What NOT to do if you are a male feminist ally.

It can sometimes be interesting (i.e. RIDICULOUS) to hear the advice of a man on how women can achieve equality. Now, of course men can be feminists…I see it all the time. Every movement needs allies and the feminist movement is no exception. However, the first and (by far) most important thing that men can do if they REALLY want to help is to listen and push the movement in the direction that women are already taking it.

Clearly, Khalil Al-Anani from Daily News Egypt is unaware of that advice and has a charming little piece on where women should take the Egyptian feminist movement.

First of all – how am I going to take any advice seriously when the author states that he feels superior over women? And he expects us to think he is on our side? The sheer ridiculousness of it is transparent enough that I think I can spare you a deeper analysis on that part.

But this is where it gets out of control. Really. It’s blood-boiling…

Women today are merely combating sexual harassment on the streets, which has increased despite the fact that more women don the veil.

Um. EXCUSE ME? Women are MERELY combating sexual harassment? Because that’s not an issue worth combating? Because it’s an EASY issue to fight against? WHAT?!? Again…you are supposedly on our side?
And of course we must all notice that he seems to be surprised that sexual harassment has increased on the streets despite the rising rates of women who wear hijab. I’m SICK of people saying that wearing hijab somehow protects you from sexual violence and harassment. I wore hijab for four years and it never protected me from street harassment. And every anti-violence worker knows that sexual harassment happens because of a feeling of entitlement and power over another person’s body and personal space.
When you put it that way…well, sexual harassment seems a lot more complicated and difficult to combat than Mr. Al-Anani would like us to think. That one statement alone alienates hijab-wearing women who have experienced harassment, and also blames women who are not wearing hijab for provoking the assaults on their bodies and privacy. Plus it invalidates the VERY important work of anti-violence activists…who work their asses off and (clearly) see very little change happen.
But let’s move on. Because this piece is packed with problematic and sexist material.
Okay so we get it. The struggle for equality shouldn’t start with stopping the invasion on bodies…but where should we start?

Women’s struggle for equality and dignity starts in households, schools and universities. Unfortunately, Egyptian women seem to be subservient in nature to the imposed restrictions justified by traditions and customs that hinder thought and change.

Too bad Egyptian women are naturally docile creatures that can’t stand up against injustice. Maybe then the author, and apparently all the other men in Egypt (according to Al-Anani), would stop being so sexist and feeling like they are better than women. But you know, it is not the responsibility of men, even men who recognize the problems in this misogynistic thinking, to change on their own behavior. Nope…they won’t change unless the women they are looking down upon prove to them that they are capable of fighting back.
But wait. Didn’t Al-Anani just say that women are too busy fighting against street harassment? But how is that possible since Egyptian women are naturally subservient? I need not say more.
There are so many issues here. Al-Anani has diguised very common anti-feminist sentiments (“there are more important things to fight against than sexual harassment’”) in a friendly package that seems to be coming from well-intentioned place. But he ends up putting all the blame on women. “Men can’t help but be sexist because it is their culture” (this makes Egyptian culture look inherently misogynist). “Women have to create change because men won’t change unless they are pushed to” (apparently all men are idiots who can’t think for themselves?). Women are wasting time whining about sexual harassment when  they really should be taking the feminist movement in the direction that educated men like Al-Anani tell them to.
Unfortunately for Mr. Al-Anani, the only thing we can really take from his piece is that we have a lot of opposition and a long way to go. And maybe we can add this to a “what NOT to do” for male feminist allies :)
Muslimah Media Watch thanks forsoothsayer for the link!

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    lol Love the snark! Way to rip him a new one, sister!

  • Ethar

    Love it. I’ve actually interviewed this guy before.

    It’s really too bad too many people don’t realize how much difference a word or two makes. That ‘merely’ really raises my hackles. I didn’t have time to comment on Faith’s posts about sexual harassment in Egypt, but as an Egyptian woman who is out on the streets for the bulk of the day, I can definitely say that the way you are dressed does not make one iota of difference to the way you are treated. I’ve seen niqabis get harassed in the street. And I’ve been told things that make me want to take off my shebsheb (flip flops) and run after the disgusting men.

    But since I’m ‘subservient in nature’ I don’t. And now I guess I should go back to my cooking and dusting and bowing to my father. I’m born that way you see, I just can’t help it!

  • Tariq Mahmood

    I take offense to your use of the world Muslim Feminist.

    I am also of the “backward” view that women and men are not the same. That Allah had made one to excel over the other and that they provide for them with their wealth.

    Of course I am not foolish enough to believe that men today are actually more productive on average than women, as Technology is used to magnify an individuals output and minimize the effort.

    Ultimately I support the equal treatment of men and women, however I do not believe that they are inherently equal.

    However this piece enrages me. These men need to be dealt with harshly as do the men here in the West who harass our Sisters over the internet.

    But everyone else is too much of a coward to protect their sisters and daughters, and grand daughters, and all their future descendants, so they will not use the force necessary to eliminate this disease.

    Instead the cowards on this blog and others will continue to allow society to rot and the cancerous disease to grow.

  • Viviana

    @ Tariq

    Could you please elaborate your reasons for taking offense to the use of Muslim feminist? Also why do you call the women who write for this blog cowards? You say you support equal treatment of both genders, yet all I get from your post is ranting with no clear explanations. I believe that diplomatic and peaceful communication leads to more fruitful conversations; i.e. how is calling people names decrease the maltreatment of women? Is that how you protect your sisters?

  • Aynur

    @ Tariq
    Not being the same and not equal are 2 different things, IMO.
    Of course men and women are not the same, but one is not “above” the other.

  • Tariq Mahmood

    The word Muslim feminist offends me because a Muslim we should not label ourselves by Western Ideologies.

    A Muslim does not need an adjective to describe themselves. A Muslim is a Muslim.

    I sick of terms like Islamic Socialism, Islamic Feminist, Islamic w/e.

    Also in my World View we were put on this earth to improve the lot of others.

    From what I have read nearly every Egyptian Woman is harassed on a daily basis.

    THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE, and ACTION MUST BE TAKEN. Clear examples must be made of these individuals.

    It is disgusting to think that WE are our allowing our daughters to be handled in such a way. I pray that Allah punishes all of those who stand by and do nothing, or simply talk.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    Tariq, your other comments weren’t posted because they violated our guidelines by making offensive statements about certain groups or not being on topic. Please read our comment moderation policy tab; that’s what it’s there for. If you continue to willfully violate our comment policy, you’ll be banned.

    This isn’t the place for your ranting; you can create your own blog for that.

  • anon

    ‘Islamic’ feminism simply isn’t possible.

    Do any of you support the notion that a woman needs the permission of her husband to leave the house, that she cannot refuse his right without valid excuse (or is cursed by angels etc), hoor al-`ayn in Jannah etc?

    Interested in your thoughts.

  • Sobia

    @ anon:

    Islamic feminism is possible. And it is occurring in many parts of the Muslim world. To make the statement based on your own interpretations of Islam is a bit egocentric. There are others out there who follow different interpretations of Islam thus leading to compatibility between Islam and feminism.

    The concepts you speak of are not Islam, but rather the interpretations of some hadith by male scholars with their own misogynistic agendas. Or at least that’s how this Muslim feminist sees them.

  • Kawthar

    It’s not everyday that a person trying to pass off as being enlightened freely admits to feeling superior to women. Usually it’s hidden behind “different rights and obligations” mumbo jumbo.

    The part I took most offence at in that article was his claim that

    While men in Egypt suffer from political repression by the authorities, women suffer from familial and societal repression.

    Perhaps I’m overreacting, but I feel his statement is not only disrespectful, but undermines the struggle for greater political and civil freedoms in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East. Women are just as victimized by political repression as men are, and I cannot help but feel that his remark downplays the political role of women.

    Maybe if he had phrased it differently…that women suffer from political and familial/social repression

  • thewahhabimisanthrope

    ‘To make the statement based on your own interpretations of Islam is a bit egocentric.’

    But isn’t this what everyone does, including you- by saying that ‘Islamic feminism is possible’?

    Hoor al-`ayn- you really think this belief has no foundation in the Qur’an…? Are all the staff members of Muslimah Media watch like this?

    ‘The concepts you speak of are not Islam’

    Can you give me a compelling reason *not* to believe in Hur al-`ayn (I’m using this example, but I could use others)? It’s in the Qur’an, you know.

    ‘…but rather the interpretations of some hadith by male scholars with their own misogynistic agendas.’

    So I suppose the countless women (and women jurists) who believed in these things hated themselves…?

    I’d like to hear from more of your staff- you say you are different, but what ideas (about women/feminism) do you share?

    [This comment has been edited to fit within comment moderation policy guidelines.]

  • Sobia

    I wasn’t speaking of the Hur issue. But as far as needing permission and having no right to refuse her husband – that is an interpretation with which many Muslims will disagree. Including myself. For me, they are not a part of Islam therefore, I feel no need to believe nor follow them. What others believe is their business.

    As far as being egocentric. By saying it is NOT possible you are speaking in absolutes. By saying it is possible I am saying it is a possibility and not an absolute. There is a difference.

  • WM

    Your view that it is possible is egocentric. It is your view and some agree and some disagree with it- no different from me, in other words.

  • Sobia

    “So I suppose the countless women (and women jurists) who believed in these things hated themselves…?”

    hahaha…I doubt it was countless. And who says there are not misogynistic women?

  • http://www.brokenmystic.wordpress.com Broken Mystic


    I think Khalil Al-Anani’s article is sickening. It reminds me of how I felt about the film “300″ after I heard Frank Miller’s interview on NPR where he bashed Islam and called it “6th century barbarism.” How can I enjoy the movie when the creator hates my way of life? In the same respect, I can totally understand how you feel when you say, “how am I going to take any advice seriously when the author states that he feels superior over women?” The rest of Al-Anani’s logic is insulting to BOTH men and women. I don’t buy that whole “inherently sexist” stuff.

    Also, I just wanted to share my 2 cents with Tariq and WM:

    Rather than looking at the label, like “Muslim feminist,” why don’t you make an effort to understand the MEANING. What many people don’t realize is that feminism is generally defined as believing in the equality of both males and females. The word “feminism” is often associated with negative stereotypes and that may explain your frustration with the terminology.

    But just like “Muslim” is merely a word if you treat it like a word, “Feminism” must be understood by it’s MEANING, not by it’s outward label. We don’t call ourselves Muslims just for show — we remind ourselves that a Muslim is a submitter to the Creator of the Universe.

    The Qur’an makes it very clear that men and women are equal. If they were not equal, then the pagan Arab practice of female infanticide would not have been abolished by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Also, observe these verses:

    [3:195] Their Lord responded to them: “I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female – you are EQUAL to one another.

    [4:124] As for those who lead a righteous life, male or female, while believing, they enter Paradise; without the slightest injustice.

    [33:35] The submitting men, the submitting women, the believing men, the believing women, the obedient men, the obedient women, the truthful men, the truthful women, the steadfast men, the steadfast women, the reverent men, the reverent women, the charitable men, the charitable women, the fasting men, the fasting women, the chaste men, the chaste women, and the men who commemorate GOD frequently, and the commemorating women; GOD has prepared for them forgiveness and a great recompense.

    There is no original sin in Islam either — there is no blame placed upon Eve. Unlike the Old Testament, the Qur’an doesn’t say that women are punished with labor pain during childbirth or anything like that. Let’s not forget Prophet Muhammad’s final sermon when he said that no one is superior to another human being EXCEPT through piety and goodness of action. Notice, there is nothing said here about gender.

    Men typically get offended by the word “feminism” because it intimidates them. They think women want too much control and power, which apparently “only belongs” to men. An independent woman would require too much work, effort, and energy for the husband. It would create more challenges for him. That is why he prefers the traditional stay-at-home wife who will cook, clean, and raise kids, while he can go to work and then come home to just relax. I’m not just making this up either, I’ve heard this come from the mouths of certain Muslim men that I know.

    There is nothing wrong, of course, with a woman who chooses to stay at home. What’s important though is HOW she is treated and perceived. If the husband perceives her as inferior, or subordinate, or even a sex object, then that must be changed. My question is: Why do people make our religion so complicated? Did we forget that Prophet Muhammad’s first wife, Khadijah (peace be upon her) was an independent business woman? She proposed to him, and I’m sure many of you already know this story. But why are you so offended when women are simply standing up for their rights. When Muslim men from Muslim countries come to the West, some of them sleep around with Western girls, but then after a few years, they want to go back to their home country and get married to a VIRGIN Muslim girl. What happens to these men? Do they get stoned or beaten up or get death threats?

    On Saudi TV, there was a Muslim man who preached some ridiculous nonsense about how men are smarter than women because men THINK before they speak. Women, he said, SPEAK before they think. Now, imagine if a Muslim woman was on Saudi TV and said that woman are smarter. She would get cursed at, insulted, fired, and even threatened. By complaining about the terminology of “Muslim feminists,” you’re completing missing the point. You don’t see the sexism that Al-Anani is reinforcing in this article.

    Marriage is not about superiority or inferiority. That is NOT what Islam is about. Marriage in Islam is about COMPANIONSHIP, LOVE, and FRIENDSHIP. Prophet Muhammad even said once that men and women are twin halves of one another. Did he ever hit any of his wives? No, never. Read these verses from the Qur’an:

    “He created for you mates from amongst yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them and He put love and mercy between your hearts – for each other” (Quran 30:22).

    Where is Love and Mercy in a marriage when two people are married off just because their financial status and ethnicity matches? What about matching in personality? What about Love and Naseeb? In the Hadith, the Prophet said that if a man has Faith in Allah, but hardly any money, then his Faith is ENOUGH. What does that teach us about marriage? It shows that Love transcends the physical realm and goes BEYOND. Allah can only do so much to express His Love to us with this Universe, and subhan’Allah, it is a very beautiful and magnificent Creation, but there are so many Unseen wonders as well. Something like your Faith in Allah cannot be tangible. Something like Love cannot be tangible.

    Men and women who perceive one another as equals are bound to have more successful relationships because superiority tends to corrupt people. It’s like putting a weapon in someone’s hand — you think a human being is SO disciplined that he/she can restrain certain emotions? Knowing that you can control someone, and knowing that your spouse will be OBEDIENT and SUBMISSIVE to you is not only sexist, but very un-Islamic and dangerous. Humans are obedient only to the Divine. No human can declare control over you — you are NOT anyone’s property or slave.

    So, I am just advising that before you think about looking certain terms like “Feminism,” please take a moment to reflect on the MEANING and the REASON why Muslims are concerned about gender equality in our community. The Shaytaan likes Separation; Islam is about Unity. Islam is about establishing relations, Friendships, and Companionships. During the Prophet’s time, Islam united people under the banner of One Faith, One God, and One Nation. We are all supposed to be connected in this way, but whenever I see people respond with such disrespect towards fellow Muslims just because their views may be a little bit different, I can only question whether or not other Muslims are really interested in establishing a community. It’s not about who is right or wrong — it’s about UNDERSTANDING. Read the Qur’an and study the Prophet’s Life — it’s filled with Love, Compassion, and Unity. There is no reason why we should believe that one person is superior over another.

    And since I’ve been getting called “sister” a lot lately, I just wanted to put it out there that I am a GUY. Insha’Allah, when I get married, I strive to live a life of equality with whoever my Life Partner and Friend will be. Our community tends to take young women out of schools and college just to get them married. Education is so important because it builds a brighter future. Everyone — male and female — have purposes they must carry out, and that purpose has been given to them by Allah.


  • Sobia

    Woo hoo BM!!! Well said!!!