Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: April 2012 (page 1 of 2)

On Listening (a response to the Mona Eltahawy criticism)

Unless you live under a rock, dear blog reader, you’ve probably witnessed the hulabaloo over the past 24 hours about an article by Mona Eltahawy entited “Why Do They Hate Us?” I don’t feel the need to comment on the article’s content, particularly as many already have, but I would instead like to comment on a thread of commentary that I find particularly bothersome.

I can’t find the tweet, but last night I noted someone–a journalist, no less–tweet something along the lines of “Hmm, interesting – most of my [American? foreign? can’t remember] friends like [the article], most of my Arab friends don’t.” While the tone of the comment was ambiguous and I’ll assume a bit of irony, I’ve seen other similar comments that are a bit more…obtuse. The problem, of course, is that while the audience for Eltahawy’s piece was obviously highbrow-ish English speakers interested in foreign policy (I mean, c’mon, Foreign Policy ain’t USA Today), the idea behind some of these comments is essentially: “Hey – foreigners find this valuable, shut up dissenters!” I even spotted one foreigner–who presumably lives in Egypt–telling various Egyptian women on Twitter that they were simply wrong.

The thing is, Arab women, in Eltahawy’s piece, are not active participants in the conversation, but subjects. That, I think, is why so many women took issue to her use of “us” — it felt disingenuous. I realize, of course, that there’s backstory here and she has a considerable number of non-fans and trolls, but this article in particular provoked a stronger reaction than any I’ve ever seen, and there’s a reason for that.

So the problem that I have is that, while the majority of long-form responses have come from Egyptian or other Arab women, most have been dismissed outright. Take, for example, this tweet from Foreign Policy editor Blake Hounshell:

That one is particularly ironic given that Foreign Policy appears to have pre-commissioned five responses to Eltahawy’s piece, indicating they knew how controversial her piece would be. Another:

(Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think Hounshell is amongst those not listening to Arab women, but his comments were nonetheless tone deaf – below one response, from Pakistani-Canadian Sana Saeed)

More troubling is the fact that, as Gigi Ibrahim points out in her post, “Many who have criticized Mona’s article get accused that we are defending the actions of discrimination against women or simply denying it and that couldn’t be farthest from the truth in understanding the fundamental problem with Mona’s argument in the first place.” I can’t tell you how many tweets I’ve seen claiming that, in opposing Eltahawy’s framing of the issue, any dissenters must not be taking the real issues seriously. This, I will say outright, is bullshit. I read approximately eight of the bloggy responses (including some of those in Foreign Policy) and every one was written by someone who does speak out about vital issues to women. The dissent is not coming from apologists, it’s coming from women who take issue with Eltahawy’s particular framing of the issue…and there’s nothing unfair about that. I think everyone agrees with Eltahawy when she says FGM is awful and must be eradicated – where I think most disagree is with her take on the root cause.

Ultimately, and even though I disagree with it, I’m glad Eltahawy wrote the piece. When you acquire a certain amount of clout, as she has, you have also acquired a platform from which to shout about whatever you choose, and I would rather, on any day of the week, see Eltahawy using that platform to talk about women’s issues–of vital importance to all of us–than to call Israel the “opium of the people.” I also hope, earnestly, that amongst the criticism of her piece a few more voices arise that can step up, take such an amplified platform, and speak about threats to women in a way that doesn’t cause such a visceral reaction and allows us to learn, and eventually, conquer these threats.

The Best Parts

I fear that my last post may have maligned travel. In all my exhaustion, I’m nonetheless in a constant state of awe at how, in the past five or six years, I’ve developed a group of friends more incredible, more diverse (yet also somehow strikingly similar in ideals), more open-minded than would ever be possible on home turf. This past week, in Stockholm, I sat with two of my favorite new(ish) friends at dinner, having sneaked away from the larger crowd (I do get overwhelmed; apparently I’m not the only one), and one of the two–who strikes me as a constant optimist in the best possible way–was talking about how he’s amazed, constantly, at how he’s found so many amazing people…and that it’s because amazing people beget more amazing friends (whereas, he noted, the “not-so-good” people in his circle can all be traced back to one or two not-so-good acquaintances).

The best part, to me, is not what is planned, but what comes as a total surprise. So often do I arrive somewhere to find someone I hadn’t planned to see, or someone who’d inspired me recently and who I’d been hoping to dig into a bit deeper. In coming weeks, I’ll find myself in Berlin–where inspiration is rampant, where I’ll take my good camera–and Oslo, then the Netherlands for my birthday, Austin-not-during-SXSW, and after that perhaps Rio, Madrid, DC, New York, and Nairobi…and all before my self-imposed, swear-I’m-going-to-stick-with-it break. And in those travels, despite the sleepless hours in airport lounges or perhaps because of them, I will find more inspiration.

Dispatches from a Frequent Flyer

It’s no secret: I fly a lot. While I can’t seem to dig up my stats from last year, TripIt (my travel tracking tool of choice) tells me that in the time I’ve been using it (since approximately mid-2010), I’ve clocked 354,000 some-odd miles, traveling to 56 cities and 22 countries. Within my (TripIt) network, my miles are only second to jetsetter Joi Ito‘s. I apparently talk about travel so much that my Twitter parody account claims my status to be Star Alliance INFINITY (it’s actually Gold, guys). So far this year, I’ve spent more time outside of San Francisco than in it.

To be honest, it’s exhausting. I remember when this all started, talking to my friend Ethan Zuckerman, and him telling me that yes, in fact, it does get old. I didn’t believe him at the time. I do now.

And yet, there remains to me nothing more exciting than taking in a new city. Tonight, I arrive in Stockholm, my first time in Sweden, in Scandinavia (I’m writing you from a Lufthansa lounge in Frankfurt airport). Next month, I’ll be in Berlin (an old fave) then will head for the first time to Oslo, and then to the Netherlands to celebrate my 30th birthday with family and friends. In June, it’s Madrid, then Nairobi – both new cities for me. And none of that is counting domestic travel.

And then here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to take off two months from travel. When I first started saying that, last month, my friends laughed at me, scoffed, and said they knew I’d fail. But seriously, in the year that I’ve lived in San Francisco, I’ve really only lived in San Francisco for a week here, a week there. I’ve been working on a top secret project with a friend for a few months now that I’m dying to dig into hardcore, get done. I want to start riding my bike more. I’m really excited about some stuff I’m working on at EFF and want to give it my all. Also, I think my cat sometimes forgets who I am.

So, friends, here’s the deal: From July 4-ish, when I return from Nairobi, until mid-September, when I have a tentative trip already lined up, I am not leaving San Francisco but once, to see my mom and, hopefully, celebrate my dad’s life (more on that later). At the same time, you, friends, are more than welcome to come visit me. With my newfound free weekends, I will clean up my backyard, and we will have barbecues. And it will be awesome.

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