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Monday, September 24, 2012

What's in a profession?

The declaration of the one who professes is a performative declaration in some way. It pledges like an act of sworn faith, an oath, a testimony, a manifestation, an attestation, or a promise, a commitment. To profess is to make a pledge while committing one’s responsibility. “To make profession of” is to declare out loud what one is, what one believes, what one wants to be, while asking another to take one’s word and believe this declaration. -- Jacques Derrida

Had a discussion on Facebook yesterday about the Ukrainian-based feminist group Femen's topless protest tactics. The following is what I wrote and I'd like to relate it to Derrida's suggestions about a profession of faith (which inspired the paper I wrote):

There is a complex issue of how their tactics risk feeding the exploitative capitalist machine, which amongst other things, profits from the very idea that freedom is to be attained in the unfettered expression of the desiring-body. She writes on her naked body (see image in the link), 'I am free'. Free from what? Freedom only becomes meaningful in relation to what it releases. But leaving this issue aside, on the whole I'm not dismissing the counter-strategic use of the female body and tropes of raunch culture as a mode of political engagement. In fact, the activities of queer communities exemplify this very well: it can be a very powerful mode of political resistance. Having no knowledge of the specific circumstances in Ukraine—but based on what little we hear in the press—it may indeed be the case that Femen's approach has some merit in that context. But this is also precisely what gets my goat: that they portray their understanding and practice in a 'globalising' manner. This, then, has imperialising/colonising/subjugating effects of silencing other women, reproducing certain hierarchical relations whilst professing to be speaking for 'us' women—such as for instance, the totally ethnocentric and hubristic slogan 'Better naked than the burqa'. This is what the Femen spokesperson says:

"Believe me, it is really difficult for me to take my clothes off and stand in a public place. But this is the fight, and the fight is never easy."

OK. This is a profession, a pledge committing one's responsibility, a promise. But I'm curious: If there were means to actually allow their voices to be heard, and if people would be willing to lend a sympathetic ear rather than shoot off their moralising mouths, I wonder how many women in France, who despite the burqa ban, might say the same?

"Believe me, it is really difficult for me to KEEP MY CLOTHES ON and stand in a public place. But this is the fight, and the fight is never easy."

And why shouldn't they given the injustice of the legislation, not to mention the actual threat of violence it has prompted? Or if we could also somehow listen to the women of the diverse Muslim cultures of the world, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere (I stress this because there is often a conflation between 'Islam' and certain Arab cultures), I wonder how many might say:

"Believe me, it is really not an issue for me to cover myself (fully or partially) and stand in a public place. The fight you are fighting is not the battle of my choosing."

This is, of course, not a denial of the very real suffering that could be facing some women in some cultures, but merely a point about how willing we are to listen and recoil back on our own beliefs and outlooks—how willing are we to listen to what others profess and enter into relations of good faith with those who appear so strange and foreign?

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