We still need feminism to bust myths and taboosby Jessica Abrahams / March 13, 2013 / Leave a comment
When Shami Chakrabarti got up on stage at Women of the World festival last weekend and declared that feminists “don’t want a petition, we want a fucking revolution,” she was met with a storm of cheers and applause.
Boosted by the internet and social media, the feminist movement has become increasingly prominent in recent years. Initiatives like the Everyday Sexism Project and Vagenda magazine have helped draw activists together. More feminist voices are finding space in the mainstream media: Everyday Sexism’s founder Laura Bates is a regular contributor to the Independent, while Vagenda’s co-founders Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter write the V Spot blog for the New Statesman.
The Southbank Centre’s annual WoW festival is more evidence of feminism’s current strength. Now in its third year, it involves five days of events and lectures, organised by the Centre’s brilliant artistic director Jude Kelly, in celebration of International Women’s Day. The festival’s reputation is such that Malala Yousafzai unexpectedly showed up on the Friday. Still fragile, she remained backstage, her presence unannounced at the time.
The focus was on feminisms: embracing different voices as part of the same movement, rather than emphasising divisions. One of those voices came in the talk on “Global feminism and the Middle East”, a subject that has become more prominent since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the Arab Spring. As the Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif put it, “when the revolution happened, the western media wanted to know about two things: the Islamists, and women.” It’s a thorny topic because of the risk of patronising Arab women or imposing western concepts of feminism on them. But Nadje Al-Ali, a professor of gender studies at SOAS, kicked off proceedings by saying that “Iraq has a very long history of feminism going back to the early 20th century.” She reminded us that many Iraqi feminists “didn’t want to associate themselves with the occupation,” and in some senses, like gender-based violence, women there are actually worse off than they were ten years ago.
What the Middle East needs is a sexual revolution, said Shereen El Feki, author of the recently published Sex and the Citadel. El Feki believes that sexual liberation is an integral…