Feminism | Posted by 5hereen 5ays on 10/11/2010

I’m a Feminist (Don’t Tell The Teachers)

there are bigger things to worry about in Iraqi Kurdistan than Disney

there are bigger things to worry about in Iraqi Kurdistan than Disney

When you’re poised at the beginning of what you see as a vigorating cross-country marathon, it’s very hard not to step over the line. You know that it’s going to be demanding and your first aid kit will be well worn by the time you cross the finishing tape, but it’ll be worth it to see the looks on the faces of those who said it couldn’t be done. A cool, refreshing shower of pride awaits you, and you can’t wait to get going.

So when one of my teachers asked if anyone would like to write an article for the school newsletter, I put my hand up. Now I’m faced with a problem. It’s just a school, right? Who cares what’s written in its newsletter, anyway? It’s not like anyone influential is going to be reading it, so it doesn’t really matter what I write about… right?

Wrong.

Muslim country + overly strict school= censorship. It’s not because they want to be restrictive or crush creativity, it’s just because they’re scared. If you’ve never lived in a society like this, then you can hardly begin to imagine what it’s like. When I was living in Australia, no one cared if I texted a guy or chewed gum in the market. It didn’t matter if I sat on a wall or crossed my legs in front of a teacher. There are so many hidden codes of conduct here, that violations are inevitable and followed my low hisses of ‘ayba ayb kcha!’. So to avoid being told ‘shame on you, girl!’, I’m going to have to watch my mouth.

What strikes me about the young women here is that many of them believe themselves to be weaker than the men. Their fathers pay for them to attend private schools, yet when asked what occupation they wish to pursue, half the girls said they’ll stay at home and take care of their family (a lovely concept, but not exactly dreaming big) and the other half named jobs, mostly in fields of engineering and medicine. If that’s what they want to do, then great; the world can always use more doctors and industrialists, but when asked why, they said ‘because their fathers want them to’. Am I the only one infuriated by this?

I suppose it’s no big deal in comparison to the larger issues in the Middle East. There are so many other things to be concerned about that these things seem almost trivial. Feminism can be a tricky subject in developing nations and there are many issues that can be considered taboo, sensitive and even shameful to discuss. There are several serious concerns that we need to take action against. One of these is female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision.

While young girls in the western world struggle with nail polish and which Disney Channel star to idolise, over 300 girls each year in Iraqi Kurdistan are torn away from their housework and forced into the traumatizing and excruciating procedure that is female genital mutilation. They are held down, often by female relatives, and are circumcised by the village midwife using an unsterilized razor blade without anaesthetic. The girls often bleed profusely and suffer physically, emotionally and sexually for the entirety of their lives.

Before we go about judging those women who dress in loose, black clothing and click their tongues at our skinny jeans, we have to remember that they can’t help their beliefs, in that this is how they were brought up. The people who are performing FMG don’t do so to hurt the girls, they just want to protect them. The procedure, although backwards, is thought to ensure marriageabilty and cleanliness. The only way to stop this is through education.

When there are things like this going on, who really cares if Hannah Montana isn’t completely coherent with feminist standards? We’re so wrapped up in the issues that directly involve us that we forget to consider the bigger things. So what if I get a detention for a risky opinion piece? At least I had the guts to speak out about something I believe in.

I hope I haven’t dissuaded you from coming to Kurdistan. It really is a fantastic place when you shine the light in the right way. Kurdish women are actively working to improve women’s rights through the government and non-governmental organizations. Awareness is being raised by events such as the Human Rights Watch meeting in June this year. It just proves that something positive is being done about it, and although I miss my denim shorts, I have to admit that Kurds are open to change.

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  • A @ at 1:21 pm, October 11th, 2010

    You are an EXCELLENT writer.
    One thing that I really appreciate is that you don’t bash the concept of girls wishing to stay at home. I agree that there are tons of things that girls can do that aren’t staying home, but I don’t like when feminists make the girls who want to be stay at home moms sound like anti-feminists.

    And about the issues that are more important than Hannah Montana- I agree completely. I think we need to prioritize our issues as a feminist community.

  • Tessa @ at 5:55 pm, October 11th, 2010

    This is actually the best article I’ve ever read on feministing. As an Indian-American girl, I often find myself flabbergasted at some of the things that white feminists find SO important (Teenage Dream and making fudge). Not trying to bash anyone, but I often roll my eyes at some of the trivial stuff that seem so important. I mean, yeah, it is necessary to scrutinize pop culture. But don’t do it so much that it overshadows other issues. I barely see international women’s rights issues or issues explicitly pertaining to American women of color on fbomb, and it really upsets me. Women of color and their stories are hardly represented here. I remember one of Julie’s posts where she mentioned that we should try to “save ourselves before we work on anybody else.” That upset me so much because it clearly shows how even a feminist doesn’t recognize her white/western privilege.

    Sorry to go off on a completely different stream of conciousness! But I absolutely loved this post, and I also have hope that human rights issues will properly be addressed.

  • Katherine C. @ at 6:21 pm, October 11th, 2010

    Thank you so much for this article. I think that everyone here needs to be reminded that there are lives at stake.

  • Sue @ at 6:22 pm, October 11th, 2010

    I totally agree that transnational and global feminist issues are important, but it’s also important not to trivialize more local issues. It’s not just about whether or not Hannah Montana is a feminist. The fact is, young women are being brought up on this media and therefore, it is shaping a new generation. The problem of patriarchy and the sexualization of young girls is systemic and it is communicated through media, i.e. television, music, movies.

    Obviously, FGM is important and relates more immediately to the physical safety of thousands of women. Abuse of women abroad is rampant and scary and needs to be stopped. But we can devote ourselves to these issues and still take notice of how capitalism and the media are taking advantage of us.

    I’m glad that you showed that this issue is extremely important, but it doesn’t need to be done at the expense of other issues. Activism does not need to be a one-issue act. Both issues add to the systemic problem of objectification/commodification. Awesome post :)

  • Marisol @ at 8:30 pm, October 11th, 2010

    I don’t really understand why FMG takes place, could someone explain it to me? :/

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 9:46 pm, October 11th, 2010

    You really put things into perspective – as an Orthodox Jewish feminist, we don’t have any issues as physically scary as female genital mutilation, but a lot of the concepts overlap.

  • SarahC @ at 1:13 am, October 12th, 2010

    Wow. Thank you. this article was sort of a wake-up call. Way to put things in perspective. Hannah montana and the Ethics of Fudge are minutia compared to what other women, all over the world, face.

  • Quinc @ at 4:30 am, October 12th, 2010

    I believe the Hannah Montana and Ethics of Fudge are the result of people bringing life experiences into discussion, just as the OP did.

    To be honest, I would expect there to be a bias towards issues that affect yourself, and your own country, as opposed to those you might only ever know of from reading about it…in a blog like this.

    Unfortunately the fact that these middle eastern issues are so far removed makes it difficult to have an impact (in addition trouble relating to them).

    Also, as I understand it, conservatives are extremely quick to hand-wave feminists as acting under “western influence” as if feminism has no place in an Islamic society. Having lots of western feminists intervene wouldn’t go over well I think.

    Any cultural shift towards equality would ultimately have to come from within that culture.

    But mostly I am thinking that I really don’t know how we would help from overseas. Send money to the right organizations I suppose…

  • O'Phylia @ at 12:52 pm, October 12th, 2010

    Quinc, I think what she said is the right thing to do for those who aren’t privileged in the Western world: promote education. Education is absolutely key. Hands down.

  • Khadija @ at 10:17 pm, October 12th, 2010

    O’Phylia, I agree.

  • 5hereen 5ays @ at 10:15 am, October 13th, 2010

    Thanks for the feedback everyone, I really appreciate it. You can follow me on Twitter or just keep an eye out on the Fbomb for more articles. Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions about life for women in islamic countries or about anything else and i’ll be sure to send you an informed reply.

  • Natasha @ at 11:41 pm, October 13th, 2010

    I am glad someone is talking about this and bringing this to light, but I think it’s important for more information to be given so, after searching a few things: this is a problem in many places globally. This happens predominantly in eastern, northeastern, and western regions of Africa, some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and in certain immigrant communities in Europe and North America. Yes this means it is happening in America to American girls whose parents are usually immigrants from places where it’s common. There are American girls who do have to personally worry about this. The dangers of FGM can affect a woman’s health severely for the rest of her life, but it can also result in death, usually from blood loss. This practice is also done very commonly to keep a woman from engaging in “illicit” sexual acts, because it makes sex painful, which prepares them for marriage because they are believed to be less likely to cheat.

    Maybe knowing that this happens in many countries, we can better unite against it. But please, no more saying girls in America don’t go through this, it’s rare I know, but for the girls it’s happened to in that country that could hurt them even more should they come across those types of conversations.

  • Everett Stimer @ at 3:11 am, October 14th, 2010

    interesting comments from others…hmm, not sure what to think

  • Nadia D @ at 2:59 pm, October 14th, 2010

    I totally agree with you here. I am a Muslim American currently living in Saudi Arabia, where I go to an international school and 99% of the school is Muslim. Now, of course feminism and issues facing women aren’t discussed too much, but when they ARE brought up, the women almost always say they want to change the way things are handled in their respective Islamic countries.

  • 5hereen 5ays @ at 12:15 pm, October 18th, 2010

    this really opend my eyes you should work for an insparational magazine if you can deal with all these things is such a strict socioty me silly me in america can do just fine thanx for giving me the confidence to come out

  • emily willams @ at 12:25 pm, October 18th, 2010

    wow great writing

  • Tess @ at 7:33 am, December 25th, 2010

    All I have to say is, to Quinc that said that feminism has no place in Islamic society, you are wrong, I am a British muslim girl, religious too and I am neither at the mercy of my father, I can choose to have whatever career I like AND circumsision is a cultural practise and NOT a religious one, it’s NOT ALLOWED in Islam. However I strongly condone Kurdish women for challenging their governments for more rights. It’s high time that governments would stop hiding behind their “Muslim” tags to get away with crap.

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