Fifty Shades of Feminism

Fox News – we’ll get to that in a minute – reports on women in the Muslim Brotherhood, who object to a more internationally accepted model of feminism:

Secular feminists, she [Muslim Brotherhood representative Azza el-Garf] argues, are out of step with Muslim-majority Egypt’s conservative society.

“We speak on behalf of the street,” said el-Garf, who like most Egyptian Muslim women wears a head scarf. “Egyptian people are very religious, devout people. If (the liberals) continue to separate religion from normal life, people will not listen to them.”

Before anyone jumps to accuse me of endorsing sharia law, female genital mutilation, or anything along those lines, let me explain why I think it’s important not to dismiss women like el-Garf – or, for that matter, the women who watch Fox News (over 10 percent of American women, according to data from the latest Pew Research Center for the People and the Press report).

As I have been arguing, women simply do not always agree about what feminism is. Let’s say that other women quoted in the article are right: That the Brotherhood’s female members don’t believe in basic human rights. Let’s even say that they’re co-opted somehow, used by the organization as a weapon against other feminists, happy to do so for their own personal gain. (I am not accusing these women personally, but let’s be real – this kind of thing happens.)

The problem is that there are plenty of women who agree with el-Garf, just like there are plenty of American women who might, for example, object strenuously to Feminist Ryan Gosling using phrases such as, “The post-feminist fetishization of motherhood is deeply rooted in classism.” I’d love to have Ryan Gosling on my coffee table, but my version of feminism thinks Caitlin Flanagan’s perspective is just plain necessary.

Why should these women be excluded from the conversation? Narrowly defining “feminism” in a way that excludes the perspectives and life choices of so many women, solely on the basis that these views are somehow traditional, is not only unprincipled – it’s counterproductive. I guess one can take the view that it’s okay to marginalize Republican women, since the party appears to be fighting a losing battle, but that is awfully short-sighted.

Like it or not, humanity needs women to bear and raise children. None of us comes into this world without a mom, and there’s probably no greater blessing than having a mom whose love and support is unconditional. I am not ashamed of wanting to become a mother myself, and I don’t like feeling like I have to apologize for it. My version of feminism is one in which motherhood and success in public life are not contradictory, but complementary. I want single straight women, married straight women, homosexual women, women with children, women with full-time jobs, and women who rely on their husbands for support all to have the fullest lives possible in the way that they define that – not to have other women tell them what they can and can’t do.

That, then, is my problem with women in the Muslim Brotherhood. I don’t agree with any attempt to restrict women’s range of choices. But I do believe they have the right to hold and advocate those views. The more we can engage, the better chance we have of understanding one another, respecting one another, and living in peace.

But feel free to disagree.

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