Countering the “Musulmacho:” Drawing the Line between Humour and Inappropriate Commentary

Countering the “Musulmacho:” Drawing the Line between Humour and Inappropriate Commentary March 12, 2014

A few months ago I was invited to like a Facebook page called Memes Feministas Islámicos. The page targets mostly Spanish speakers, and it claims to be countering Muslim patriarchies online. Their “About us” page reads:

“Nos sumamos a la tarea de contrarrestar el machismo en el cyber espacio y al igual que nuestras compañeras feministas del mundo, nos reímos mientras desmantelamos Patriarcado en el Islam.”

“We aim to counter macho-like behaviours online, and just like our feminist comrades around the world, we laugh as we break down patriarchy within Islam.”

Last year Woodturtle published a piece showing a number of memes dealing with “proper hijab.” Memes Feministas Islámicos mocks, among other things, ideas about women as “pearls,” as “diamonds” or simply as purely objects of desire. At the beginning, I thought some of their memes mocking these ideas were hilarious. (One thing to keep in mind with this page is that we do not really know who publishes it. The page also re-posts images from British Muslims for Secular Democracy.)

Via Memes Feministas Islámicos- reposted from A Man’s Hijab.

It was in the Memes Feministas Islámicos page that I first came across the term “Musulmacho.” The word seems to be particular to Spanish (from Spain) rhetoric about male Muslims who continue to reproduce patriarchal attitudes, but also engage in violent behaviours against women. “Musulmacho” is a mix of the term Musulmán (male-Muslim) and Macho, which is often used to characterize patriarchal behaviours in Spanish-speaking contexts. However, the noun from which the adjective derives, “Machismo,” is not only applicable to men. It can also be used to describe women who participate and benefit from patriarchies; often times, in Mexico for example, we use the term to describe mothers who enable their sons to be violent against women, or who “protect” their son’s “right” to date numerous women but require potential wives to be virgins.

The term “Musulmacho” was quite interesting to me because I wondered about its contextual realities. Is there one “Muslim” patriarchy only? Are patriarchies in Spain and Latin America the same as “Muslim” patriarchies? Does it matter? Although I do not have an answer yet, I think these are important questions to ask.

Via Memes Feministas Islámicos.

Whereas some of the stuff that I see in Memes Feministas Islámicos continues to be hilarious, I have been recently disappointed by the fact that some of their memes reproduce stereotypes. For instance, much of their commentary mocks “Wahhabis,” and the term is loosely used to describe conservative Muslims without further political context. They also locate the source of Muslim patriarchies within the boundaries of the Middle East, making me wonder… where is the source of Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist patriarchies?

Via Memes Feministas Islámicos, reposted from British Muslims for Secular Democracy. This image is a good example of  stereotyping, suggesting that the “cockroaches” emanate from Saudi Arabia. Does this provide any useful commentary? I don’t think so.

Lately, the page has also critiqued Half our Deen (which I reviewed here and here), who have engaged in the art of meme-production. Not surprisingly, their memes are quite essentialist. Personally I wasn’t surprised by this because Half our Deen holds very monolithic views about gender in its Spouse-seeking questionnaires, which I reviewed few years ago.

Their discourse does not transcend the idea of “women should___________” and “men should_____________.” Similarly, the emphasis on hijab is bothersome in that it constantly conditions marriage upon ideas of modesty. Thus, it is not hard for a site like Memes Feministas Islámicos to pick on them. To what degree Half our Deen is a hub of Musulmachos is a different question that is beyond the scope of this piece.

Nonetheless, every time I open Facebook and I see images from Memes Feministas Islámicos, I cannot help asking, is this useful to Muslim women’s emancipation from patriarchies? Is this site really countering Muslim patriarchies and contributing something, or is it just perpetuating stereotypes? Does it accurately represent what Islamic feminism stands for?… and by the way, which definition of Islamic feminism?

Via Memes Feministas Islámicos.

The broad spectrum of images they publish makes it hard to come up with one direct answer. Yet, I am inclined to say that Muslim-bashing directed towards conservative Muslims and Middle Easterners does not help anyone.

The page wants to appeal to “progressive” Spanish-speaking Muslim women. It often posts news or pictures on relevant figures like Amina Wadud, but it lacks context in many other posts. Similarly, it targets issues of modesty and the (mis)use of hadith without providing context about Muslim women who truly believe in hijab as modesty or who can relate to the ahadith.

However, it does not offer alternatives; it does not acknowledge violence and the like as by-products of invasions, colonization or imperialism perpetrated from outside the Middle East; and it does not do anything to include silenced voices within Islam such as LGBTQ Muslims.

For instance, one of the images features Iran and Afghanistan in the 70s vs. Iran and Afghanistan now. The pictures suggest that both Iran and Afghanistan were better off in the past, respectively under the influence of British and American or Russian powers that overthrew the government of Mohammed Mossadegh and supported the communist coup d’ etat and government of Afghanistan.

Via Memes Feministas Islámicos.

Whereas I acknowledged that providing options rather than only humorous commentary is a very difficult project, I believe it is needed.

Spanish-speaking communities already lack connections to broader commentaries and discourses available to English-speakers; thus, I think there is an element of responsibility in the publishing process. This is not to say that one should be silent on some of the interpretations coming out of Wahhabi scholars; but one should be mindful of the context and the ways in which Muslim women engage with such discourses either to counter them, to mock them or to simply ignore them…

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7 responses to “Countering the “Musulmacho:” Drawing the Line between Humour and Inappropriate Commentary”

  1. On behalf of those who participate in Memes Feministas Islamicos (MFI )
    and considering that we have been denied a fair right to response on MMW we would like to share the following reflections:

    1.-Why dont criticize the thousands of pages and groups that make defense and promotion of female submission in the name of religion? Because is easier to criticize Muslim women speaking for their own and making an autonomous efforts to respond to the speeches of subjugation with which they are overwhelmed every day. This only counteract our exercise of empowerment. Thanks.

    2.-Why dont make a real analysis of page content of MFI? Because is easier taking two photos that support your position and you can skip everything else because, who need a fair and serious analysis when is pointing fingers?

    At MFI we are more than memes : We share positive content on Muslim women and Islamic feminism . We receive complaints on discrimination , domestic abuse and banning of the presence of women in mosques. We have helped many sisters who dont have other channel of expression, bringing a space where they can exercise her freedom of speech, without fear of retailation and anonymously.

    We share the contribution of Muslim women leaders from the past and present. This was precisely what we did last Ramadan.

    We are not against of hiyab or pro hiyab. We are for the right of women to dress as we wish and this not become a measure of our qualities.

    You would have know that if you really have followed our page and take the time to send us a message.

    3.-Why don’t take the effot of recognizing something positive in women who do not know English if it is easier to assume that they do not understand a word about Islamic feminism because we don’t speak english?

    4.- Who needs to talk about the mis representation of latina muslim women and what we are doing in behalf of our rights? It’s easier to avoid the topic: For sites like this one and many more, Latina Muslim women only exist when they live in USA and Canada. All the rest of us dissapear under the carpet of looking down to the south. This is so true that we even don’t deserve the same space than you to answer to your article.

    4.-How is possible to talk about having a serious conversation on media watch if you didn’t take the time to ask the creators of this project
    what we seek and what we hope to achieve? Because is easier to throw on
    us your biased opinions. That’s not serious.

    One pic doesn’t explain our work. We do oppose fundamentalism and violence against women in Islam and we don’t care who or where this come from and we will keeping doing it.

    We keep our identities hidden because for us the risk is real but we answer all the questions. We criticize bad things that really happen in real life. Now, some of us have to come out to defend our project. We would like to make you think about this point that maybe you don’t see from the distance.

    We think if criticism against fundamentalism and male arrogance in Islam bother you so much, you have to ask yourself who is you talking in behalf for.

    We would like to see this same harsh criticism against the misogynist Islamic pages. These days more than one cleric is making waves due to their mysoginyst preaching but you’re outraged for a couple of pic in a page that don’t pretend washbraining anyone, just to be a space for people can express freely. Our option is for people, not for ideas. Ideas don’t have rights, people do.

    We believe that sexism, misogyny, preaching of the objectification of women are very serious issues within Islam. To combat this, in our own way, worth more than the honor of the clergy who say we are second-class human beings. It’s sad you see in this something wrong. Our goal is to uncover smelly sewers, do not cover them.

    Something stinks in Islamic Feminism is the priority is to defend the honor of the Wahhabis over the right of women to create their own ways of denouncing and struggle.

    Your sisters,

    Munira, Karima, Maryam, Tasnim and Nasreen,
    (post it from the disquis account of Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente)

    • Thank you very much for writing and for sharing your perspective. I’ll let Eren respond to some of this, but just to clarify a couple things:

      1. No one has been “denied a fair right to response” here. In fact, I honestly really appreciate that you have taken the time to come and respond here in the comment section, which is a very standard way that people do respond to our posts, and I appreciate you sharing your perspective here so that readers can hear your side of the story. But at no point have we tried to silence any responses or deem them illegitimate.

      2. As a media analysis site, our focus is usually on analysing media that people create. Occasionally, this also includes interviewing people involved in the creation of that media, but many of our posts include only an analysis of the actual media texts (in this case, the images and posts/statements/etc. on the Facebook page; in other cases, it might be of a newspaper article or a film), without also talking to the creators/producers. I appreciate that there is always more that can come out through speaking to the people who produce a particular form of media, but there is also value in focusing specifically on what is produced, since it reflects what most people interacting with that media are encountering. Eren chose to do the latter in this post, which is again a very normal thing to do for MMW (and for media analysis practices more generally), and was not meant to silence the specific creators of this page.

      3. “Why dont criticize the thousands of pages and groups that make defense and promotion of female submission in the name of religion?” We have had a number of posts that do just that (usually much more harshly, as I think is warranted).

      4. There is absolutely a need for pages like yours, and the many other Muslim feminist pages and groups out there. There is also always room for improvement, for the acknowledgement of things that are being left out, etc. etc. That is most definitely the case here at Muslimah Media Watch as well.

      I’m sorry that you feel misrepresented, and again, I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to respond to this post and provide another perspective.

    • I thank you ladies for answering to this post. I apologize for the disagreement. I had a short discussion with Nasreen this morning regarding the post and I answered most of these points. However, I will be addressing them here.
      1-MMW critiques numerous pages from around the world from big and small groups, as well as individuals. I am not making an attack on your page or you motto to take down patriarchy. I think all that is great, and I have been following your page from months now. I am not critiquing your page either because you are “Muslim women speaking for their own.” Instead, I think it is important to display how different Muslim women engage with anti-patriarchal strategies and it is also important to recognize that we should be open enough to agree to disagree.
      2- My analysis addressed your memes. I do mention that you post other important resources like the work of Aminah Wadud and others. No one is pointing fingers either. The memes posted in your site, which come primarily from other pages, have been critiqued/praised elsewhere.
      3- I do recognize the positive aspects of your site, and this is not meant to “discriminate” against women who do not speak English. My birth language being Spanish, I appreciate linguistic spaces available to women around the world. As I mentioned to Nasreen, I would be more than happy to provide a Spanish version of this post. On the other hand, I think that if language is an issue the page could also feature more resources in Spanish rather than from English-Speaking pages.
      4- The issue of representation of Latin American women… I agree that MMW has still much to do in including the voices of Muslim women in Latin America. But I think that arguing that only voices of Muslim women in Latin America are the “real deal” forgets the experiences of immigrants, of women who are temporarily in Western countries and of women that are elsewhere in the world, not necessarily the West.
      5- The last point I agree with you. MMW does not always engage with the creators of the projects, while in other instances we do. Now, as I offered to Nasreen, I would be more than happy to engage in a dialogue about your views resulting from this article for a future post. Nasreen declined this offer, but it stands. I think it would enrich the discussion on strategies against patriarchies, notions of patriarchies and finding places for Muslim women in different contexts.

      Eren Cervantes-Altamirano

      • I attach to what Laury Silvers states in her comment. Is exactly a brief of my personal opinión (Not of the other admin of the page)

  2. I have to say, I find this is a very curious post. It seems you made no effort to contact the women who run MFI and ask them the questions you pose here. You could have given them the benefit of the doubt and talked to them first to see what their goals are and discuss your concerns. You might have found your article would have taken a very different shape. I have a number of points of complaint about this piece beyond your lack of interest in connecting with sisters in solidarity, but I’ll only add this one: There should be a moratorium on women criticizing other women for the “usefulness” of their approaches. I have heard that complaint from the beginning of the woman-led prayer movement, at the establishment of our gender-equal/lgbtq mosque, and while speaking out about or supporting scholarship that criticizes classical to Neo-Salafi/Traditionalist position on women, gender, sexuality, and male power. If I cared for one minute about being “useful” according to other women’s specific agendas, I’d have been sitting on my thumbs since 2005. (L Silvers)

  3. Oh my, this blogger has just looked at the first three memes of the page and drawn totally lazy conclusions! Unbelievable! The Memes Feministas Islamicos is a wonderful site with most informative news about misogyny, patriarchy, FGM and so on. I have just given the MFI page a like and will be sharing content in my own group.

  4. “They also locate the source of Muslim patriarchies within the boundaries of the Middle East, making me wonder… where is the source of Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist patriarchies?”

    I don’t know the source of patriarchy in Hindu or Buddhism, but one need only read the stories of Abraham’s abuses of his wife, his sons, and their mothers to understand where these ideas originate in Jewish, Muslim, and “Christian” religions and the cultures they control.

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