The game of women-oppression: the sad case of India and Lebanon

I live in a country where I am allowed to flash my skin as much as I want yet not be able to pass my nationality to my child if I did belong to this country, if I were Lebanese. I find myself in a condition where women rights have been forgotten in the heroism of the modernity portrayed under the labels of my ability to flash my skin and such, where my freedom to be able to go to a bar and ask for a drink has undermined my rights to walk alone safely without being harassed uncountable times. And considering that I am a brown Indian woman, I get to go through the ugliest forms of sexual harassment considering that people find me synonymous to being their maid.

Woman rights movements have become synonymous to ugly flash-mobs like the one that took place in Beirut Souqs on 14th February this year, where I found women dressed in matching pink shirts flashing their bellies for the dance, which was followed by the creepy-men-next-door coming all over the place and touching women all over the place as they happily hopped around taking pictures with these pink-clad women on their little cell-phones. So indeed what was being fought itself was endorsed at the end of this movement, this ugly form of elite-feminist endorsing objectification of women. It is here I want to critique, that materialism has in a way over-shadowed the true sense of feminist-rhetoric. And it is here we find the truest feminists turning away from activism, since their activism is being painted over by this mediocracy of these elite-feminist movements, considering the high value of the pink-flashy women in comparison with a group of women doing a sit-in next to the parliament. The darwinism of capitalism has brought us to this stage sadly!

India just recently passed a law where they refrained from criminalizing domestic violence under the pretext under the pretext that it would weaken the traditional institution of marriage. And guess what, why do we not use the same pretext to ban the eating of burgers since it is against the “traditional institution of Indian cuisine”? The argument here is as lame as that. But hidden agendas of oppression are always covered with lame excuses. What we forget is that our law-makers are majority men, and it is never in their incentive to legislate power and equality to the other gender. It is simply put, a game of ugly power. I have found the academia to be continuously criticizing the role of Hinduism or Islam in this process of “backwardness”. But they forget to see that it is indeed the opposite, that religion has become a victim, a tool through which excuses of power inequality are justified, putting religion itself to shame. Now this is the ugly truth to labeling-theory, where we all attempt to find the first label to accuse, and here, yes here, religion has always been a dirty victim.

I find myself always justifying this, that in Hinduism we worship both, gods and goddesses together, as a unity of them, and that in the very birth of Islam, there lied a revolutionary idea of prescribing rights to women, even if they were indeed lower to men at that time. But in the time preceding Islam, women had no prescribed rights at all and men could marry as many women as they wished (which was limited to four by the prescription of Islam). This justification I do not do with any biases since I am an atheist and I have no such religious incentive to justify, but I find my religious friends always succumbing to being victim to such debates that portray religion to be the root of gender inequality.

It is here on this note that I want to conclude. That what we need today is not lame academic papers that point out to certain labels as being the cause of the failure of women rights movements, but a serious long-term agenda building that does not get victimized by other ongoing debates on “identity-questions”, as much as I disgust that term!

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About Shreya Parikh

I am Shreya. Project Rethought is my attempt to rethink my own observations as a brown woman of Indian origin. I currently live in Paris where I teach at Sciences Po Paris and Parsons Paris-The New School.
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4 Responses to The game of women-oppression: the sad case of India and Lebanon

  1. Rayya says:

    Dear Shreya,

    I would like to inform you that the beginning of your blog post is not only inaccurate and defaming an effort put together in less than 2 weeks, but totally false, as in fiction NOT fact. I wonder what you know personally about any of the many woman who organized OBR in Beirut to name them part of these elite-feminist movements as you refer to them. Indeed in Lebanon and throughout the world there is plenty of female leadership miss-leading other women into empowerment, however this one in Beirut, part of a greater call to action on February 14th, was the wrong one to chose. As a woman who is happy to call herself an activist of the (sometimes considered radical) progressive world i am shamed by miss-informed people like you who wait at any bait to bite. It is this kind of leftist, liberal thinking that gets in the way of progress and true commitment to social justice and change. You should know that with your ignorant post made on March 5th you are aiding miss-information and false slanderous thinking. Check yourself!
    Did you interview any of these ladies or are you personally connected enough to any of them to make such sweepingly false judgments? It seems not though you were present at the dance rehearsals which took place previous to the event, or so it has been said.

    This group of conscientious, loving, intelligent and progressive women whom you mention are surely to be encourage and praised rather than criticized in a nonconstructive way as you have done. Criticism is always welcome anywhere at any point for any reason as long as it is constructive. Otherwise what’s the point but to feed ones ego?

    If the dancing leader decided to show her tummy that’s her prerogative and as a well informed feminist I encourage her or any woman for that matter to do what pleases them in their lifelong struggle as a woman. No other person, let alone a woman, should judge her especially one who calls herself a feminist. Lebanon’s social issues with woman do not enter this conversation fairly. OBR Beirut’s whole aim was to empower and strengthen the role of a woman who as you said still does not even have power over her own children’s nationality by law let alone have the legal might with NO in a marriage while in bed. You are not the only dark skinned lady who is discriminated against, approached in an aggressive manner, or harassed on our streets and miss-taken for a maid. Such behavior is unfortunate of this society and such mentalities exist due to ignorance undoubtedly. However, victimizing oneself is not empowering. As someone who is partly Lebanese I wish I could collectively apologize to you and all others treated similarly for such behavior but that is not relevant nor valid. Blondes are approached aggressively simply for having light color hair. It’s a tough world out there and we each have our personal battles.

    I salute and support the effort of groups such as Nassawiya (which i understand you support) Kafa, WILFP, ABDAA and others and less those of NAWF and other non-progressive groups here in Lebanon. My affiliation to other social and politically active groups which need not be mentioned here now is also relevant.

    Next time before you bark (“all bark but no bite”) perhaps understand if and why you may have a good reason to do so. Please refrain from poisoning the world of any more miss-informative writings, mainstream media is doing a good enough job with that and we don’t need anybody thinking their out to dispel those mainstream lies when only aiding their nemesis by disseminating fiction.

    Sincerely,
    a woman with the cause

    • Dear Rayya,

      Thank you for your concern. I would like to say that yes, I was present at the rehearsals, and that I also happened to be present at the event itself. I happened to talk to a lot of women and yes, I do have a lot of respect for the spirit in which it is carried out, speaking of it in terms of every individual rather that the sum of individuals themselves (they are two different things). But what I was against is that it was made to be volunteering with monetary requirements, where access to participation required that you paid (voluntarily in its spirit, until it becomes a pressure based on majority behavior). These kind of groups become exclusive to people who have the power to pay that $10 to be able to get the shirt, which in its very existence is a symbol of inclusion into a group. I am not against the shirts themselves, but that the volunteers are themselves made to be pressured to buy a good for the sake of “volunteering”. Now I would have been very happy to donate if it were indeed more productive in its value, in terms of it being diverted into encouraging women enterprises for example. That this event could have been used for fund-raising, without becoming “art for art’s sake”: now that I would have happily agreed with. The very fact that you assume people to pay to volunteer becomes a dangerous activity. Here I am not going to talk about the number of advertisements that spammed my email because I was indeed “registered” to be a part of the group. Now volunteering has become a symbol to be exploited economically, this is what I am against!

      I believe that there has to be a level of sensitivity in the way the act of “volunteering” is represented. I am sure that everyone does understand what manipulations can be carried out in an act’s representation by the media. Since this behaviour of the media is known, I believe that to be able to lay importance on the content of the cause, one has to be extremely sensitive, especially in countries like ours, where people can be extremely sensitive in terms projection of women in the society. I do know that we are also fighting for freedom of expression in that that we have the right to wear what we want to, but I believe that that cause is secondary to the basic prejudices that the role of woman has in our societies. Like marriage at early age, or refusal of access to education for example. Sometimes we have to be pragmatic while dealing with issues in countries with such level of constraints. This is what I am trying to draw across, this need to be sensitive and have a reflective strategy so that manipulation does not take place.

      I do not question the association of the women who took part in the said event in other base organisations you happily named. But look through the eyes of an average Lebanese man on the street. What do you think his reaction is going to be when he sees what was presented? Since we have not achieved the eradication of our very base prejudices against women as objects of sexuality, do you think that the form in which the event was presented is going to help the cause or go against it? Think pragmatically once and you will see that the people who watch the channels on which the event was broadcasted are more these average people than people you and I socialise with. Our target audience isn’t our happy bubble of feminists, but rather this average population. What I am saying is that to replicate a model (the event in this case) that has been developed in the “developed” world (where the primary cause of bias in gender roles has already been achieved to a high extent), to a country like ours where the assumptions of the “developed” world don’t exist, these models need to be adapted. This form of adaptation can mean that we do a dance in a more popular area than Beirut Souqs so as to be able to touch our target audience, and add the model with a more substantial movement throughout Lebanon instead of being concentrated in the “elite” areas of Beirut.

      Also, I do not portray any information on this blog to be a fact. It is merely a point of view. I believe that the readers do have enough objectivity of their own to judge whether they want to believe in what I write or not! Since you are saying that I am mis-informing, you make the assumption of my blog being “informative”. This blog is not intended for “information” or facts, but rather a space for my opinion.

      All I am asking is for pragmatism, since I do not want people to be apologizing me for harassment. I don’t want any sympathy for what I face here, if that is what you give me. And since sympathy directed to me is not my intention, I do not think I am victimizing myself. I do not want to put any labels of being an activist or non-activist or feminist on myself, since I am only being a human being here with an opinion. And some desire for pragmatism.

      Peace

    • RBL says:

      Raya,

      Excluding the phrasing or choice of words which can maybe feel disrespectful for somebody with good intentions who took part in the events, I think the main point here is that movements like yours, while wanting to empower women and having all the best intentions in the world, should rethink their priorities. Being able to wear what you want is good, and it might be indeed a preoccupation of women from Hamra and Downtown; yet do you think it’s the priority of poorer young girls who are denied schooling or older ones denied control over their bodies in what is called “marital rape”? You know very well that any legal argument in matters of individual protection on that matter is completely pointless, unless it’s backed by a trustable, responsible and highly respected law enforcement apparatus (let’s say, the police), but most of all by a change in mentalities.

      The sad case of the semi-developed world, is that it has one foot in the doorstep of “modernity”, but only one. The European outlook that Beirut can (sometimes, in some places) have has nothing to do with the mentality of a large part of the population. European-dressed women are nothing but a thin veneer for what is, in a broader term, going on under; that is that these women still believe, generally, in the gender roles brought forward by the arabo-islamic tradition and everything that comes with it. Let me just state here the example of inheritance (I believe it is still half for the woman, even in Lebanon), or “interfaith” marriages. Don’t you think you should be fighting for that? Don’t you think that a change in this legal framework (because yes, here, a real change could be initiated by law) would make Lebanon a more modern country, more than the clothes that are worn?

      And want it or not, in your case, you have to think about your audience. Think who is going to look at you, and what they are going to think of all that. Whose mentalities are you changing with that? You have had European-dressed women in Beirut for several decades now, and I’m sure that the dresscode in the 70’s was no less “light” than it is now. All these people that you actually target (maybe involuntarily, I don’t know) have seen exposed bellies before and it is certainly not a few more that is going to change their mind on the value of Western values. It might make it for a few more cellphone or
      facebook pictures.

      So I believe that this post was more about how you should rethink your target and your priorities according to what really is going on in your city in your country and more generally in your region.

      Oh and as a member of a movement, if you want to have a coherent message, stating the individual member’s total freedom in matter of clothing is pushing it a bit far. It’s not a matter of saying whether it’s right or wrong: you are doing a political action here, that requires you to think about what you want to say, how, to whom, and come out with some kind of plan. So if you disagree with her, you should have told her. But that comes back to what I’ve said before, about the need of thinking about your message. Even though I don’t necessarily agree with them, FEMEN does: they always show up half-naked with slogans on them. Their message is coherent and from time to time you see them on TV, they are always the same. Again, I’m just talking of the consistency of their message here, not its content and not their methods.

      So it is an invitation to reflexion that you may or may not take; it is up to you.

  2. sahitha says:

    I am interested in knowing what the women did when these creepy men took photographs of them or tried to touch them. To me, the response of those women would sum up women standing in their personal power. I can understand both sides of the argument here and maybe each has its own merit but the key is what is being conveyed energetically rather than just physically. If a woman wears a revealing dress to prove a point that she has the right over her body, then she had better be trained in standing up to men who want to take that right away by bullying them and invading boundaries.

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