Bringing you regular rage against the patriarchy, drenched in sarcasm and capslocks #FEMINISTFRIDAY

The Freedom of Nudity

Nudity was the topic of choice this Friday and for reasons you can probably guess. Not a topic I particularly encouraged, I take no joy in awkward conversations with my nieces. I mean your aunt, who to a 14 year old must seem and I quote “sooo old” saying the words “nudity” or “naked” is the stuff of nightmares for any young person. But it was still the topic this week.

I’ve encouraged my nieces to read and talk about what’s going on in the world and then, if they want to, talk to me about it. I have also explained that if what they are reading happens to me a complicated economic theory then to perhaps give me a week or two to get back to them…At which point I take the financial times and a dictionary out.

So this week my niece asked my about FEMEN and was a little perplexed. FEMEN is a radical feminist group which uses provocative imagery to make feminist statements, usually these statements are written on their naked bodies. Saves money and trees making a placard, I guess.

It has escalated in the past week after Amina a young woman from Tunisia, took a photo of herself with the words “My body belongs to me” in Arabic and posted it on the FEMEN Facebook page. This has caused outrage and has called for her to be stoned to death or ostracized from society. People have been quoted saying she will “given other women ideas” – that their body belongs to them too?!

Up to this point Amina is right and the right-wing extremists using Islam as a shield are wrong. Religion, morals, spirituality, beliefs are individual and should be respected as such. Who is anyone to say what Amina’s relationship with her body or her God should be?

What comes next is where things go wrong, and this is where my niece was most confused. Any conversation I have had with my nieces has asked them to question what is around them (including me) and have told them that feminism at it’s core was about liberation and choice. Here’s the dealo – Liberation doesn’t necessarily mean western values. I know, MINDS BLOWN!



After the episode with Amina, the FEMEN group has decided to turn against not only patriarchy but Islam. They are not the same things. Yes Islam, like all religion, and indeed every avenue of society, is soaked in patriarchy but they are not the same thing. At this point, myself and FEMEN must part ways. Not because I come from a Muslim family, my decisions are rarely influences by that, since I have been taught a very open minded Islam, but because of my feminist values. The values that tell me my feminism is not for imposing on others. That in itself defeats the purpose of the entire movement.

FEMEN have urged women to come forward to defend Amina by writing ‘My Body Against Islamism!’ on their naked torsos. They have also asked people to tweet and sign a petition, I have done the latter two, because that works for my feminism. But the problem arises when FEMEN have equated not protesting topless with my oppression. I can assure you I am not oppressed. I respectfully ask you to stop patronising me and countless other women.

It’s much like SlutWalk. I understand and nod in agreement but personally, I am not looking to take back the word “slut” but I applaud you and wish you success on your march, because at the end of the day, you are fighting patriarchy and whilst we all might do it a slightly different way, as long as we are standing up, we are winning. But don’t you dare, Don’t. You. Dare. Say I am not a feminist or I am an enemy to the sisterhood, because I don’t do it your way. That sounds an awful lot like patriarchy to me. 

The founder of FEMEN has said “Muslim men shroud their women in black sacks of submissiveness and fear, and dread as they do the devil the moment women break free” You are making a few too many assumptions in this statement, assumptions that make it difficult for non western women, in this case Muslim women, to partake or support your cause. You have reduced Muslim women to objects not by their bodies, but by presuming their thoughts and not entitling them to a voice.

This, has now created a counter-movement “MuslimahPride” who are protesting this assumption about their liberation. Rightly so, but here’s hoping they too are fighting the patriarchy within Islam and Muslim countries.

Muslim or not, western or not, religious or not. Here is a handy checklist for you to ensure your feminism is supporting rather than suppressing those it aims to “free”:

  • Are the women in question being forced to comply to a certain behaviour? (be that wearing a Burkha or being nude – yes, it works both ways)
  • Have said women asked for your support to speak up?
  • Have you asked the women what they would like you to say or how they would like your support?
  • Have you ensured that the women you are speaking for are also leaders in the cause alongside you?

If the answer the above questions is yes, then by all means, grab a megaphone and get to work for your cause, but if the answer to even one of the above is no, take a long hard look at your methods and consider whether this helps or hinders the cause of feminism.

If we continue down this, very ignorant, oblivious road, we will turn feminism into a movement fighting within itself, whilst patriarchy flourishes. (Although I’ve written about this already!)


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9 thoughts on “The Freedom of Nudity

  1. I absolutely love your ideals of Islam. I took in a course in college which harped on the same issues, “being liberated doesn’t mean wearing a miniskirt”

  2. Arzoo Khan on said:

    An insightful piece, Talat…keep it up.

  3. This is an interesting post. If someone’s religion and culture tells them from birth that men can dress as they please but women have to cover their head or most of their body – is the fact that women accept this as ‘correct’ and ‘choose’ to comply, consistent with women having the same opportunities and treatment as men? I personally can’t see that it is. If women who are born into this culture, accept it and never ask other women to fight for them, is it wrong to encourage them to question their culture or to make a general statement that it displays inequality of treatment? I come from a culture where Christianity is dominant but when I hear Christian people suggesting that women should dress a particular way because they are women, I find it just as repulsive in my own culture as I do in others. Muslim cultural dress codes, as I understand it, come from a book written by a man over 1000 years ago. Anyone who feels culturally bound to continue such a ludicrous sexist tradition should be encouraged to challenge it.

  4. Thank you for all you comments – really appreciated

    violetwisp – I believe I have covered this in my post. I very much encourage questioning – often that’s all I write about! Whether thats questioning, society, political decisions, religion or culture. By questioning, we create a world we want to be in rather, one that other people want us to settle for.
    But it is important that when we challenge we do this with respect and not assumption. I have no problem with someone saying “why are you religious?” I respond usually, by saying, i’m not all that religious, I grew up with it and have taken what I want”. The problem begins when instead of a question it is a demand “Do not be religious” “Do not wear a hijab” we have taken away choice, which in itself is the problem with patriarchy we are fighting to eliminate, There is space for every type of feminist. That’s what FEMEN forgot.

    • I know what you’re saying. But when the religion that the culture is based on is the essence of patriarchal (male gods, male prophets, male heroes, male leaders), it’s difficult to know where the lines are drawn and free choice is being made.

  5. Reblogged this on Socialite Fashion and commented:
    I often have this discussion amongst my friends. I think this is an excellent perspective, and really highlights my own views on CHOICE, CLOTHING & FEMINISM.

  6. Isn’t the test you apply too strenuous though? The majority of women in the UK (to give an obvious and close to home example) haven’t asked for my help. They don’t know about Object, they don’t care about the Fawcett Society, and inasmuch as they’ve heard of Pink Stinks, they think I’m a spoilsport no-fun feminazi who wants to stop little girls playing Princess. So then what? How does anyone move ahead with any kind of representative activism, based on that?

    What of women in Northern Ireland, the majority of whom say in survey after survey that they don’t approve of or want abortion access extended to their country? How do other British pro-choice campaigners operate, if the accepted basis for action is consensus and not an independent analysis of human rights?

    So ok, you could say: that’s not the same. It doesn’t carry the same weight of colonialism, racism, Islamophobia and history. Which is entirely true and correct. But even then, what’s a white feminist to do when the women she is looking to support in their struggle disagree? On the one hand you have posts like this defending the cultural differences among groups and arguing for a plurality of approaches (something which in general I 100% applaud, I’m just saying the test you devised to check for it is too tough); on the other hand you have activists like Nimko Ali of Daughters of Eve dismissing any appeals to “culture” and insisting that misogyny and violence are misogyny and violence independent of religion.

    Yes there should be some kind of test that helps us separate the cultural imperialist, patronising, saviour-complex suffering white feminists from the true allies; and yes it should be decided on and administered by people who are not those feminists. But I haven’t seen a practical one yet, *especially* in the context of this Femen kerfuffle and their titties who seem to be driving everyone loopy.

    • Hello! Thanks for comment.
      I’d start by saying its very likely we agree 99%! if you read through other posts, I’ve actually written support in pink stinks and object.

      Youre right, It is absolutely different in the case of cultural and religious belief. when you decide to speak on behalf of someone by stating what they want, you better have asked them first! Campaigns use evidence, spokespeople. wheres Femen’s muslim women spokesperson? If you don’t do that you’ve robbed women of the very thing feminism is about: a voice. Object for example talk as women who have been have experienced objectification, it researches the impact and affects of it.

      Lets take the example of abortion. There is a reason it’s called pro choice ( a movement I absolutely support) its not telling you to have an abortion, it is making sure you have that choice.
      Femen took choice away. When they wrote “women say no to Islam” on their boobs they decided there is no choice: it is Islam OR feminism. It is Islam or liberation. It is my feminism or non at all.
      That’s where they got it wrong.
      I’m a campaigner, representative activism is what I do, but choice and inclusion must be at the heart of it, or It’s liberating no one at all.

  7. Pingback: Burkha Banning; an insult to freedom and feminism | talatyaq

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