x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

We don't need 'help' of topless protesters

Femen's "International Topless Jihad Day" is offensive, imperialist and does nothing to address the real concern of Muslim women

Protesting against the oppressive status quo comes in many forms. Non-violent protest was Gandhi's weapon of choice. Rosa Parks chose to sit where she was forbidden. Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself. Their methods of disobedience fuelled social change.

A form of protest that doesn't fit into this pantheon, despite its grandiose and self-important claims, is last week's "International Topless Jihad Day" convened by a Ukrainian group, Femen, whose motto is "better naked than the veil".

Tunisian blogger Amina Tyler received death threats and alleged kidnapping by her family after posting pictures of herself naked in line with Femen's approach to tackling patriarchy. In response, Femen declared a day of "topless jihad". A handful of women protested outside mosques in Paris and Belgium, and some were stopped en route to a mosque in Kiev, Ukraine.

Femen believe their actions are helping Muslim women. To this I say: no thanks, we don't need your "help". Your actions are neither feminist nor helpful.

What help are you giving? Did you help the blue-bra woman in Tahrir Square? Are you helping child brides in Yemen? Do you help your own Ukrainian women, hundreds of thousands of whom have been victims of human trafficking? Your actions are nothing more than a schoolboy stunt allowing the tacky tabloids another excuse to commodify women.

I find your behaviour infantile and lacking in knowledge of actual effective ways of making change. If anything, your actions have set back our cause.

From a feminist perspective, nude protest feeds into the treatment of women as sex objects. And Femen's description of Muslims as brainwashed, unthinking and knife-wielding adds to hatred against Muslims.

We reject your imperialist propaganda that we would only be free if we were naked like you. Muslims see a different shape to social development for themselves. Liberty yes, but on Femen's terms and with Femen's vision? Again, I say no thanks.

"We told you the West is negative and will destroy Muslim societies," admonishes the patriarchy, and in turn the initiatives that Muslim women themselves have mounted are muted. "Help" takes forms like the invasion of Afghanistan, making life worse for everyone. If you're serious about helping Muslim women, address the principal causes of oppression: poverty, war and the skewed global financial system. Women are always at the bottom of the pile and even those who are oppressed turn their meagre power onto Muslim women.

But most of all, we don't need Femen because you believe that we cannot think for ourselves, and that you need to free us. Which is why I assume you ignore the multitude of Muslim women who object to your actions. Why do protests by a few naked white women generate more coverage than all the initiatives and protests by Muslim women themselves?

Femen leader Inna Shevchenko: you said there are "bearded men with knives" behind us, and you called us "slaves".

Your slurs against the many men who support us, against our independent agency, and your description of us as "slaves" show that you do not respect us. Those who demean us are not our helpers. It is Orwellian doublespeak to say you desire our freedom when all your actions do is to heap unwanted stereotypes upon us and stir hatred against us.

Will naked breasts help us? To quote that tongue-in-cheek feminist phrase: we need you like a fish needs a bicycle.

 

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk