FEMEN's protest unveils interesting issues of Islam's obsession with sexuality Watch
Firstly it brings up much needed debate about whether Islam and feminism are compatible.
Secondly it helps publicize these kinds of conferences where incredibly illiberal and deeply intolerant ideas are applauded.
I have heard some say that it is shocking that such conferences are allowed in Europe. Of course they should be, precisely so that they allow to be seen the sentiments of some or even many muslims in Europe; and so such sentiments can be given the criticisms they deserve.
But perhaps what is most notable about this protest was the reaction to it from some muslims.
According to the Telegraph:
'According to Ms Shevchenko, some of the men shouted “dirty whores” and “kill them”
"One speaker at the conference has reportedly posted calls on social networks for women to veil their faces or risk hellfire and sexual assault in the afterlife.
Twitter posts called for the protesters to be stoned or collectively raped. '
These reactions bring up an interesting point. Part of the reason FEMEN go topless is all part of the idea that people should not equate the female body with sex. They believe that women should be able to walk around topless without being thought of as "slutty" or whorish because the female body shouldn't be thought of as sexually provocative in the first place.
Now, ironically and paradoxically, this is actually a kind of ultimate conclusion to puritanical thinking on sex. They are trying to take sexuality away from the naked human body, which by its very nature is sexual. They are trying to stop heterosexual men from have the idea that the female body is sexual, despite the fact that they are evolutionarily programmed to be sexually attracted to it. Thus they are trying to take the sex out of something innately sexual. In a sense, you couldn't get more anti-sex.
But what are the muslims at this conference doing by saying that these girls are "whores" and should be raped as punishment?
They are asserting their perspective that the female body is in fact solely to be considered a sexual object. They are completely crushing the point these women were trying to make. They are asserting their dominating ideas that the women's body is not her own to do as she likes with it, but a precious gift to be given only to her husband, and far too good to be shared. This is obviously a view which is underlined by the idea that a woman's sexuality is a commodity. I have often heard muslims employ a very worn out line of rhetoric which seems to be the go-to retort to anyone that claims that women wearing veils is a sexist tradition, which glibly articulates that in-fact the opposite is the case, as the veil is worn because they view their women as precious "gems" which should not to be immodestly flaunted. In other words, they view women as objects which one possessess.
This reuters article illustrates an interesting point. ISIS's use of sexual slavery is partly a way of rebelling against the idea women are equal to men. The sentiments of ISIS's sexual slavery lie in the idea that women are in fact not to be treated like men are, and if they are not decent Sunni Muslims who do everything they can to save their bodies only for their husbands, then they deserve to be treated like sexual toys. Although on a less extreme scale, what we are seeing with the reactions to FEMEN's protest by calling them whores, and wishing them to be raped, is of a very similar attitude. They are saying that women cannot think of their bodies as anything BUT sexual objects, and that not only that, but that their bodies are not for them to flaunt.
I personally do not agree with FEMEN's and their ilk's idea that the female body should not be considered at all sexual, but I also certainly don't agree with the idea that female body can only, solely be seen as being a sexual object. I believe it can be appreciated in different ways. I also feel contempt for the idea that the sexual appeal of a woman's body, or the lust that it illicits in men, is evil.
Now of course, I expect many may read this and say "hang on a second, it's the West which is obsessed with sex, it's the West which views the woman's body as a sexual object".
It's generally true that large areas of the Islamic world believe that the West is totally and dangerously obsessed with sex. To a degree we are, but then, we're animals, and it's kind of a big part of life and ourselves, and the more liberal of us allow ourselves to accept this and even embrace it. We understand that while a picture of a woman can show her body as a sexual object, it does not mean that this is all she is, and nor is it saying that it is all that matters about her or women as a whole demographic. We also understand that a woman's body is not simply a sexual object, and that this is simply one view of it. We look at it, allow ourselves to enjoy the sexuality of it, then go about our day, without being hung up on it.
There is a Buddhist anecdote about two monks who are about to cross a river. A woman is standing at the side of it and is too afraid to cross. So the older monk takes her over his shoulder and carries her across the river. Some time later along the way, the younger monk criticizes the older monk for carrying the woman, as monks are not supposed to touch women. The older monk retorts "I left her as soon as I let her down on the other side of the river, while you carry her with you all this time later".
Most sane, balanced, liberal people are able to look at a picture of a naked person or watch something where people have sex, and quickly forget about it, because they don't get hung up on sex. They like it, they want to enjoy it often, but they are not obsessed with it.
Many muslims (and of course some people of almost all faiths, but this is about muslims) however seem to get very distressed about anything which may even slightly remind them of their sexuality. Some of the more hardline Islamic societies even go to the extreme of practicing laws that force women to cover themselves head to toe in fabric, just in case any man may for a moment get titillitated by the sight of female flesh. Anyone who has sex outside marriage can be punished, prostitutes and adulters can even be executed, and they may even make it law that men and women must have to go to seperate schools, gyms, universities, and swimming baths.
Why? Because of their desperate and impossible attempt to completely erase from public (and sometimes private) life something which is innate and integral to being human: our sexuality.
To say that many Islamic societies and cultures are "hung up" on sex would be a massive understatement. These societies are completely shaped by sex, or at least their rejection of it. They are, without any exagerration, totally obsessed with it. Unlike the monk who is able to forget about it at the side of the river, they seem to carry it in their minds constantly.
As much as I may dislike FEMEN's ideas, the reaction to their protest raises a very interesting subject here, and I'm glad about that.
(Edited for typos.)