Put on trial the artists’ models who posed nude for art schools until the early 70s, hide the art books and destroy the nude statues of antiquity, then undress and stand before a mirror and burn your bodies that you despise to forever rid your-selves of your sexual hangups before you direct your humiliation and chauvinism and dare to try to deny me my freedom of expression.
~Aliaa Magda Elmahdy
So this first pried it’s way into my head by way of Maryam Namazie. I should mention that her blog bears sole responsibility for any appearance of scholarship or depth of perspective which I might appear to have on the subject (my idiotic provincialism is, as always, my own).
The gist is this- Aliaa Magda Elmahdy is fearless. She lives in a culture that tells her that even the face of a woman is something to be ashamed of. Any part of her skin, anything that can physically identify her as a unique individual is to be a source of shame.
Liberals in the west are not fearless. We (western liberals) defer to other cultures on principle, even where those cultures have no right to assert themselves. We are so paralyzed at the prospect of offending someone’s sensibility (provided that they are from a culture outside our own), that we readily permit (or even support) bullies, and occasionally do the same for violent or sexual crimes.
To be sure it is not our (U.S.) job as a nation to intervene in the domestic issues of every nation on earth (although, international bodies could stand to show some teeth). We are not the white knights that we like to imagine, and trying to be only makes things worse. That leaves me in the uneasy (but overall highly enviable) position of observing an injustice but unsure of how much and what intervention is appropriate.
Aliaa Magda Elmahdy is not a western liberal. The injustice which she sees are the norms of a culture which claim falsely to speak for her. They are aimed at her directly. As the victim, she is in a position where no-one may impeach her credentials to speak for the victim. The dilemma she faces is fundamentally different; she risks violence and sexual abuse if she steps out of line. So she posed naked for photographs and posted them on the internet.
The reaction from western liberals was shame. We stood, mostly, with the bullies who told her that she should feel shame for every inch of her skin. What she did was terribly offensive and insensitive. Viscerally, I share this reaction. The Catholic patriarchy is incapable of the degree of control that their Islamic counterparts are sometimes able to exert, but they share the same ideas.
Two ideas, specifically, that are on-point. The first, that sex per se is to be considered shameful, only permissible in the context dictated by the clergy, and only good for a certain class of people (married, heterosexual procreators). The second, more difficult to be rid of, is that certain (if not most) aspects of our bodies are inherently sexual and inherently obscene. I started (for reasons no pertinent to this) trying to scrub this notion from my brain over decade before I even deconverted and it still has quite a hold on me.
So it is that Aliaa Magda Elmahdy’s heroism takes me way the hell outside of comfortable. Cognitively, I see it for what it is. But still some medieval bully stalks about in my brain, growling about how wrong and horrible she is.
So then a bunch of Israeli women also got naked in support of her.
And then an Iranian actress.
And the indomitable Maryam Namazie herself.
And another group of Iranian women.
And finally they put together a calendar to raise money for women’s rights.
And with each hit that medieval thug of mine gets a little more isolated and awkward. Each photograph shines a little more light on him, showing him for the weak little coward he is.
I will never be rid of that. Being raised Catholic is a permanent thing, even when we escape the Church. But I am stronger for Aliaa Magda Elmahdy’s courage. I fear less than I did before. I fear less to call a bad culture bad, because there is such a thing. Because my ancestors were a part of such things. Because I have been/still am a part of such things. And because history, reason and indomitable courage show us that we can be better than once we were.
And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.
~ Man of LaMancha
Thank you, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy.