Western Feminism and Playing it Safe

October 20, 2011

Screening of Girls in the Muslim World at the Aqaba campus of the prestigious University of Jordan. Faculty debate and discussion on feminism, women’s rights, culture, and religion followed.

We were quite surprised at the turn out for our screening of Girls in the Muslim World at the Aqaba campus of the prestigious University of Jordan. It was a small group of veiled young women that chose to hardly respond to any of the films in the program. I say this because it is in sharp contrast to the audience we had at the Amman campus of the University. In Amman, we had a diverse crowd that were all enrolled in a women’s studies class and couldn’t wait to get a word in about the films. Instead, what we found at the Aqaba campus were the faculty engaging with us for the entire time. One professor told us that, instead of feminism, we should use women’s rights. Feminism is associated with Western feminist ideals, man-haters and anti-family values. It seemed safer and more accurate to him if we used women’s rights.

We went on to explain that although we understand how the term feminism came to take on negative connotations, the spirit of the movement is really about choice. Whether a woman wants to be a housewife or corporate CEO should really be up to her and not society. Another female professor asked why we chose the word “Muslim” in our Festival title and if we meant to make a commentary on Islam through our collection of films. She felt that the West is too focused on Islam as it pertains to women while Muslim women find their religion to be one that affords many freedoms and rights to women. The conversations lead to a discussion largely comparing the culture and religion of the East with that of the West. Initially it seemed were going to face much resistance from the audience, and in fact there was some, but in the end we were thanked repeatedly by these same professors and asked to return with the second installment of the Festival.

Suzie Abdou
Director of Global Programs

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