Some people (women or otherwise) don’t know what’s best for them… If you hold that every individual person at all times throughout history and within the course of their own lives has done what is in their best interests, or that our current capitalist and patriarchal society allows people to act with complete psychological freedom, in contrast to prior history – think for a minute what that does for feminist argument – then you absolve yourself of the right to criticize anything, and can only retreat into quietism and egoism. To take one example given, no, it is not in the best interests of women to wear hijabs; it’s a form of self-denial, and has no good arguments in its favour, only shitty ones that happen to have been adopted by those with power. If you want a safe (that is, within the boundaries of analytical philosophy) defence of the principle that people do not act in their best interests, but that this needn’t entail that they be coerced into doing otherwise, try Mill’s On Liberty. Nobody believes this sort of obtuse argument in practice – it’s the last line of defence for scoundrels who still believe in things like the soul, or practical individual autonomy (same thing).
Baaah! You can support someone’s right to make any choice they want but still think the choice is a shit one. Like my boyfriend isn’t a vegan and I respect his right to eat whatever he damn well pleases, but I still think the world would be better if he stopped ingesting suffering fart-factories and rocked more lentils.
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@yohaneuano4 Please please please do some research before you make really generalised comments – especially about hijab! I obviously know nothing about you but regardless of your gender/religion/race, at the moment you risk feeding into a massively popular narrative by which secular ‘properly feminist’ white western people are trying to save brown muslim women, who don’t know any better, from themselves, not to mention from brown men. It’s enabled a fair bit of meddling in the Middle East and North Africa especially – colonialists all over used ‘freeing brown women’ as an excuse for all sorts of shit which just reinforced their own patriarchal capitalist imperialist structures, and later fed the rhetoric of nationalist, anti-Western religious extremists – and is also kind of racist. Credit hijab-wearing women with some intelligence. If you assume that women who choose to wear hijab – and while yes, some are coerced, many also choose it – are doing so because they’ve been hoodwinked by patriarchs or don’t understand what’s at stake, it implies you also think they are neither feminist, nor anti-capitalist, nor particularly bright. Alright, maybe some people don’t know what’s best for them, but that doesn’t mean you know what’s best for muslim women. Muslim women probably do. Deciding they don’t is making exactly the same mistake brown and white men have been making for hundreds of years, and which is exactly what feminism should be trying to combat. So why not listen to them:
Also – she was talking about the really specific issue of women, their bodies, and feminism, and totally didn’t say that she ‘holds every individual person at all times throughout history and within the course of their own lives has done what is in their best interests’. I mean no prizes for pointing out that’s stupid. But, like, she didn’t say it. And it’s not even a logical extension of what she did say. Srsly.
In the first place, arguments like this might be marginally more convincing if you didn’t claim that having a problem with hijab is in any way to do with racism. It isn’t, and it’s a really stupid thing to say. Feminism is about equality for everyone, and it’s not exactly the kind of movement that appeals to the racists of the world. But western feminists can’t win this one, because if we don’t object to the imposition of the hijab, then we’re self-involved westerners who don’t care about the problems of other women, but if we do object to it, then we’re racist colonialists. So basically this is about displacing the anxieties Muslim women feel about the hijab by resenting western feminists, rather than resenting the real enemies: the patriarchal authorities who invented the idea of hijab in the first place.
Secondly, that letter to Femen was aggressive, childish, and shows little understanding of feminism of any kind, western or otherwise. Since it was written by women at university in the west, it gives us no information about what women who are actually living in a third-world theocracy feel. Maybe the third-world women would like to have the money and opportunity to study in London or Alberta, with all the freedoms of western society as well. There is something really depressing about rich westernised Muslim women rejecting feminism on behalf of the millions of women who actually need it.
As already pointed out above, many women internalize patriarchal ideas. Some women argue against equality for women. Some women want to prevent other women from having access to abortion. Some women think other women should stay with abusive husbands. Millions of women facilitate the mutilation of their daughters’ genitals to please future husbands. Some women are even complicit in the murder of their own daughters for ‘honour’ crimes. Plenty of women are advocates for religions that have little respect for women, which is true of all major world religions. There are no good reasons for going along with the idea that women should cover themselves when they leave the house because their bodies allegedly tempt men and men can’t be expected to control themselves. Now I don’t think women should be discriminated against in any way if they make that choice, but the simple fact is that this is not a choice that is made freely and outside particular cultural contexts.
Finally, in answer to the cartoon above: wrong. Feminism is not about choice. It is about equality between the sexes. Some choices are not feminist choices. Some choices that women make actually reduce their equality and independence. Feminism should not be expected to support bad choices, even though it should continue to support the women who make them, and continue to offer them the chance of equality.
THANK YOU so much for saying this, so smartly and succinctly.
Hey I just saw this sorry. Ok first: the hijab is totally different from shit like genital mutilation and any practice which harms women physically, none of which I or any feminist would sanction. The significance of the hijab is symbolic. Plus, I actually make a distinction between the imposition of the hijab and the women who choose to wear it. Only in Iran and some Gulf countries – which incidentally are not classed as third world – do you actually find theocracies where any form of hijab is imposed by law; until recently the niqab was in fact banned by the (autocratic) secular regime in Tunisia, where many women are now triumphantly putting it back on. So whilst we assume that women are always forced by men or by law to wear hijab, and that it is always a sign of religious and political oppression, in many cases nowadays that is just not true.
This is partly because where the hijab gets complex is where imperialism comes in. Many women wear hijab simply for religious reasons. Women I know in Syria and Egypt (not rich, not Westernised) wear hijab as a sign of their religion but also as a political statement, because imperialist regimes in the early 20th century, by banning or discouraging Islam and the hijab, made it a political issue as well as a religious one. The hijab may be something that was initially anti-women – though many female muslims would disagree – but that doesn’t mean that’s always what it is now. In the 50s and 60s in the middle east the imposition of the veil on muslim women gradually decreased as women’s rights increased, and it was seen as a part of that fight; but women today are choosing to put it back on. Some are forced to in a rising wave of fundamentalist Islam, which I definitely agree tends to be anti-women. But some choose to as a political rejection of the ‘freedoms’ of the Western societies that helped undemocratically to put in place, and then supported, the secular and highly oppressive regimes of the Asads, Mubarak, Hussein, Ben Ali et al, under which Arab women have suffered ever since.
Also -the letter to Femen was aggressive because it needed to be. It wasn’t childish, it was a serious critical, political point; I’d actually be interested to know what you thought was childish about it. And you seem to be saying the women who wrote it are too educated and privileged to understand what their fellow muslim women from other backgrounds think; I wonder what makes you better qualified to do so? (I mean, you might be. I have no idea) It’s interesting to note as well that if you follow the campaign a bit more you’ll see it echoed all over the muslim world, in fact I think the letter was actually inspired by a Tunisian woman responding the the Tunisian Femen activist – and I don’t think we can assume that all these women, because they disagree with us, do so because they don’t understand feminism. It’s dangerous because it suggests Western women are strong and enlightened and other women aren’t, and that is not true.
All the women who wrote the letter, and many who support them internationally, actually identify as feminists as opposed to rejecting feminism. What they’re arguing is that feminism doesn’t have to be Western, or secular. I agree, and I also think that the greatest possible danger we do to promoting feminism in the Muslim world is to insist that equality for women can only happen accompanied by a Western secularism and way of life that many – rightfully! – associate with aggressive imperialist exploitation, in the past and much more recently (Iraq war, anyone?). It’s not cool to be too culturally relativist, but we shouldn’t be being culturally colonialist either. And ‘feminism’ or ‘liberating women’ cannot be made an excuse, which it has been and will be, for cynical political interference in countries where women wear hijab, or to promote Islamophobia, or anything of the kind. That stuff doesn’t make anyone any more equal.
This is such an interesting debate. I haven’t worked out my own ideas properly yet. I want to respect the agency, choices and experiences of others, especially other women. Arrogant colonial attitudes have done a lot of damage, and I’d reject them outright, too. At the same time Ayaan Hirsi Ali says that Islam is a horrible disaster for women because it’s inherently misogynistic and it discourages critical thinking. She’s well placed to know what she’s talking about.
I acknowledge that racism and Islamophobia are horrible things, and I want to be a good “white ally.” However, I will not respect religions that do not respect my fellow human beings, religions that teach that females are worth less than males and gay people are sinful.
Just to open another can of worms, I cannot support anyone who chooses (and it is far more of a choice than people realise) not to breastfeed. It is a fact that somewhere in the world, a child dies every 30 seconds because s/he was not breastfed. Even in the rich, healthy West, a child denied breastmilk will go on to have far worse lifetime health – and be a far heftier burden on the NHS – than a breastfed child. Breastfeeding is not a lifestyle choice, it is public health isssue.
‘Choosing’ not to breastfeed means choosing to buy formula, lining the pockets of those companies (Nestlé, Danone, I’m looking at you) who have such deplorable marketing practices in the developing world, where mothers don’t have access to the money, clean water, or even literacy levels to make up formula safely. Their children get ill and they die. I do not support this choice.
‘Making mothers feel bad’ is an accusation often levelled at pro-breastfeeding supporteers, but to be honest, some Western women ‘feeling bad’ ranks lower than the deaths of children the world over, every day, for me. So shoot me.
(For the record, I have been that mother who ‘couldn’t’ breastfeed. The first four days of my eldest son’s life, when I had to feed him formula, were the longest of my life. But I made a choice, and that choice was to express what milk I could, seek advice from a professional breastfeeding cousellor, and to persevere. We got there in the end.)
I have not, as a feminist, ‘decided’ that not breastfeeding ‘oppresses women’ (see the cartoon), I simply looked at the facts. Read ‘The Politics of Breastfeeding’ by Gabrielle Palmer, who puts it far better than I ever could.
Breastfeeding, or not, on the other hand, has f**k all to do with feminism. It has no bearing on women’s equality with men. So getting at other women about their breastfeeding choices is the usual unreconstructed women-bitching-at-women.
God, feminism is like some huge baggy pantomime horse suit these days. Lots of women thinking they’re being ‘feminist’ every time they express an opinion on any topic whatsoever, just because they’re women talking about something. The funny thing is that ‘you sound like a bit of a feminist’ is exactly what misogynist men would say to any woman expressing an opinion they didn’t agree with. Can women really be internalising the misogynist view of feminism to that extent? Depressing.
I actually can’t believe this. There are some huge generalisations in what you have said which just completely make your argument null and void.
Yes, I am aware that breastfeeding is the best choice for you baby! That’s fine. However, it is a choice and my mum chose not to breastfeed and so far neither me nor my sisters have been any sort of drain on the NHS and we’re all in our 20′s and 30′s so I’m just wondering when this burden begins to occur!?
I just can’t believe the condemnation and sanctimonious opinion you have just spurted. Let people choose!
I knew I was opening a can of worms!
Look, I’m genuinely pleased that you and your family have good health, just as I’m pissed off that my second son has eczema, something 100% breastfeeding him was supposed to prevent! But both these stories are anecdotal, and they don’t represent the human population, or even that of the UK, as a whole.
Sadly, what I wrote is not a bunch of generalisations: I got it all from Gabrielle Palmer’s ‘The Politics of Breastfeeding’.
My ex-wife’s post-natal depression was, as far as I could see from my inside seat, made much, much worse by her issues with breastfeeding, and the attitudes like yours that she encountered pushed her farther down the hellish road that is PND. She struggled for months through the worst case of mastitis the GP had ever seen and our daughter’s failure to regain birth-weight in a timely fashion, all helped along with comments from breastfeeding counsellors telling her how easy it is to breastfeed. In the end, given his concerns for her mental health the GP ordered her to stop breastfeeding and prescribed anti-lactation drugs (despite him being a firm advocate of breastfeeding).
Her PND was not just a matter of ‘feeling bad’, she attempted to take her life on a number of occasions, she didn’t believe she was the mother of her own child as she didn’t think she deserved such a beautiful daughter, and her recovery took years. Attitudes like yours make me incandescent with rage. Personally, every life is equally important, a western woman’s is just as valuable as a third-world child, despite your emotive ‘who will think of the children’ nonsense.
Seriously, I do get it – it might only have been for the first few days of my son’s life (i.e. not nearly as long) but I have been on the receiving end of that from medical professionals too. And I gave my son formula too! Because I didn’t have choice if I wanted him to survive. As far as I can see, your ex didn’t have a choice either. The original post was about choices, and it’s the *choice* not to breastfeed that I feel I cannot support. How can I, or anyone, criticise anyone who had no choice? That’s never what I said, or meant to come across.
I probably overdid it in the bit in brackets in my original comment, I just didn’t want anyone to think I’d had it easy with breastfeeding either. Apologies if it came across wrong.
“I cannot support anyone who chooses not to breastfeed.”
This comment reflects far more about you than anyone else. There are very many reasons why women don’t breast feed, including abscessed nipples and mastectomies. I suggest looking beyond your own nose before making grand judgements about other people’s judgements.
Lactivism is so tiresome.
Breastfeeding is super, and everyone should really give it a go. However the complete disdain for women who make different choices is rather shitty. We all do the best we can.
I know, and I can understand why you and other people feel like that.
But Save the Children estimates that breastfeeding would save the lives of 800,000 children a year in developing countries. Their current campaign targets Nestlé and Danone for their unethical marketing practices in the developing world. I cannot ignore those 800,000 infant deaths every year, nor can I ignore the money that Western families hand over to those very companies (who own SMA and Cow&Gate respectively) every time they buy a tin of formula.
Fine, make a choice. But all our choices have consequences, and the choice not to breastfeed is the choice to buy formula, which in turn is the choice to line those companies’ pockets and contribute to unnecessary infant deaths the world over.
I’m not making this up, sadly:http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/danone-nestle-petition
Not all Western women *can* breastfeed. Some take medications incompatible with breastfeeding, for example.
I know, but this was an article about choices. It was *choosing* not to breastfeed that was the issue.
A constrained choice is still a choice.
If my mother had been as determined to breastfeed me as you think she should have been, she and I would be dead. I was allergic to her milk – constant diarrhea, losing weight from birth on – and she was getting sicker and sicker trying, high fevers, came close to a coma. As soon as she stopped and switched to formula, we both got better. I’m not going to have this conversation beyond this point, because I don’t have children and don’t intend to, but I just wanted to point out that not everyone chooses formula because of brainwashing and big corporations.
Well what’s wrong with that? As far as I can see, she didn’t have a choice. Again, this was an article about choices.
I really believe that The Politics of Breastfeeding should be sold jointly with a self help book, entitled ‘How Not to be a Dick’. It’s so ofteb trotted out as an excuse for making women feel terrible about their choices.
I am massively pro-breastfeeding. Luckily for me though, I’ve learned that it’s possible to be passionate about something without making people feel shitty about choices they have made, often through desperation, lack of support or a lack of education.consider the fact that the majority of women in the UK start out breastfeeding, but give up by six weeks. The problem isn’t those women, they want to do it. So instead of soapboxing about it, maybe a bit of sensitivity and a more supportive attitude from those passionate about breastfeeding is in order.
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