Save us from the Taliban. But also from Judith Butler

Pakistani Bina Shah's splendid reply to the Californian philosopher who, in a controversial article in the Guardian, stated that 'the category of woman must be redefined' to include those who 'perceive themselves' as such. But Afghan women, says Shah, are oppressed precisely because of their actual female bodies. A harsh invective against Western neo-colonialism, that of gendering and transactivism, which is looming on the horizon.
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In a much discussed article published by Guardian, Judith Butler stated that 'the category of women needs to be rethought', as well as arguing that gender-critical feminism is allied to fascism. And here is Pakistani Bina Shah's reply.


Yesterday I wrote a tweet angry. 

Afghan woman: Save me from the Taliban

Judith Butler: We'll redefine womanhood, you'll be fine

That's how it was:

"I just need to know how Judith Butler's definition of a woman applies to Afghan women who are beaten in the streets by the Taliban. Have you ever considered that does your academy really not fit into the lives of women in the South?".

I posted the above tweet after reading about the now infamous interview with the Guardian in which Butler stated that TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) allied themselves with the right wing and fascists. I don't identify myself as TERF, or much else (cis? this also seems like an imposition to me.) because this debate on trans rights and gender identity seems so far removed from the reality that I and millions of women in the South Asian and Central Asian region experience. I certainly do not align myself with right-wingers and fascists in my thinking, which is different and much more independent of the thinking that people have to adapt to than in academia to adapt to the new gender rules and laws.

But Judith Butler's statement that "we have to rethink the category of women'. gave me a boost. My thinking stems from many reflections that I have made on the gender identity theory adopted in Western countries. This happens at the same time as I saw Afghan women being beaten by the Taliban while protesting for their rights, for security and inclusion in the government, and for the freedom to work and study.

I was asked to clarify my statement because it seemed vague or perhaps unclear to people for whom gender identity theory is much more familiar and palatable. It is good to be challenged because it forces you to think harder about what you really believe.

In Afghanistan (extreme example) but also in Pakistan, where I live, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Middle Eastern countries, North Africa, women (or people with female bodies) are abused, harassed, assaulted and killed not just because they have female bodies, but because they refuse to hand over those bodies to men to do with as they please.

Since this domination of female bodies is absolutely linked to female biology and the production of children and sexual comfort for those men, separating sex from gender completely negates this form of oppression which is hugely insulting to all of us who are still fighting to put an end to the discrimination based on sex in our countries. 

At the same time, one thing that is particularly powerful for women is the fact that their bodies are capable of producing life. This is something so innate in the identity and sense of self of women in Muslim/Southern countries. of the world/non-whites who insist that it is something that does not belong to them is actually a form of mental and emotional violenceA double trauma produced on them by those western feminists who wish to impose their ideas on gender and sex on us who have a very different idea and experience of these issues. 

Salvateci dai talebani. Ma anche da Judith Butler
Nadia Ghulam Dastgir, an Afghan woman who spent 10 years pretending her brother died to escape Taliban oppression

Imagine a Muslim woman in the UK who has to escape a violent marriage and the threat of honour killing. It goes to a refuge where she feels safe because it is a women-only space. Not only because it is far from the realm of male violence, but because as a Muslim woman she would not feel comfortable sharing intimate spaces with a person with a male body. This allows her to reconcile her dire situation and her need to feel she is acting in congruence with her identity and principles of modesty as a Muslim woman.

But if a trans woman with a penis is in the same space, then the Muslim woman will be in a terrible conflict about leaving her home. Suddenly she will not be able to take off her hijab or undress because she cannot do those things in front of a person with a male body who is not a family member. This is not a hypothetical, there are Muslim, Sikh and Hindu women who are now excluded from the female sex spaces because the definition of woman has changed to include women with penises. Calling that Muslim woman TERF because she expresses discomfort is yet another abuse of her. 

All this to say that we still have to negotiate security and freedom for women with female bodies and we cannot ignore or bypass minority women in the West or women in my part of the world who are outside these negotiations. Afghan girls and women have had to disguise themselves as boys and men in order to leave their homes, earn a living or carry out vital work under Taliban rule. This would be 'doing gender' as Judith Butler calls it, or a survival strategy that Afghan women have adopted in order to live?

I am afraid that trans rights activists are behaving like new Western colonisers and imperialists, imposing their ideas of gender and sexuality on us in the same way their empire has been imposed on us for much of the 20th century. I really don't want gender colonialism in the 21st century.

Thank you for coming to my TERF Talk.

Bina Shah

original article heretranslated by Marina Terragni


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