


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Trust

Originally published: 13.03.14

Imagine if a large group of people have been constantly arriving at your house, to throw flammable objects at it, set it on fire, almost burning it down.

You, and many others who share the house, have been struggling to rebuild and get things back in order, over and over again, for a long, long time. A certain group of you realises exactly what is going on, and form a team to defend the house.

One day, some people in that group decide that setting your house on fire isn’t really a good thing to do. They come to your house, apologise for their group’s actions, and pledge to you that they will support your team from now on, and stand with you to defend the house from their group members’ attacks.

At first, you trust them, because they really do appear to be sincere, and mean well.


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