By Yasmine Mohammed
Like many of you, I grew up reading about historical heroines of the suffragette movement. Women who faced imprisonment, risked their lives, or even willingly gave their lives to bring attention to their plight.
These were women who were on the outskirts of society. They were disrupting the status quo. They were a threat to order. Not only did men find them threatening, as their cause was in direct resistance to the male dominated society, but women were threatened by them as well.
Many of these suffragettes had to lead double-lives, fighting in secret, as their fellow women preferred the safety and security of allowing society to carry on as usual. Demanding progress meant upheaval. It meant strife and potential hardships. They just wanted these suffragettes to leave well enough alone.
Well, thank goodness they didn’t. These women broke new ground and started to pave new roads for women. They are who I have to thank for the world I was born into. A world where second-wave feminists like Gloria Steinem were larger than life. A world where I was not afforded the exact same opportunities as my male counterparts, but a world where a significant amount of the road to that end had been paved.
Throughout my life I have watched things improve for women almost daily. It was not a drastic change born through bra-burning or other protests, it was a slow change as we all shifted and maneuvered ourselves around this recognition that women are equal members of society – so now let’s act that way.
I watched significant changes happen in media, as movies, commercials, and music became much more aware of avoiding sexist stereotypes and much more conscious of allowing women depth and breadth in roles as opposed to just being the star’s wife who had a cliché line or two.
I watched Sheryl Sandberg rise to prominence with her book Lean In. I learned from her, from Oprah Winfrey, from Michelle Obama, from Beyoncé and from countless other women in popular culture who were examples for young women growing up in North America. As Geena Davis asserts in her documentary Miss Representation: “You cannot be what you cannot see”. But I could see. I could see a lot of women who I regarded as heroes.
I think a lot of young girls, the generation after me, saw these heroes as well. And, like me, they wanted to join the fight. They, too, wanted to be an example, an inspiration, and to continue to pave the road that had been laid by the brave women before us.
But, unlike the women before us who had to tear down old growth, thousand-year-old trees and build new roads one pave stone at a time, these young girls were born into a world where there were bulldozers at the ready, willing to support them in their endeavor.
The work was happening, the fight had essentially been won. We didn’t need to convince anyone that there needed to be roads to equality-everyone was already on board. But they wanted to build roads too!
However, since all the good ones were taken, these young women, so full of energy exerted their efforts into different directions. They began to discuss whether we should start calling ourselves womxn, if ACs are sexist, and how to counter the social evil phenomenon known as manspreading. With no legitimate problems to overcome, they invented problems so that they could fulfill that desire to solve them.
If only those women knew that there was a way to travel back in time, to link hands with the history-making heroines who risked their lives to fight for freedom. There was a way that they could channel their energy into supporting women who just wanted to be regarded as equal human beings to the men in their societies. There was a way they could support girls who just wanted to go to school without fear that they might be shot in the head. There was a way that they could help girls who didn’t want to be married off as children.
All of these issues, and so many more, are right under their noses. And we don’t need to go centuries back in time to find these women. They exist today. Women who get arrested and disappear because they dare to take a scarf off their head in Iran. Women who are arrested and disappear because they drive a car in Saudi Arabia. Women who are arrested or killed for showing their face and hair on social media in Pakistan or Iraq. Those brave women exist all around us and they want nothing more than to be supported by feminists in the West.
Instead, unfortunately, they are largely ignored because feminists in the West are afraid that by supporting their fellow sisters, someone might misconstrue that as ethnocentrism or racism. Or, even worse, we support their oppressors don’t we?
Barbie, once a beacon of femininity and feminism, now dons a hijab so that she does not entice men who might rape her. Marks and Spencer, one of the UKs largest department stores, sells hijabs for three-year old girls. The free West, where these girls used to look to as beacons of light and hope, is supporting their oppressors and ultimately fighting against their progress.
In Saudi Arabia women are burning their niqabs. In Iran, women tie their hijabs on sticks and sway them silently, defiantly in the streets as they are arrested in droves. And in the West, we put a Nike tick on it. We accept and willingly support subjugation of our sisters in the East that we would never accept for ourselves or our sisters in the West.
It is devastating to see this disconnect. Young women here are looking for a fight and young women there desperately need fighters to stand with them. It should be a match made in sisterhood heaven. If only women were willing to link hands together across borders, patriarchy would not stand a chance.
Patriarchy cannot exist without the active participation of women. It is mothers that take their daughters to have their clitoris cut off by another woman. All of that is done because men prefer to have a cut wife. We hold down our screaming five year old daughters and allow a woman to take a razor to her genitals because a man will prefer her that way.
We must stand up and say no. Mothers must stand up for their daughters. Sisters must stand up for their sisters. And neighbors must stand up for their neighbors.
We will only succeed if we work together; women in the East must work together. As for women in the West, please reach back your hand and pull them up the road to equality with you.
*Main Pic Credit: Geoff Livingston / Flickr
Yasmine Mohammed, author of the upcoming memoir ‘The Girl Who Would Not Submit,’ is an Arab-Canadian college educator by day and a passionate human rights advocate by night.
Her main focus is on women-especially women living in the Islamic world who are subjected to draconian Sharia laws. As well, through her work with Free Hearts Free Minds, she supports ex-Muslims living in Muslim majority countries – where the state-sanctioned punishment for leaving Islam is death.