The Concept Of Modesty And Its Imposition On Women

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Noopur Tiwari, who’d invited @NiceMangos to curate the blog, responds to some of the criticism that came Genderlog’s way.

Last week, Genderlog, came under criticism from certain displeased quarters on Twitter. The issue was broadly its choice of a Pakistani-Canadian blogger/artist, Eiynah who goes by the handle @NiceMangos, as the curator of the week. Eiynah writes about sexuality in Pakistan and draws her roots from the country (she is Pakistani-Canadian). She may not live there but “dreams of a progressive Pakistan as opposed to the extremist state it is close to becoming.”

The feminist Twitter handle — started by Nilanjana Roy in December 2012 and currently run by Noopur Tiwari, Amrita Tripathi and Natasha Badhwar — invites new “guest curators” every week to start conversations on gender equality.

And this time the curator sparked off heated arguments as she voiced her opinion on the hijab/niqab being a “tool of oppression”. @NiceMangos was, subsequently, cattily trolled and some of Genderlog’s followers wondered why she was “allowed” to carry on with her “Islamophobia”.

We caught up with Noopur Tiwari, who’d invited @NiceMangos, to get her to respond to some of the criticism that came Genderlog’s way.

So, Genderlog stirred up things a little with Nice Mangos as curator. Tell us a bit about why you chose to have her curate the handle.

A lot of our regular followers and curators had been suggesting Eiynah’s name to us. She runs this fantastic blog on sexuality and has written a book called “My Chacha is Gay”. We got her to curate on popular demand.

Was getting her to talk about the hijab/niqab central to the choice? I mean was there a conscious decision to explore the debate surrounding the hijab/niqab (as a tool of oppression or a feminist symbol)?

Not at all. We didn’t discuss what she was going to talk about. Curators set the tone for their own feed. The hijab/niqab came up during her conversation with some others.

I felt as someone who found her experience in Saudi Arabia oppressive, she should be able to share her story. Eiynah says her family was very liberal but it wasn’t easy growing up in Saudi Arabia where she saw women being punished if their headscarf slipped. She saw moral police walk around to cane women’s ankles.

Of course, we were fully aware that some followers on the handle will back her for their own Islamophobic agenda. But we felt she was equipped enough to make sure it didn’t degenerate to people making sweeping generalisations.

It seemed okay to have a curator say that she has an “issue” with the concept of modesty imposed on women. Eiynah says the hijab leaves room for women to reappropriate it, but not the niqab.

She agrees some do have the privilege of choice but believes their choice places a burden on those women who do not have a choice and she believes that constitutes the majority. I think these are well-thought-out ideas, whether we agree with them or not is ok.

But would you call her a bigot for saying this?

A lot of people did. Her being an ex-Muslim was brought up by some people…

Anti-clerical positions are hard to defend. Eiynah says calling an ex-Muslim an Islamophobe makes little sense because the ideology calls for their death. Shouldn’t we be able to distinguish between someone who is aggressively anti-all-religion and someone who singles out followers of only one religion?

If someone criticises an ideology, it doesn’t automatically mean they hate all its adherents.

There are many Muslim feminists, practicing the faith or not, who fight against misogyny and sexism in their environment. Which is not to say that there is any single universal Muslim community. There is much diversity. If anything is universal it’s patriarchy, misogyny and they transcend all religious and cultural boundaries!

But many feminists, such as Asma Lamrabet (she’s Moroccon) believe that the religious alibi is quite often instrumentalised to justify restrictions on women and to block any possibility of protest or reform. And many of these feminists believe the Koran should be re-read from a feminist point of view.

I believe am anti-religion myself and feel I should have the right to protest kanyadaan and so on. That doesn’t mean I hate all Hindus.

Why do you think Nice Mangos’s tweets evoked such polarised reactions?

Given the widespread stigmatisation of Muslims, it’s quite natural for people to feel concerned. The rate at which Muslim women are infantalised, seen as victims with no agency and the way Muslim men are demonised, it’s easy to understand why we feel the need to be ultra-cautious.

France and Belgium even banned the niqab in the name of secularism despite the fact that there are hardly any women who wear it — clearly there is a vicious political, neo-colonialist agenda behind all this.

Sexism and racism get enmeshed in terrible ways. People opposing the niqab are often instrumentalised by right-wing groups or western imperialists. But we should be equally cautious of painting everyone with the same brush.

Was there pressure on you to “ban” her or censor some of what she was tweeting?

Yes. A lot of followers were shocked that she should be “allowed” to speak. Which is strange because gagging someone even before you really hear them out is pure intolerance.

A lot of quotes attributed to her in some of the articles were simply inaccurate. The assumption that’s often made is that anyone who opposes practices that can be viewed as oppressive is a right winger or Islamophobe and I don’t blame people because it’s mostly true. But applying that to someone who says they belong to Muslim culture without hearing them out is not fair.

There’s a perception that feminists/liberals tend to be a bit clannish. That is, they would accept you as one of their own so long as you toe their line on a broad set of values. Do you think some of the reactions were illustrative of that?

I will not comment on that. It’s not constructive for a feminist to attack other feminists. All I’d say is that we should continue engaging more with each other and listen more carefully.

This article has been republished from Newslaundry.com.

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