It’s okay to talk about sexism in Islam

“Misogyny has not been completely wiped out anywhere. Rather, it resides on a spectrum, and our best hope of eradicating it globally is for each of us to expose and to fight against local versions of it, in the understanding that by doing so we advance the global struggle.”  – Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East needs a Sexual Revolution, Mona Eltahawy (pp. 29)

I am a 21 year old woman who was raised in a Muslim household in Western Sydney. I wore a Hijab for 11 years and during this time I began to learn and experience, first-hand, the several forms of sexism, racism and other intersecting forms of discrimination that I, as a Muslim women experienced both inside and out of Muslim communities. I began having panic attacks and mild depression during what I call my ‘religious identity crisis’, which lasted 2 years. I began to feel as if I belonged nowhere and that I was simply an awkward waste of space to be ignored no matter where I stood.

I once had a conversation with a Hijabi friend of mine who was going through similar struggles and she said, “Wouldn’t it be easier if we were oblivious to these feelings and just live the life our parents intended for us?” I had agreed at the time that ignorance is bliss, but now, I disagree. Ignorance is not bliss. To the millions of teenage girls whom undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) each year for sexual ‘purity’ and ‘beautification’, and as a result suffer long-term health consequences, their ignorance is not their bliss; to the rape and sexual assault victims whom were never given support or told that it isn’t their fault, their ignorance is not their bliss; to the girls worldwide who are taught that it is their responsibility to create a ‘comfortable’ environment for men by covering our sinful bodies, or suffering the consequences. Our ignorance is not our bliss.

It is our duty as victims of this patriarchal system to challenge these oppressive norms and traditions within our local communities. Because, by keeping our pain silent we are maintaining the invisibility of this misogyny and re-legitimising these oppressive forces by labelling them as ‘sacred’ and ‘traditional’.

Unfortunatelly, within Muslim and many other conservative communities worldwide, cultural barriers such as stigma and family honor, prevent many from talking up about womens rights. Similarly, Western feminists and advocates find it challenging to open discussions about the negative cultural or religious practices within Muslim countries, especially in this era of fear, hatred and Islamophobia. We find that, when womens rights issues are brought up, it seems as if right-wing conservatives simply enjoy the news and use the information to further fuel their racism, Islamaphobia and xenophobia. As an attempt to fight this xenophobia, we find that many left-wing advocates, have began wrongly using egalitarianism, cultural sensitivity and cultural relativism to silence these xenophiles. Cultural relativism, is the idea that all cultures, beliefs and practices should be respected equally. This idea is critiqued by human rights advocates whom recognise that some cultural practices violate human rights laws. Bogaletch Gebre, a FGM survivor and anti-FGM advocate states, “When culture affects one’s human integrity, when it violates it … that culture should be condemned because whenever one of us is hurt or violated, all of us are violated.” This statement highlights the importance of speaking up and against oppressive cultural practices. As long as there is tolerance in this world for such levels of cruelty, then the acceptance and attitudes of such practices continue to flourish within surrounding and global communities.

The book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy inspired my post – I’m including the Amazon link here for any curious cats!

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