in the 17th century descartes announced ‘i think, therefore i am’: ‘je pense, donc je suis’
today, in the 21st century, chevchenko has announed: ‘i exist, because i’m in the news’ : ‘etre dans les journaux, c’est exister!’
17th century vs 21st century. descartes vs chevchenko. mind vs body.
in the 17th century you could think because you existed, and today in this highly sophisticated 21st century, you exist, because you’re in the news.
we are hearing of this new wave philosophy today because of femen. and especially because a tunisian muslim girl has joined forces with femen, the breast baring amazonian warriors of women’s rights, but femen has been in existence since 2008. the movement started off in ukraine to protest the growing sex industry in the country, but it soon branched out and began protesting other gender issues, including the perceived oppression of women at the hands of religious institutions. femen has fought for animal rights in kiev, gay rights- naked – and no one has noticed this org significantly – as headlines- in nytimes or elsewhere as we are, now. femen used to slogan their bare backs only, but started sloganing their breasts, because that got more attention from photographers. according to inna chevchenko, femen’s leader, the media needs sex, scandals, aggressions, and they will get that.
the underlying assumption that femen operates on is that female liberation can be directly linked to what women wear. this is not a new idea, and in fact has formed the basis of much of western feminism. one of the most prominent examples is the way the french state produced algeria as a backwards country because algerian women veiled. this type of logic automatically leads to the conclusion that in order to progress, women who veil must unveil, and therefore “free” themselves. women who choose to wear the veil cannot be considered feminists, since they do not adhere to the same logic that femen adheres to. by delineating the boundaries of what is “good” and “bad” feminism, femen is using colonial feminist rhetoric that defines arab women as oppressed by culture and religion in the case of amina. but this is not the first time that feminism has confronted the issue of diversity. first and second wave feminists in the US, for example, were notorious for excluding women who weren’t like them: white, middle-class, american. their feminism was distinctly local, but was branded and spread as ‘universal’ and if women didn’t adopt it then they were anti-feminist. the arguments advanced by the femen member on al-jazeera was eerily reminiscent of those kinds of discourses, especially when she accused the other participants of not being feminists because they didn’t agree with femen’s tactics http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/femens-neocolonial-feminism-when-nudity-becomes-uniform
it is a laudable act that femen or any organization is advocating for the aminas or guls of the world. or any organization questioning the place of religion in our societies which convey how religion conveys and institutionalizes misogynistic values as well as certain behaviors that are harmful and even fatal to women.
femen represents a fighting-fire-with-fire tactic, and not an eye-for-an-eye tactic that makes the world blind [gandhi] because sometimes fire simply works. femen uses the body to fight back the empire of men commodifying women’s bodies. the eye-for-an-eye tactic doesn’t really work because the world of india has been blind to women being raped and violated forever. the eye-for-an-eye approach didn’t keep men from raping a covered up girl on a delhi bus or the 5yr old recently raped by a 2o something year old married man in india. so femen’s radical strategies of the visual and not cerebral or intellectual mode counter gandhian approach, precisely because it is not working against women’s oppressions.
but, somehow i believe that if it were only a question of change for women there wouldn’t only be young, attractive women in fitted shorts, hot pants or denim campaigning topless for women rights. and if we adhere to the idea that all muslim [or hindu or thai etc] women are oppressed, more women should ‘come out’ and demonstrate. what would it matter if they were old, sagging, slim or fat or unattractive or not? it wouldn’t matter whose eyes were watching, because what would matter is women’s change. age would not count in matters of women’s freedom.
the images here show that femen has broken down all barriers in their fight. they are against god, church, Islam, homophobia, anything they believe repressing the individual. their choice of language exceeds respect from some, and they don’t take into consideration that langauge functions differently in the places they are trying to change. so where does it all lead to? where does the unveiling stop to prove their point? when the maghrebi communities in france fought fire with fire via blowing up cars or demonstrations or gangs of young asking o be integrated into france, the french said they were ‘racaille’ or scum. in one film by kassovitz, the message is that hate breeds hate. so where is femen going? their approach seems to be leading to the never-ending debate about veiling and feminism, to remove the veil. and even if wearing a hijab is not inherently liberating, neither is baring one’s breasts. what is liberating is being able to choose either of these things, like they choose to do.
Yana Ziferblat [http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/femens-neocolonial-feminism-when-nudity-becomes-uniform] thinks that femen is making a common colonial post colonial mistake in its advoctaing nudity etc. she suggests that femen is ideologically not a heir to western colonialism, but rather to russian colonialism of asia as part of establishing a wide soviet empire. she believes that the russian colonial gaze is quite different from the western european one. or for that matter the arab world so femen may not work to change muslim mentality for women or men.
rather a wholistic/holistic view may be required; one that will incorporate both mind and body, and not simply the one-way or universal approach femen is clamoring for in only unveiling the body. the femen mind needs unveiling, too, to understand the body of others.
maybe fadela amara’s breaking the silence and the organization ni putes ni soumises which offers insight into change for women’s status in the banlieue in france could offer some real clues for change.