Being a feminist almost always involves criticism of male thinking or male domination and this makes sense. In many ways, we are still a male-dominated society; we are not free nor are we truly equal, not yet. Even in first-world countries, women are still paid less than men and professions objectifying women, such as prostitution and exotic dancing, are still common.
Recently, I have been going to women-only fitness classes at my local health club, mainly because the classes are cheaper. However, one can’t help but notice that women tend to compliment one another’s appearance rather than abilities. When I used to exercise with male friends, they would often shout words of encouragement to one another (and to me as well); things like “long live”, “beast” and “champion” were among their favourites. Men compliment power and performance, while women only compliment you when you lose weight.
Focusing on appearance is not only a trend you find in everyday life, but also in female activism. Femen is a feminist Ukrainian organization that fights male-domination… by baring their breasts.
“We are Femen. Our nakedness attacks the raw nerve of the historic conflict between women and ‘the system’… Our activists’ bodies represent undisguised hatred for the patriarchal order, and display the new aesthetics of a rejuvenated woman’s revolution,” wrote Femen activist Inna Shevchenko in British newspaper The Guardian.
Yet their feminist bodies seem to conform to western standards of female beauty; skinny, blonde (at least most of them) and white. They fail to physically represent the women for whom they are fighting.
“Using your naked body can be a legitimate form of a protest of last resort… However, the way it has been used by Femen feeds into and reinforces a racist and orientalist discourse about the women and men of North Africa and the Middle East,” wrote Go Feminist activist Chitra Nagarajan in response to Shevchenko’s article.
When Femen dubbed 4 April an International Topless Jihad Day, Muslim women were offended. This prompted an online initiative called Muslim Women Against Femen , which launched a campaign called Muslimah Pride. The campaign involved women sharing photos of themselves holding signs explaining why Femen does not represent them.
When I was in Kuwait, on finding out that I was Egyptian, a man asked me about Alia El Mahdy, our own breast-baring activist. It was an awkward conversation, and I explained that I do not share her philosophy. While breast-baring protesters might mean well, the fact of the matter is people (mostly men) will only remember the nudity and not the message, making for very awkward conversations.
However, I do not see the pride in being veiled or wearing a burqa. It is a personal choice, which women should be free to make. However, indicating that “pride” comes from it is as absurd as claiming nudity will free women. In fact, women need to take the conversation away from appearance, and into more important aspects, like wages, social-equality and female accomplishment.
Just as we criticise men, we need to criticise our own female culture that derives pride from appearance and see how this affects little girls everywhere. Instead of worrying about how they look, I would like girls to worry about how they should think and act. That is the more important aspect of living.