Freedom from the Forbidden

All things gender and Islam. No bigotry is allowed in this feminist territory. #DeathToPatriarchy

why the “aunties” article is dishonest and terrible writing – or, why men shouldn’t pit younger women against older women

I was just telling Nahida (The Fatal Feminist) that there needs to be a word for when patriarchy pits younger women against older women to make a statement about, oh I don’t know, how younger women supposedly think they know better than older women and nonsense like that. This is a special kind of misogyny. And what makes it even more distinctive is that it’s men who do it, men causing and promoting a divide between generations of women. Which is what this ridiculous article I had the misfortune to come across does. (I decided recently to be more compassionate when I’m critiquing something, especially something academic, but then when it’s men writing about women who write/talk about women, or men being patriarchal and dismissive and horrible researchers, that doesn’t deserve my compassion.)

You see, when men write about “aunties,” taking young women’s experiences with the older generation of Desi women apparently now called “aunties,” what you get is a very special kind of patriarchy. While doing this, while trying to redeem and save the aunty from her daughters and granddaughters and other young women of her community, the male writer of color does precisely what he criticizes white men for doing: serving and presenting themselves as saviors of women. Uh, listen, men, we don’t need you to save us or our mothers and aunties and grandmothers. We got this. But also … it’s not just any kind of aunty they want to save: it has to be the one in their imagination, who apparently cannot save, protect, defend herself. The ideal type of aunty who need saving by men like the author of this article don’t include feminist aunties, for example. Which is another reason the article is so ironic: in an effort to claim that we younger desi women caricature the Aunty, the author himself caricatures her by pretending like there’s only one type of aunty. How sad that he has no idea what he’s talking about, that he has no access to the aunties we have access to he’s missing out – and failing at his research.

Okay, so the last couple of days, I kept seeing this article going around on my Facebook timeline (find it on your own – I’m not linking to it here) and people sharing it would paste excerpts from it that  suggested the article was going to be a waste of my time so I didn’t plan to read it. But then someone pointed out to me that it deals with Muslim feminists and the ways it misrepresents Muslim feminists’ critiques of “the Islamic tradition” and our communities… especially individual community members whom the article calls “aunties.” The article does what Nahida brilliantly describes as

Needing so desperately to deliver a point as to invent scenarios demonstrates a weakness in the argument, and it’s bad writing. But that was already clear in its investigation of caricatures by reducing younger women to caricatures.

He caricatures younger Desi women in a dishonest effort to show that we caricature older Desi women. This is why there needs to be a special world for the misogyny of pitting women of different generations against each other.  There’s a special kind of hate against younger women. Older women get some respect at some point in their lives as they age – but the younger ones? Yeah, the hate against us only worsens as our mothers and grandmothers grow older.

Nahida also says – and actually you should just read her whole response here – that:

This is all greatly amusing to me, but for those of you who appear distressed, I assure you it is only expected for men to mischaracterize young women in order to preserve the integrity of tradition under a guise of credibility.

patriarchyAbout the article now … A dude wrote this article about aunties, citing only women’s experiences with aunties and never a woman’s experience with “uncles” (we have those too! PLENTY of them!), without understanding what it’s like to be a Muslim/Desi woman in a, say, Desi gathering where aunties do the work of patriarchy that we call out publicly (but we talk about the aunties more than about the uncles because most of us tend to have access only to the aunties)… and he totally takes out of context Nahida’s experiences with aunties’ patriarchal behavior towards her in mosques. He clearly has never, ever, ever read her blog or mine (he cites us) because if he did, he’d know that we do in fact actually have conversations with these aunties. But, na, he could only take out the moments where we don’t discuss our interactions in details because his argument is that we’re using the Aunty as a tool through which we disparage what we apparently understand as “backward tradition.” And this dude manages to do this without ever recognizing or pointing out the role that “uncles” play in reinforcing patriarchal behavior that “aunties” end up doing FOR them because – doesn’t everyone know by now – women are always, always doing the work of patriarchy and they sometimes do it better than men?

Yeah, this is why men don’t need to be writing about women. Especially don’t be writing about women who write about women.

Also, ever since Nahida pointed out to me that the dude cites only women, I cannot stop fixating on that and how serious that is. What does he think he’s doing? Does he not realize what his choice not to talk about uncles or men’s experiences with aunties or uncles means? And … this is a DUDE invading women’s conversations, women’s spaces, women’s experiences, misrepresenting them and misunderstanding them. He needs to shut it. Do PhD candidates not know not to do this kinda stuff in today’s age anymore?

And then there’s, of course, Talal Asad … I literally lol’d @ his use of discursive tradition and the way we clearly, according to him, misunderstand tradition. He – I repeat – needs to shut it. I literally have a whole chapter in my dissertation on the idea of “tradition”; my blog is full of the idea of “tradition,” drawn also from Talal Asad but I was writing about it long before I discovered Asad’s brilliance. This man’s the last person to even pretend to understand what we’re talking about when we use the word tradition and when we talk about our experiences with patriarchal Islam and the ways it’s regulated and the ways we live it. He’s not a part of the spaces in which this happens, so he needs to really think hard about what he’s doing here.

He says, of Nahida’s article, that she renders these aunties “subjects who do not deserve honest engagement and TFF’s mother simply lies to them in order to elude their questions.” So, so much to unpack here that’s dishonest and wrong and presumptuous. 

I legit can’t get over how easily and readily he concludes that we don’t actually have these “honest engagements” with these aunties that he thinks we should be having – and as if we don’t have legit reasons for when we choose not to do so.

Yeah, no, bye dude.

If he read my blog, or Nahida’s or if he spoke to ANY of the women he’s citing, he’d know not only that we write about tradition already *and of our conversations with them* and that our whole feminism is premised on the *fact* that the Islamic tradition isn’t limited to its patriarchal manifestations and practices – that we, too, are doing tradition through our feminisms. Not to mention, he didn’t even read the whole article that he’s citing The Fatal Feminist.

If he’d read Nahida’s full article or her blog or mine – in other words, if he’d actually done his research – he’d know that Muslim feminists, Desi feminists, women of color, and women just more generally think more really hard about how to articulate and present their critiques of their communities, of members of our communities, of our traditions, of our practices. Nahida, for example, in her article didn’t give details of her discussion with the women she speaks up at the mosque, the way they behaved towards her, because 1) it wasn’t relevant to the point of the article, and 2) Nahida, like many other women and esp Muslim women, is very careful about where, when, and how she speaks about other women: she did not want those women to be criticized by others, by outsiders especially, by people who were not there. No matter how dismissive our community, women and men but especially women (the “aunties”) behave toward and with us, we spend so much time and energy thinking about how to articulate their treatment of us, how to talk about their treatment of us. Often, the main reason is that they go through so much racism and Islamophobia that, as we have been taught, racist oppressions come first, racism is so bad and terrible that poor Muslims/people of color aren’t to be criticized. (See here on why this idea is flawed – but we’ve internalized it, and old habits are hard to finish. Still, me, I’m not down with this whole treatment of women as collateral beneficiaries.) 

Besides, even if Nahida had shared her discussions on patriarchy and Islam with the women she mentions in her article, the writer would’ve then said, “these young women think they know better than these older women who’ve lived longer, who are more wise, and who have been Muslim longer! How dare she!” – but of course using academic and objective language because, you know, as an outsider, he’s objective and all. #sarcasm

In the same post, Nahida movingly shares her conversations with her mother. Her mother, while a mother to Nahida, is an aunty to me, to other young women in that community. Is it not curious that the writing of the aunties article conveniently glosses over the way Nahida speaks of her mother? Or is it that since that’s her mother, of course she wouldn’t speak of her the way she speaks of the other women of her community? Does the writer not see what it means that her mother supports her, that she goes to this mosque despite the patriarchy ALL women experience in their places of worship (this goes for everyone, all women of all religious and a-religious group, no matter where they are, and no the patriarchy doesn’t have to be as extreme as being kicked out of a mosque for wearing jeans or not covering your hair or praying in a terribly musty basement with no lights and no water where you can’t hear the prayer leader)? Does he lack the ability to interpret and analyze women’s action and choice to go through the trouble and burden of continuously entering spaces where they are unwanted, where they are literally hated? Homeboy needs to read up on #Unmosqued and also see Hind Makki’s blog Side Entrance.

Also, I absolutely have to add that this is a non-Muslim guy who’s writing about Muslim women’s spaces and conversations and regulating them – and claiming we don’t understand the Islamic tradition (!!) — and implicitly telling us how we should be engaging the older generation of our own gender? omg…there’s so many horrible levels to this article I can’t… Has he EVER gone into the women’s section of any mosque, for instance, given that he talks about Muslim women’s experiences with aunties in mosques? Has he ever interacted with an aunty? Does he know any women who’ve interacted with aunties? Does he even understand the communities he’s writing about? I’ve so many questions …

All this said … do I know, I’m just a young Muslim/Desi woman who thinks that these aunties are carriers of a backward tradition #sarcasm.

This, ladies and gentlemen and unicorns, is precisely why men shouldn’t be writing about women, especially if it is to mischaracterizing one group of women only in the hopes to show that the group he’s mischaracterizing is caricaturing another group of women. Like, no, leave our spaces and conversations and the way we have those conversations and the way we deal with our problems; you’re not welcome here.

Categories: Death to patriarchy

1 reply

  1. I have only scanned the article so I have to read it in more detail.

    A bit offtopic, but as a black female convert I have experienced a lot of passive agressive stuff from aunties. And it stings & hurts like hell.

    Yes, I have also met older, working class & rural (descended) Muslim woman who were genuinely kind, caring, loving and welcoming.

    In practice, I have experienced that educated, younger women can be racist, too (although less overtly) but in general, most of them are way more receptive then their mothers and aunts.


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