Brownfemipower called out Amanda for photoshopping that infamous photograph of Jessica Valenti and other bloggers with President Clinton so that Jessica appears in a burqa. Amanda issued a mea culpa for those aspects of the affair that she feels were misguided, along with an explanation of her intentions. She said a little bit more in a comments thread at Slant Truth. For reasons of my own that I'll get into in a moment, I jumped in early in the Pandagon comments thread and then, because I didn't want to just spout off there, I figured I had better comment at Brownfemipower as well. There was a lot in the discussion to digest and unpack, and for that reason it was (from my perspective) positive because it was a very substantive and meaty discussion. (I say this with a straight face even though I was referred to as part of "bourgeois feminism of the imperial center." I also inspired a comment about "power and stupidity." Yay me!)
There was a particular reason that I very much wanted to engage in this discussion. Even before Amanda published her photoshopped image, I wrote this post in which I also connected Althouse's criticisms of Jessica to the notion of having Jessica wear a burqa.
After writing one of my last comments at Brownfemipower today, I received an incredibly gracious email from M., a regular reader of this blog, regarding her reaction to that very post of mine about Jessica wearing a burqa. Although M. is not Muslim, she is an Indian feminist who sometimes chooses to wear traditional Indian garments. My post definitely did not sit well with her. I am extremely, extremely grateful to her for giving me some credit up front for being "quite open to other views." We are all (even bourgeois feminists of the imperial center) individual human beings limping along and doing our best. It is wonderful to be seen as such and to do our best to see others as such. M., who blogs at Scribblepad, wrote about her reactions over at her place. She was kind enough not to name names, but I do not mind owning up to being one of the bloggers to whom she refers. M. writes in part:
. . . what gives one culture the right to keep referring to something in another culture with such scant respect?
i would not take kindly to a westerner labelling my dress as retrogressive, and viewing my whole culture as simply one skewed gender equation. i also would not take kindly to being made the Other while the westerner, ignorant of my customs and culture, criticises me by his/her standards. i do not think it is "supportive" to have a western woman criticise my culture, when she alienates and seems to look down on all of us who live by it.
it may seem inexplicable that i want to wear the clothes i do. frankly, i find miniskirts as hampering as a woman from the west may find my madusar. and i do not think that wearing miniskirts liberates me, makes me modern or leads to an intellectual revolution, so thank you very much but i am happy and comfortable being fully covered. i do not think it cramps my style. if i am not sorry for myself, you have no call to be either - i do not want to be forced into the role of the victim and receive someone's condescending pity.
Yikes! This wasn't what I intended at all! My intent was not to ridicule particular types of clothing, the women who wear them, or other cultures. Nor did I intend to express pity for women from other cultures whom I know quite well both from reading and personal experience living abroad to be very capable of speaking up and taking action on their own behalf. In fact, one of the running themes I have tried to incorporate into this blog have been posts about what African feminists are doing on their own behalf. (Some examples are here, here and here, as well as a planned post I have about Anne Firth Murray's book about The Global Fund for Women which supports grassroots feminist organizations run by women from countries around the world, who set their own agendas and priorities. Unfortunately, I don't write nearly enough on this theme, primarily because these types of stories usually require some research rather than falling into my lap.)
My only intention was to ridicule the mandatory imposition of particular forms of dress on women, whether via the notion that an insufficiently covered woman deserves derogatory comments about her body and her mind, or via legal and physical coercion. It's not the burqa that I intended to ridicule but rather the notion that women are primarily bodies to be covered or uncovered. On a prior occasion, I made the same connection between the ideas underlying the Christian modesty movement in the U.S. and the ideas underlying the restrictions on women imposed by the Taliban. It was those similarities I was trying to get at.
I would never ever want non-western readers of this blog to feel that I see them as not quite human or as objects of scorn or condescending pity. I got lazy and assumed that readers would understand my intention. But, having read the thread at Brownfemipower and especially M's post, I can see why this kind of shorthand can play into a long history of western condescension towards and interference with other cultures that goes beyond me and my individual intentions. So long story short: that post was a mistake.