I often have debates and arguments with many of western feminists because I refuse to point the finger to men as the origin of evil: gender inequality and misery of women and girls. I perfectly agree with my Western sisters that most of gender violence, sexual violence and many kinds of violence against women are made by men. But that’s not the origin of the problem, just the consequence.
The origin is patriarchy. In the emancipation race, patriarchy is the common enemy, of women and men. But patriarchy is maintained in place by men AND women. This became very clear to me already as a little girl who grew up with harem women in North-Africa. That female exclusive world was amazingly beautiful and at the same time incredibly cruel for women. Read more about this in the article below. And leave me your comments on the blog page below!
By Donna Miles-Mojab, May 16 2019, New Zealand
Patriarchy is the common enemy of secular and Islamic feminism.
Muslim Tunisian feminist and academic Kaouthar Darmoni remembers her fondest childhood memories as when women gathered together, away from the male gaze, and danced.
“They would be practising the oldest feminine ritual in the world – stepping back to Mesopotamia 4000 years ago when the society was matriarchal and women were ruling.”
She watched the women as a little girl and wished she could be just like them. “They looked so wild, and so sensual, and so beautiful and so alive,” Darmoni recalls.
But as soon as the same “glorious goddesses” stepped into the public space, they would “literally and symbolically cover their femininity with a veil” because they were seen as “a threat and disturbance”.
The well-known feminist scholar, and one of the early pioneers of Islamic feminism, Fatema Mernissi, challenged the assumption that the condition of Arab Muslim women was evidence of their subordination and weakness.
In her popular book Beyond the Veil, she wrote: “The whole system is based on the assumption that the woman is a powerful and dangerous being. All sexual institutions (polygamy, repudiation, sexual segregation, etc.) can be perceived as a strategy for containing her power…”
Mernissi, who grew up in a harem in Morocco, wrote mainly to defend women’s rights in the East but did not exempt the West from criticism. She argued that the supposedly free West had harems of its own.
The domestic harem of the East, Mernissi explained, were not how the West popularised them in their films and literature. They were not places where nubile women fought over each other to offer their male master sex on demand. That was just Western men’s wishful thinking.
Mernissi’s parents were in a monogamous marriage and the harem she was brought up in was simply a set of secluded living quarters in the family’s expansive home. The female members of the family were not allowed to venture outside unless veiled and escorted by a male relative.
In her book Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems, Mernissi posited that harems were a way of controlling women – and where the East discriminated against women by controlling ‘space’ – the West discriminated against them by controlling ‘time’.
“The Western man declares that in order to be beautiful, a woman must look 14 years old. If she dares to look 50, or worse, 60, she is beyond the pale. By putting the spotlight on the female child and framing her as the ideal of beauty, he condemns the mature woman to invisibility.”
Mernissi, who died of cancer in 2015, is considered “the pride of Islamic feminism in modern times”.
She undertook a deep and systematic study of the Quran and the Hadith (records of traditions and sayings of prophet Muhammad) and concluded there was no scriptural basis for the subordination of women. It was Mernissi’s view that Muslim women were discriminated against largely due to the centuries-long patriarchal interpretation of religious text by male leaders.
This is not new, of course. We know feminist interpretations always matter.
Here in New Zealand, a new book co-edited by two University of Canterbury academics showed in almost all areas of law, from criminal to environmental law, feminist and mana wahine perspectives can influence the reasoning and therefore the final decision on a given case.
Mernissi gave her feminist interpretation of the Quran in her book The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam:
“We Muslim women can walk into the modern world with pride, knowing that the quest for dignity, democracy, and human rights, for full participation in the political and social affairs of our country, stems from no imported Western values, but is a true part of the Muslim tradition. Of this I am certain.”
Mernissi’s Islamic feminism has given many Muslim feminists in North Africa and South Asia the strength to fight for their rights within an Islamic framework but Islamic feminism is not without its perils.
As a secular Muslim, my concern is that the continual foregrounding of Islamic influence in Muslim majority countries overlooks the importance of the social, economic and political complexities that affect women’s rights.
I agree with prominent Iranian lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi’s view that Muslim women can be feminists and there is no incompatibility between Islam and feminism, but this is not the same as saying that feminism has to be Islamic.
I believe, while dialogue and continual debate should be encouraged, setting secular and Islamic feminism in bitter conflict with each other only benefits the patriarchal forces that seek to subjugate women.
The fact is that equating faith and religion with anti-feminism is just as misinformed as equating secular and modern with feminism.
Patriarchy is a universal force and if we are to make this world a better place for everyone to live in, we need inclusiveness, coalition-building, pluralism and diversity. He waka eke noa.
(for a downloadable version of the article, and a link to the original site: click here)
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