A message to Femen - don’t hijack our struggle

A message to Femen - don’t hijack our struggle
Comment: Two topless Femen activists kissed in Morocco recently in what was dubbed a protest for LGBTQ rights. But it did nothing to help Moroccan women, says Soraya el-Kahlaoui.
3 min read
18 Jun, 2015
Women marching for equal rights in Rabat on 8 March [D.R.]
Two women activists for the Femen group made what was dubbed as a provocative stand for LGBTQ rights in Morocco on 2 June - they kissed topless in public in Rabat.

This was the first stunt of its kind in the Arabic world.

But some progressive feminists and LGBTQ activists were less than enthusiastic about the action, viewing it as somewhat loaded and an apparent attempt to "enlighten" the archaic and backward societies of the Arab world on such issues.

The real outcome was spreading contempt for all those women who have been fighting for years at the heart of Moroccan society.

It might be a good idea to remind the few Moroccans defending the actions of Femen that this group of activists does not represent the feminist cause.

It is a misguided and often offensive representation of feminism. Many other feminists have denounced the Islamophobic and imperialist nature of their actions, criticising them on two main points.

First, this group exploits women's bodies by parading beautiful figures that comply submissively and entirely with Eurocentric beauty ideals.

Second, in imposing their political agendas without taking into account the situation in Morocco, these women have shaped and monopolised a debate and removed it from local realities.
     A large number of feminists are opposed to the direction Femen has imposed upon the cause of women's rights in general.

Moroccans should be focusing on Moroccan issues: they should be talking about the women who openly work as activists, but also those who work in the shadows and even refuse to define themselves as feminists, but who are battling on a daily basis to improve the lot of women in Moroccan society.

If criticism has been directed at Femen, this is because a large number of feminists are opposed to the direction that it has imposed upon the cause of women's rights in general.

These criticisms are not the expression of archaic attitudes; they are evidence of the vitality of the forms of feminism being created and practised around the world. In short: Feminism is not some clearly defined concept, steeped in European culture and values. It is so much more than that.

Femen's act created an image of a Muslim community undermined by "Arab patriarchy", reducing the balance of power to some kind of cultural pathology.

It is important to note that there exists a plurality of voices emanating from post-colonial societies, which are trying to forge their own paths. 

They bring us courage in the face of movements who believe anything that does not conform to Eurocentric feminism is an insult to the cause of women and a defence of patriarchy.

Our response to these criticisms should be simply a question of daring to say no.

We must dare to assert that we, Moroccan women, no longer wish to act as assistants to a feminism that is a pretext for reducing Arab men to patriarchs.

We must dare to assert that this type of secular, reductive feminism, expresses not only the class prejudice, but above all it reduces our culture to denying the complex and diverse expressions of women's resistance that are practiced constantly in Moroccan daily life.

The time has come to stand up and take control. It is our responsibility to reject the appropriation of the feminist cause as a cover for imperialist and colonial ideologies, used to justify foreign intervention and Islamophobic policies.

On the subject of our emancipation, European feminists can stop worrying. We are on the case.

This is an edited translation of an article originally published by our partners at Orient XXI.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.