Saudi Arabia Isn’t Having a Feminist Revolution
When it comes to women’s rights, Saudi Arabia takes baby steps to a whole new level of infancy. (In utero steps? Spermy steps?) Sure, the King Khalid Charitable Foundation launched the country’s first ever anti-domestic-violence ad last month, but women are still unable to defend themselves against those same domestic-violence cases in court. In 2013.
One other huge breakthrough that I’m sure would have Susan B. Anthony setting off streamers in her grave is new legislation that allows women to ride bicycles. Granted, they still have to be supervised by men—but bicycles! Think of the endless freedoms that come with finally being able to cycle around Riyadh, a city not built with cyclists in mind whatsoever!
Oh, also, girls in private schools are now allowed to play sports, but girls in state schools still can’t. So, much like in other parts of the world, the amount of rights a person gets depends entirely on their wealth.
Despite these forward-thinking changes, Saudi Arabia was still ranked 131 out of 134 countries for gender parity in the 2012 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report. So recent, optimistic reports of Saudi Arabia going through a “feminist revolution” seem a little off the mark.
I spoke to Nouf Alhimiary, a 20-year-old photographer from Jeddah, about the challenges she faced when trying to put on an art exhibition about Saudi women in a country where basically every minutely inflammatory art piece gets banned from public display.
VICE: Hey, Nouf. How come you were only allowed to display half of your exhibition?
Nouf Alhimiary:You know that thing where you take a picture of your outfit every day and post it on Instagram or Twitter? I thought it was interesting that a lot my Saudi friends do that when they’re out of the country, but can’t do it here because they have to wear the exact same thing every day: the abaya. I wanted to create a parody of that by photographing women wearing the same thing in different places. I wanted to call it What She Wore/ What She Wore Underneath. The plan was to take pictures of all these women in the abaya, take pictures of whatever they were wearing underneath, and then display both pictures together.
But you weren’t allowed to do that?
The curator for the Mostly Visible show told me I couldn’t do it because the government would have rejected it. In Saudi Arabia, the government has to look at every art project that’s going to be exhibited to decide whether or not it can be displayed. The curator told me that if I included pictures of women outside their houses not wearing the abaya, they wouldn’t display it.
So what did you do?
I settled for What She Wore, which I actually like because it makes you ask, “Why do all these women look like they’re wearing a uniform?” But even though I only displayed pictures of women in the abaya, a lot of people at the exhibition came up to me and asked, “Why are you trying to change women?”
Gay Men and Their Not-So-Cute Misogyny Problem
What’s up with all the misogyny, gay dudes? Seriously. I’m not saying you have to be deep-throating a copy of Feminine Mystique while blasting Julie Ruin, but could some of you (emphasis on SOME) not have such thinly-veiled contempt for women?
Maybe you don’t even realize it. You probably don’t. You probably think you’re just being cute when you belittle your best girlfriend’s appearance or call her (jokingly!) a whore, but no, it doesn’t work that way.
As glorious as a friendship between a gay man and a straight girl can be, it also has the tendency to get a little dark. For example, we are all aware of the whole “OMG, GAY BEST FRIEND” epidemic where women fetishize their friendships with homos and treat them like a Pez dispenser of fabulousness rather than, you know, a nuanced human being. What I don’t hear getting talked about as much, though, is when the gay guy treats the girl like shit. When his seemingly harmless taunts turn into something that resembles verbal abuse.
Last year, I was in San Francisco with one of my best girlfriends and her gay friend, whom I had only met once or twice before. We were drinking at some house party, having an A-OK time, when all of a sudden her gay friend starts shouting to her, “You’re a fucking slut. Look at you, you slut whore!”
This, I guess, was supposed to be “sassy” and “cute” but really it just made everyone in the room profoundly uncomfortable. He was drunk, too drunk, and his words felt like daggers. My girlfriend had no idea what to do so she just laughed it off and prayed it would stop.
I Spent The Weekend Watching Topless Feminists Piss Off Neo-Nazis
Last Friday, I took the Eurostar from London to Paris to meet the topless feminist protest group Femen. Originally based in the Ukraine, the organization has since spread across the world. The idea was to film the buildup to Femen’s next protest, but I didn’t find out quite what I was getting myself into until I arrived at their headquarters—a lofty space above a theater in Goutte D’or—that afternoon.
The area has a large Muslim population and is dotted with Islamic cultural centrers, so it seems quite a ballsy (or boobsy? Is that a thing?) move to base themselves there considering a large part of their shtick is protesting against conservative Islam. Their last protest action, for example, was Topless Jihad Day—a day where Femen members got their boobs out in various European cities to show solidarity with Amina Tyler. Amina, is a 19-year-old Femen member from Tunisia who was drugged and given a “virginity test” after posting topless protest pictures of herself on Facebook.
When I arrived, the Paris HQ was plastered with banners from previous demos—one that read “Sextremism” in bright red paint covered an entire wall. A few members were trying to decide on the best slogan for the massive new banner, which a girl called Oksana was already decorating with paintings of topless Femen activists. The reason for the extended deliberation was because of a heated discussion over whether “Nazi factions” should be spelled with or without an s at the end. No one’s going to pay you much attention in the protest world if you mess up your spelling.
We Went to a Men’s Rights Lecture in Toronto (and Discovered That They’re a Bunch of Losers)
In November of last year the University of Toronto hosted a lecture by Dr. Warren Farrell, a divisive figure who has been described simultaneously as a sage of the men’s movement and a rape apologist. On the night of the lecture a group of students barred the doors of the lecture hall in protest while chanting, “No hate speech on campus.” Police were called, the situation was brought under control, and the lecture went on as scheduled. Another lecture took place in March of this year, this time an overly critical look at feminist studies by Janice Fiamengo in which she described the discipline as “intellectually incoherent and dishonest.” Again, protesters were on hand waving placards and this time a fire alarm was pulled but, once more, the event went on as scheduled. These controversial lectures were organized by a student group called theCanadian Association for Equality or CAFE for short. CAFE has come under fire from student groups andmedia who not only disagree with their actions and ideology, but have associated them with the extreme, vitriolic American men’s rights website A Voice For Men. Where AVFM is upfront and open about its hatred for feminism and -ists, calling them “rape farmers,” CAFE takes aim at feminism with misleading information and careful rhetoric, barely ever using the word “feminist” itself.
CAFE has sprung up in several campuses across central Canada in the past year. They have groups on-site at universities in Guelph, Montreal, Ottawa, and Peterborough, as well as two Toronto organizations and off-campus groups in Ottawa and Vancouver. Most recently, Ryerson University caught a controversial mix ofpraise and indignation for banning the group from their campus. CAFE claims to be “committed to achieving equality for all Canadians” and identifies as a human rights group that focuses on men’s issues. However, despite their claims or how they identify, the events that CAFE has been planning have been covered to anunusually extensive degree by A Voice For Men.
About My Abortion
Manifesto of the 343 was published in France in 1971, when abortion was still illegal. It was a confession of having had an abortion, something that made you liable for arrest, signed by 343 famous women. Among them were Catherine Deneuve and Marguerite Duras, Francoise Sagan, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jeanne Moreau. Nearly every cigarette-sucking French sex symbol admitted she had had the procedure. The newspapers called them “the 343 Sluts.” Leave it to the French to make abortion glamorous.
In 1974, abortion was legalized in France. The 343 sluts changed everything.
In America today, abortion is legal. But few famous women would add themselves to a similar list.
When some defenders of choice talk about abortion, they often focus on edge cases: rape victims, life-threatening pregnancies, or teens who don’t know how babies are made. That kind of dialogue sometimes makes it seem like abortion is reserved for “other” women. Women who aren’t like them. Which, despite all delusions of enlightenment, is exactly what I thought when at 20, I realized I had an embryo growing inside of me.
Then, just like that, the other was me.
There are so many reasons why women need abortions. Those reasons are often wedded intractably to money. Some women have to abort longed-for pregnancies because of illness. Abortion is sometimes a trauma, sometimes an anticlimax, sometimes a relief. There are a million abortion stories just like there are a million stories of fucking and giving birth and going to war. None are representative. This is mine.
For me, whether or not I would have an abortion was never a question. It was just a question of how soon I could get one. I have never had maternal instincts. I was also broke. I was proud to have clawed my way to that elite station in life represented by having a room that no one walks through to on the way to the bathroom. I slept on a mattress on the floor, and worked as a naked model for amateur photographers—a job that, at the best of times, I often suspected would get me murdered. I was in school training to be an artist.
A baby meant the destruction of everything I might become. Being pregnant made me understand how and why women, pre-Roe v. Wade, stabbed knitting needles into their cervixes. Abstract debate meant nothing while I was throwing up every hour, just wanting to be how I had been before.
Obseshes - Feminist Fatigue
Oooooh la la, you guys, it’s Nike Sky High City Pack “Tokyo” Dunks release month! I put it on my iCal. How are you? How is your heart? Can I hold your teacup face in my hands, just for a second, or a second too long? Let’s make this all about feelings, OK? Or mostly, anyway. I’m Pre-Monster-Screaming or whatever that’s called.
I mean, aaaaaahhhh. This girl! I like when she hops around in her sports bra in that movie I haven’t seen yet. Except, as my fashion-professional bestie pointed out, she was wearing an actual wedding dress to the Oscars which is, at first pass, “Whoah/gross” but one beat later is maaaaaybe who-gives-a-shit-ish and cool? I am still waiting for a Juliette Lewis/Bjork/Amanda de Cadenet-and-Courtney Love-in-1995 figure to arrive on the red carpet (now actually a more TV-appropriate, “carbohydrate, sequined-jumpsuit, young-girls-in-white-cotton-panties, waking-up-in-a-pool-of-your-own-vomit, bloated-purple-dead-on-a-toilet phase”-purple-red-carpet) with a fashion-commentary-stakes-defying dress and some baditude, but in the meantime, I’m down with this girl. OK, so this isn’t about feelings. (Also, that’s from Wayne’s World, of course.)
Turns out I was right about necks, at least according to my recent shoppings. See you soon, transition toward wide and densely fabricated necklines! This isn’t about feelings either.
GIRL NEWS: FEMINIST FATIGUE
This is, though. To square away an important through-line of current feminist discussion, which is a strawberry-sweet way of saying “internet dry-heaving”: feminist fatigue, the kind of philosophical sleepiness that sweeps through me/you/everyone when there is too much to say no to (covered by Lindy West at Jezebel andJessica Valenti at the Nation and by other women in other places that I didn’t see/can’t care about because ZzzQuil) is something I feel, have felt, for years and years, in waves. Not nice warm ocean waves like in Florida but, like, The French Lieutenant’s Woman waves.
Here’s an article called “Lena Dunham Made Me a Feminist”
We Interviewed the Egyptian Feminist Who Was Kidnapped for Posing Nude
In December, Aliaa Elmahdy participated in a public nude protest outside the Egyptian embassy in Stockholm, Sweden. Despite the freezing weather, she stood sandwiched between two other, also naked, members of the radical feminist organization Femen with the words “Sharia is not a constitution” in red paint across her chest and stomach. In the photo of the three-person rally above, she doesn’t look uncomfortable at all, or even angry—she seems more amused that someone’s taking her picture than anything.
This wasn’t Aliaa’s first time making headlines for nudity: In 2011, while living in Egypt, she uploaded photos to her blog in which she wore nothing more than a flower in her hair, red shoes, and thigh-high polka-dot stockings. This was, she claimed, a form of protest against “the oppression of women in Egypt.” After the image went viral and she began receiving death threats and was kidnapped, the 21-year-old was given political asylum in Sweden, where she linked up with Femen—the international activist group founded in Ukraine best known for their topless protests across Europe on behalf of women’s rights and against religion and the sex industry.
Femen has succeeded in gathering a lot of attention for, among other things, protesting the inclusion of Islamist countries in the Olympics and taking a chainsaw to a cross in Kiev, Ukraine that was a memorial to victims of Stalin’s murderous regime. The group has been criticized for many things, including being“inarticulate about what it stands for.” But regardless of how you feel about the organization, it’s undeniable that Aliaa had to have some balls to pose nude in Egypt, and her actions have made her a pariah in her homeland. Even though that Stockholm protest was 2,000 miles away from Egypt, the Egyptian interior ministry is still bringing charges against her for “blasphemy” and “damanging the country’s reputation.” After finding out that she’s recently started up a Femen branch in Egypt—a country that has become notorious for committing violence against women—and has asked Egyptian women to email nude photos for her to post online, I got in touch with her to see how much progress had been made.
VICE: Hi Aliaa, how’s your work with Femen coming along? What do you guys do?
Aliaa Elmahdy: We make nude protests—like the one we made in Stockholm. We protest about many issues, about gay rights, about prostitution. In Egypt, and maybe everywhere to some degree, when a woman claims her body—when she’s naked but not for sex—it just annoys people so much that she’s not covered. They think there’s something wrong with her.
Do your parents approve of your work with Femen and what you’re doing?
They know what I’m doing, but we’re not in contact.
So they disapprove?