The Engineered Women of Nacirema
Professor Hooks was the first to examine the various rituals of the Nacirema people. The Nacirema women engaged in many customs and rituals, and social hierarchy was given to “engineered women.” Engineered women were those who were enhanced in accordance with their primitive standards of beauty: they would smear carcinogenic oils and powders on their face, rip out some of their hair by the roots yet carefully groom their remaining hair, damage the enamel of their teeth before cementing thin pieces of porcelain to them, starve themselves, insert artificial devices inside their body to expand their breasts and/or butt, break and then reshape their noses, and some would even remove their lower ribs.
Even with all of these alterations, engineered women still fell short of the Nacirema’s ideal, requiring the promoters of this ideal to make additional changes before allowing non-engineered women to view their idols. These non-engineered women were constantly encouraged to think of themselves as being less than the engineered women, and were pressured to compare their perceived flaws with the so-called perfections of the engineered women. However, in the midst of these extreme views of what it requires to be beautiful, some non-engineered women believed that their society was a beacon of freedom and equality, and they sought to liberate women in other societies from the oppression they saw there.
The Engineered Women in America
Thought Nacirema was a primitive society? Had thoughts in your mind about how cruel and oppressive the men in their society were to expect such extreme behavior from the women? Well, flip it around, read between the lines, and you’ll see it’s America. These practices are common not only in America, but also throughout the Western world. For example, cosmetic surgery in Europe is a $2.2 billion business. Some of these procedures include:
- Breast augmentation (“boob job”): silicone implants are used to enhance the woman’s bust
- Breast lift
- Butt lift
- Rhinoplasty (“nose job”)
- Ear pinning: for those who have ears that protrude, ear pinning simply pins the ears back
All of these cosmetic procedures are the result of a society that has profited from women having low self-esteem. In “Obsessed with Beauty: The Rush to Cosmetic Surgery,”  Angie Rankman writes, “Incredibly, in just 10 years, cosmetic surgery in the United States has increased by more than 700 percent. And it’s not just Americans who are choosing to go under the knife. According to the British Medical Journal, Britons spend over 400 million dollars a year on cosmetic surgery, and it’s one of the most common reasons women give for non-property loans.”
With such a profitable industry stemming from women’s lack of self-esteem, society isn’t likely to release its iron grip on how women view themselves. If the media can continue to make women feel inadequate and doubt that their bodies are beautiful just the way they are, then the business of substituting surgery for self-esteem will certainly continue. The media has concocted the perfect formula of normalizing unrealistic, unattainable body images; because many of these images are digitally enhanced, it’s simply impossible to reach that level of so-called perfection. And that’s not even taking into account factors such as expert makeup artists, skilled photographers, and the many other people who work to make models look as good as possible before submitting their photos to be digitally retouched. It’s no wonder that women feel so bad about their bodies when comparing themselves to these models that they turn to cosmetic surgery out of desperation.
Western women see that the Taliban forces women in the Middle East to wear burkas, and incorrectly assume that because they are not forced to wear extremely modest clothing, they are free from the patriarchy. However, Western women are faced with a similar problem, yet instead of being hidden away in several yards of fabric, their bodies are objectified to an astounding degree and the male-dominated social structure has a heavy influence in how they dress.
Strip clubs and other similar venues perpetuate the view that the only reason the female body exists is for the sexual gratification of men. Because women have been taught that their value is directly proportional to how sexy they are, they feel a tremendous amount of pressure to conform to society’s ideal. This perspective on beauty is so ingrained in our culture and society that the vast majority of people don’t even realize it is a serious human rights issue. There are dire social consequences to a society implicitly declaring that women exist purely to sate the sexual desires of men; yet, many people never consider it to be anything other than a normal way of viewing women. 
Unlike the Taliban, the males in our society don’t need to use physical force or the threat of violence to force women to wear certain clothes. Their manipulative methods are much more subtle, making the oppression of Western women so dangerous, as they hold the illusion that they are, in fact, “liberated.” Harriet Tubman summed up this problem—though in a different context—when she said, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” Slavery and oppression are bad enough on their own, but if those who are being enslaved and/or oppressed falsely believe they are free, then the captors have that much more power over their victims. If women do not realize they are being oppressed, then they will do nothing to attempt to stop their oppression, thereby giving more power to those who are oppressing them.
Western society has successfully infiltrated women’s psyches, influencing them to accept, follow, and embrace the traits and roles expected of her by the patriarchy. It is a more destructive and deplorable form of the Taliban’s blatant oppression of women, particularly because it is largely unnoticed and the impact it has on women is ignored. The toxic cosmetics, fad diets, cosmetic surgeries, and other methods that Western women use, all in the name of having the “perfect body,” are hazardous to their health, yet the majority of society sees such behavior as completely normal.
In an ironic twist, the objectified women in Western society are scantily clad or even nude on magazines, and members of Femen have been protesting while nude because they mistakenly believe that the right to being publicly nude is the key to freedom. However, now that photos of Femen members are publicly accessible on the internet, they have fallen victim to the patriarchy in the West in addition to being oppressed in their homeland.
Just as Femen is mistaken about how they can effectively fight against misogyny and oppression, Western feminists are also approaching the problem from the wrong angle, believing that they themselves are free from oppression. I wrote my essay “Femen: Who Should Save Whom?” to encourage Western feminists to realize that they are not so much more “liberated” than Muslim women, and that before condemning other societies’ social problems, they should look at the social problems in their own society.
Islam’s Dedication to Women Rights
Feminists have been quite vocal about the oppression of Muslim women, citing honor killings, female genital mutilation, and denial of education as some of the horrible effects of misogyny. However, Islamophobic feminism fails to account for the unique ways in which cultural practices and the effects of colonialism impact Muslim women’s rights, electing to make Islam the scapegoat. The Taliban is not a good example of how Islam treats women; instead, people can see that the Hadith clearly instructs Muslims as to how they should treat women:
“God enjoins you to treat women well, for they are your mothers, daughters, aunts.”- The Prophet Muhammad
Ayesha, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad, said, “The Prophet Muhammad never hit a woman.”
A man said, “I went to the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) and asked him: What do you say (command) about our wives? He replied: Give them food what you have for yourself, and clothe them by which you clothe yourself, , and do not revile them.” (Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 11, Marriage (Kitab Al-Nikah), Number 2139)
“Do treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers.” — The Prophet Muhammad
The Prophet Muhammad did many things to improve the lives of women. He outlawed female infanticide, which was a common practice in his day; made education compulsory for women; and secured property rights for women. For this and much more, Anita Rai said, “Muhammad, who has not only empathized with the crying voice of the despairing and exploited woman but has taken momentous measures blustering all opposition, to alleviate her lot and strengthen her in realistic terms.”
Don Fodio, a Muslim man who criticized the gender roles developing in his society, stated, “Muslim women – Do not listen to the speech of those who are misguided and who sow the seed of error in the heart of another; they deceive you… when they say that the woman finds her happiness in obedience to her husband. They seek only their own satisfaction, and that is why they impose upon you tasks which the Law of God and that of his Prophet have never especially assigned to you. Such are – the preparation of food-stuffs, the washing of clothes, and other duties…” He was a Muslim man dedicated to empowering women and was influenced by the actions of the Prophet Muhammad.
Not surprisingly, Don Fodio’s daughter, Nana Asuma, emerged as a profound scholar of Islam and led an educational reform, teaching reading and writing skills to women in rural areas in her society who had previously had no exposure to literacy. She was deeply motivated by her Islamic faith in her fight for women’s education; during this same period in human history, women in the West were largely barred from such educational opportunities. Nana Asuma has even been dubbed a feminist by modern historians due to her education campaigns for women’s rights. In the modern world, many Muslim women still actively campaign against misogynistic practices. Though Islam upholds many liberating practices that give women freedom from the objectification that Western women suffer from, many Middle Eastern cultures itself is still misogynistic. Some of the issues that Muslim women fight against include female genital mutilation and the Taliban’s denial of education for women.
Femen’s Criticism of Islam
Femen’s statements that Islam is inherently oppressive of women are false; I have proven them as such in several of my articles, such as “Open Challenge to Femen and Western Feminist of Critics.” It is not Islam, but the culture of the Middle East itself that is oppressive of women.
Inna, the leader of Femen, has said, “What can be more stupid than Ramadan? What can be more uglier than this religion?” In her bigotry, she completely misses the point of Ramadan. Ramadan is a holiday in which Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, and sexual activity while the sun is up. One of its purposes is to teach restraint and self-discipline in all areas of life; during the month in which Ramadan is practiced, Muslims increase their efforts to think pure thoughts and live pure lives. The Qu’ran states, “Prescribed for you is the Fast, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may deserve God’s protection against the temptations of your carnal soul and attain piety.” Clearly, Ramadan encourages practitioners to learn self-restraint and temperance; these attributes are beneficial as they help men to treat women with the respect they deserve. Crimes against women, such as sexual harassment and rape, would not occur if all men achieved the self-restraint and discipline that is taught in Islam.
Not only do the members of Femen grossly misunderstand the purpose and benefits of Islamic practices such as Ramadan, but their call for secular feminism is also oppressive to Muslim women, as it essentially requires them to give up their identity—their religion, their way of life, and their perspective on the world—in the name of so-called liberation.
Is the Taliban an example of how women are treated under Islam?
In addition, both Femen and Western feminists cite the Taliban as an example of how women are treated by Islam. Yet, they ignore the complexities in this organization. In the book “Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia,” Ahmed Rashid writes of answers to the non-Islamic origins of the Taliban’s misogyny. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the Taliban recruited emotionally unstable people to join their ranks, including orphans, refugees, and soldiers left behind after the war. Their followers had no knowledge of Islam and many had no education regarding math, science, or other school subjects. Due to the war, their recruits also lacked skills in farming and herding: war had been the only thing they had known, and their only source of employment for many years.
Rashid writes, “They had willingly gathered under the all-male brotherhood that the Taliban leaders were set on creating, because they knew of nothing else. Many in fact were orphans who had grown up without women – mothers, sisters or cousins. Others were madrassa students or had lived in the strict confines of segregated refugee camp life, where the normal comings and goings of female relatives were curtailed… these boys had lived rough, tough lives. They had simply never known the company of women.”
These recruits joined the Taliban to develop a patriarchal structure to affirm their manhood, and many of the resulting laws and edicts had little or no basis in Islam; in fact, the Taliban banned debates with Muslim scholars in regards to their laws. The Taliban’s actions are clearly not Islamic. Even Malala Yousafzai, one of the most famous victims of the Taliban, does not consider the Taliban’s actions to be based on Islamic teachings. About the man from the Taliban who shot her, she said, “Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion that I have learned from Muhammad, the prophet of mercy, and Jesus Christ.”
Though Femen and Western feminists would have people believe that Islam discourages or even bans women from education, Malala Yousafzai said, “Islam says that it is not only each child’s right to get education, rather it is their duty and responsibility.” Nana Asama, a black Muslim in the 18th century, when black women were largely denied educational opportunities in America, said, “Women… You may go out to get food or to seek education. In Islam, it is a religious duty to seek knowledge. Women may leave their homes freely for this.”
Is the Right to Public Nudity, the key to Freedom?
Femen claims to advocate women’s rights, but not only are they blaming the wrong entity for the misogyny that occurs in the Middle East—Islam is certainly in favor of women’s rights—they are also attempting to create change the wrong way. Alexndra Shevchenko, a Femen member has stated,”The hijab is a concentration camp.” They incorrectly assume that public nudity is a form of liberation, oblivious to the fact that in the West, women are treated with blatant misogyny even though there are few clothing restrictions in Western culture. Rather than attaining freedom, Femen is descending into savagery and encouraging objectification of women’s bodies.
For one, public nudity is simply not sanitary, even under the best of conditions. Nudists would essentially transfer any bacteria from using the restroom to any seat they sat on, including booths or chairs at a restaurant, seats at movie theatres, benches at a park, etc., regardless of their efforts to maintain proper hygiene. With no clothing barriers, more skin would be exposed to bacteria, resulting in a higher chance of contracting an illness or spreading disease to other individuals.
It’s a scientific fact that nudity causes sexual stimulation in men and more blood flow to their private parts, encouraging sexual thoughts and behavior. Public nudity would only increase the very behavior that Femen says they are fighting against. Sexual assault and rape would likely become more common, as rapists would not even have to struggle with their victim to remove their clothing. Daily occurrences such as taking a crowded bus or train would result in unwanted sexual contact between strangers, simply due to the close proximity of unclothed bodies. Children would be exposed to this public nudity, potentially interfering with their psychological well-being.
As demonstrated on the FaceBook page “Men for Femen,” public nudity leads to objectification of women. That page was set up not by men campaigning for women’s rights, but by men who lusted after the bodies of the Femen members. They had uploaded pictures of Femen members and made sexually derogatory remarks. For instance, a “Men for Femen” member commented on a picture of a Femen member dressed as a scantily clad nun to mock the Catholic faith. The “Men for Femen” member posted the comment, “Where was she when I went to catholic school? Dam id smash that ….lol.”
Clearly, these men view Femen as nothing more than sexual objects, not as respected members of humankind. Is this the liberation that Femen seeks?
Femen is not campaigning for liberation in an effective manner. It’s time for Western feminists to stop pretending that they are any more liberated than Muslim women are. Take a look at your own society and you will understand the Nacirema that you really live in. Western women do not wear burkas, but their clothing is dictated by a multi-billion dollar fashion industry that is set up specifically to control who wears what via advertising, peer pressure, and other tactics. You may think it is your choice to go on the newest fad diet or get cosmetic plastic surgery, but in reality, you are being influenced by an entire social system. Before you try to liberate others, liberate yourself.
6)“Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia,