Joumana Haddad

On Femen, Amina and ‘NOT asking for it’

Image courtesy of Femen

The J-Spot
a blog about women’s rights, human dignity, secularism and sexual freedom in the Arab world

I must confess that Femen’s approach to fighting patriarchy with female nudity has always left me feeling rather confused and divided: On one hand, I am a big prompter of women regaining and claiming ownership of their bodies in a culture that treats them like male possessions on so many different levels (celebration of virginity, honor crimes, misogynic religious laws, etc). On the other, though, I have always found the forced polarity between veiled women and over exposed women, absurd and unconvincing. It is patriarchy asking us women: “So what’s your call? The tits or the Burqa? You have to choose either this side or that one.” As if there was no third option out there.

Well, I choose not to choose either. I find both stereotypes sexist, humiliating and counter-productive. And I find the so-called division of loyalty between them a mere optical illusion: to me they are two sides of the same patriarchal coin. The first side treats a woman like a tool of temptation that needs to be exploited and invested; the second one treats her like a tool of temptation that needs to be erased. That is why, notwithstanding my respect to Femen and their struggle, and notwithstanding my extremely liberal stands on sexuality in general, and female sexuality in particular; I am perplexed by Femen’s use of female nudity to attract attention over women’s issues. It simply prompts me to ask the following questions: “What if a man was doing that? Would it raise the same amount of attention/indignation/coverage? Why does a woman always have to find herself forced to use her body as ‘bait’? Why not use men’s bodies for a change to call for freedom and democracy?" That is one of the main reasons why I insisted on publishing works of art that displayed male nudity as much as female nudity in my magazine. And let me tell you that the equilibrium was quite hard to maintain: Sexism is as much diffused in the art world as in the other arenas of life, and many artists would be super quick to tell you that the female body is more ‘aesthetic’ than the male one. Says who? By whose standards? It somehow reminds me of one of my heroes, artist Louise Bourgeois, who in a portrait of her taken by Robert Mapplethorpe in 1982, is seen carrying one of her most famous penis-like sculptures, Fillette, like a trophy under her arm: the concretization of a counter-victory against patriarchy and its vision of women as ‘things’, ‘possessions’ and ‘commodities’.

Yet being confounded does not mean, in any way, not supporting Femen’s fight, and not being outraged by the fact that one of their Tunisian activists, Amina (19), is now facing a fatwa that calls for her to be stoned to death because she posted a topless picture of herself with the words ‘My body is mine’ written on her bare chest. Being perplexed does not mean, in any way, not being infuriated by the discourse of many men out there who consider that if a woman exposes herself, then she is definitely asking for “it”. Provocative outfits should in no way be seen as an invitation to rape and harassment: They are a personal choice. The Burqa, on the other hand, should in no way be considered a tool of self-defense, like those who market it want to convince us. In fact, many women who are veiled from head to toe are sexually harassed as well. Plus, why should a woman pay the price of men being pricks? What a twisted view of personal security is that? When will the machos (religious and non) learn that women are independent creatures who do not exist for the sole purpose of serving them and pleasing their eyes?

… And if we need to tuck their penises under our arms in order for them to understand and respect that, then that is exactly what we are going to do.

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Image courtesy of Femen

… And if we need to tuck their penises under our arms in order for them to understand and respect that, then that is exactly what we are going to do.

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Joumana, I think many readers of NOW would not mind your joining Femen and demonstrating a la Femen.... That would be a challenge because you would have to put your feet where your mouth is, and thus silence all your critics. If your call to women to F.U.C.K. was serious, then you should practice what you preach and shove that body of yours down the FEMEN path to normalize and make the female body so ordinary that it ceases to be the obsession of the super-sexually frustrated radical religious freaks and other conservatives. Femen is doing a great job "desanctifying" women's sexuality such that it will no longer by the subject of taboos and pseudo-protection and all that jazz.

    March 22, 2013

  • Charbel Issa

    Hanibaal, 3 things should be said regarding your comment here: 1- Jumanah did not attack Femen, quite the contrary, she did say she supports their fight even though she is confused by their ways. It is a legitimate confusion since using female nudity to raise women's rights issues can be seen as a patriarchal approach, not necessarily as a way to de-sexualize women's bodies. She explains that very well and it doesnt stop her from supporting Femen and Amina's case. 2- In her article "FUCK" that you used as a reference, haddad deconstructs the f word into an empowering slogan for women: Fight. Use. Control. Know" so I dont understand your sentence about "shoving her body down the femen path" in order for her to be credible. 3- If you connect the Fuck word that haddad used with Femen's strategy then you are yourself proving that their struggle is counter-productive since you are showing us that their use of nudity is none other than a call for women to fuck. Now if that's not a reaction of a sexually obsessed who sees female nudity as an invitation to have sex, then I don't know what is... Salam

    March 24, 2013

  • Joey Ayoub

    The whole point of Femen is that they wouldn't need to do what they do if what they did was something completely normal. They've caused more discussion on women's rights than most people I know. Is that a sad fact? Sure, but Femen shouldn't get the heat for being among the most vocal. I support Femen and I think they need more support, not less. They can be the face and the voice, but they need intellectual support. Instead, what they're getting are insults and attacks from both so-called feminists and sexist religious fundamentalists. Want to get rid of Femen? Fix society's overwhelming sexism and they'll lose their raison d'etre.

    March 22, 2013