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

What NOT to do if you are a male feminist ally. September 16, 2008

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!

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