Aliaa is a feminist for those who know what 2011 feminism means

In response to Shokouh Mirzadegh’s following article, entitled “Pornography or Liberalism”,

I have written the following response.


Dear Shokouh,

Your article is most disappointing. You, like Hossein Bagher-zadeh, allow yourself to speak of feminism when you do not know much about it (or are stuck in its 1960’s version.) 

There are a few anthropological and historical points in your article whose critique I pass as they are not related to the core of the article, except for one thing: you use the term monotheistic religion without mentioning two crucial characteristics of theirs: patriarchal and organized; this is important as the tyrannical and misogynistic nature of the religions of “Book” emanate also from these two aspects.

To begin dealing with the core of your article, I argue that you are taking so many indefensible positions and making so many invalid statements regarding nudity, feminism and pornography that need to be critiqued for the readers’ and your own benefit.

You state that in societies where men and women have equal rights (which ones? I only know of the Scandinavian societies), producing pornography is against the law. Really? All you had to do was a quick research on the Internet before making such erroneous statement. In most societies, pornography is legal. The only illegal part of pornography is child pornography –which is a horrific kind of child abuse as minors do not have the capacity to consent.

You speak of “some people who, in the name of woman’s freedom, justify any behaviour of hers (woman’s), from sexual promiscuity to appearing in nude photographs and do abnormal behaviour; they resort to the famous saying “woman’s right over her body” and attribute these actions to “being for equality” and “feminism.”

I’d like to ask you: How do you define sexual promiscuity? If by sexual promiscuity you mean for a woman to sleep around, why are you against it? What’s wrong with having sex with multiple partners and very frequently? If you are concerned about AIDS or pregnancy, you can always recommend more public education, but being against it comes from your religious / moralistic culture and beliefs. And what’s wrong with “appearing in nude photos” and what the hell is “abnormal behaviours?” All societies, with the exception of the Scandinavian ones, are male-dominated and their *norms* are at the service of the dominant masculine gender. *Why should you be against behaviours that do not follow male-dominated norms and call them abnormal?* Are you representing patriarchy? Do you believe in patriarchal notion of good woman versus bad? Promiscuous woman versus prudish one? I know that some people, such as the MKO members, declare that a woman who blows herself up has chosen that because she has a right over her body and own it. This kind of statements is sordid, without a doubt. But the examples you have given us here only reveal your moralistic tendency – which is inherently patriarchal and against women’s freedom of choice. The nude body of a young male or female is beautiful. And showing it to the public in the context that you yourself have mentioned is an efficient way to tell the Islamists: “I am proud of my body; it belongs to me; I show it to whomever I want; no man has the right to possess it; my body is not a “virgin territory” to be conquered by any man. Get used to it!”

You say that on Facebook most people do not read Aliaa’s notes, do not include her boyfriend’s photos. Then, based on this observation, you conclude that her photos play the same role as “sexy women’s pornographic photos.” What kind of conclusion is that? Is Aliaa responsible for some other people’s ignorance or sexism? Is she responsible for the behaviours of men who, because of their male chauvinism, do not get the point she is making or are aroused by her plain nude photos? The fact is that these men would get sexually aroused by anything including the picture of a “round dune” or that of a “lemon”, which could evoke a “woman’s breast.” Here, your argument is exactly like the one Islamists propose: because men are aroused by a woman’s body parts, those body parts should be covered and not shown; and if shown, the woman is a bad, bad woman who has done pornography! Do you see the similarity? I hope you do.

Iranian and other Middle-Eastern men carry pornography in their minds; it does not make any difference whether they see a nude woman standing in the most non-provocative manner like Aliaa or observe a round dune or a hole in the wall. The sick minds of most Middle-Eastern men will project its sickness on anything female or anything evoking something close to a female part. And that is not because they like sex. It is because *they feel entitled to control anything female in any way they like in their subjective universe and find a place for it in the order of things.

Your last paragraph before the sub-title: ”Nudity and Equality” is really confused and problematic. What do you mean by a “well-known feminist?” Is a well-known feminist’s political position more valid than an unknown feminist? Obviously using the adjective “well-known” is weak and indefensible. But that is something minor.

 Let’s consider a more important issue, the fact that you are confusing two concepts in your article:

The first one is the question of how to name and address a woman who works in the sex industry (be it in “prostitution”, in pornography or in pole dancing.) Feminists are aware of the power of discourse, of the power of naming. They know that it is the naming of a person or an action that defines that person or that action. Therefore, instead of putting down women whose sex service is available to men by calling them “prostitutes” or “whores (as hypocrite men have done for centuries),” feminists call these women “sex workers” in order to value these women as human beings and recognize that their work is a service, even if it is an exploitative service, a service exploited by men. They also ask the law-makers and the law-enforcers to treat these women as human-beings who have human rights and protect them against male violence (the sex workers themselves have been very active in this movement together with feminists.) Many feminists defend the right of these women to offer their sexual service as long as it is done by their own personal choice and is not exploited by a “John”.  

The second concept is the sex workers’ human rights: Because over 90% of all sex work in the world is done under male coercions of all sorts, and that includes traffic of women and children across the globe and thus constitutes violence against women and children, feminists and other activists consider it sexploitation and against women’s and children’s human rights. This movement against traffic of women and children, forced prostitution and violence against sex workers and women in general is unfolding along the above movement for the protection of the sex workers. They are two different movements regarding the sex workers’ conditions that are complementary to each other.

So, when you speak of participation of women in pornography not being among women’s / feminists’ demands, one has to say: well, you’re simply stating the obvious; but Miss Shokooh, your statements are so abstract and so detached from realities of women’s lives that one has to ask you “where have you been, Sista?” We live in 2011, and since 1960’s, feminists have made giant steps ahead in their analysis of different issues pertaining to women – including pornography – and have fought fights that you do not seem to be aware of. Updating yourself about *today’s* feminism is really beneficial to yourself and to your future readers.

What you have written under the sub-title “Nudity and Equality” is extremely puzzling. You compare Aliaa to the sex workers of Pigalle and Soho (the red-light districts of Paris and London) based on what? Is a woman’s nudity equal pornography to you? If that is the case, then what would be the difference between you and an Islamist woman? (Here I am not trying to be disrespectful to you, but simply to make a point.) Do you think nudity plus black stocking and red shoes constitute pornography? Or maybe Aliaa’s “gesture”, which you perceive as similar to that of women of Pigalle and Soho, adds up to all the previous elements and makes her pictures pornographic? The truth is that I do not see any similarity between Aliaa’s gestures and those of sex workers of the above red-districts. None whatsoever! I believe you are adopting an unconsciously moralistic position, which renders you unable to see how this position is in contradiction with some of your assertions in your next four paragraphs.

In the following four paragraphs, you describe the socio-historical realities of the Iranian “1979 Anti-Shah generation” and today’s Egyptian youth so well. Then, you jump back to your misconception about Aliaa’s photographs. You adopt a condescending attitude towards Aliaa and her boyfriend, Karim, by stating that in the context of the Islamists’ pressures on them and other youth to abide by Islamic values, instead of being “terrorised” by the (Islamist) “Monster”, their mind has only been capable (aqleshaan beh in resideh) of standing in front of the camera and like men and women of the world of “porno” (who are different from them!!!), get naked and break the taboos made by the political religion, used for turning them into imbeciles, and prevent them from breathing easily.

After this paragraph that is partly correct, but very condescending to these youth (as if older people know better – another patriarchal notion), and after you ironically (or confusingly) defend the essence of their action, you object to the use of the terms “feminist”, “ equality of rights for women” or an struggle based on “the right of woman over her body” concerning Aliaa’s action. Instead, you assert that Aliaa can only be called a “liberal rebel” or –as she calls herself – a “revolutionary” who wants to save her country from the thieves / usurpers of her “liberal revolution”.

It is so very strange that you do not see the centrally ideological and vitally strategical importance of the “woman’s body” and its repression and degradation in male-dominated, tyrannical and Islamic cultures. Aliaa has understood how her body and every woman’s body is the central object (philosophically speaking) of the male gaze, male domination and male control in all Islamic societies. As I mentioned above, Middle-Eastern men, including our male “compatriots,” will consider a round dune or a lemon as replicas of a woman’s breast, thus projecting their sexual obsession and entitlement to any discourse and action regarding anything that resembles a woman’s body or body part. These men could also get aroused by sighting the above-mentioned objects. But does it mean that we should consider that a round dune or a lemon plays the same role as pornographic pictures? Pornography, humiliation and degradation of women are already in the minds of these men. Pornography, humiliation and degradation of women are not in the nude body of a protesting feminist named Aliaa. It is the subjectivity of these backward men (the majority of the Middle-Eastern men) that is pornographic, sexist, domineering and controlling of women’s bodies.

Aliaa’s pictures are not pornographic. Her gestures in no way resemble those of a sex worker. She is not only a “liberal rebel”, but also a feminist of tremendous courage and insight. She has succeeded in bringing out the moralistic limits men and women like you would impose on people like Aliaa and myself if you ever become part of the political future of Iran.

Being religious does not simply mean practising Islam or believing in God. We have something called “religious culture,” a culture contaminated by unconscious religious beliefs. Iranian collective psyche is contaminated by religious and moralistic thoughts concerning women’s bodies. I am so very dismayed to see that many Iranian women think like you or simply do not see the moralistic discourse and glorification of patriarchal / male-dominated norms and normality in your article.

If you want to know what pornography means, you need to read the stories that are written and comments that are made on website by our resident louts and pornographers (applauded by ignorant, male-identified women) where sex-workers’ bodies are humiliated and compared to watermelon and peach, men are taught how to go “whoring” in Iran, and instructed not to screw whores who come with a cell-phone or have children at home. You need to read the louts’ comments about their God-given rights to put their hands on any woman they see anywhere, and see how much they enjoy the support of their ignorant female followers who call their horrific statements “tongue in cheek” humour that should not be taken seriously. You need to see how many soft-porn videos are published on the front page of website and what despicable sexist stuff Iranian men write about them.

So, in the Iranian community, “the woman’s body” remains an unresolved political issue for men (and unfortunately even for women.) Some confuse nudity, and in this article, “political and feminist nudity” with pornography, and some believe that they can humiliate women and their bodies by writing misogynistic farce like a stupid clown or by bombarding the readers with stories that have to do with body holes – females’ and under-age boys’, using Mullahs as both the vehicle and cover of their own personal obsession with bodily holes, bodily fluids, pedophilia and humiliation of women.

If only Iranian women of any age and any walk of life could have the insight of Aliaa, the feminist who lives in today’s world and understands that a woman’s naked body is a revolutionary discourse against patriarchy and patriarchal morality and misogynistic religions.




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