“If you eat enough books, you start pooping out words,” says Caitlin Moran, author of the very funny and very rude How to Be a Woman and the very funny but not quite so rude new coming of age warts and all novel, How to Build A Girl.
She’s good at pooping. I don’t just mean her words of advice to teenage girls to take up three simple hobbies. They are in ascending order of preference: to take long country walks, to get some air in your lungs and to masturbate. “It doesn’t cost you any money, doesn’t make you fat, you can do it in three minutes flat, and it’ll leave you relaxed,” she told the Huffington Post.
They just plopped from Caitlin’s lips, but this was no gentle rain from heaven. It was an almighty torrent of a rant and rave and I’ll go with the flow to promote the notion of feminism as being “simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be”.
But jihad Caitlin – you who is proud to sweat the small stuff though you have an excellent point about smalls, the woman’s curse of ever skimpier underpants that eat you where it hurts.
“How can 52 percent of the population expect to win the war on terror if they can’t even sit down without wincing?” she rightly asks.
Jihad, like feminism, is a grossly misunderstood, manipulated, twisted and hijacked term that pits extremism and chauvinism against moderation, tolerance and inclusion.
Put the two together and it’s an oxymoron, an insult to Islam, to free thinkers, to stereotypists, conservatives, western commentators, axis of evil proponents, axis of evil opponents, countries wondering if they are part of the axis of evil and to women and men everywhere.
In my view, as a woman who just wants an equal opportunity to boldly go, do and be whatever I want, feminist jihad just could deliver the genesis moment to counter extremism and learned ignorance of all kinds and work for the betterment of all humankind.
So here’s a start. Let me do a Caitlin.
The concept of Jihad as a “Holy War” is poop. We bought the wrong spin. It’s a mis-translation, perpetuated by terrorists acting in the name of Islam to commit atrocities and also by western powers and allies as a catchall for any indiscriminate terror activities while also serving to whip up our preconceptions of Islam as the religion we love to hate – and a religion that oppresses women.
The word Jihad comes from the root word jahada, which means to struggle, meaning a believer’s inner struggle to be a good person and submit to God in all aspects of life. No room for hate or violence in the theology. It’s meant to be about applying the Quranic concept of equality of all human beings to everyday life.
It’s pretty obvious to all but the blind and the bigoted that the feminist jihad needs support and that includes a whole lot of learning and understanding by everyone – and for western feminists to stop throwing stones at their moslem sisters for wanting to retain and practice their religions, cultures and traditions.
For many feminists the hijab is a glaring symbol of male oppression and the patriarchal power of religion.
But the Islamic Feminist Movement has spurned the labels and is alive, astute and growing throughout the Middle East, conservative Arab states and other countries where moslems make up sizeable percentages of the population – and yes some of their members do wear the hijab, niqab and full burqa, and no, they will not be excluded from participating in the women’s movement to win equality because of what they wear!
Instead of pointing to Islam as the inherent root of female discrimination, Islamic feminists are looking at a bigger picture, pointing the finger at individual political, religious and social leaders as the culprits who manipulate Islam for their own political ends, oppressing and suppressing large segments of society, including women.
The main victim of theses censorious powerbrokers isn’t just the believer but Islam itself.
Consigned to stagnation today by these men of no vision when centuries ago it was once a most enlightened religion that stressed the value of knowledge and freedom of expression. It enjoyed a golden age where science, philosophy, medicine, trade, travel, the arts, writing, architecture, poetry and education flourished.
What happened? Who turned off the light and decided the faithful should live in the dark?
Islamic feminists aren’t seeking to eliminate or exorcise Islam from their lives despite the incantations of their western sisterhood. They argue that their fight for women’s rights in fact springs from their faith and the teachings of the Quran and their voice is growing louder, stronger and more influential as they advocate for legislative reforms and interpretations that reflect a more modern understanding of a woman’s role in society.
These are the women who took to the streets in the tens of thousands during the Arab Spring to bring about change in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, Kuwait, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and elsewhere.
These are the women who will protest, put their lives on the line and break the rules when they are ridiculously discriminatory like Saudi Arabia’s refusal to let women drive a car. These are the women who will do what they dream of doing.
Take Major Mariam al-Mansouri, the first female fighter pilot in the history of the United Arab Emirates, who has just led the Gulf state’s bombing raids over Syria against ISIS. Beaming from the cockpit of her F16, she’s a pinup for women’s liberation and equal opportunity and a blazing star in a country that is no paragon of virtue for upholding women’s rights or even recognising that women should have rights.
Or look at the growing roster of female imams leading prayers in mosques around the world, and even encouraging men and women to pray together. That is progressive and shows a coming of age for Islam to thrive and still retain a cultural and religious identity in moderate and secular societies.
These are also the women who will tell those telling them that they are victims of human rights abuses to back off stereotyping them for what they believe and for the clothes they wear.
Femen, the European feminist action group, provoked an Islamic feminist backlash across social media following their flagrant displays as part of International Topless Jihad Day. With their near naked bodies painted with slogans such as, “bare breasts against Islamism,” the activists protested outside mosques in Berlin, Kiev, Brussels and Paris against Islam’s treatment of women.
They got huge publicity and probably bad colds, but their protests outraged the very women they were supposedly fighting for.
Galvanised by the trampling of their rights, the anti-Femens told them straight that it was indeed their body, their choice and their hijab and they’ll wear it if they want to.
It’s not easy being a feminist even when you’re not moslem. It’s still a jihad.
It’s not easy being a feminist even when you’re not moslem. It’s still a jihad. In the same week as Posh Spice addressed the United Nations to fight against the spread of AIDS in African women, Emma Watson, Hermione from Harry Potter, launched the UN’s new HeForShe gender equality campaign.
“If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are we can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about,” said Emma, the 24-year-old Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women. “It’s about freedom. I want men to take up this mantle.”
Let the clamour of feminist voices singing for freedom and opportunity be heard. There’s a place for everyone, including Caitlin though you’ll need to be quick to get a word in before she finds another new hobby for teenaged girls that will make you blush.
I just hope that New Zealand might hear the call for change too. The country that was the first in the world to give women the vote 120 years ago has a lame record as a bastion for female equality of opportunity and representation measured against appointments to the Board table or the C suite and in the salary sweepstakes. In fact, it seems to be regressing not progressing.
I knew little had changed despite the best intentions. At a recent director’s breakfast meeting, I listened to the CEO of our city proudly pooping the words that if there were two candidates of equal stature applying for a position, he would give it to the woman. Why? Well he would be demonstrating his support for diversity in the workplace. There done and dusted, easy as. Tick that off the list.
It is a man’s world now but not forever. Neither should it be a woman’s world. It has to be a world of gender equality. The change starts with education, understanding, mutual respect and empathy. Take inspiration from Mom, India’s Mission to Mars. Look at Mission Control!
So rather than get mad ladies, let’s get even. It’s our jihad and we never need to apologise for being a woman.