Stop racist misogyny against our Muslim sisters

Banner of Women Unite Against Racism (WUAR), an activist group created in Tower Hamlets, 1993.

In the wake of Boris Johnson’s umpteenth racist statement against Muslim women, we want to reassert our condemnation of racist misogyny. No amount of pseudo neutral “critique of all religions” can justify the obsession white men and some white feminists have against non-Western practices of femininity. As radical feminists, our task is to denounce and abolish femininity (femininity being the subordinated roles imposed on females and the beauty practices associated with those roles) altogether. When white feminists start making a hierarchy of oppressive practices and put Western femininity at the low-end of this hierarchy, we[1] are siding with men’s interests on at least two grounds:

First, when we defend the idea that Western practices of femininity are fine compared to the hijab or the niqab (the burqa is hardly worn in the West, so the focus is mostly on the first two), we lose the radical feminist critique of ‘choice’ – women’s choices do not take place within a vacuum. In the same way we reject the rhetoric of ‘choice’ when it comes to pornography, prostitution, or the exploitation of women labouring in sweatshops, we cannot simply accept harmful beauty practices as a matter of personal choice.

By doing this at the same time we end up validating the misogynist functions of Western practices of femininity like make-up, waxing of body hair, high heels, cosmetic surgeries, etc. All of these revolve around making women publicly sexually available to men (especially to white men, the most dominant group in Western patriarchy). These practices undergird the grooming, objectification, and domestication of women’s bodies, and the imposition of heterosexuality into all aspects of women’s lives. Rendering women public sexual objects to be consumed by men is not beyond critique, in the same way the purpose of the hijab/niqab, which is to make women private sexual objects for men, is also not outside the bounds of necessary and contextualised feminist critique.

Second, when we fail at supporting our Muslim sisters[2], we increase the gap between white women and women of colour, therefore hindering Women’s Liberation. When white women identify with men of their racial class, we lose track of the fight against patriarchy while pushing women of colour to identify with men of their racial class to avoid our racism. All men win.

The solution to that is learning to identify with one another instead of men of our own race – simple to say, but far more difficult in practice, as the discussion around the hijab and niqab demonstrates.

We want to remind white feminists, those of us who do not suffer racialisation, that it is our duty to A. Do everything we can to stop reproducing racism on an individual and political level and B. Denounce the racist oppression women of colour face everywhere, including in feminist circles. As Audre Lorde said, “Your silence will not protect you”, and this clearly applies to us as well. Silence, i.e. inaction against a situation of racism, does not make you neutral, but functions as tacit support of racism. And you cannot pretend to be a feminist if you take part in racist misogyny in any way.

As brilliantly written by the authors of this article, radical feminists must reject both universalism and cultural relativism – two male ideologies. It is possible to acknowledge the oppressive nature of all practices of femininity without stigmatising women of colour and increasing the double-faced oppression they suffer.

[1] This post was written by white women, hence the use of “we” when referring to white feminists and “they” when referring to women of colour

[2] Muslim women are predominantly women of colour. The mainstream racist narrative tries to pass as a mere cultural critique, but what it actually does is racialise Muslims as a homogenous group of “others”.

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