I’ve spent the past few hours reading articles about Femen (and related topics.) If you haven’t heard, Femen is a protest group outraged at the treatment of Amina. Amina is a Tunisian Femen member who posted nude photos of herself to Facebook in an attempt to start a Tunisian Femen group. People subsequently expressed a lot of unhappiness with her, including death threats and hacking her Facebook to upload Quran verses. Femen groups across Europe then did a “topless jihad” to support Amina and protest women of Islam being forced to be modest.
That was my hopefully unbiased summary of the events. Really, I find Femen to be absolutely insane. For example, Femen claimed that they were concerned for Amina’s safety and hyped up the fact that she “disappeared” for a day. Yes, people said a lot of bad things about Amina and threatened her, but the truth of the matter is that her legal punishment would probably just be a fine. A few radical people suggested “lashes” and “death by stoning,” but those were empty threats that are repeated more by Westerners than anyone in Tunisia. So all the melodrama about her being missing or fearing for her life was overkill. And affirms Femen’s (and journalists’-who-repeated-it) stereotypical, oversimplifying mindset.
I also briefly encountered the suggestion that Amina was not really a Tunisian woman. If she is a hoax, that could raise the issue of Western bais and access to media. (Sidebar: Why is nobody interviewing her?)
The way the protests happened is another huge flaw. By protesting in the nude and with anti-Islam literally written all over, their goal seemed to be to shock people. Mission accomplished, but then what? Open up a dialogue and discussion about Islam and women? A group of Muslim women responded to the protests and told Femen to stop assuming all Muslim women are oppressed, let alone want a topless jihad. Femen responded with a bit of racism, which the Muslim women raised eyebrows at. (More information about that conversation: here.) There are some conversations going on in comment sections, but they are mostly “hijab good” vs. “hijab bad.” Or “Islam good” vs. “Islam bad.” Either way, they’re not accomplishing much.
I have seen the news tidbit turned into a ton of op-ed pieces about feminism though. Because that is what we really need. More conversations about defining feminism. Not a discussion of Tunisia or Salafism or actual cases of persecution or any journalistic exploration of who this Amina is. Nope, we’re just going to navel gaze and discuss the limits of feminism for the thousandth time. It’s not even the right navel. I would argue that the journalism of the ordeal is far more interesting than the feminism of it. The authors who covered it, the word choices, the focus of the articles, the types of comments the articles received, the depth (or lack thereof) of research for the articles.
And after gazing at the journalism surrounding it all, I come out of the ordeal mostly just depressed.