Why don’t feminists fight for the freedom of Muslim women?

Guest Post

I have had to think about this for a few days and, again, this is a personal view as I cannot answer for other women.

When I was at high school I started my own fight against the patriarchy in a very low-key way, but it was the only way I knew how.  I refused to stand and sing hymns in assembly that reflected colonialism, war or male dominance.  Not that anyone noticed, but somehow I knew in my heart that if I repeated the mantras inherent in those hymns I might start believing it.  Therefore, I never said it. It was quite astonishing how many good Presbyterian hymns there were that promoted one or another of those belief systems!

Over the following years I made my feminist protests in a similar low-key manner.  I was too embarrassed by publicity to make my feelings to known publicly.  I worked behind the scenes to make change, and if others wanted to take the credit that was fine by me.  As long as change happened it didn’t matter who wanted the publicity.

I also made a point of ignoring being ignored by men.  I remember one occasion at a launch of our new branch office (of financial planners) my guests, mostly women, were worth very much more than the male clients invited by my male colleague.  Furthermore, I was wearing a vivid green dress and was highly visible, but none of the “money boys” talked to me or my clients at all. They only talked to each other and other men.  So, I developed my own network and power base that was much more valuable than those who ignored me. 

The point of these stories is that I was fighting a system and people I knew and understood.  I knew how our society worked, and how to get round, over or under it, to make what needed to happen, happen.  I knew the people; I went to school with them or their cousins or their friends.  I knew their weak points so I could make changes without threatening them into retaliation.  Even in the benign New Zealand environment we could lose if we had open rebellion.  And, in fact, even my low-key approach did create retaliation.  When I was working to improve conditions for women in my rural community in the 1980s, and committed the sin of having a friend who was labelled a witch, I too was called a witch and had the shop window of my garden centre smashed, was threatened with anonymous letters, and some businesses refused to handle my marketing material.  The vicar came around and told me to leave town.  It was scary stuff. I left town.

So where would I start with a totally alien culture?  I have no idea how they think’ what influences them or what their weak points are.  And furthermore, I don’t want to be dead.  I would have no influence then would I?

To change a system you need to know and understand the system itself.

But I am always delighted to help and support women of any colour, creed or age so they can contribute fully and with joy in their world.  But I cannot fight their battles – that has to come from them.  We can teach them skills quietly so that they can work their own magic on society.


– Frances Denz MNZM

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