"Muslim women let's get naked" chanted protesters at the Trocadero in Paris. They are members of Femen, a Ukrainian feminist group which has gained a lot of attention due to its particular tactics. Femen, whose ideology is self-proclaimed as sextremism has become notorious for organising naked protests. Some notable examples are the topless protests at the 2012 Olympics in London, in opposition to "bloody Islamist regimes" or the cutting down of a crucifix in Kiev, in support for the Russian feminist punk group, Pussy Riot. Above all, the protest in Paris was particularly interesting.
Political statements such as 'Muslim women let's get naked' are problematic to say the least, as they represent quite a black and white, essentialist view of what feminism is and how to achieve the goals it aspires to realise. This expression of feminism articulated by Femen and their tactics are indicative of this idea that Western ways of thought are somehow inherently legitimate and superior. Their feminism however, is not a cultural paradigm that can be applied to all. It disregards the cultural, historic and socio-economic circumstances of a specific context. Perhaps we should entertain the idea that maybe Muslim women should have the opportunity to define what feminism is for themselves, rather than having it extended to them by the West.
As stated beautifully by Margot Badran, a specialist in women's studies, feminism "is a plant that only grows in its own soil". Without seeming overtly critical of Femen's objectives, it is admirable that they are taking a stand against women's subjugation, which is a reality. However, we need to break away from this problematic discourse as it prevents us from experiencing solidarity with Muslim women. Chandra Talpade Mohanty, a prominent transnational feminist theorist stressed that we should strive for a "common feminist political project" that is aware of and appreciates the differences amongst feminisms. Is it not too simplistic to universalise the various struggles of women? Only then will feminism truly become as said by Ien Ang, "an encompassing political home for all women".
Ang, I., 1995, 'I'm a Feminist but ... : "Other" Women and Postnational Feminism', in B. Caine and R. Pringle (eds) Transitions: New Australian Feminisms. St Leonards: Allen & Gunwin, pp. 57-73
Badran, M., 2002, Islamic Feminism: What's in a name? Al-Ahram Weekly Online, Available at: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2002/569/cu1.htm [Accessed on 21st December 2012]
Mohanty, C. T., 2003, "Under Western Eyes" Revisited: Feminist Solidarity Through Anticapitalist Struggles. Signs, 28(2), pp. 499-535Suggest a correction