Women’s bodies: Cause of ‘epidemics and disasters’?

By — March 28, 2013

Her name is Amina. She is a teenage girl. A man in her country, Tunisia, thinks stones should be thrown at her until she dies because she posted a photo of herself on a website. Because she is a woman. Because she had the audacity to make a comment about her own body, and to photograph her body, and to use it to share her ideas with others.

Amina isn’t alone. From Russia’s Pussy Riot to Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai, young women across the world are being silenced, locked away, or are even facing attempts on their life for no greater crime than attempting to stand up for what they believe in.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has released a statement condemning the draft U.N. declaration on violence against women. According to the Brotherhood’s English-language website, the declaration would “destroy the family…and entire society.”

What terrifying threats does the declaration hold, you might well ask, to prompt the Brotherhood to declare that its ratification would “lead to complete disintegration of society”?

A Tunisian teenager is receiving death threats for her public support of the feminist protest group Femen, started in Ukraine and famous for its topless protests. The graffiti seen here is in Tunis. (Lauren Wolfe)

The parts of the declaration to which they most strongly object include “granting girls full sexual freedom.” “Providing contraceptives for adolescent girls.” “Giving wives full rights to file legal complaints against husbands accusing them of rape or sexual harassment.”  “Equal inheritance (between men and women).” And “cancelling the need for a husband’s consent in matters like: travel, work, or use of contraception.”

These most basic rights and statements of equality—the right to object to being raped by your husband; the right for a woman to move freely from one place to another without asking permission—these are what the Brotherhood describes as “destructive tools meant to undermine the family as an important institution”; these are tools that they claim “would subvert the entire society.”

Amina, the Tunisian teenager, was supporting the feminist protest group Femen, started in Ukraine and famous for its topless protests. She posted two images of herself to a new Tunisian Femen Facebook page. Both displayed her bare chest painted with a slogan; one, in English, read: “Fuck Your Morals,” the other, in Arabic: “My Body is My Own and Not the Source of Anyone's Honor.”

According to Tunisian newspaper Kapitalis, Almi Adel, a Salafi preacher who heads the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Tunisia, has called for Amina’s death by stoning, saying that her actions could lead to: "epidemics and disasters" and “could be contagious and give ideas to other women.”

Again the idea is repeated that the safety and security of all of society depends upon the controlling and covering up of women and their bodies.

Why?

Why are we so desperately afraid of the power of women’s bodies that we have weaponized them? What does it mean to a young girl growing up in this world to learn that her body is considered so dangerous that to reveal it could lead to “epidemics and disasters” and may be punishable by death?

It is part of the “othering” of women in society that leads to such anger and criticism of the sexuality and appearance of their bodies, as if they are so dangerous as to be somehow responsible for all sexual acts. So women around the world are blamed for their clothing, their curves, and their appearance when they suffer sexualized violence, instead of indignation and anger being directed towards their attackers. So a 15-year-old rape victim is sentenced to public flogging for having sex outside marriage. So a teenager in Steubenville, Ohio, is ridiculed, blamed, and threatened  when she is raped and urinated on and the assaults are shared across social media. So the victim of a convicted rapist in the UK is named and blamed on Twitter so many times that her name starts “trending” and she has to change her identity.

When will we stop condemning the bodies and behavior of women and consider the behavior of those who threaten, silence, and attack them? When will the very sight of a woman’s natural form cease to be seen as a threat to the very fabric of society?

A man who thinks a young woman should be stoned to death for posting a photograph online is a threat to at least half of society. A young woman posting a photograph online is not a threat to society. Her name is Amina. She is a teenage girl.