Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Battle of ‘brands’ FEMEN vs Islam

FEMEN, created in 2008 by two Ukrainians, fights fire with fire. These ‘topless activists’ march in protests against harassment, capitalism, corruption, income inequality, sex tourism, Berlusconi, sex religious institutions, international marriage agencies and other national and international issues. On an intellectual level, I find their method appealing, for it is like droning extremists out of their rat holes. However, when it comes to reality and the natural fluidity of society and the myriad individuals that make it, it becomes a problem. Just like droning the shit out of the tribal areas has not changed things much in the bigger perspective, getting naked in a society that has a thriving porn industry, worth anywhere from $2.6 billion to $3.9 billion, seems like reinforcing the idea ‘ naked women sell’.

How different is the presence of a women in a shaving cream ad, compared to FEMEN’s ‘naked brand’ protest against, let’s say, ‘Islam’. FEMEN’s topless protests around the world against sexism and other social issues seem redundant on a certain level. For the ones who would mostly agree with their methodology are the ones who are already convinced, in short, they are preaching to the choir. The ones who are not convinced will either fume with hatred and come up with things like the Muslimah Pride did, or only drool at the white, painted, erotic bodies with censored nipples (whence comes the reinforcement that women are nothing but mere pieces of flesh and bone for the consumption of ‘mostly’ men’s sexual desires).

Is liberation of women limited to displaying naked bodies? Does this make the primitive woman or an indigenous topless woman in Africa or the Amazon more liberated?

Inna Shevchenko, leader of FEMEN, makes a statement in Paris
September 18, 2012. Reuters
Here’s a quote from Ayesha Sultana’s blog:
Commodification and Sexualisation

This brings us all to question what exactly are the values of FEMEN? Do they really value equity? If they really value equity, why are men so non-existent in their “nude” protests?

If they really value equity, why they have been seen picking and choosing what kind of body do they want for their nude protests? Does this not all add up to commodification and sexualisation of a woman's body in general?!?

Do their values evolve around invading space and hijacking voices of marginalized community or telling their members to “Go Rape Yourself”?
From within the Pakistani context, where ‘feminism’ is more of a class backed idea, the whole debate between Muslims and FEMEN, and their supporters has created a schism. Ideas range from being labelled “idiotic for not supporting FEMEN to being a Muslim apologist, and being an Islamophobe to being a white trash cock-sucker”. Trouble is the incapability to see grey in the whole debate, and resort to a black and white approach. FEMEN's assumption of being on a higher moral ground is worthy of contempt, just like a Hijabi woman’s assumption that by not wearing a hijab, a woman ends up acquiring loose morals is. Thing is, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, patriarchy, capitalism, theocracy, secularism, communism, socialism, all can be disrespected as ideologies, and so can be FEMEN as an idea.

Both groups that are at loggerheads, FEMEN and Muslim Women Pride, are focusing on their ‘brands’ far more compared to individuals. Many organisations, groups or even in some cases lone activists forget 'individuals'. If FEMEN wants to 'help' women, be them Muslim or slaves in some obscure country, there are better ways of going about it. If Muslimah Pride wants to portray themselves as not being oppressed or being responsible for ‘oppression’, being less 'defensive' and 'flaunting' of 'hijab' might be a start.

What is currently happening is FEMEN is further ‘victimizing’ the ‘oppressed’ Muslim women with their ‘naked brand' ideology. The whole 'naked protest' does not work for everything, it has become more like a marketing gimmick, 'branding' the idea of liberation for women via ‘nudity’, and in the wake of that, alienating the 'ones who you are supposedly HELPING'.

Why ‘branding’ is a problem? Because once something is ‘branded’, it becomes unalterable. It exists for the sake of existence. For some it may be to garner support for a cause, but that seems more a manifestation of having been indoctrinated with capitalism or for that matter, religion, Islam, to be specific. The Hijab too is 'branding a woman as pious', therefore the woman who does not wear it has loose morals.

On a personal note: We all need to work on things that actually make a difference in the lives of people, instead of just resorting to so much verbosity online. Or, err naked protests. What really is the point of all this? I disagree with how FEMEN protests, I also disagree with MuslimahPride, it is as simple as that. However, how much difference does all this make on the ground?

I left religion because I could not be one of the sheep, ever since; I have not been able to fit in one group for a long time. I didn't leave religion to get sucked up into the quagmire of nuanced bullshit that only looks at one side of the coin. Be it naked protests for anything and everything under the sun, or Hijabi protests appealing to some non-existent ‘better-self’.

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