Muslim Feminists as a Minority

Dominant: to utilize your power and influence over others.

In every country and culture, there are dominant groups according to a number of different characteristics. The most common differentiating factors include culture, race, gender, and religion. In the United States, there are many dominant groups, including caucasians, straight individuals, and Christians. These groups tend to decide the social norms that everyone else must follow and when others decide not to follow these norms, (in sociology terms) they’re considered deviants. Being a deviant often comes along with a stigma, and whether a culture is willing to accept these deviants or reject them, is completely up to the members of the dominant community.


Feminism consists of a large network of all genders within the U.S., however it is still a deviant group because it is not the dominating community. American feminists are proud and strong, and very willing to stick up to people who believe otherwise. And while the word “feminist” tends to hold a negative connotation, think: man-hating, in actuality, the word feminist simply means that you believe in equal rights for men and women. Radical feminism is exactly that: more radical, and it is often what people would consider “man-hating.” You can read more about a study done on whether people consider themselves feminists here.



Several parts of the U.S. are becoming more progressive when it comes to feminists and what they actually support. Sadly, this is not the case for many other countries, especially not in the Middle East. Muslim feminists (women who follow Islam but want equal rights for men and women) are without a doubt a minority, and seemingly under partial if not full control from the dominant power in their culture: men. In many Middle Eastern countries, according to law set by men, women are supposed to completely cover themselves with the abaya and hijab. The stated reasoning for this is because women are believed to be extremely sexual creatures and these cloth coverings serve as a protection for both men and women: women so that they are not ogled day in and day out for their sexual characteristics (curves, hair, cleavage) and men so that they are not tempted to do the ogling.


However, in “Ending oppression in the Middle East: A Muslim feminist call to arms,” Randa Abdel-Fattah brings up a powerful fact:

            “We need to ask why, if the hijab is supposedly a shield against harassment or sexual objectification

– a claim I find highly problematic –

are so many covered women in the Middle East groped, harassed, fondled and ogled in public.”

There is something to be said about the idea that the women must take preventative measures in order to stop the men from being overtly sexual in public, but even those measures are not holding men at arms length. Either way, harassment in the Middle East is extremely prevalent . . . just do a Google search for “harassment in the Middle East” and you’ll see what I mean.


There are many restrictive measures placed on women’s rights in the Middle East, as I discussed in my previous post. As I was digging through several articles on feminism in the Middle East, I came across a very interesting restriction that existed up until 2011, and may still exist today.

Until 2011, men worked in lingerie shops because women were not allowed to. This was to prevent the mingling of the sexes in a work setting . . . wait a minute. Wait just one. minute. Did I just read that correctly? So as a woman, I am not allowed to “mingle” with a man in a work setting (presumably professional) , however a man IS allowed to sell me my undergarments???? Because that makes perfect sense… #sarcasm

Obviously, this restriction really got me going . . . I understand that the differences between Middle Eastern and American culture are numerous and extreme, but something about this restriction seemed anything but logical. If the sexes mingling at work is seen as this horrible notion, wouldn’t the sexes mingling over erotically-infused items be even worse?

I think as much as the Muslim feminist is a minority, for every open and vocal Muslim feminist, there are five more underground Muslim feminists. What I mean by that is this: women in the Middle Eastern culture are obviously suppressed by the men in their lives . . . I don’t think anyone would argue with that statement. The problem comes in when women are not allowed to speak their minds according to their own personal beliefs. Instead, they must abide by their father’s, husband’s, and brother’s opinions. With this in mind, most women are virtually banned from speaking out about feminism and equal rights, because that would inherently refute their patriarchal counterpart’s ideas.


This is a topic that could be written about from every angle, and there would still be curiosities on the author’s and reader’s part. This is also something that could never be fixed within a day, because it is so deeply ingrained in the Middle Eastern way of life. However, it is something to think about. Awareness can only benefit this cause. I’ll leave you with this:

“It is easy to think of Saudi [and all Middle Eastern] women only in terms of victimhood.

But to do so is to compound the injustice and deny agency to the many women who are actively resisting oppression and making a life for themselves despite the barriers.

These objects of state-sponsored oppression do not need, nor do they seek, pity. They deserve to be heard and to be respected.”


“Ending oppression in the Middle East: A Muslim feminist call to arms”

“Giving Feminism a Bad Name”

Google Search: “Harassment in the Middle East”


4 thoughts on “Muslim Feminists as a Minority

  1. I think the quote by Randa Abdel-Fattah, “We need to ask why, if the hijab is supposedly a shield against harassment or sexual objectification- a claim I find highly problematic –are so many covered women in the Middle East groped, harassed, fondled and ogled in public,” is extremely powerful. I think some people in the United States are under a false conception that the hijab is a thing of oppression in the Middle East. Many do not realize that the hiijab is worn out of choice and cultural belief, not force.
    I think this article shows a great perspective form a muslim woman:

    It is important to realize that just because women are covered in the Middle East, it does not stop sexual harassment from occurring. I think your blog does a good job focusing on the ways women are actually oppressed in the Middle East and not just the misconceptions people make off of assumptions.

  2. Thank you for writing this. The topic of feminism really gets my blood pumping. I find after any lecture, conversation, or piece of literature about feminism, my anxiety and adrenaline are spiked. However, this is not the best way to continue dialogue, with a 500 megawatt jolt pumping through your brain while your body is ready to run into battle. Like with this quote from you post:

    “cloth coverings serve as a protection for both men and women: women so that they are not ogled day in and day out for their sexual characteristics (curves, hair, cleavage) and men so that they are not tempted to do the ogling.”

    This strikes me. I’m not sure what to say, these are things I own: curves hair and cleavage. I wish this did not warrant danger or make me look like a sexual deviant for showing them.

    That quote IS powerful and I’m glad you put it in blockquotes. Lets take the Hijab out of the equation when we talk about rights maybe? I’ve always thought the hijab made a bit of sense geographically from the sand and sun, but of course it has religious implications as well.

  3. This is really strong article. As a woman and a feminist, I am appalled by the way women are treated in other countries. Our movement has worked for years for equality, and despite hardship and negative feedback, has made major changes, but we still have a long way to go. I think as feminist in America we need to remember that the ultimate goal is to achieve equal rights for men and women around the globe. Like you mentioned, awareness, intellect, and discussion are a positive way to push the movement forward! Love the quotes!

  4. I am really curious to know how a Muslim woman (who was able to speak freely) would respond to this post. It is easy for me, a caucasian, American, female, to agree with your notion of the underground feminist movement in the Middle East. However, what can be done about it? In order to give women the voice they deserve.. it seems as if we would have to somehow create a system that would in a sense rewire their religious and cultural fundamentals, and I just don’t know if that’s possible.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s