“If you think you are emancipated, you might consider the idea of tasting your menstrual blood - if it makes you sick, you've got a long way to go, baby.” - Germaine Greer
“Love thy hijacker.” This is the first sentence that comes to my mind every time I come across the expression “Islamic feminism.”
I often hear some Muslim women assert: “I am a Muslim and a feminist.” And I can’t help but feel depressed by this obvious oxymoron. These women are convinced, or want to be convinced, or want to convince us, that Islam and feminism are not mutually exclusive, because they need a compromise between the teachings of their faith and their dignity as human beings. Yet what positive change does this compromising strategy lead to with a religion like Islam that is solidly resistant to reform (since the Quran is believed to be the verbatim word of God), and that is considered not only a spiritual practice, but a way of life? A religion that is demeaning to women in different aspects, and clearly states that men are “superior” to women, allows men four wives, gives men the right to beat up their “disobeying” women, etc…
Actually, all monotheist religious texts are inherently misogynic and against gender equality, however we cherry pick them. They compete on enforcing patriarchal standards—humiliating women, classifying them as men’s property and oppressing them. Taking one verse from here or there in order to prove that this or that religion promotes women as equal to men is a futile exercise, to say the least. First and foremost, you cannot embrace a religion selectively. You don’t use one or two ingredients and overlook the rest in order to fabricate for yourself a comfortable co-existence between your self-respect and your inability to admit the obvious.
Can we be Christians, Muslims or Jews and fight patriarchy and defend gender equality from within our religions? Answering “yes” is nothing but one of the many expressions of the contradiction we are living in. These three religions have the same attitude toward women: oppressive and unfair. So when will we stop compromising and attempting to achieve real change from within the “rotten fruit”? When will we admit that there is no harmony possible between monotheist teachings (as they are to this day) and women’s dignity and rights? Think about it: If the God they have invented was really as merciful, as compassionate, as gracious and as just as they all claim Him to be (and don’t get me started on the male nature of their deity), wasn’t He supposed to have established an equal vision of humankind?
Not only are the monotheist religions biased against women, but they are, all three of them, racist, sexist, homophobic, merciless, bloody, and biased against humanity, freedom and human rights. They are even biased against common sense. They are ManMade and PowerMade institutions that aim at controlling people and their lives. All of them have, throughout their history, used wars and terrorism to promote their objectives and survive the secular forces that threaten their continued existence, not to mention that their exclusivism has frequently fostered violence against those that are considered outsiders.
I don’t mean to be harsh: I know it is easier for women in Muslim countries to try and make the change from “the inside” instead of being ostracized or threatened because of their radical stances. Fine. Do that, by all means. But stop saying you’re a feminist. Because you are not. You can’t be. You are either a Muslim, or a feminist. The same applies to Christians and Jews. You want to sound modern and progressive, but to all those who really understand the meaning of the term “feminism,” you are just a person in denial, at best.
You see, being a true feminist essentially means aiming at being equal to men. Sometimes going back to a dictionary can be a necessary exercise. The Webster defines feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” while the good old Oxford says it is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” Neither mentions complementarity, nor similarity (for those who still idiotically revoke feminism on the basis of the biological differences between men and women). Neither defines it as being “kind, or respectful, or polite, or loving, or nice, or generous” with women, nor any of this condescending, elusive, sugar-coated crap that religious people use in order to prove that their God is the good God. Both dictionaries talk clearly, I’d say mathematically, about EQUALITY: equal opportunities, equal rights, equal treatment. No more, no less. Case closed. Luckily some things are too straight to the point to be reinterpreted.
On the other hand, women’s liberation worldwide has always happened in a secular context, and it is important—and vital—to remember that. Of course, secularism is not the sole guarantor of gender equality. It is not enough by itself; but it is a necessary condition for achieving that.
And nobody should dare say that these ideas of mine are a result of a “Western” virus I picked up (which is the easiest accusation thrown in the face of any Arab defending secularism, freedom, women’s equality, etc.)—as if there was such a thing as Arab freedom vs. Western freedom, Arab dignity vs. Western dignity, etc. Human rights are universal, not a Western monopoly. And it is degrading to us Arabs to see them as a Western exclusivity. Go back to the Universal Declaration that most Arab countries have (theoretically) embraced and you’ll see what I mean.
Accordingly, I am sorry for all those good-willed women and men out there who are trying hard to reconcile the irreconcilable through extremely convoluted interpretations, but I have to repeat: monotheism and feminism inevitably exclude each other, unless you are deliberately turning a blind eye and being choosy in your understanding of both. In that case, you could very well be self haters: hostages that defend and love their captors. We can’t only blame men in this context and insist on portraying women uniformly as impotent victims and men as merciless tyrants. Victimizing women and demonizing men is a vicious circle, and male domination is not the only culprit in the shortfall: There is also a lack of will by some women to assert their autonomy and/or to leave their “torturers” before they completely destroy their self-esteem. And women have proven on many occasions to be their own worst enemies.
If it were not the case, how could we explain, for example, the fact that some Western old-guard feminists defend today the different types of Islamic veils, including the burqa, and other repressive Islamic practices? They claim they do so in the name of cultural relativism, but they’d be better off focusing on human rights’ universality.
To cut a long story short, stop contextualizing, interpreting, deducing, looking at the “bigger picture,” searching for hidden meanings and doing mental aerobics in order to deal with the uneasy questions. Face the elephant in the room: Islamic feminism is a delusion, a misconception and an oxymoron, again. Islam and feminism cannot be compatible by any stretch of imagination.
Come to think of it, and since interpretation is open for all, monotheism could very well be one of the metaphorical meanings of that dirty menstrual blood that Germaine Greer is talking about in the above quote.
And it is about time we go through menopause, ladies.
Follow Joumana Haddad on Twitter @joumana333
Joumana Haddad is author of many books, among which “I killed Scheherazade.” Her latest book, “Superman is an Arab-On God, marriage, macho men and other disastrous inventions” (Westbourne Press, London, 2012) is now available in Lebanese bookshops and on Amazon.