Ukrainian feminists Femen have declared April 4th as International Topless Jihad Day. This is a response to the death-by-stoning threats Femen activist Amina Tyler received for posting two topless pictures online of her self. The threats Tyler has received form a horrific litany of misogynistic violence. They were also obviously going to happen. The misogyny and threats of violence experienced by women online are well documented. The misogynistic abuse Tyler has received is similar to that of many women who use the internet as a public platform for feminist activism. What is different is that Tyler's use of her breasts as a platform of protest, and the slogans she wrote on them, has garnered her threats of violence from men who claim to represent Islam.
There has been a lot of media coverage of the threats received by Amina Tyler and of Femen's response but very little mainstream press has taken issue with the colonialist discourse used by Femen to discuss their feminist activism. I have written about my concerns with Femen's brand of feminism before as I believe their message is obscured by the medium of their protest, which conforms to the normalised construction of the Patriarchal Fuckability Test. Feminism cannot succeed using the same old patriarchal discourse which oppresses us. Baring breasts is a normal occurrence in our pornified culture. There is nothing radical or revolutionary about Western women baring their breasts. The problematic nature of Femen's brand of feminist activism aside, the level of Islamaphobia in International Topless Jihad Day is deeply disturbing. This is taken from Femen's official statement on their Facebook page:
... Amina's act of civil disobedience has brought down upon her the lethal hatred of islamists inhuman beasts for whom killing a woman is more natural than recognizing her right to do as she pleases with her own body. For them, we now see, the love of freedom is the most dangerous kind of psychiatric illness, one demanding radical forced treatment in the spirit of fascist punitive medicine. The "Arab Spring," for the women of North Africa, has turned out to be a frigid sharia winter that has deprived them of what few political rights and liberties they enjoyed.
Stoning and flogging, kidnapping and rape, forced psychiatric treatment and other sorts of physical and psychological torture are what the new Sharia Caliphate has in store for women. The union of religion and state gives rise to inquisitions, and inquisitions ignite the purgatorial bonfires of religio-political terror, bonfires burning with the bodies of women as fuel -- such is the message the bloody history of medieval theocracies cries out to us. Any educated, free-thinking woman is, for [the inquisitors], a witch deserving of condemnation and murder. [Muslim men] shroud their women in black sacks of submissiveness and fear, and dread as they do the devil the moment women break free to light, peace, and freedom. Religious dictatorship begins by enslaving women, but a woman's act of self-liberation is the first step toward destroying the sharia regime. Topless protests are the battle flags of women's resistance, a symbol of a woman's acquisition of rights over her own body!
Have we become so immune to Islamaphobia and racism that that statement seems acceptable? Why has recent media coverage, notably by Germaine Greer and Kira Cochrane focused on the issue of using breasts as a medium of protest rather than the words Femen use to accompany their images? Femen's message has been obscured and whilst they might claim to be "provocateurs", their use of colonialist discourse remains unexamined in mainstream press. Both Yasmine Nagaty and Sara Salem have written about eloquently about these issues but how many supporters of Femen have actually stopped to think about Femen's use of language? Using terms like "inhuman beasts" is old-school colonialist discourse and it detracts from Femen's actual message, which is a critique of the misogynistic threats of violence that Amina Tyler has received.
We cannot liberate women as a class from male violence by using the same racist, colonialist discourse that the Capitalist-Patriarchy uses to subjugate women. We cannot liberate women by participating in the same misogynistic discourse that subjugates women. We cannot liberate women as a class by othering Islamic women. We need more public protests about the experiences of women like Amina Tyler but they need to be vibrant, engaging and culturally specific. We will not smash the Capitalist-Patriarchy with racism. International Topless Jihad Day might garner a lot of media attention but will it actually achieve anything? Will it protect Amina Tyler, and other women, from threats of male violence online or in real life?
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