DJENNE — All women, including Muslim women, have the right to choose. This statement appears to be so straightforward that it would go uncontested in the minds of most feminists. But for some reason, perhaps racism, the extent to which we defend some women’s right to choose is not equivalent to the rights that we extend to others for their choices.

For example, women have a right to education, but what if a woman chooses not to go to school despite her obvious smarts? Is she condemned for making a bad choice? What if she chooses to stay at home and raise her children, while her husband goes to work? Certainly she will be looked down upon by the many professional women who think they have made the better choice.

Some women choose to have children at an early age. Often their choices are frowned upon in some societies. Members of the opposition turn up their noses and call these women teenage mothers and their situations, teenage pregnancies.

Some women choose to have children without being married or without a stable partner. These women, too, are judged. Their children are called out-of-wedlock births, as if that makes them any less of a child, as if their process of this birth is any different from the millions of other children who are born each year, as if out-of-wedlock births are not vaginal or cesarean but through some other out-of-world experience.

Recently in France, women were banned from wearing Burkinis, full body swim suits that cover their legs and head, on public beaches.

Muslim women Burkini France
French police force a Muslim woman to undress at a public beach.

But that does not mean women’s right to choose is not violated in other ways by those who most vocally preach this doctrine of choice.

Muslim women made a choice to attend public beaches wearing Burkinis, and their choice was revoked by the French government. The women faced harassment. In front of other beach goers, French policemen stood over helpless Muslim women and ordered them to undress.

Unfortunately it’s unsurprising to witness yet another incident of white men policing black and brown women’s bodies. Unfortunately it’s almost expected. The surprising part of it all (but perhaps equally unsurprising to some) was that French women stood aside, allowing the harassment to continue while they lounged in beach chairs and enjoyed their cocktails and tans.

In moments like these, I cringed when people claim that We are all Feminists. So often feminism does not protect against the policing of black and brown bodies.

The doctrine of women’s right to choose is supremely honored when white women are making those choices. But when who are not white like Muslim women want to stand for their own beliefs, white feminist hollerers are nowhere to be found, in the same way that white women never protest that black and white women should get equal pay for their work. The Muslim women suffer humiliation on their own; their feminist allies abandon them unless they stand something to gain from the cause.

Why should white, non-Muslim Frenchwomen and men decide what clothes a Muslim woman should wear, in the same way that white Americans suggest that hairstyles like locs and braids are inappropriate and unsuitable for children at school? Why is a woman’s right to choose only valid if it is not a black or brown women making the choice? Where were all the feminists then when these women and girls are being violated?

The upside of this incident, if there is one, is that enough people were disgusted by the choice that white Frenchmen and women attempted to make for Muslim women and contested vehemently.

Taking to the Internet, to social and alternative media, they pointed out the obvious contradictions: white feminists want to stop men in the Middle East from telling women how to dress but in the same breath do not stop white men in the west from doing the same. So basically it’s not politically correct for a brown man to dictate to these women but perfectly acceptable if the orders come from a white man?

Thanks to these vocal criticisms from Muslim women, the ban was promptly overturned.

This incident and others raise important issues that poke at the qualms of this modern idea of feminism, an idea that on the surface says women have a right to choose, but beneath it steer them to make choices that are supported by the ruling classes, by a global ideology of whiteness that penalizes women who do not conform.

Militarized societies have a way of speaking of freedoms while setting the bounds of what is free. If we are given a choice of beverage, but the store from which we are permitted to buy only carries beer or wine, is that much of a choice? What if we intend to choose sobriety? Is that an option?

Women have the right to choose, unless of course, those choices go against the predetermined options from which women should choose.

When we say that women have a right to choose, we should defend all women’s choices, especially those who are most vulnerable, keeping in mind that the right choices are rarely the same across different global communities.

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Amara Jali
I am Amara. I come from a long line of griots (jalis). My grandfather was central in my upbringing. He comes from a tradition of oral history immersed in the vast expanse of time and the pageantry of customs and rituals. But, I have come to learn the reality of the ways of the griot in the 21st Century. I became a Scribe at Grandmother Africa for exactly this reason - to keep a tradition going, in a different medium.

8 COMMENTS

  1. One might at first glance consider that the intelligence which converts the brother of the wolf into the faithful guardian of the flock ought to be able to curb the instincts of the savagery of so-called civilized man. But no. No matter how far they seem to have come, trudging along the beaten path to elucidation, they still look thoroughly ill-equipped with the smarts to understand their own constitution and the degree to which their laws are projected outside. If you believe in true liberty, then believe in it. If you don’t, then spare us the hypocrisy that you do.

    Why force a woman to strip before you? Why humiliate a woman in public? Why threaten a woman? Why would French police force a Muslim woman to undress at a public beach? Whatever the reason, the backwardness of thought, the hysteron proteron, and the unsavory ineptitude of French police and lawmakers remain outstanding. Amara Jali’s vivid essay brings her proverbial clarity to our deliberations involving women’s rights, Muslim women’s rights, civil rights, and ultimately human rights as we indulge in the affairs of civilized women stuck in the midst of an anencephalous world.

  2. Eish Akosua M. Abeka! Well, let me help, since I myself, I had to look it up as well. “An Anencephalous world,” is world without brains. As always, Amara Jali makes the likes of Kwame E. Bidi duly uncomfortable. That’s a joke! Lol.

  3. Very true!

    “Taking to the Internet, to social and alternative media, they pointed out the obvious contradictions: white feminists want to stop men in the Middle East from telling women how to dress but in the same breath do not stop white men in the west from doing the same”

  4. Amara Jali speaks for all of us on the stinking hypocrisy of White Femininism! This disgusting hypocrisy is not only to be found in White Feminism but permeates all aspects of life of those who overtly or covertly champion the Global Apartheid Racism of White Supremacy! As an avowed Socialist, I routinely experience not only in Europe but also in Afrika, including my own birthplace Ghana, the myopia of Eurocentrism, fostered by the arrogance of White Supremacist Racism, from those whose lack of proper Knowledge and the Coloniality of Miseducation poisoning their minds make them to stupidly deny the sometimes similar but mostly different trajectories of historical experiences that shape the harmonious relationship between the Black and White Radical Traditions informing Scientific Socialism in its Pan-Afrikan revolutionary perspective of the mainly Indigenous Afrikan Knowledge-grown Nkrumaism that some of us uphold. That is why I am sharing this relevant excellent expose of Amara Jali on the hypocrisy of White Feminism on the Facebook Page of Momentum Black ConneXions (MBC), the independent Black Power formation within the Jeremy Corbyn Support Campaign in the United Kingdom to which I belong. It should help in exposing and combatting what is more and more appearing to be a sinisterly well orchestrated perverted Zionist conspiracy of Global Apartheid Racism that is now terrorising our MBC Acting General Secretary, Marlene Ellis, one of the most promising rising female stars of Radical Black Power Activism in mainstream Politics in the United Kingdom, who is being relentlessly hounded by White Supremacy racists, including so-called White feminists, out of not only the British Labour Party but also the White-dominated Momentum!

  5. Excellent article M. Jali.

    Two questions:

    If all women have a right to choose (and it seems from your article that they do):

    1. Where do those rights come from*?

    And

    2. How do you personally reconcile your rights determinism with the the paradox of freedom**?

    ———————–

    * it seems to me that any argument that appeals to the rule of law conventionalises the problem which of course yields the following result: men and women only have those rights that their society permits.

    ** Assume for instance that without harm to anyone they did not go to the beach in burkini but stark naked, blood dripping between their thighs to cool off.

    I thank you in advance.

  6. I have waited to see if Amara Jali would get on FB and reply for herself. Agaliba: I have relayed you questions to her. But allow me to attempt a quick answer.

    1. Human Rights come from being Human, which is determined by a set of biological characteristics. That a living thing is human, that is Homo sapiens sapiens, is not debatable. Now, instead of saying “if all women have a right to choose,” I would rather prefer the statement: If all human beings have a right to choose. In which case where these rights “emerge” is a consequence of being a part of the Human Family.

    In the case of France, for example, since this is the case in point, Human Rights are accorded to Catholic Nuns who use the beach but not to Muslim Women who dress much in the same way as Nuns. This is a French Contradiction. It’s hypocrisy. It’s unfair. And above all, it’s illegal. It’s illegal to discriminate. What French lawmakers and the police did was sheer discrimination. Dicrimination is antithetical to the concepts of rights (human or any other). That is, if Catholic Nuns can enjoy a good time on a beach, why can’t Muslim Women, who are all by the way, French, enjoy the same?

    2. Freedom, if you mean, Free Will, is compatible with determinism. Now I am not necessarily saying that Amara is a compatibilist. What I am saying though is that the seeming contradiction between Free Will and Determinism is a false dilemma. Of course, this is a much bigger debate.

  7. I will respond to your 2 first:

    By freedom I mean “Choice”. But it is interesting that you speak of free will. It is one of the few topics about which I am profoundly conflicted.

    Let me give a simple illustration: if all humans have free will then it follows – logically and metaphysically – that they have no choice in the matter. This is obviously a logical paradox. The damned thing bugs me!!

    Now, to your 1. Your view is of course shared by most so-called natural rights advocates. But it is disputable, I think. However it is so morally appealing that I will not dispute it.

  8. This is the same deal with sagging pants or backwards caps. In the west, there is no truth. Whatever someone else is doing, make it illegal or immoral and when you’re children start doing it (like marijuana), discuss all the health and lifestyle benefits it suddenly has.

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