On April 4th, in celebration of International Topless Jihad Day, a 19 year old Tunisian women posted nude photos of herself online. Amina Tyler went further than just exhibiting her body; these photos were taken in Tunisia with her flipping off the camera and the words “your morals” and “my body belongs to me” painted on her. This sparked a wave of other women to post nude photos of themselves with similar paintings across their body. Tyler was later beaten by her cousin after Islamic leaders suggested that she should be stoned to death.
A member of an extreme feminist group called Femen, Tyler was trying to make the point that Islam oppresses women and there needs to be an immediate change. Hoping this tactic would spark a world-wide discussion about women being considered second class citizens in Islam, it was instead seen by even the most liberal Islamic sects as having the opposite effect, because this extreme method caused her message to be overlooked. Tunisia, a country where it could be argued that the Arab Spring either led to a regime change or a revolution, is currently ruled by an Islamic Prime Minister who is attempting to hold power. He is not willing to take seriously a radical feminist group’s argument that not just his country’s outlook on women needs to change but the entire Islamic way of thinking needs to change.
This method of protest would be seen by most people as a failure, including Chenowith and Stephan who define a successful protest as a group getting what they want. Not only did Tyler’s antics blur Femen’s message, they also went so far beyond rationality that it caused Islamic groups who have want a similar outcome to separate themselves from Femen.
I believe that Femen was attempting to enact what Kuran described in his article titled Sparks and Prarie. Kuran states that the density of private preferences is one of three underlying factors that can cause a revolution to begin. Following this factor, Femen was hoping that a woman with so much confidence that she is willing to openly defy the law, would send the signal to other women that powerful activists want change. To an extent, this worked. Other women did follow her lead by posting nude photos of themselves, but for the vast majority of Islamic women, this message was seen as going too far and so vulgar that it insulted their religion. There were specific reasons that Femen chose Tyler as the one to carry out their message. They hoped that a young woman would spread dissent among a state, Tunisia, which has a very young population. They were hoping that because Tunisia is such a young state, women’s private preferences of complete liberation would spark a nationwide demand for change.
El Amrani, Issandr. "By the Teeth of Their Skin." International Herald Tribune. 10 Apr 2013: n. page. Web. 11 Apr. 2013. <http://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/10/topless-protest-may-hurt-feminist-cause-in-the-arab-world/?ref=tunisia>.
Timur, Kuran. "Sparks and Prarie Fire: A Theory of Unanticipated Political Revolution." Public Choice 61. (1989): 41-74. Web.