By Jonathan McConnell
By Jonathan McConnell
Morocco World News
Rabat, June 9, 2013
The following is my response to the wonderfully written and thoughtful article by Sara El Bekri posted on the Morocco World News website.
To be sure it’s not a simple black and white issue. To me, it is too simple to say that this is a west vs. east, or secular vs. Islam ideological conflict. It isn’t. The subjugation of women to secondary subordinate roles predates western civilization and even the arrival of the big three monotheistic religions. The notion of women as inferior came with the arrival of the plough when tribes went from being nomadic to agricultural. With the advent of heavy farming tools, men took on the primary role as providers for the family and community at large, and all religions and ideologies with a notion of what was appropriate according to gender was formed on this basis.
Our modern crisis as it relates to gender and traditional values (be they religious or otherwise) is more of a result of the global trend towards urbanization and not secularism. The people who have the most to gain from the migration of populations from rural areas to urban areas are women. That’s where the jobs are. That’s where the money is. That’s where freedom and independence can most likely be enjoyed.
For the first time in human history, all over the world, there are more people living in cities than in rural areas. The single most significant factor behind this trend is the increasing desire by women for the opportunity to have control over their own destiny as it relates to family, economic independence, and individual identity.
Needless to say, this has resulted in a heated backlash from many who have always viewed traditional gender roles and family dynamics as the basis for harmony in their own respective social spheres. But this tide cannot be turned and as the result of this very recent explosion of resistance to traditional patriarchical social structures, the debate over a woman’s corporal sovereignty and sexual independence has never been more urgent.
In the past 50 years alone, from the most liberal, wealthy, secular nations on earth down to the most antiquated, conservative and dysfunctional nations on earth, the statistics indicating the number of incidents of rape, human trafficking (which is a ridiculously white washed expression that actually means sexual slavery), and domestic violence are staggering. Were there such hostility towards any other demographic on earth, be it on the grounds of race or religion, it would be declared a holocaust and the calls for military intervention would be universal.
It is precisely this state of affairs that a group like FEMEN gets its mandate to advocate for women’s rights in the most radical, provocative, and uncompromising way within their means.
I do recognize that FEMEN’s tactics are brash. But I also think that it is a mistake to portray them as the instigators as if patriarchal societies, Muslim or otherwise, were just sitting around minding its own business until these crazy naked teenagers started coming around and “threatening the fabric of our community”. That phrase in particular irritates me to no end because it carries with it an intrinsic paternalistic assumption that all Muslim women are virtuous, child like innocents that are perpetually at risk of being corrupted by foreign ideologies and immorality. The bottom line is, anyone with a strong sense of faith or identity will not at all be affected by provocative displays of rebellion.
FEMEN is an extreme reaction to extreme prejudice against women by patriarchal society and not the other way around. As I have said elsewhere, making people uncomfortable is not a crime and a naked body in the context in which FEMEN uses them to promote their political point of view is not sexual or even immodest in the slightest. If anything, it is the lack of maturity on the part of conservatives who refuse to accept that a woman’s body is anything other than always sexual no matter what the attire or context.
For me, the criticism from so-called self-proclaimed moderates is disingenuous. For those who criticize FEMEN but insist that they are passionate about women’s rights, I can’t help wonder where these invested voices of reason were before FEMEN showed up. I can only assume it is because these pseudo moderates have yet to have experienced rape, sexual slavery, or domestic violence first hand because once you are faced with this particular all too common reality of being a woman in the world, your options automatically must be reduced to either silence and complicity, or anger and resistance.
As soon as you say I agree with FEMEN’s politics BUT… you are giving up the fight for women’s rights in favour of Muslim rights. I completely understand the dilemma and I sympathize with it. It is a huge crisis of identity to have the values and rights of one part of your personality be in conflict with another. But ultimately, before there was religion there were men and women, and the identity that follows according to our random anatomical designation. And today is no different. Before we are a Muslim or secular or whatever, we are either a man or a woman first and it is gender that defines who we are more than any other demographic. It only makes sense that these are the first rights that must be fought for and respected if all other demographics wish to claim the same rights, respect, and freedoms.
Finally, as an essential component to the evolution of any of our basic human values that aspire for greater liberty and harmony, we need the extremists to galvanize the moderates out of their complacency. That is the value of FEMEN.
You can disagree with their tactics but ultimately not their goals and it is up to you to mobilize an alternative. Martin Luther King’s popular moderate views on civil rights benefited in a large part from Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam’s militant stance. People who did not want to resort to violence had to pick a side because there was an emerging voice in the black community that was saying enough is enough, “by any means necessary” which scared the crap out of people. These two voices, which were at odds with each other, were in the end complimentary in the overall success of the movement.
When you put together all the people in the world who espouse traditional roles for women be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu or secular, they are still vastly outnumbered by the total number of women in the world that have already, or will at some point in the future, experience some form of gender based violence be it sexual, verbal, or straight up battery. Because of this I don’t think FEMEN is going to go away any time soon. As long as misogyny and violence against women is pandemic, they have a very important function in terms of waking other people up.
Because if we don’t wake up soon about this one issue that directly effects half the world’s population and indirectly effects the rest, a war is coming that will transcend nations and cultures and fundamentally transform everything we take for granted about our economics, our cultures, our religions, our families, our personal relationships,… in short our entire world as we know it.
Jonathan McConnell is a filmmaker and vocal facebook pundit who has had the privilege of calling Morocco his home since 2004.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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