In Which I “Mansplain” to Muslim Women What Changes They Need

In Which I “Mansplain” to Muslim Women What Changes They Need July 25, 2015

“Mansplaining”, as far as I’m aware, is a term that describes a situation in which a man condescendingly explains something to a woman whose knowledge of the said thing is adequate but the man assumes she needs the explanation because of her gender. To the best of my knowledge, it’s not meant to be used when a woman genuinely does need an explanation, for example when a male doctor is explaining something to his female patient, or when they are arguing against each other on equal footing.

So I guess whatever you can call this tweet of Richard Dawkins, “mansplaining” it is not:

Firstly, I guess the assumption should be considered obvious. Secondly, he’s not explaining how to solve a problem, he’s simply asking what he can do to help.

Fatima Bhutto, a Pakistani writer and poet and a member of a political dynasty, had to give her own answer, which basically was “shut up and go away”.

This is a reaction shared by many. This Muslim writer calls it “mansplaining” and calls Bhutto’s reaction a good “shut down”, and this HuffPo writer accuses Dawkins of having a “white savior complex” and then quotes a group of Muslims and one non-Muslim who basically say the same thing.

Before going on, I would like to stop and point out the bullshit of why Dawkins “is not needed”. Dawkins is the single most prominent and influential atheist in the world. He has a megaphone which reaches tens of millions of people, more than any other atheist. Anyone who has engaged in human rights works knows the importance of such a platform.

If a Muslim feminist was more serious about her feminism than defending the image of Islam, she would appreciate Dawkins’s help. She would think to herself “Yeah, I strongly disagree with this dude about Islam, and he has offended me before, but maybe I can ask him to shine a light on the story of this woman who’s about to be stoned, and the attention could make a change”.

But that is not what I want to address here. I want to address what Bhutto says in her following commentary.

Aha. Yeah. No. Bullshit.

It’s patently non-obvious that “only Muslim women are qualified to speak/act on the changes they need”.

Firstly, no, you cannot succeed without the help of Muslim men, general population, and atheists. Change will not come along when only one demographic is fighting for it. Again, if Bhutto really cared for the well-being of actual human beings rather than tribalism and the image of Islam and how “strangers cannot meddle in our work” mentality, she would never say this. But protecting the house of Islam is a more important priority.

Secondly, and more importantly, Muslim women affect the lives of non-Muslims. My freedom as an atheist in an Islamic theocracy is threatened and limited by Muslim women on a daily basis. The well-being of me and all my loved ones is  directly tied to a feminist revolution in Muslim countries and Islamic theology.

I wanted to, for example, spend some time with my girlfriend. But I couldn’t. Because her housemate’s mother had come to their house, and since she was a Muslim woman who had a problem with pre-marital relationships, I couldn’t be there because that would “offend” her. Notice how somebody completely unrelated to her was to spend time with another one completely unrelated to her, but she felt justified in narrowing my opportunities and stop me from going to my girlfriend’s house because she has ignorant beliefs.

My friend’s mother forces him to fast. He doesn’t dare to come out as an atheist because of her reaction. Another friend of mine, a woman, was locked in her room when she refused to wear chador. Another person I know of was forced to move out by his mother and face extreme financial difficulties in a time of economic crisis by his mother. I can bring you endless examples of how the business of Muslim women is not only theirs, and we can demand them to change. And we can specify which changes.

Thirdly, I belong to one marginalized group in Iran, and those are the atheists. What about non-Muslim women? Can they ask for Muslims to do something about the sexists laws? What about ex-Muslim women who have to endure double marginalization? What about the LGBT+ non-Muslims?

Point is, feminism in Islam is something that affects the entire populations and also the whole world. It’s everybody’s business. Dawkins has the right to demand a feminist revolution in Islam because it concerns him too, as someone who wants to live in a less shitty world.

But of course, our dear Muslim writer (the article doesn’t mention his or her name) says all this is “mansplaining”:

Fatima Bhutto, however, pointed out what really irked us about Dawkins’ statement: the fact that he is yet another man trying to explain to women how best to live their lives. In other words, he’s mansplaining, and so already in the wrong — mansplaining is definitely not the feminist way.

Yeah, no. That’s not mansplaining. That’s arguing against you. I have every right to explain to you how to live your life when it starts to affect the lives of others. And I can explain mansplaining to you because you are either ignorant of its true meaning or intentionally twisting it. No worthy feminist says women should go on with their lives, their assumptions and arguments unchallenged. That’s not mansplaining.

But of course, this is not really it. This is in its heart an atheist erasure. You westerners, through your westerner eyes, see a white British man asking a question and a foreign person of color woman answering in a dismissive way. But I, from my vantage point, see an atheist asking a question, and a member of a powerful dynasty telling the atheist to shut up and go away.

Fatima Bhutto would not react the same way if the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Dalai Lama had asked the same question. She would call that interfaith and yet another sign of her own fake progressiveness. What she wants is for the atheist to go away. What she wants is to see the critic of Islam silenced.

This is another classic example of people silencing dissent and co-opting the language of social justice to do so.

That would be real convenient for Muslims, wouldn’t it? If atheists and the critics of Islam remained silent, stopped besmirching the face of your holy faith, and let Muslims handle Muslim stuff. Like good old days. Like good old days that all the conversation took place inside seminaries and the rest of the world were asked to mind their own business.

Sorry, but the world has changed. Welcome to the 21st century. I, a non-Muslim man with a functioning penis and a vulgar amount of body hair, demand Muslims, Muslim women included, to enact feminist changes to their religion as fast as possible. And I won’t remain quiet, I will not be silenced.

UPDATE: The original article included a tweet by Qasim Rashid. He objected and said that the tweet was taken out of context and misrepresents his views. I took the tweet from the HuffPo article above. In the spirit of not misrepresenting people, I deleteled that tweet and mentions to Qasim.

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