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the majority of the themes in this comic are based on real experiences
November 10, 2013 7:10 AM   Subscribe


 
I love the one on femen.
posted by NoMich at 8:09 AM on November 10, 2013


Here's the direct link to it.
posted by NoMich at 8:28 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


What, only four episodes? Give me more!

Qahera's habit of lifting her antagonists by the throat and dangling them off things puts me in mind of Fletcher Hanks. (In a totally good way. I don't mean to imply that the author is batshit crazy like Fletcher Hanks.)
posted by pont at 8:30 AM on November 10, 2013


Really? The Femen one made me sad.
posted by lumensimus at 8:52 AM on November 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is it a total derail to wonder how the defense of Hijab is anything other than a culture wide variety of Stockholm syndrome? The superhero saves a non-hijab wearing woman and does not seem to lecture here about dress but seems to imply a power of the clothing style. But she then is sufficiently angry with naked western protesters that she dangles them on the side of a cliff. Am I missing the point entirely? The recent Saudi women car driving protest seemed to be an attempt at using western world opinion the affect the Saudi government. I certainly see how western condescending commentary can be annoying as well as counter productive but allowing one enforced cultural restriction certainly seems to have been an element on a repressive slippery slope.
posted by sammyo at 8:55 AM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


What exactly is Qahera doing with her sword? Is the guy she hangs up like laundry dead? Is she threatening lethal force with her sword against the well-meaning Western activists?
posted by Bwithh at 9:06 AM on November 10, 2013


She seems to make a point of just tying up her antagonists (and I guess, she knocks them out and hurts the knee of the street harasser). She's not shown cutting anyone with the sword.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:10 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Before we go too far down the road with talking about how horrible fundamentalist Islam treats women and the violent enforcement of dress codes on women through legal and social means (and positing that Muslim women are suffering from some form of Stockholm syndrome), I would ask that you ask yourself if you've considered that a lot of Muslim women, particularly in societies that aren't as fundamentalist as Saudi Arabia (which is a lot of them), might want to wear a hijab. It's an option of religious observance first in most of the world, similar to wearing a cross around your neck, not an enforced part of systemic oppression of women.

I'd like to think that most of the efforts to "save" Muslim women that are not members of a fundamentalist sect or mosque, or live in a country where government and/or society enforce regressive gender-based discrimination, are borne from simply just not asking that question. A good chunk of the Muslim world does have serious problems with women, and the hijab or burqa are oftentimes a large and symbolic part of that oppression - but context is everything. A woman that belongs to a mosque that aren't horrible sexists might simply chose to wear the hijab as a symbol of humbling herself before God, adhering to the Quran's decree for both men and women to dress modestly, or simply as a culturally relevant fashion statement, and if we're gonna be okay with yarmulkes, habits and vestments, or bindi, then maybe people should calm the fuck down about hijab when they're not being forced upon a woman but instead being worn by choice.
posted by Punkey at 9:22 AM on November 10, 2013 [16 favorites]


To paraphrase a bromide from the NRA, the hijab does not oppress people; people oppress people with the hijab.
posted by The White Hat at 9:27 AM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I totally get the cartoonist's anger at being condescended to by Western feminists who tend to focus on the hijab instead of their own culture's misogyny, especially as there's a lot of overlap with straight-up Islamophobia. That having been said, there's more than a bit of false equivalency being made between "this group of people wants to treat us like second-class citizens" and "this group of people (FEMEN, specifically) engages in forms of social protest that I don't approve of."
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:28 AM on November 10, 2013


Coincidentally, the NYT has an article about Marvel starting up a new character, who's specifically a superhero Muslim girl growing up in New Jersey.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:32 AM on November 10, 2013


Halloween Jack, the first group takes away the agency of Muslim women to dress how they want because they're women. The second group takes away the agency of Muslim women to dress how they want because they're Muslim. Still discriminatory, just predicated on a different adjective.
posted by Punkey at 9:49 AM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Punkey, should women have the option to "modestly" dress without wearing the Hijab? In public? In oh say, Yemen?
posted by sammyo at 10:08 AM on November 10, 2013


Yes, but I believe that I specifically stated that the issue being discussed here is not the horrifically repressive and sexist governments and social environments towards women when I said, "Before we go too far down the road with talking about how horrible fundamentalist Islam treats women and the violent enforcement of dress codes on women through legal and social means" and "efforts to "save" Muslim women that are not members of a fundamentalist sect or mosque, or live in a country where government and/or society enforce regressive gender-based discrimination".

The problem of fundamentalist Islamic policy's open and terrible hostility towards women and how they dress is a separate issue from non-Muslim people patronizingly trying to tell Muslim women how to dress. It's white-knighting Muslim women, and I mean that in the negative way. Women being forced to do anything by a government or society as a gender is bad, and that cuts both ways - fundamentalist Muslim governments and societies forcing women to wear a hijab, and (hopefully) well-meaning non-Muslim governments and societies forcing women to not wear one. It should be their choice and their choice alone, to wear or not wear one.
posted by Punkey at 10:17 AM on November 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't mind if people dress however they choose to. I mind if people are made to dress a certain way - when the choice is taken away.
posted by dazed_one at 10:45 AM on November 10, 2013


What's interesting about this is that the discussion here is so entirely different than the one that I had with friends reading the comic in Egypt. Here, we were all incredibly excited by a female superhero whose first missions were beating the crap out of sexual harassers and bringing a bit of vigilante justice to an issue that has plagued us all here. The veil didn't come into the conversation whatsoever on this end. Granted, some of the newer material deals more explicitly with women's dress, but I think that the underlying theme here, and the more interesting topic, is not a question of identity politics, but a right of self determination for Arab women, and an assertion of a right to be in public space without harassment, violation, abuse by the police and the state, or the nattering of outside pundits trying to tell those women that they're suffering stockholm syndrome or false consciousness. This is not just a muslim issue, or an arab issue, but one that is faced by women and others across different societies.

I could pick at small disagreements with the comic, but over all I'm a huge fan of Qahera.
posted by sherief at 11:16 AM on November 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


I suppose it's not occurred to the author that she (I assume it's a she) is working within the constraints of a form pioneered by a Victorian, English, Male, Liberal intellectual.
posted by anewnadir at 12:04 PM on November 10, 2013


a form pioneered by a Victorian, English, Male, Liberal intellectual.

Huh? Lee Falk? Surely not.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:32 PM on November 10, 2013


I suppose it's not occurred to the author that she (I assume it's a she) is working within the constraints of a form pioneered by a Victorian, English, Male, Liberal intellectual.

I suppose it hasn't occurred to you that you're using an alphabetic writing system --an invention of Sumeria (modern day Iraq).

(So?)
posted by Sys Rq at 12:32 PM on November 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think I get what the author's trying to achieve and I wish her all the best, but the Femen comic is reactionary propaganda. On the other hand, I snrked at this question and response in the FAQ.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:36 PM on November 10, 2013


There are parts of the U.S. where it is illegal for women to dress in ways that are perfectly legal for men, for reasons of "morality". Don't believe me? Try going topless in Indiana, Utah, or Tennessee. And even where it is supposedly legal, women who do it are often arrested anyway, for "disorderly conduct".

Is this an equality issue? Does this suck? Absolutely. But please consider this before you accuse a woman who defends the fact that she wears a headscarf of being a victim of "Stockholm Syndrome". Because the same accusation would apply to women in the U.S. who say things like, "I don't like going topless in public, and don't feel I should be pressured to do so."
posted by kyrademon at 12:37 PM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I suppose it hasn't occurred to you that you're using an alphabetic writing system --an invention of Sumeria

The Sumerians used cuneiform, which is conceptually similar to Chinese writing (although not at all related). The ultimate origins of the alphabet are a bit obscure, but it was somewhere around what is now Israel, as is only right and proper.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:47 PM on November 10, 2013


somewhere around what is now Israel

Yes: Lebanon. I stand corrected.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:54 PM on November 10, 2013


I suppose it's not occurred to the author that she (I assume it's a she) is working within the constraints of a form pioneered by a Victorian, English, Male, Liberal intellectual.

That strip where she goes after Victorian, English, Male, Liberal Intellectuals sure looks hypcritical now!

Wait, there isn't such a strip? You're just offering a lazy, reactionary non-sequitur?
posted by kewb at 1:08 PM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


One of my joy in comics is turning off the political brain briefly and appreciating the line, color, positive and negative space. For these reasons, I really enjoyed this comic. Seeing a woman go all swoopy with her power is a pleasant thing. Then adding in a political message, instead of routinized violence, is a double pleasant thing.
posted by Jesse the K at 1:11 PM on November 10, 2013


I work with a woman from Egypt who wears a hijab. She's smart and she's funny and it would never occur to me to question whether or not she's doing it just because she's "oppressed".

In a previous job, I worked with a woman who wore a sheitel. She, too, was smart and funny and it never occurred to me to question whether or not she had been oppressed into doing it. And yet (to kyrademon's point), I haven't seen anyone accuse Orthodox Jewish women of suffering from "Stockholm Syndrome" either.
posted by Slothrup at 2:22 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Speaking of Femen, the Guardian has an article about Inna Shevchenko.
posted by homunculus at 2:45 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, I snrked at this question and response in the FAQ.

The tags after the answer are pretty funny too.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:53 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was pretty confused by this comic. For example, does she believe she should be allowed to drive, and if she does, does she appreciate or oppose people from other cultures who also think she should be allowed to drive? Her thing is apparently to not only oppose those who oppress her, but to also oppose anyone who opposes those who oppress her. Like I said, baffling. I couldn't decode the femen thing to save my life. I mean okay, presumption is bad, but supervillian bad?
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:42 PM on November 10, 2013


kewb:You're just offering a lazy, reactionary non-sequitur?"

I didn't know non-sequiturs could be progressive or reactionary, but I'll take your word for it. As for the point of my original comment, I'll spell it out so as to lower your bile level: the author's intent (satire of those hypocritical western progressives and jocular comeuppance for benighted male arabs) is completely overshadowed by the comic's effect, which is to make the main character appear just as petty and trivial as the 'femen' protestors and arab chauvinists in the comic.

The medium makes the author's own philosophy look just as ridiculous as the target of her ire. This isn't a coincidence, and as long as this 'comic' continues to distill controversies over feminism and orientalism into infantile projections of the author's internet-steeped politics, the author will continue to come across as well-intentioned yet thick.

Perhaps the author intends this result, and I'm not giving her enough credit. In any case, I'll be the first to say that Thackeray was smart but ultimately unable to get beyond the intellectual fashions of his own era. Hence my original comment.
posted by anewnadir at 4:08 PM on November 10, 2013


None of your original comment touches on that, though; it simply claims that the choice of medium somehow makes the author a hypocrite for attacking a target she never actually attacks. Seriously, go read it yourself; little to none of what you say in your later comment is in evidence in your earlier comment.

I still have no idea how you get from a satirical webcomic about Islamic womanhood to Victorian liberal male writers, except by a painfully strained effort. Thackeray drew caricatures, but these are not formally the same thing as sequential-panel comics, let alone the superhero comics this particular strip draws upon. It's the genetic fallacy; you might just as well say that Gravity's Rainbow or Beloved are hypocritical because, despite being novels, they don't reflect or even attack (perhaps) the cultural values and identity politics of Petronious or Miguel de Cervantes or Samuel Richardson (or wherever you see the novelistic tradition starting).

You seem confused by a rather standard point that's been around since at least the 1970s: that feminism and class are not always perfectly intersectional. Critics like bell hooks have long made the rather easy, paradox-free point that arguments against patriarchy which seem to make sense for middle-class, Euro-American women sometimes conceal elements of class and cultural prejudice that disempower or denigrate the struggles and lives of women of other classes and cultures.

And, yes, your non-sequitur was reactionary. Of course non-sequiturs can have content, political valence, and tone; they're non-sequiturs specifically because they have content (and sometimes valance and tone) that doesn't follow logically from the last proposition or statement in the chain. If two people are discussing what to order for lunch and a third person interjects with "Death to the bourgeosie pigs!", then the third person's statement would be both politically radical and a non-sequitur.
posted by kewb at 4:52 PM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would ask that you ask yourself if you've considered that a lot of Muslim women, particularly in societies that aren't as fundamentalist as Saudi Arabia (which is a lot of them), might want to wear a hijab.

If the only women wearing a hijab are women who want to wear a hijab, then they don't need any laws or rules requiring it.
posted by straight at 8:18 PM on November 10, 2013


I haven't seen anyone accuse Orthodox Jewish women of suffering from "Stockholm Syndrome" either.

I'm pretty sure I've seen people suggest that here, when we've had threads about Orthodox Jewish women. Or that these women are a non-representative subset, and are privileged in ways that most Orthodox Jewish women are not. It's an arguable point, but it's insulting them by denying their agency.

My problem with the comic is that Qahera isn't reacting to the protesters' presence or coming to the aid of someone they're intimidating: she's seeking them out. I called the comic reactionary earlier, but in a way it's self-satirising: Femen claim that women wearing the hijab are oppressed, and Qahera responds by physically subduing them. Well, isn't that's Femen's assertion in a nutshell? That women are silenced, and forced to accept their cultural role? The fact that this oppression is being done by an attractive heroine doesn't make it better; it's just a way of getting the audience to accept actual oppression, which is uglier, even more violent, and imposed by far less articulate people.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:47 PM on November 10, 2013


I suppose it's not occurred to the author that she (I assume it's a she) is working within the constraints of a form pioneered by a Victorian, English, Male, Liberal intellectual.

What on Earth are you talking about? Comics are either a Swiss or a Scottish invention, while the superhero comic was invented by two Jews. Where the hell do you get your Victorian, English etc. from?
posted by MartinWisse at 11:54 PM on November 10, 2013


Femen claim that women wearing the hijab are oppressed, and Qahera responds by physically subduing them. Well, isn't that's Femen's assertion in a nutshell? That women are silenced, and forced to accept their cultural role?

No; that's missing the point that Femen is again taking away the actual agency of the woment they're supposedly helping, while attempting to enforce their own cultural norms; it's on a same level as that scene in the second Sex in the City movie where frilly lingerie helps liberate the oppressed woman of Qhatar.

Femen is still complicit in enforcing patriarchal standards of acceptable female behaviour, only now it's "show us your titties" instead of "for gods sake cover up". It's about as feminist as PETA's use of nude models to oppose the fur trade.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:59 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


How are Femen taking away women's agency? They don't have any physical power over them. Surely you don't think they're hypnotising them? I'm not a fan of Femen's tactics, but they're just putting forward their point of view. In contrast, the Russian and Ukrainian governments are physically suppressing them, and so, in this fictional depiction, is Qahera.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:56 AM on November 11, 2013


How are Femen taking away women's agency? They don't have any physical power over them. How are Femen taking away women's agency? They don't have any physical power over them.

You're working from a very narrow, oddly individualized notion of agency where others are talking about forms of collective, primarily political agency. By appointing themselves spokespersons for Muslim women and making uninformed, even inadvertently patriarchal claims, Femen are certainly usurping the political agency of the women they "defend."

There are plenty of ways to remove someone's agency, and especially the agency of a group or class of people, that don't rely on direct physical violence or fantasies of mind control. (Well, unless you're a libertarian, but that's a whole 'nother argument that's been had elsewhere on MeFi.)
posted by kewb at 4:24 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


How are Femen taking away women's agency? They don't have any physical power over them.

I didn't see anywhere in this comic where the writer said "I am drawing an exact equivalency between oppressive state regimes and the actions of specific Western protesters and my whole argument hinges on this." I don't think it's even implied.

If you're involved in feminism, FEMEN is a big deal because they get a lot of media attention*. The writer is involved with feminism. She's commenting on a situation within feminism. It would be as if I wrote a comic denouncing US imperialism and then wrote a comic denouncing some specific thing within anarchism, and everyone was all like "oh but why are you saying that internal anarchist politics are as bad as imperialism that is so wrong!" It doesn't have to be about how FEMEN literally has the power of a state themselves as individuals, it can just be about how FEMEN makes things harder for Muslim women under the guise of feminism. (Obviously FEMEN provides some cover for imperialism performed under the rubric of "saving women", but that's not what the comic is about, it's about the direct actions of the members of FEMEN.)

*mostly because they're pretty young women who go topless and can thus be fetishized while we all pretend that's not what's happening. I mean, picture a FEMEN made up of old topless women on whom time and gravity had take their toll - those women could advocate for whatever they liked as much as they wanted, and it wouldn't be media drooling over them, it would be mockery followed by silence. FEMEN is mostly advocating for young hot white women to get lots of media attention - if that weren't what they were interested in, they would not center themselves so much.
posted by Frowner at 9:18 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


And when Femen specifically say they are protesting female genital mutilation, are they taking away the agency of those children* as well? Where does Qahera stand on this issue?

*FGM is typically done between the ages of 7 and 10, but can happen anywhere from infancy to age 15.

mostly because they're pretty young women who go topless and can thus be fetishized while we all pretend that's not what's happening. I mean, picture a FEMEN made up of old topless women on whom time and gravity had take their toll - those women could advocate for whatever they liked as much as they wanted, and it wouldn't be media drooling over them, it would be mockery followed by silence. FEMEN is mostly advocating for young hot white women to get lots of media attention - if that weren't what they were interested in, they would not center themselves so much.

Wow. I have totally the opposite read. To me, they're turning leering back on itself and using it as a messaging tool. It's kind of like "this is what you want, while pretending you don't, right? So look, but guess what, we're not going to follow the script and play it coy and shy and vulnerable and sexy -- you're going to have to listen as well." The burden of modesty is placed on women and they get the blame for being objectified. I'm pretty impressed with what they're doing, it's disruptive and does a great job of outing the people who are the problem -- you can spot them because they're the ones who get the most angry.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:57 AM on November 11, 2013


And when Femen specifically say they are protesting female genital mutilation, are they taking away the agency of those children* as well?

Are you seriously suggesting that painful and irreversible mutilation of non-consenting minors' genitals is in any way equivalent to adults choosing to wear scarves?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:41 AM on November 11, 2013


No, of course not. Quite the reverse. I was using it as an example of Femen's protest being a defense of the defenseless or at least poorly defended. Yes, of course a consenting adult has the right to dress as they choose (or in Femen's case, not to). But cultural objectification of women and measures taken "for their own protection" has a lot of facets to it, and Femen, from what I can see, are going after all of them.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:46 AM on November 11, 2013


It's interesting also that in one of the comics, Qahera says she will testify with the woman who was molested. Which introduces the interesting topic of the legal status of the testimony of women in Islam. (Forgive the Wikipedia link, but it's relatively compact and at least indicates the lack of clarity and consistency in the issue.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:56 AM on November 11, 2013


Wow. I have totally the opposite read. To me, they're turning leering back on itself and using it as a messaging tool. It's kind of like "this is what you want, while pretending you don't, right? So look, but guess what, we're not going to follow the script and play it coy and shy and vulnerable and sexy -- you're going to have to listen as well." The burden of modesty is placed on women and they get the blame for being objectified. I'm pretty impressed with what they're doing, it's disruptive and does a great job of outing the people who are the problem -- you can spot them because they're the ones who get the most angry.

I don't know your gender identity, George, but I will say that as someone who grew up socialized female, I am quite, quite used to being dismissed in political situations because I am not photogenic or straight-appearing. There's a pretty strong discourse already about women in public - while young thin white pretty women are certainly marginalized over their looks, they are far more visible because of their beauty than other women and have access to far more media attention. When I see young, white, straight-appearing, thin, pretty women getting lots of media attention about feminism through leveraging their looks, I am reminded that when I talk about gender stuff, I am routinely dismissed because as a person who is not of sexual interest to straight dudes, I must be deluded/jealous/bitchy or just plain boring. There's already a narrative that's basically "you must be this fuckable to be a legitimate political speaker" (consider Kathleen Hanna or Laurie Penny, neither of whom would have attained their current prominence - despite their talents! - if not for their looks and willingness to leverage them). And of course, women who are young/white/thin/pretty/straight-appearing have a totally different time in the world than women who are not, and when they are the only voices for feminism, feminism fails to address the existence of....well...the vast majority of living women. I think that when young white thin straight-appearing pretty women basically make a big deal about how sexy they are, it just reinscribes the discourse that says that women can be visible political actors, provided that they provide a fantasy fuck.
posted by Frowner at 11:19 AM on November 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I add that when members of FEMEN are speaking about their personal experience as women oppressed because of how their youth and good looks are treated, that's much more legit - if the way they want to do that is to go topless, sure, fine. But if they're talking about women in general and claiming that their bodies have some foundational relevance - that being naked thin white pretty young women has some universal meaning - that actually works against my interests, and against the interests of a great variety of women.

If we're talking about the way women are abused for their beauty, beautiful women are natural speakers. If we're talking about other experiences, a group that is uniformly young, white, thin, straight-appearing and pretty should step back a little (work as members of other groups, for instance, or use your media attraction powers to direct media towards other speakers and other groups who themselves are speaking, not just being described as oppressed) even if it can leverage lots of media.
posted by Frowner at 11:28 AM on November 11, 2013


Frowner, I appreciate your perspective, and I claim no special knowledge or insight into this. To the extent that I do understand it I agree with you on all the facts... where we differ is in the interpretation of what it means here. I see what Femen are doing as taking the stupid prurient power of the stereotyped sexy-normative female body type and turning it around. Of course it's an attention-grabber, that's kind of the point.

I agree with commenters above that they're missing the mark when they specifically disparage women who choose freely to wear the hijab -- they might think these women are enabling and legitimizing a practice that has its origins, past and present, in female oppression; but they'd do better to pick their battles and not alienate potential allies. There are other fish to fry.

But the courage it takes to go nude in the kinds of places they do it, and have their teeth punched out, be thrown in unfurnished cement jail cells, etc. to me doesn't seem like exhibitionism of the kind you kind you seemed to imply in the comment I responded to; it seemed like its opposite, a fearless confrontation, a deliberate engagement with the very vulnerability that is exploited as a pretext for oppression, to make a point.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:34 AM on November 11, 2013


I agree with commenters above that they're missing the mark when they specifically disparage women who choose freely to wear the hijab -- they might think these women are enabling and legitimizing a practice that has its origins, past and present, in female oppression...

To a certain extent, that's how I feel about Femen. Having read the interview with Inna Shevchenko, I can see how Femen's tactics can be appropriate and powerful within the Ukrainian context. But I think the rhetorical power of scowling, bare-breasted, thin, young, white women is limited in cultures where such images are everywhere.

And I think it is deeply problematic to attempt to redeploy those tactics to fight other women's oppression, when they haven't invited you to, when you don't understand them, and when your tactics may very well be insulting and counter-productive for the women you are trying to help.
posted by misfish at 5:13 PM on November 11, 2013


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