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A few days ago, I shared a picture which depicted a cartoon of a burqa-clad woman riding a bike; however, the disturbing thing about that picture was that there was a man standing behind her. Basically, the picture was depicting the recent uplifting of the ban (or so they claim) on Saudi women riding a bike in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; yet, this “freedom” of riding a bike will only be possible so long that it is done under a male’s supervision.

Hence, I found it very insulting and demeaning because it’s just as oppressive as women not being allowed to ride a bike. It further goes to show the primitive psychology of some of the men who live there — men who believe that women should not be trusted when cycling alone. (See picture below.)

saudi womenAnyway, below I am sharing a very interesting and thought-provoking discussion a group of us had, and are still having, for the past week or so. And, though the focus of the discussion was supposed to be on the picture I’d posted, it somehow digressed a bit and got even more interesting when we started talking about whether or not one should support Femen and their version of “feminism.” We also discussed the hypocrisy of women who call themselves “feminists,” and the ways in which the different ideologies of feminism clash with each other, leaving no room for unity/solidarity.

So, with permission from my lovely commenters, I am re-sharing the discussion we had, though names have been shortened to mere alphabets and a few changes have been made to the discussion to ensure its appropriateness for blogging purposes.

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments box below, for I’d love to read ‘em!

Happy reading!

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N: i think i went off topic cuz i was saying how people in general are full of shit these days, excuse my language, im just so angry how we try to set a good example promote good behavior and care for humanity including women’s rights. i mean all factors of trying to be a better person, im really discouraged, it makes me angry when i go out of my way to do good and people go out of their way to make more harm :(

S: I know what you mean. And I totally agree. The more good you try to do, the more it backfires against you. You know how Rousseau said that the human is born free but everywhere s/he is in chains? Well, I disagree. Strongly. Humans are never born free. We are confined since the day we are born, if not to the umbilical cord, then to the society in which we are born into, and are hence bound to the rules that accompany it. We are all conditioned to believe, think, and behave a certain way. Don’t see where “freedom” fits under all of this. And perhaps we don’t WANT to be free, ’cause with freedom comes great responsibility. It’s easier to be led than to lead.

N: I agree, but its so unfortunate that they all expect justice and good behavior of others but conveniently disregard those moral standards when it comes to themselves smh

F: It’s often hard for me to come on terms with the fact that a place like Saudi Arabia exists in the 21st century. These men think their penises are sooo important, they can fundamentally change who a woman is. Either that, or just a fear of women being exposed to better ones than theirs or something. And then people say that feminists from Muslim background have better things to worry about than sexuality? And that the issue of sexuality is irrelevant in Muslim countries? lol

N: They are just a bunch of illiterate insecure hypocrites with double standards

S: It’s strange isn’t it? They’re obsessed with sex (marrying little virgin girls and taking on 4-10 wives), and yet any mention of it out in the open is taboo and forbidden. Ah, the blatant irony!

N: That’s what i’m saying I’ve stopped listen to people who promote such conservative ideologies of islam it wasn’t meant to make our lives more complicated; its supposed to help us embrace and celebrate all the attributes and aspects of our human nature including our sexuality, yet any mention of it today (or since the prophet’s passing) has become such a degrading factor in judging someone’s character if they want to ask a genuine question with good intentions, they suppress natural feelings and limit self expression leading people to make stupid irrational decisions and men feeling so insecure about themselves because they simply don’t know enough about themselves and how to interact with the other half of the population -__-

*Note: Here is where the discussion shifts a little bit*

F: Which is why I support nude protests! Culturally “appropriate” (whatever that means?) or not. Sure, they’re not making a difference on a large scale or anything. But it’s lovely to see women taking control of their bodies and showing that to the world. The pebbles they throw may not go very far, but look what lovely ripples those pebbles create!

N: F, you may have a point and are entitled to your opinion but I don’t think exposing nudity solves or proves women have control over their bodies, i guess its better to say whether they choose to fully cover or to expose some skin should be their own judgment and they shouldn’t be forced into doing anything; nude protests can also create more negativity because an emphasis can be drawn only towards the outward appearance of a female by herself and others; when we all know potentially she is much more than that :)

F: In a culture that demonizes their bodies, nude protests are indeed a way to show that they do have control over their bodies. And people can take what they may want from it. But its main purpose is worthy of all the support.

S: Well, honestly, I’m not much in favour nor am I against nude protests. I mean, if a woman decides to go nude for HERSELF, that’s fine. But to make it a public thing is just making the perverts and the porn lovers happy. I know it won’t bring about much, if any, difference or any change for that matter; but I don’t know, I somehow feel these nude protests are giving off the wrong message. Not everyone will perceive it the way we do. To us, it is brave women who are comfortable with their sexuality and are hence trying to make a statement with it, but to others, they may be seen as shameless women, who don’t value themselves and their bodies enough to blatantly show it off to the whole world.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that not everyone can comprehend nor relate to this sort of activism. I’m ALL for activism and usually when I see women participating in huge rallies and stuff, I often ask myself if I would also do the same thing. And most of the time the answer is a huge yes. However, baring my body to prove a point is something I personally would NEVER partake in; hence, it becomes extremely limited to only those who are okay and willing to do it.

N: You took the words right out of my mouth. That’s what i was trying to say if she’s trying to do it at an individual level because she’s just simply happy that’s ok (with me) but again this world is shared, and so are perceptions and opinions which do effect us all so we have to be mindful of our actions somewhat it would just please the psycho people then what more filth in the world seriously i can’t understand how saudi arabia exists and is supposed to be the best place on earth for muslims to live but its full of hypocrisy

F: Your criticism of nude protests is fair enough. But I do not think that these protests are ever done with the thought that most people out there would think highly of them for going nude publicly, in fact the very point is to do it despite what everyone else may think. Because when it comes down to that, every little thing a woman does can make people deem her as “shameful”. They can do something as simple as burning niqabs, they can do something as simple as writing a poem on their sexuality. Hell, even having a boyfriend and having male friends is considered “shameful”. Even being educated is often considered shameful. Not getting married is considered shameful. Not wearing a hijab or niqab is considered shameful. There is no limit to what is considered shameful for women in these societies. So, my question is, where do you draw the line? To what degree does a woman limit herself so she may be taken “seriously” and not considered shameful? Well, as far as I am concerned, there should be no lines drawn at all, and this is why I support and empathize with these nude protests.

I do not think the point of nude protests is to make morons understand the point, these protests are quite simply a much-needed political “fuck you” and we would be fooling ourselves if we think that some reasonable discussion with the morons would change their minds. It is war. Not every action can be based on what the others may think, or on logic. Not to mention, the reaction that Amina’s picture got, or nude protests in that part of the world get. That reaction is quite telling, and not only that, that reaction has become the basis of people all around the world challenging Islamist views on female sexuality.

Golshifteh Farahani, the Iranian actress, was not even protesting anything – she merely did a topless shoot for a french mag and she was banned from entering her very own country Iran. The dogs took away her country from her (and I know exactly how that feels). I will not pretend, even for a minute, that these protests make a significant – but nor did the Occupy movement, very few protests in the world ever make some significant change. But such protests create an echo in the world that is hard to silence. The women doing nude protests are not my enemies and never will be – my enemy is misogyny. Besides, what sort of feminist protest seems appropriate for misogyny-fucked places? Even a mere opinion gets a backlash in such places. These women need our support, not criticism. If we give them less support, we inadvertently give some legitimacy to all the shit being thrown at them already.

F: One of my friends Haider Shah very aptly put it: “MuslimahPride shit, reducing it to FEMEN and Islamophobia accusations are all orchestrated distractions from the real cause behind such global protests. Yes Amina may be the reason but she is not the cause. Underlying cause is how everyone, everyone, except the woman herself, has owned and controlled her body for millennia. From anti-abortion activists to pro-family-values morons, from atheist yet possessive boyfriends to controlling husbands, from shame-infested brothers to honor-freak fathers, from influential religious speakers to despot presidents, they consider it their religious, social, political and moral duty to own and control the pussy they once so desperately crawled out of.”

*The next comment is from a male acquaintance on my friend’s list, and the best part, he is PASHTUN! It’s refreshing to come across Pashtun men who understand where we, women, are coming from and is further understanding of the issue through a very open mind*

R:  As a man I fully endorse what u r saying. The rules of morality set by the societies have always been so discriminatory when it comes to women…to the extent that she has no control even on her own self…particularly religion has mostly been used to make these rules sacred…even to their female victims

M: What a great thread. I just want to add my opinion on nude protesting. My ancestors are from Hawaii, where pre-colonization/pre-missionization our women were bare breasted. Women’s bodies weren’t objectified because it was understood that sexual advances were only welcome when they were invited. By being fairly nude, a woman’s sexual receptiveness wasn’t based on what she was wearing but was based on open communication.

My culture changed after the colonization and the introduction of monotheism. And that’s when women’s bodies became objectified. The same might be said for the majority of countries that were colonized by the Arabs throughout Asia and North Africa.

Nude protest, for me, is a way to try and end the villainization and objectification of our bodies.

That’s my thoughts.

*Here the conversation shifts back to Saudi Female cyclists. One of my friends brought up a point about how the reason women weren’t allowed to bike for so long was simply because it aided in breaking the hymen. And we all know too well how excruciatingly important it is to keep our hymens intact! :: sarcasm ::*

M: I always thought, for the most part, those extremely rare cases of women breaking their hymens were perpetuated so a) men could discourage women from participating in sports, which are self-empowering, and b) women who lost their virginity could provide an out for themselves in patriarchal societies, which claim to worship only one god but actually are hymen-worshiping polytheists.

*Back to the Femen discussion*

S: F, thank you so much for your thorough, very well-written and thought-provoking response. I see and know exactly what you mean when you say that these nude protests are nothing more than just a political ‘fuck you’ to those who believe that everything that a woman does is ‘haram’ and wrong. Heck, a woman as a whole might as well be haram! And I have to admit, it does give me an odd, uncanny sort of pleasure to see these women go out in public, topless, and see those pathetic Mullahs seethe with discomfort and hatred. (But then again, they could also be lustfully enjoying seeing all these naked women too, who knows?)

But, I guess my stand on this is that I am not in favour of it nor do I condemn it. In a way, I’m indifferent to it. If those Ukrainian women feel that protesting in this way will serve some sort of purpose, than that’s perfectly fine. Though, I do feel that it is a bit unfair to assume that it would apply to women (who call themselves ‘feminists’ in particular) everywhere. And here I was thinking about those “Muslim Feminists,” which by the way is a blatantly contradictory term on its own because orthodox Islam and feminism DO NOT go hand in hand together. Islam is ANYTHING but pro-feminism – rather it is extremely patriarchal and hence there is no place for feminism in it. However, it’s due to reformation and “reinterpretation” that suddenly there is an emergence of Muslim women going around calling themselves feminists. Yet, I, personally, fail to grasp it, for I believe that changing Islam to accommodate a Western ideology is rather hypocritical. But whatever floats their boats I suppose. It’s better to reform something than follow it in its true form anyway.

I agree that no lines should be drawn at all when it comes to protesting against something that one strongly believes in, especially due to the points you stated earlier, and I also want to add that many of these so-called “Muslim Feminists” strongly condemn it and find it offensive for the reason that white women are once again going out of their way to “save” them. And I’ve been seeing this a lot lately; and, frankly, it’s starting to get very boring and tired. No one is saving anyone here! Also, it’s ironic too, because whenever white women do something drastic like this, they are strongly criticized for it, but when a Muslim woman goes around trying to convert non-Muslims or impose her way of life/beliefs on them, she is doing them a favour. Yeah, well, newsflash, the world isn’t so perfectly black and white. And people need to realize that you can’t just have your cake and eat it too. It’s very easy to constantly label one a “victim,” but little do they realize that they, too, are no different in the ways in which they are imposing their way of life and beliefs on others. Whether it is subtle or drastic – it’s the same thing.

And, yes, our enemy is indeed misogyny! And hypocrisy and anything where one feels threatened or imposed upon. I hate impositions of all sorts, whether it’s through Femen or through these “Muslim feminists.” Funny thing is that, both these groups are fighting against the same monster: oppression/misogyny/patriarchy, and yet my Twitter and Facebook news feed is bombarded with these two groups (more so the latter) bashing and opposing each other, making whatever goals that they are supposedly aiming for fruitless. And then they talk about solidarity? Hah! If women can’t unite, they might as well kiss solidarity’s ass goodbye.

F: Also, agree with most of your post there, S – I agree with all of it really. Though I naturally am inclined to take sides with FEMEN, they seem to understand the plight of women like me more than the people of the MuslimahPride. No, MuslimahPride does not represent all Muslim women – it sure as hell doesn’t represent women like N here, or women like many of my Muslim friends, nor do they represent my Muslim mom. But the sort of ideas they are defending are literally harmful. And the fact that they hardly seem to care about Amina is really painful to see. They care far more about a bunch of women going naked protesting than they do about Amina. They’re also promoting the very things that Amina stood against – just visit their page and you will find tons of slut-shaming. There is someone who even had the nerve to post and discuss a video about “how to beat your wife in Islam”. And at the end of the day, the MuslimahPride is just a bunch of people sitting behind the screen showing their rage for nudity and their rage for having their faith criticized. FEMEN, on the other hand, is going out there and being beaten by cops. FEMEN even had the guts to confront Merkel, Putin and the Russian Orthodox church face-to-face (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=317812638345145&set=a.126240417502369.20338.106995199426891&type=1&theater). And that is brilliant. Bloody brilliant. Unforgettably brilliant.

I *do* have a problem with MuslimahPride and I will be honest about that. I have a problem not because I am “bigoted” against Muslims or “Islamophobic” (which is something the Western left would *love* to claim) but because they are claiming that somehow brown women can’t want the same freedoms that white women have, claiming that being able to do with your body what you want is a “western thing”. Claiming all those things that have been said a thousand times before – claiming honour, claiming virtue, claiming chastity, claiming modesty – claiming the things that killed me and killed a million women and will continue to kill women. They were even caught making a fake picture to make their cause grow: http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2013/04/down-in-the-muck/

The only thing I probably like about MuslimahPride is the discomfort that is so prominent among them – especially prominent among Islamist men. These are the hypocritical men that now feel torn between their religion and their penis- and I hope their discomfort grows to the point from where there would be no coming back. What bothers me far more than MuslimahPride though are the western liberals who side with what they’re saying, these western liberals don’t know what they’re siding with — it’s as though women like me and our concerns don’t even matter to them. We don’t even exist for them.

FEMEN may have its problems (and I know it does), but I side with them because I feel that they side with me, too.

This quote actually says all for me:

“Put on trial the artists’ models who posed nude for art schools until the early 70s, hide the art books and destroy the nude statues of antiquity, then undress and stand before a mirror and burn your bodies that you despise to forever rid yourselves of your sexual hangups before you direct your humiliation and chauvinism and dare to try to deny me my freedom of expression” – Aliaa Mahdy.

N: I agree with everything you’re saying F, and all i can say is i’m so fedup with the double standards and hypocrisy all women face regardless of their faith and ethnicity, i don’t know where to begin with all of it, the funny thing is the thing which everyone men and women want to control certain aspects of human nature, how (expressing themselves and their sexuality) is the most taboo thing ever, yet it’s also the thing which is overly hyped and emphasized, i find it so hard for a woman to just ever be a woman even in her own eyes, so many hypocrites out there