Thursday, April 11, 2013

By the Teeth of Their Skin

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. <>.

Timur, Kuran. "Sparks and Prarie Fire: A Theory of Unanticipated Political Revolution." Public Choice 61. (1989): 41-74. Web.


  1. Amina Tyler wasn't "chosen" as a representative of FEMEN. She posted pictures of herself on FEMEN's Facebook page on March 11. Not April 4.

    Amina didn't "blur" FEMEN's message. What Amina did IS FEMEN. The "antics" of writing words on your topless body are exactly what FEMEN does.

    You can describe women as Muslim or Islamist, but not Islamic.

    I don't mean to be rude, but many of your claims are inaccurate and unsupported, and I already blogged about this.

  2. Nor are Ali Laarayedh (or Hamadi Jebali) "Islamic"... "Liberal Muslim sects" doesn't make any sense... There are no "Islamic groups" that want the same thing as FEMEN by different means, that's paradoxical.

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  4. Sorry Veronica, the article I read was from the New York Times so I assumed it was correct. It stated that this happend on April 4th so I wrote about it and it never crossed my mind that the Times was wrong and that this happend in March. When I read this and saw that this happend on the 4th, I went ahead and wrote about it without looking at previous blogs. A lot of your comments are rude and go overboard. Read the article that I was given as my source and you will see where the information in this article came from. As with the majority of the class, I don't read the blog every week because we are not required to. I do appologize for writing on the same subject, it was an honest mistake.

  5. Veronica, I read your article and it was well written and made some very good and valid points. I wanted to add that I chose this article in particular because my country is Tunisia and the article was different and took on the very important issue of women's rights in the MENA. The point I was trying to make in this article was that there are many ways to instigate a revolution and the tactic that Tyler took was valid considering the theories that we have learned in class. However, when put into actual practice, this tactic was ineffective and actually had the opposite effect to what Tyler was hoping would be accomplished. I was not trying to make a bunch of unreasonable comments on the event, instead I was recapping the article and expanding on the previous point.

  6. It is a sad irony that Tyler's attempt to raise awareness about women's rights in Tunisia led some Muslim leaders to suggest that she should be stoned to death. Islamist parties have been promising to respect individuals' rights in countries like Morocco, but this story makes me question the legitimacy of these promises.
    Amina Tyler may have not have started the type of feminist revolution she had hoped for, but the fact that this story has received international attention shows that her action was not completely ineffective.
    In my blog post about human rights in Morocco, I wrote about a girl who committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who had raped her. As more of these stories receive international attention, Islamist parties may begin to feel the pressure to improve their stance on women's rights in order to gain legitimacy internationally. That may seem idealistic, but stranger things have happened!