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Bianca Bellová is not a feminist, said the young white man

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During the last spring, Bianca Bellova was criticized, if not attacked, by the feminists of the Czech Republic for what she wrote. A careful read and you will see that Bianca Bellova called feminists to spend some of their resources, time, and attention on their fellow women in the worst-off lands on this planet. Some say it was provocative, but I do not think that could undermine what women are going through in the Middle East. Recently Patrik Ouředník, a Czech intellectual, wrote a scholarly work and tried to give a context to where Bianca could be standing and why does that matter. I have no idea why, and it made me laugh (and it saddened me inside) so much that Ouředník’s skin color and age mattered to Michal Zlatkovský. Obviously so important that half of his response’s title to Ourednik’s work was devoted to Ourednik’s skin color and age.

The core of Zlatkovský’s work, as far as I am concerned, was to portray what Ouředník is and not to analyze what was the content of Ouředník’s work. In his eyes, Ouředník is an old white man. As if the merit of someone’s words is proved only if that person has the right skin color and age. Assuming that is the case, as a Middle Eastern young immigrant, I should be in a better position than Ouředník, with his lifetime achievements as an intellectual, to remind feminists why it matters if they raise a voice for their fellow women in that part of the world where I am coming from.
First, let us think about the logic behind the work. If white man X tells the reader that white man Y has no logic and valid point because Y is a traditionalist old white man, not only X is mansplaining me, but X is also undermining himself. Assuming that X is not a white western man. I wonder how Zlatkovský could defend journalism (that he engaged in) when he criticizes defenders of old traditions; journalism is arguably result of the old western tradition of freedom of speech and open society.

Ouředník’s concerns, and through that Bellova’s, are discussed in a way as If they are telling feminists not to address the issues that feminists consider important, but to go after other issues that Ouředník and Bellova consider important.

To a Middle Eastern immigrant reader whose sister was almost run over by a car because the stranger driver demanded that she puts her hijab in a way that he confirms decided that she deserves being physically damaged, Ouředník is making some sense. Imagine a girl has to report every single outfit that she purchases to the university’s security watch, and if they would not confirm she should not wear it. On top of that, imagine while hearing the decision on her purchased outfit she is also reminded that her nail polish is too red and she better not have any nail polish at all, and these all happens while her achievements in national academic competitions and scientific publications is ignored. A feminist worth his/her salt would never turn a blind eye on that.

Of course, not all women are treated as properties in the Middle East, some of them are strong and outspoken. However, here is a very typical perspective from my part of the world that I happened to consider it as a value for many years. “Women are the family’s honor.” What that means is not that a given family is proud of its female members. It simply means if they take a wrong step – wrong in my city of birth could mean anything from the range of having a boyfriend to a kiss not to mention sex – the family’s honor is gone. The girl has to be punished, not just by the state if she is caught, but the family members would initiate the punishment mercilessly. A typical boy in my city would love to have sex with any girl, but if he would want to marry, a girl that had any idea or experience of sex and is not a virgin, is not a material for marriage. Did you sense the double standard? Any sane feminist should be worried about such an oppressive culture.

Is it not confusing that the western intellectuals who are trying to raise awareness about women who are being sentenced to long term jails for their basic demands – ordinary citizens demanding a free choice environment or professional lawyers advocating them – are undermined, and their skin color is highlighted, by some members of the other group of intellectuals? To argue that it is wrong for the former intellectuals to tell the latter what their concerns should be does not fly. If we are talking about women’s violation of their fundamental rights, harassment, or gang rape and murder, it does not matter if it is in the Middle East or Europe that it happens. It deserves condemnation and a platform to raise awareness about it to say the least.

It is so obvious, and maybe that is why it is overlooked, that Ouředník and Bellova are not trying to undermine the unpleasant experience of women being abused in western communities when it happens. They just mentioned an ignored elephant in the room, that is the worst off women wherever they are. Indeed, given the values that a feminist would stand up for, it is not clear why they are not spending time and resources equally, if not more, on what their fellow women are experiencing elsewhere.

A feminist, of Zlatkovský’s caliber, might respond that we are aware of what happens in the Middle East and it is disturbing us, but how dare you to undermine what happens to women here in the west. Sexual abuse and harassment happens to women in the west. A high percentage of women report sexual abuse and harassment at work, in the streets and at home. The numbers would be even higher if those who are silent speak up. We are not done here and we need feminism so please do not tell us where to focus.

Such a conclusion, that anyone who calls attentions on what is going on in communities out of western civilization is trying to undermine the pain of what might be experienced by women in Europe, is at best sign of a confused mind. It is a shame that instead of a more intelligent discussion we are at a stage that needs clarification every time a brave and open-minded member of our community asks feminists to keep their other fellows in mind.

It is crucial to see that feminists can clarify what their stand are on atrocities that occur in other parts of the globe. How the feminists are using their voice, intellect, and resources to help reduce their fellow women’s suffrage in the Middle East or elsewhere needs an actual and clear answer. We could agree that women’s status in the west is not yet perfect, but would not it be great if we could see that women from other countries can experience the same not-yet-perfect-freedom of the western societies?

If my concerns, as a non-white young Middle Eastern, is reflected in Ouředník’s and Bellova’s work, and it is not given any credit but ignored by Zlatkovský, then Zlatkovský has lost me to another white guy not because he is white of course! If women’s suffering is universally condemnable then feminists in the west should be able to explain why they are not willing to concentrate equally on such concerns. Zlatkovský, to me as a reader of his work, sounded as if he avoids addressing that matter, and worse he made the other side’s call to sound like a subjective perspective and therefore irrelevant and hence not coming from a real feminist. A white old man who mansplains to us what was the history of the feminism by citing several other works.

To mansplain the western (female?) readers, as a brown-skinned male, I could not fail but to notice the ad hominem when Ouředník’s skin color and gender became a relevant criteria to his arguments. Last but not least, maybe I could add the following lines as another case of intellectual laziness to Zlatkovský’s examples: the concerns about the climate change was smuggled into the discussion as a nail in the coffin for his critique on Ouředník’s work, though indirectly! It is inapt to imply that someone, or some platform, should be considered unqualified on feminism because he/she, or the platform that is used by them, considers the climate change as a not-an-issue-because-I-can-plant-tomato-in-my-backyard.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of PDM.

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