16/07/2012

When Idols Suck

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Most people have their idols; heroic figures that inspire them to wake up every single morning and do something. I don't want to speak for anyone else, but people like Anne Frank, Jessica Mitford, and Sophie Scholl make me want to attempt to change the world in some way, to be a better human being. We hold these people on a pedestal of infallibility and loathe it when anybody says a terrible word about them ever - which is why it can be difficult to acknowledge when our idols kind of suck.

Recently I've become dismayed by the fact that people I used to admire or respect have said questionable things (and haven't apologised) and further dejected by the fact that several feminists have defended them unwaveringly and rejected the worthy criticisms. Something that I've become more acutely aware of is about feminism being a process of learning and unlearning; this doesn't end the moment you reach the point of How To Be A Woman where you jump on a chair and shout 'I AM A FEMINIST'. It's no good saying 'but I promise I'm not racist/sexist/cissexist/ableist' - we need to check our own privileges and claim responsibility when we fuck up.

The basic principle here is 'don't be an arsehole'. Just because I identify as a feminist doesn't mean that I'm infallible; it's necessary to acknowledge the privileges you have and if you fuck up on an issue that you're ignorant about, don't deny your ignorance or become defensive over being called out on your privilege. I'm sick of people giving total non-apology apologies like 'I was young and stupid' or 'I'm sorry but I'm not sorry' that tend to be used as some sort of Get Out of Jail Card; apologise, educate yourself, learn from your error, and do better next time.

Furthermore, you shouldn't talk over people on an issue. For instance, continuing on from the topic of my last post, don't claim that 'Islam is the most sexist religion ever and even though I am a western feminist with no experience or understanding of the faith, I know that ALL Muslim women are oppressed and need saving to become liberated like me'. That there is some white savior bullshit. I'm sure that Muslim women need you, a non-Muslim, to enlighten them how they should feel. The idea of actually asking Muslim women, i.e. those who have experienced what you're actually talking about, about what they think seems to be a remote concept to some people.

I'm further irritated by feminists claiming that any criticisms from within the movement are dividing us, when really, it's the fact that they're stifling the voices within the community that weaken it. When I first started identifying as a feminist, I naively thought 'feminism is for me, feminism is for everyone' but admittedly, there are times where I feel that there is not a place for me. Perhaps one day, feminism CAN be for everyone but right now, mainstream feminism seems so focused on the needs of white and western middle-class able-bodied cissexual heterosexual women.

I acknowledge my privileges and my ignorance as I'm trying to learn and retrain away from the prejudices that society has made inherent. Your idols, as excellent as they may be on one issue, have their own privileges but if they're not aware and responsible of them, then they're not helping. If feminism isn't an intersectional feminism that's safe for everyone, and your idols aren't the intersectional feminists that the world needs, then it's harming rather than helping. Feminism isn't fighting for "some" women - it needs to fight for all women.

03/07/2012

On Burkas, "Liberation", and "Oppression".

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This is something that I have been thinking about for a while and I doubt that this is going to be coherent, but I think that the blog Oppressed Brown Girls Doing Things is far more well-informed about this than I currently am and I recommend that you read it! 

I have seen THIS picture (NSFW) doing its rounds on the blogosphere a lot recently, captioned as 'Muslim women protesting against the Burka'  and tags like 'freedom' 'oppression' - along with several incredibly uninformed comments making me feel a mixture of amusement and disgust. At the time of writing, this has 82143 notes on Tumblr.

My personal favourite unenlightened comment is: 'It’s great she had the balls to do that but now shes more than likely dead, stoned to death... not many people look like models without working out and I doubt Muslim woman are given time to exercise. Also if any of what I just said sounds racist it wasn't intended to be and it doesn’t seem offensive to me but someone else might'. (Just... what?)

NEWSFLASH: THIS IS NOT A MUSLIM WOMAN PROTESTING THE BURKA.

When you're on the internet, it's not incredibly difficult to find the original source of this picture if you happen to be in possession of common sense and access to Google. In fact, the only reason that it took me a whole five minutes instead of a mere two is that I had to sift through entries that were Islamaphobic and/or commenting on her breasts. 

It was taken at a Spanish festival called 'Carnaval de Cabezo de Torres' by someone called Guillermo Carrion. I took German and French at school, so I'm relying on Google Translate's translation of the caption which says: Hundreds of people took to the streets to watch the carnival of Cabezo de Torres full of light and sound that greeted the streets of the town despite the cold.

While it's not certain what the intentions behind the attire are (I've heard that it was in fact an occasion where Islam was being mocked), what we know for sure is that it's not of a woman protesting the Burka. Instead, it's been publicised as such because someone on the internet thought 'oh look, it's a woman in some sort of Islamic attire, let's just jump to assumptions without being bothered to fact check'. Furthermore, I saw a few bloggers who described themselves as 'feminists' but ranted about how 'barbaric' the Burka is and one or two of them even mixed it up with the Hijab and the Niqab. Here's a handy guide to the differences between them.

A recent PostSecret.
Some orders of nuns cover their heads, as do women attending mass at some particular Catholic churches - they're not being called oppressed but Muslim women need to be 'liberated' by Western ideals from the horrible 'barbaric' Middle-East. It's correct that we should speak out against abuse in a culture, but it's an error to assume that all the people in that culture are abused. Or, you know, you could actually listen to what Muslim women are saying about their own lived experiences for a change.