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Tunisian Revolution, Feminist De-volution: “Bourgeois Mammary Activism”

Photo by Vincent De Marly

Some "alien" forms of protest are nowadays en vogue in Tunisia. For the sake of objectivity, I shall not judge them in terms of legitimacy; however, I shall not abstain myself from trying to analyze them. In order to be more specific, the subject under scrutiny will be Tunisia's post-revolution women's protest and activism, or what is erroneously known as Feminism. Since this concept is "imported" from the Euro-American culture, all my examples shall be provided from the Euro-American context. After a brief survey of women's struggle against the universal "patriarchal hegemony", we may conclude that women's activism is, unfortunately, a "de-volutionary" process where the forms and outcomes of militancy have witnessed serious setbacks moving from legitimate protests to bourgeois parades. Such "de-volution" is further intensified if "alien" concepts are projected upon an incompatible society, such as the Tunisian society, and forced without any attempt at revision.

Throughout history, women have been considered as the "biggest winners" in most modern post-revolution contexts. An instance of transmogrificational socio-economic gender-related changes coincided with the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Indeed, this revolution marked women's "trespassing" of the masculine professional sphere to gain economic autonomy and, by extension, a new social status outside the confines of the domestic realm. The employment of women was somehow an inevitable capitalistic necessity, since they were a cheaper and more compliant labor force than their male counterparts. Hence, we may consider that such changes positively affected women accidentally, as if "by circumstantial chance".

The aforementioned revolution served as a catalyst for women's activism: "passive empowerment" led to "active self-empowerment". Following this cause-effect line, the Industrial Revolution resulted in the Ladette Culture which brought about a total reshaping of the British woman in terms of mentality and behavior. The Ladette Culture maturated into the Suffragette Movement in 1930 with activists such as Louise Weiss, thus moving from the destruction of the feminine stereotype to the construction of a Feminist socio-political identity.

At the other side of the Atlantic, the apogee of American Feminism was reached after a composite revolutionary tumult: the Civil Rights Movement coupled with the rise of ideological radicalism. Thus, in 1968, female students and intellectuals, inspired by Marxism and psychoanalysis, drew on the pacifist African American militancy for civil rights, and called for reproductive freedom and job equality. Such activism was reinforced by an intellectual movement and the founding of a new area of research, Women's Studies and later Gender Studies, which subsumed almost every academic field from literature to economy.

This concise history of Feminism in what is called in clichéd terms "The Western World" is meant to illustrate the degree of self-consciousness and awareness that pioneer Feminists and their descendants displayed in countering socially, economically, and politically institutionalized sexism, before the advent of Slutwalks and bare-breast activism.

It is not from a moralistic point of view that I am to criticize these new forms of protest with which our Tunisian self-proclaimed Feminists seem to flirt; in fact, the criticism I am to direct at them should have emanated from them. By seeking to "de-objectify" women, they unwittingly objectify them all the more. The bare-breast trend of activism that seems to raise much controversy in Tunisia nowadays is, as its adherents claim, supposedly meant to deconstruct the complex of the female body inherent in our society in specific, and in every society in general. However, while disrobing in public, a woman does not solely expose intimate parts of her body; she exposes her inability to respond to verbal prejudice in kind, to reciprocate an argument with a counter-argument, a deeply-rooted belief with a revolutionary belief. As misogynists reduce a woman to her body, so do bare-breasted "activists"; it is as if they only had their breasts to ostentatiously brandish in protest and indignation. This marks our "illegitimate heiresses of Feminism"'s breaking with the intellectual portent of authentic Feminism; in the homeland of Feminism, that is obviously not Tunisia, any form of activism is preceded and succeeded by writings, analyses, and a whole scientific process of theorizing and devising a Feminist form of action that answers to the needs of women in a specific socio-economic and political context.

Another defect in this "distorted-while-imported" Feminism is its irrelevance to the socio-economic conditions in which the Tunisian woman lives. She cannot yet afford the "luxury" of calling for her "right to nudity" while still subject to economic exploitation. In the professional sphere, the glass-ceiling is still perfectly intact and unbreakable, men are "more equal" than women in terms of pay, sexual harassment remains the norm, and "physical qualifications" overpower academic degrees. Zooming out of the urban context, countrywomen seem to be barred from the agenda of our "Feminists". Instead of going on Slutwalks, can our "activists" not organize support marches for the women who populate the most remote and deprived regions in Tunisia – walks in which "Feminists" would wear rural traditional clothes, with jars on their heads and children on their backs? Instead, they call for bourgeois rights to elusive freedom neglecting a whole class of female peasants that are in urgent need for women of words as well as deeds.

After tracing the direct and indirect social, economic, political, and ideological roots of Feminism where it first sprang, we may come to the conclusion that our Tunisian "Feminists" are guilty of a double crime: importing and distorting Feminist Thought. History testifies to the fact that any post-revolutionary context is favorable for improving women's condition; unfortunately, this opportunity lies in loose hands which are lowered to unbutton women's shirts while they should be raised in efficient protest against exploitation and marginalization. Our activists have somehow committed "Feminist plagiarism", borrowing a foreign concept heedless of its source and unfaithful of its uses, without revision or modification. In this de-volutionary process, our Feminists transfigured revolutionary thought into "mammary thought" and transformed social justice marches into "bourgeois catwalks".

Nawaat

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