I want to start by saying that I didn’t hate Intact by Clare Chambers, in fact I was enjoying it up until the Afghanistan chapter. The synopsis reads “In this mind-expanding book, Cambridge philosopher Clare Chambers argues that the unmodified body is a key political principle. While defending our right to change our bodies, she argues that the social pressures to modify undermine equality” All of which I completely agree with and was the initial reason why I picked up this book. There are some interesting points about the modified body, including a conversation about body builders which I found fascinating. And then we get to Afghanistan and the regular tropes used by white feminists about oppression and autonomy raise their ugly head. In her book, Clare writes the only opportunity girls have to flourish is to dress like a boy and essentially become boys until their physical bodies can no longer continue the deceit. Then it is back to no education, no rights, no freedoms. While I appreciate all of this, I don’t think you can take away the politics of occupation and war whilst trying to have a nuanced and honest conversation about the women of Afghanistan, and this was desperately lacking.
We can all agree that Afghanistan is a deeply troubled country. I just don’t feel white people can talk about it without also mentioning the long-term consequences of colonialism and imperialism. The British especially can’t, or shouldn’t, condemn the lives of Afghani women without considering the role they have played in the countries current political situation. Conflicts aren’t borne in vacuums; in fact they usually lay in British Imperialism. From the Anglo-Afghan wars (1839–42; 1878–80; and 1919 to The Soviet–Afghan War (1979–1989) and the so-called ‘war on terror’ (2001 -2021) white people have been trying to control the people, the land and the economic and political situation in Afghanistan. The Mujahideen in Afghanistan, were originally set up and funded by western powers (America and Britain, amongst others) to keep the soviets out. Osama Bin Ladin, an ARAB, was a tool of the west, placed in Afghanistan until he lost favour (just like Saddam Hussain, Bashar al-Assad and many other world leaders). All this history is overlooked when white feminists want to talk about women’s rights to education, to employment, to freedom which seems, at best, disingenuous.
If you care about the lives of Afghani women, pray tell, what of the lives of the Women just 3,026 kilometres west (I hope I have my geography correct). They also live under oppression, they have to go through checkpoints and have no freedom of movement, they have little clean water, little access to education or work. Their homes, schools and hospitals are regularly bombed by the occupying forces (also placed in power by the British, quelle surprise). The conditions they live in have been described by Amnesty International as ‘a cruel system of domination and a crime against humanity’ but there is never any mention of Israel’s Apartheid policies or the suffering of Palestinian women. Why? Because their occupiers, their oppressors are white?
White feminists have never stood up for all women. The movement in its conception was only for the rich. It was never about all women. It still continues to ignore the fact that Muslim women, in their millions in the West and all over the world CHOOSE to wear hijab, yet this is never celebrated as our choice and our autonomy, yet when white women choose to shun makeup we are all expected to clap. When white women wear scarves on the catwalk its high fashion but when Muslim women wear it in Europe, it is taken as an offence to western lifestyle! Like I’ve said before, women can choose to sunbathe naked on the beaches of France, yet they can’t wear a hijab or burkini. Tell me that’s not patriarchy. Yet where are the white feminists calling this shit out???
If you care about Afghani women where is the action behind your words? Why not start a campaign of reparations from the British Government, they have lived under the fear and threat of an occupying army in their country for the past 20 years, only to be abandoned, at what some would argue, the worst possible time. Don’t use woman of colour to further your cause, to make points in your arguments, to sell your books if you don’t truly care about the plight of women around the world. I’m afraid many white feminists do not understand the nature of intersectionality because it is of no interest to them. Just like at its inception in the UK, it is only about the needs of a few and the rest of us must make do with what they think is best.
Look I’m not mad about this book I don’t think it’s the worst thing ever written, what I don’t appreciate is when people pick and choose the suffering of others in a way that only suits their agenda. I think it’s both dishonest and lazy to use examples like Afghanistan, especially if you refuse to acknowledge the role western powers have played in that country and if you are not proactively doing something to help those women. Gaza was bombed two weeks ago. It is the world’s largest open air prison and has been for decades. Why is it that that never gets mentioned in books and newspapers? Why don’t we see social media posts about the women still living in an Apartheid state by any of these white feminist writers? Do they really care about the plight of all women or is it convenient to use the example of Afghanistan, which unfortunately conjures up very particular kinds of imagery in the minds if those of us living in the west after two decade of war there. The same books that talk about the higher death rates of women of colour compared to their white counterparts during labour are silent about what is happening to the women of Palestine or Kashmir because that’s too political or “complicated”. You are either on the side of the oppressed or you’re not. The British are complicit in the oppression of Afghan women just like they are complicit in the constant oppression and colonisation of Palestine and Kashmir. If you really care about women and women’s rights you cannot ignore what’s happening in Palestine you cannot talk about Afghanistan and not talk about Kashmir you cannot cherry-pick the causes of women that suit you. Just today (18 August) Israel broke into and shut down the offices of 6 Palestinian Human Rights organisations. So where is your outrage?
Today, with all the horrors the world has experienced from America dropping a nuclear bomb, to the invasion of Iraq, the sexual abuse of prisoners, Guantanamo Bay where prisoners were again abused and kept without charge, some for decades (with every possible violation of human rights) extraordinary rendition, chemical bombs in Syria, genocide in Rwanda, Apartheid in South Africa, slavery… How is it that some white feminists manage to overlook all of these global atrocities and the havoc wreaked on the lives of women of colour all over the world. Yet you want us to forget all this history because you’ve recently learnt about black women’s hair and now you feel qualified to talk about it? What about our lives? Many white feminists still champion Churchill, which really isn’t a great surprise given how many white women have been public supporters of both Trump in America and Boris in the UK. Where is the mention of this and the lack of allyship in most books by so called white feminists. I don’t want to burn my bra or grow armpit hair, I want to heal from the generations of trauma you have caused me and continue to cause me and my people.
I didn’t get to the end of Clare Chambers book Intact but I wonder in her argument about the unmodified body and its principles of equality, does she mention Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab does she mention the fact that we are being ostracised and alienated throughout Europe. Does she talk about the impact that western colonialism and Western beauty standards have on us and the hypocrisy of banning hijab and niqab while pretending to champion choice and freedoms. Muslim women, who are white, black and brown and from all over the world choose to wear hijab, burka, niqab and yet the only mention we get in books like this are “women in Afghanistan” which feels like a veiled attempt (forgive the pun) at painting a very specific picture of Muslim women and I’m not here for that.
*Did not finish