By Andrea Plaid
Some folks choose online names–be it a blog title, a Twitter handle, a Tumblr URL–of an attribute they want to aspire to. Then there are those whose monikers fit exactly what they are. Ainee Fatima’s Tumblr name fits her perfectly–she is, indeed, a Badass Muslim Girl.
She’s an award-winning spoken-word poet, a woman who makes her Muslim community her priority, and a cartoonist with a scathing wit–and she’s folded of these into her 21-year-old life-in-progress. We caught up with each other between her classes, where we chatted about femme feminism, Gloria Steinem, and “smelling white feminism.”
1) OK, Ainee, that comic of your smelling white feminism had me on the floor screaming in laughter! What inspired that? And are you planning to continue the comics?
Thank you! Well, earlier that day in my Race and Ethics class, we were categorizing traits or groups of people who were considered the Majority and Minority groups in America. We ended up with the Majority containing Race: White, Gender: Male, Sexual Orientation: Cis Heterosexual, Religion: Christian, Class: Middle-High Class. Then, my teacher proceeded to ask which of these categories are the most prevalent in Western society. One of the boys kept insisting that gender was the hot topic, another girl was saying that race was the most prevalent issue.
But the thing is, we can’t really discuss race without discussing class or gender and that’s what intersectional feminism is all about–fighting more than one cause at a time because it’s more than just women’s rights. The thing is, the stigma attached to being white in general is a privilege, which doesn’t really make it a stigma at all. Once you delve deeper into feminist theory, you’ll encounter resistance to whiteness. I mean, try having a Black president only to have people call him the n-word, mention his Arabic middle name and wish for his assassination, or any of the other daily microaggressions that people of color face.
Spark Summit published an article talking about how race is a feminist issue, but not only race–sexism, homophobia, and any other type of discrimination. It’s something that is often forgotten early feminist movements actually excluded women of color just to gain a wider audience, as the article says.
I think that a great way to make the idea of intersectional feminism even more prevalent is with the comics I made: it’s humorous and light-hearted but always packs a punch in the message–and yes, I do plan on making more!
2) Bouncing off that incredibly funny cartoon, I’d love to hear how you use Islam and feminism to shape the work you do, from the comic to your activism to your poetry–which seems to me, all are of the same cloth called your life?
A lot of people look at me with a weird face when I say that Islam has very feminist ideals and values. Yes, there are Muslim feminists, and there are Muslim women who don’t even feel the need to label themselves as a feminist because of what Islam provides for them. Now, it might be hard to separate the image of Islam that is portrayed in the news to the one I’m telling you about. Many Muslim female scholars agree that much of the misogyny embedded in Islamic culture is due to patriarchal dominance within the religion, including practices based on local culture, traditions, political repression, illiteracy. and poverty. But, you can say that for many organized religions as well, am I right? Even in Western society today, we can still see the repercussions and remnants of a patriarchal society. One must understand that this is a cultural perspective and practice that has been passed down. It is important for me to include Islam in a lot of my discussions because its values are so in tune with my beliefs as a feminist.
3) And here’s a follow-up question that I’m finding myself asking quite a few Crushes: where do you see gaps in feminist/anti-racist conversations and activism?
Many white feminists tend to view factors like race as tangential issues that serve as a distraction or even a betrayal to the advancement of womanhood, or they’re e quite dogmatic and narrow-minded in the way they view gender dynamics.
On the other hand, there are younger, modern-day feminist organizations that erase intersectionality and proceed to discuss oppression particular to subgroups of women without including the voices of said subgroup. FEMEN is a good example of what I mean. They often incorporate “nude protests” on behalf of Muslim women, whom they presume to be too stifled to speak for themselves–but, in doing so, they accomplish three things which are counterproductive. First, they ignore that sexism within the Muslim community (which is a vast community in itself) is something that women are allowed to and understand enough about to discuss, which isn’t true. Secondly, they further silence us Muslim women by assuming they know what we need for our liberation which, I can assure you, extends much deeper than taking our clothes off. Last, and most importantly, they insidiously suggest that there’s something uniquely and violently misogynistic about Muslim men, which extends to the entire community and, thus, enables racial profiling and the usurping of our struggle for gender equality to excuse imperialism. When a feminist objective directly aligns with racist, xenophobic and warmongering propaganda, there is a problem. Yet, so many times, they’ve been harshly criticized and refuse to alter their behavior, which leads me to believe that there objective isn’t genuinely for us at all.
Things that white feminists can do to bridge the gap with WoC, in my opinion, are to start listening to us when we speak about our experience, not vilify men of color harshly, understand that one woman’s struggle isn’t “the” woman’s struggle, and that we can and definitely do contribute to one another’s oppression (i.e. a female fashion designer employing the use of sweatshop labor into her line), and that understand that privileged women, by default, are not owed allyship from more marginalized women.
4) Speaking of gaps in feminist conversations, let’s talk about your beauty game, which is so fierce! I feel that we as feminists don’t talk too often or deeply about concepts of adornment beyond “yay us, being pretty in pink lipstick and high heels!”…unless it’s women of color who choose to adorn ourselves, then it’s about our being “oppressed” (the whole controversy of Muslim women covering up) or it’s a fight over “respectability politics” (the whole Black women coloring our hair in a rainbow of hues, sometimes on one head). As a feminist woman of color who stays slaying the game with a hijab and cosmetics, what are your thoughts on this?
My thoughts are that I think they both need to realize, meaning the pro- and anti-femme feminists, is that no matter what women do, we are going to be held by standards according to the male gaze. My goal is not to accommodate such male gaze by centering my actions around it (i.e. people insisting I don’t wear make-up because it makes man more easily attracted to me), but to eradicate it all together. If I don’t wear make-up specifically to adhere to a stringent expectation of what my community requires me or to deflect unwarranted male attention, that is just as much of a decision under the influence of patriarchy as wearing make-up or high heels to garner said attention. In both instances, I am not making a decision solely for myself, but to conform my life for others. Both are signs of women’s objectification. The feminism I strive for wishes to destroy that form of hegemony and the treatment of women’s bodies and decisions as communal.
Also, with women of color, we deal with many different angles of limitations. While white women are treated with minimal dignity because of their gender, they aren’t in the way we are. In addition to being marginalized as women, we are also racially stigmatized. For example, I get a lot of questions regarding my culture and religion, which are both widely regarded as conservative and patriarchal, admittedly–a stereotype white women have played into. While white women are afflicted by the male gaze, but not the white gaze. The white gaze serves questions relating to arranged marriages, honor killings, sexual repression, while not acknowledging that abstinence is just as much a decision as actively engaging in sex and–in addition to dealing with street harassment, catcalling–we also get racist jokes thrown at us, depending on our ethnicity, while also being desexualized or hypersexualized (either boring, ugly hairy brown girls or exotic, spicy playthings from the Orient). There is literally no winning for WoC–we hang on one side of the spectrum or the other, which is why I so often stress that we need to reclaim our autonomy and engage in activities solely for ourselves, regardless of outside interference, because there isn’t a plausible way to please everyone.
Check out the rest of the interview on the R’s Tumblr!