It is becoming a habit – women writers, academics, intellectuals and activists are pushing the limits of political and intellectual thought and where ever I turn I find myself reading them.
Saba Mahmoood, Sara Ahmed, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, Joan W. Scott, Amy Kaplan, Inderpal Grewal, Gyatri Spivak. So here is the brilliant Wendy Brown on women, sexuality, sex, freedom, liberty and this bizarre moment in history where women in the West have been convinced that sex, sexuality, and less clothing are the ‘true’ measure of their liberation.
“…the equation of secularism with women’s freedom and equality often traffics in the tacit assumption that bared skin and flaunted sexuality is a token if not a measure of women’s freedom and equality. Sexual difference is already written into this assumption, of course, since the equation of freedom with near nakedness in public is itself a gendered rather than generic sign of freedom: rarely is it suggested that men in loincloths are free whereas those in three-piece suits lack autonomy and equality. But this very asymmetry is a reminder that, like the hijab, highly revealing Western female fashion is a negotiation, not a negation of women’s sexualized status and value in male dominant orders. If, in one case, this sexualization is robed, secreted from public view, and in another it is orchestrated through revealing fashion or expensive cosmetics and surgeries, these are but two iterations of this negotiation.35 Nor are these two iterations themselves really so distant. Many Muslim women combine modest dress with detailed attention to fashion elements, including heels and lingerie. And Western women, especially but not only in the professions, are compelled to devote an inordinate amount of time and money to balancing modesty and exposure, professionalism and attractiveness, as part of their dress-for-success look in a male dominant world.
Moreover, in both cases, women remain designated as bearers of culture in ways that men rarely are, a bearing that itself indexes incomplete equality and autonomy, a sign that women remain something short of Kantian ends in themselves. In both cases, women are navigating heterosexual sexualization of female identity and navigating their tacit cultural assignment to secure collective religious-cultural or “civilizational” identities. The relentless sexualization of female identity itself signals this cultural assignment and the assignment, in turn, inscribes the relentless sexualization of female identity.
The association of freedom with sex integration and bared female skin is challenged by the hijab-wearing professional woman seeking to retain the advantages of sex-segregated spaces in male dominated ones and placing women’s agency and perhaps even women’s freedom on what Saba Mahmood has identified as a non-liberal secular trajectory. Such women make no pretense that women own their sexuality or that mingling with men in skimpy clothing is a sign of freedom and equality.37 If, inter-culturally, this bit of clothing does not protect its wearers from men for whom sexual entitlement to women knows no bounds, it remains an intra-cultural sign of honor and modesty, a marker of civilization that only those convinced of civilization’s exclusive ownership by the West would mistake for its opposite.”
From “Civilizational Delusions: Secularism, Tolerance, Equality” which can be found here: