Amina Tyler’s naked activism

Amina Tyler
Amina Tyler

Here’s the story of Amina Tyler, a 19-year- young woman who has brewed a storm of controversy in Tunisia. Tyler around 10 days ago posted two photos of herself topless on Facebook. The first image showed Amina with the words “F*** your morals” written across her chest. The second has the words “My body belongs to me and is not the source of anyone’s honor” written in Arabic.

Apparently, she told a Tunisian newspaper that she posted these pictures to make the voice of Tunisian women heard and stand up against oppression.

Tyler became the founder of the feminist movement FEMEN in Tunisia in February. FEMEN is a well-known activist group popular, as some readers will know, for protesting against Putin and former playboy Prime Minister Berlusconi. Amina has officially carried this movement to the Middle East.

Women played a huge part in rallying alongside their fellow male citizens to bring down the dictators ruling their nations. The main political beneficiary of this change, as we are seeing, is the rise of Islamic movements. Many are now saying that as a result of this trend the rights of women are under threat.

Rumors circulated around the web that Amina disappeared and was placed in a mental institute. A lawyer representing Tyler’s family then denied these rumors. Amina is apparently safe and back at home.

Millions of women around the Arab World are all supporters (if not participants) of protests for gender equality, especially in a countries like Tunisia where technically speaking the government in the 1950s stipulated equality of sexes. Discrimination still exists obviously, and protests that denounce an article in the draft Tunisian constitution that describes women as being complementary to men are ongoing.

The question is though, should posing completely naked and posting the picture to the general public be the way to go about any gender-equality protest? Amina evidently has a lot to say and women will stand stand by the idea that she has, but most Arab women will not agree with her methods. If she is against objectifying women posing naked is definitely NOT the right way to convey that message. This is especially true in nations where Islamic movements are gaining traction. Such acts will only become fuel to their fire. Protests that will be productive are those that encourage a moderate Islam that supports gender equality.

There is much to be done in the realm of gender equality for the entire region, but are methods like those of Amina’s the way to go?

About @WomanUnveiled

@WomanUnveiled is a Middle Eastern gal that grew up in Jordan and has been able to explore the world from there. She has camped in Petra, touched the sky at Burj Khalifa, driven through the streets of Riyadh (shhh), and partied the night away at Sky Bar in Beirut. Her home, for now, is New York. The journey continues at womanunveiled.com.
Posted in Arab Spring, Middle East

{ 51 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Egbert says:

    She try the same, with the slogans written in American, anywhere in the southern states. The reaction would be interesting.

  2. K Renner says:

    Absolutely not. FEMEN is all about smearing all members of religious groups as backwards thinking and “misogynistic” and are more interested in desecrating religious symbols then actually acting seriously to get their point across.

    Amina Tyler looks like a belligerent teenage girl and this will only cause the religious hardline elements in Tunisia to act more belligerently themselves, not suddenly back down and concede.

    • seafoid says:

      I think FEMEN do a good job exposing the sexism that passes for entertainment in the West. They are smart and they know how the media works.
      Not sure about Tunisia though. Everyone in Tunisia gets shafted, not just the women.

    • sardelapasti says:

      K Renner – ‘FEMEN is all about smearing all members of religious groups as backwards thinking and “misogynistic” ‘

      But all members of religious groups are, by definition, backwards thinking and misogynistic. No quote marks needed. Your defense of religion needs a little more logic.

      “and are more interested in desecrating religious symbols then actually acting seriously to get their point across.”

      That desecrating religious symbols is the most urgent thing to do may well be their point. Not my first priority but certainly an opinion deserving respect, instead of the sanctimonious, in fact bigot-driven, bullshit papering the walls of this discussion.

      • K Renner says:

        Do you know what “misogynist” means? In the technical sense, not the “feminist idiot agitprop” sense.

        A misogynist is someone who hates women. All women.
        I fail to see systematic hatred of women in any society where religion plays a large role, so your claim that “all members” of religious groups are “backwards thinking and misogynistic” isn’t based on fact.

        Also, how is the desecration of religious symbols, especially those that commemorate victims of the “Red Terror” in Russia and Ukraine, evidence of an opinion that “deserves respect”? More like a public shaming. When FEMEN does things like that it’s an insult to the victims of demented Bolsheviks and anarchists who had no qualms about murdering millions of people.

        • sardelapasti says:

          K Renner – And I should take that on the say-so of religious, demented anticommunists and Nazi relics? This idiotic polarization has nothing to do with what is supposed to be our common topic here, i.e. support of Palestinian Resistance.

          Someone or other’s like or dislike for particular tendencies in our common fight against Zionism does not entitle you to disrupt the forum and start flame wars. Heck, we even have Zionists here, of all things.

          We already are experiencing sabotage by the Reinheitsgebot people who want to cleanse us of “Antisemitism” in order to fight Zionism.
          Others now want to make respect of religion, tsarism and other nonsense obligatory. Like you.

          I don’t, in this forum, defecate on your religion or other sacred cows as long as they are not relevant to Palestinian Resistance. In exchange, I warn you not to disrupt this forum with your provocations. If you are hellbent on getting a flame war, of course you’ll get it. Go to the appropriate discussion groups.

        • K Renner says:

          This article has nothing to do with Palestinian resistance of Zionist expansion, so what I’m posting- my dislike of “FEMEN” and the western “modern” feminist movement- is not going off topic or flaming.

          The rhinelanders are talking out of their asses when they “accuse” those who oppose Zionism of being “anti semitic”.

          However, it’s plain to see that FEMEN and the idiotic slutwalkers of the world have a special hatred for all Christianity and all Islam, and consider them to be evil oppressive monoliths. I’m not technically religious by any sense but I recognize the good things those religions have done and I think desecration of religious sites is disgusting- more so when those sites double as memorials.

          You should be aware of the years of Stalinist terror because it happened. It is indisputable that the Soviet Union was responsible for many different atrocities, from the Ukrainian Famine to the wanton slaughter of Afghan men, women, and children during their occupation.

  3. Why is posing topless (not ‘naked’) ‘objectifying women?’ And are all feminists governed by the pronouncements and slogans of the feminist past? Are they/we allowed differences of opinion and emphasis by the world media?

  4. marc b. says:

    this smells like western agitprop, just like the farcical ‘pussy riot’. i mean who else could come up with this sh*t except for some semiotics major from Harvard now working for one or another ‘pro-democracy’ NGO, who hopes someday to write for ‘everyone loves raymond’, and who can only conceive of ‘feminism’ as a woman’s right to take back the property that is her body. (naturally, there will be a commercial imperative for these women to sell their liberated bodies, or at least rent them.)

  5. joer says:

    This must be a surprise to neocons cum feminists-that there can be an indiginous feminist protest in a Moslem country without the assistance of an invasion, drone attacks, occupation, blockade, etc. from Western super powers.

  6. femen: ” Bare breasts against Islamism”
    link to huffingtonpost.co.uk

    islamophobes unite!

    • K Renner says:

      what they mean to say there is “bare your breasts against “evil intolerant islam” and we’ll conveniently forget that many Imans and other religious leaders argue over the different merits of head covering or even wearing coverings at all and if women choose to dress in a more modest fashion then they are obviously brainwashed.”

      Those idiots at FEMEN exemplify the problem of modern western feminist attitudes.

    • marc b. says:

      call me jaded, annie, but i don’t buy the hacked site bit. the whole thing seems contrived.

    • goldmarx says:

      Annie: Oh, dear! Do they make your skin crawl, also?

      Yoo do know they have also protested the Catholic Church, right?

    • clairvoyance says:

      Annie I think you’re being a little unfair. Amina, as a Tunisian woman, has a right to be more harsh and less nuanced in her arguments than we as white non-Muslim American women do. She is part of an indigenous women’s rights movement fighting what she (and she is not alone) perceives as religious/social oppression. And to be frank, when it comes to many Islamist parties’ recent platform suggestions about the role of women, she is 100% right. There’s nothing Islamophobic about that, unless one is making a claim about Islam itself, and even then it is different than if you or I were to talk about this.

      Now as solidarity activists, and as Westerners, it is our job to be especially critical of our media and of the narrative pushed on us about Islam, Arabs, and the Middle East. This is because of the great power disparity between the “West” and the “Rest” (and I use those terms cautiously, as constructs), because of the legacy of orientalism, because of the fact that people live and die by our attitudes toward them both in the US and in their home countries.

      When it comes to women living in these countries, dealing with the complex conflation of social, political, cultural, and religious factors that contribute to patriarchy, misogyny, and violence against women in ways that you and I cannot understand because we do not live it the way they do, they have a right to speak to their compatriots in a way that is not satisfying to you, because they are not a part of the power dynamic that constrains the way “outsiders” and “Western outsiders” at that can discuss Islam.

      It’s the same thing in any subaltern community. When black women address domestic violence in their communities their language might be considered racist by a white person who says the same thing. In my own experience in the queer community, some of the intra-communal conversations we have wherein we express a critical viewpoint is much harsher and judgmental than outside allies would put it. In the most basic sense, it’s the idea that I can call my sister fat but you can’t because you’re not in my family.

      Now I don’t claim to know anything about FEMEN outside what I have read in the mondoweiss article and the article you linked to. If Amina writes mostly in English (and I don’t know that she does), it makes this whole thing seem sort of spectacle-ish rather than aimed at raising consciousness among Arab women, but that’s another story. I guess all I’m trying to say is that Arab women have more of a right to criticize their surroundings than we do and shouldn’t feel the burden of contorted moral/religious positions. You and I have to go through those motions because it is a way of checking our privilege; intra-communal conversations have a completely different dynamic.

      • K Renner says:

        Ennahda hasn’t bothered to say anything about this petulant child. They’re Islamist.

        Also, taking your top off and writing silly petulant rhetoric over your boobs isn’t activism or protest and it doesn’t help anyone.

        In this case, the degenerates who are running around in front of mosques and Tunisian embassies with no clothes on are only adding fuel to the rhetoric-fire of the radical Salafis, who are the only ones to really worry about in North Africa after the Arab Spring.

        Also, bringing up unproven feminist rhetoric like “privilege” and “patriarchy” don’t really help what you’re trying to say.

  7. ToivoS says:

    These femen protests can so easily be used to provoke international tensions.

    Those Russian activists were grotesquely obscene. If those acts were performed in a church in say Dallas Texas no one in the US would be surprised to see them sentenced to 18 months in jail. However, in England and the US a chorus of complaints were launched against the Putin government for violations of freedom of speech. This whole episode was one of pure provocation and the anti-Russian forces inside the West exploited as much as they could.

    I see the Tyler gal playing the same role. Pure provocation designed to incite what we all know is a deeply conservative culture where some elements will be predictably respond. Then we will be deluged with anti-Muslim propaganda for a few weeks and if it hits the right chords, then maybe even another war in the ME.

  8. ToivoS says:

    Here is how the femen.org page, titled “Titslamism: free Amina! describes the struggle:

    Amina’s act of civil disobedience has brought down upon her the lethal hatred of islamists inhuman beasts for whom killing a woman is more natural than recognizing her right to do as she pleases with her own body. For them, we now see, the love of freedom is the most dangerous kind of psychiatric illness, one demanding radical forced treatment in the spirit of fascist punitive medicine. The “Arab Spring,” for the women of North Africa, has turned out to be a frigid sharia winter … Stoning and flogging, kidnapping and rape, forced psychiatric treatment and other sorts of physical and psychological torture are what the new Sharia Caliphate has in store for women.

    Now this was written by someone from the West schooled in Islamophobia.

    • K Renner says:

      Also by someone who has not been paying attention at all to the Arab Spring.

      “Yes, it doesn’t matter if those dictators thrown out used torture and live ammunition to suppress dissent! They banned headscarves and maybe had an openly gay son! YAY social progress!”

  9. just says:

    I think she could have been a tad less provocative……….just a tad. Not sure that she is really helping the cause of women and girls given the society she lives in. I am glad she is safe and has a family and lawyer that care about her.

    I find that the photo of WomanUnveiled is much more intriguing and arresting, but that’s just me.

  10. kalithea says:

    I dunno, but given the gruesome and tragic effects of smoking, I find promoting tobacco so backward and trashy, and ditto for the rest of it. There are more dignified ways to advance women’s issues and gender equality. Wrong approach.

    • eljay says:

      >> There are more dignified ways to advance women’s issues and gender equality.

      I agree.

    • marc b. says:

      ditto for the rest of it. There are more dignified ways to advance women’s issues and gender equality. Wrong approach.

      an independent woman = cigarettes plus lipstick plus vanity. “you’ve come a long way baby.” no dignity, and they’re incapable of envisioning independence without their hands being held by Madison avenue and the US state department.

      • clairvoyance says:

        who exactly is “they” in that sentence, marc?

        • marc b. says:

          you know, clair, them. that’s who ‘they’ are. i’m referring to so-called dissidents and activists who confuse dissent and progress with vapid, regurgitated westernisms like ‘my body belongs to me.’ that’s MTV, not reality. there is no society in which individuals are free to do with their body what they will without state interference, or other limitations imposed by culture or technology. it’s a fiction, an advertisement for something that doesn’t exist. the only purposes being served here are the undermining of tradition (however defective) and the creation of a vacuum for neoliberalism to fill. that’s the error, the failure to attempt to conceive any other possibilities than what they have, and the ideal they see promoted on television.

        • ms amina tyler should try prancing around ala femen style in sacramento, in front of the state capitol of the wild wild west, and see how far she’d get with that lil stunt. we could pool funds for her bail. she could write ‘no one owns my body’ in several languages all over her tits and ‘i can screw whoever i want’ on her bare buns. people would be lining up to get her signature she’d be so popular/not.

          lol.

  11. Qualtrough says:

    Tyler? Is that just an Arabic name that happens to sound like our English Tyler, or was there a western Tyler somewhere in the family tree? Genuinely curious, not going anywhere with this question.

  12. Sumud says:

    My body belongs to me and is not the source of anyone’s honor

    This is so simple and so powerful.

    While I see the author’s point about potentially fuelling the fire among islamists, I think questioning if Amina Tyler’s protest tactic is appropriate indicates a misunderstanding of the nature of freedom. You may not agree with her tactic, but you need to support her right to protest, if you believe people should live in a free society.

    She isn’t harming anyone, she isn’t even advocating women run around topless – she’s confronting in her own way the bad things done under the guise of protecting women’s honour. I say more power to her. A less confronting tactic would likely mean her protest is lost to cyberspace oblivion.

    • K Renner says:

      When you post pictures like that then your body no longer belongs to you.

      FEMEN apparently has no problem with Muslim women being beaten and killed and threatened with rape by Israeli forces because Israel “is a free society” or some such lying rubbish.
      I suggest members of FEMEN go to Beirut and check out the nightlive there, or maybe in Tunis, before they start smearing North African and Arab society as a whole. Idiots.

  13. kayq says:

    This is really important. Fuck FEMEN though. Like she couldn’t have chosen a worser org to get involved with too.

  14. clairvoyance says:

    I think it’s kind of ridiculous that we are even being invited to have this conversation. The appropriateness of tactics by feminist movements in the Middle East should be a subject of debate and contention between Arab/Muslim women themselves -it’s their movement. In the same way, it is wrong for outsiders to moralize about how Palestinians should conduct their resistance struggle.

    Because I am not Arab or Muslim, I don’t think I could even offer a solid analysis on this subject, and defer to people like Amina and @WomanUnveiled to sort it out themselves, though I think it is fantastic that I get to see the debate. It’s just important, I think, that it happens between you guys and isn’t dictated by outsiders.

    The only way I can really relate to this issue is with my understanding of the history of gay liberation. When @WomanUnveiled says, “This is especially true in nations where Islamic movements are gaining traction. Such acts will only become fuel to their fire.” it reminds me of the way LGBT individuals have been told we have to play as normal as possible in order for our demands to be met. That means wearing suits and ties, being patriotic, asking to join the military, saying “We are just like you!” as many times as we can stand it, and pushing those who compromise that image (like those of us who non-gender conforming, poly-amorous, non-monogamous, drag queens, queer radicals etc) out of the frame. And the argument is always that we have to hide the queerest among us from the public eye because if not then we are just fuel to the claims of the religious right who say we are a bunch of freaks who hate our country, hate God, and want to destroy traditional family values. I don’t think anyone should let their worst detractors set the limits for their movement. It’s bullshit.

    And as for the idea that being naked automatically means being an object…that’s a debate with a long feminist history that I think the author should explore (or maybe she already has). I completely disagree with the idea that nudity=objectification because it reduces women’s agency, and more importantly relies on the idea that a woman’s body defines her, whether it is covered or exposed.

    But at the same time if Amina’s point is that her bodily autonomy has been violated, then her choice of nudity seems to me an attempt at deep irony. If she’s being told to cover up then her choice to expose herself is an act of defiance set by the parameters of the oppression she experiences. If the oppression were different, her method of defiance would be different. But it’s also a reification of that oppression because she is giving a nod to her own lack of agency by having to write on her body, as if she can’t speak.

    • K Renner says:

      “pushing those who compromise that image (like those of us who non-gender conforming, poly-amorous, non-monogamous, drag queens, queer radicals etc) out of the frame. And the argument is always that we have to hide the queerest among us from the public eye because if not then we are just fuel to the claims of the religious right who say we are a bunch of freaks who hate our country, hate God, and want to destroy traditional family values.”

      Well in my experience of having to deal with social liberal people my age and “genderqueers” and what-have-yous, the vast majority do absolutely hate religion- like to the point that they want to ban Christianity and Islam or burn down churches and mosques- and they do hate “traditional family values” because they feel it’s too “patriarchal”.
      So really, if only the religious right claim that of the “queerest amongst us” then they’ve hit the nail right on the head.

  15. Taking this at face value,i see her rebellious act as brave and provocative, and i hope it doesn’t cost her too much. Reducing it to ‘self-objectification’ sounds like the most mysogynist thing I’ve heard in awhile.

  16. marc b. says:

    Taking this at face value

    but why would you? these things just don’t pop up spontaneously. if not for western media, no one would have ever heard of ‘pussy riot’, for example. it’s only certain, acceptable forms of protest that are cultivated and allotted bandwidth. i’d advocate for the opposite approach: i’d presume that these types of protests, which rely on sexuality (and pop culture more generally) as the hook, are provocations until proven otherwise.

    • clairvoyance says:

      Just because certain forms of protest are acceptable to a Western audience does not make them inherently illegitimate, and when it comes to a protest against misogyny and for female bodily autonomy it’s no surprise the content forefronts the female body.

      People seem to treat this issue the same way they do the Syrian revolution, Libyan revolution, and Iranian human rights activists, that is with complete dismissal and as regime apologists. Sorry guys, shit isn’t that simple. Just because the US is involved it doesn’t mean there aren’t real grievances and real responses, even if Western powers have severely muddied the waters.

      And thank God Arab women’s liberation isn’t up to you, marc b., considering the backflips feminist activists ostensibly need to do to overcome your “guilty until proven innocent” pronouncement.

      • marc b. says:

        clair, annie and i have already made the point that these types of protests would not necessarily be ‘acceptable to a western audience’, never mind the tactical disaster they likely represent in their own countries. and i fail to see how female autonomy is promoted by appearing nude in public. in fact it seems to reduce the question of autonomy to sexuality, which it is not.

      • K Renner says:

        Many Arab women are emancipated- they’re not all held in thrall just because they dress in a more conservative fashion, you know.

    • of course they are provocations. they should try this stuff in the bible belt! the christian fundies would be screaming their heads off. or better yet i hear there are some sections of brooklyn who wouldn’t take too kindly to women running around naked. or try it in jerusalem, where photos of woman’s faces are not allowed on the side of buses. but noooo.

  17. sydnestel says:

    This is not the first such protest in the wake of the Arab Spring. This one was targeted at Egypt.

    link to vice.com