An open letter to Rita Panahi
28th Jan 2017
Words by Laura La Rosa
Cover image by Jessica Mincher
Dear Rita, As a feminist, writer, and supporter of refugee rights, your columns have inevitably crossed my path. Specifically, your all too simplistic argument as to why us women’s march participants allegedly didn’t “protest for girls being brutalised” to which I respond with the simple fact that the movement strongly encompasses such harrowing injustice.
We marched with, and for victims of extremism, violence and oppression. Had you marched with us you would have witnessed the array of diverse voices and community members representing all facets of injustice, including the most horrific. Had you marched with us, we could have discussed these issues in a productive, respectful format that is less one-dimensional and readership driven.
Instead, you’ve chosen to collate and share a series of re-tweets and posts that appeal to an audience too keen to vastly stereotype feminists. It’s incredibly seamless to play into a bias encoding of ‘angry women’ simply fulfilling a self-serving paradox of individual, white-feminist discourse. Or as you so often like to put it, women fighting for “imagined grievances”.
I can assure you with great certainty that the refugees and rape victims I marched with on Saturday did not imagine their injustice. I can also assure you that my grandmother being one of the women in my family I marched for - an aboriginal elder and one of fifteen children - did not imagine the structural oppression and hardship imposed on her during the course of her lifetime. With the same level of conviction, I can speak to my experience of growing up in Western Sydney in the 80’s and 90’s, in a working class household that normalised violence, being that of anything but imagined. Nor were the years of undoing such conditioning and striving to harness it for the greater good.
No one’s stories of hardship are imagined, despite obvious privileges that provide a platform from which such narratives can be shared.
To that I remind you of a notion you’re not only familiar with, but - in my opinion - one that you harness for the benefit of your readers: that is, that context is almost everything.
Us marchers understand there are deeply complex issues in a multitude of communities, cultures and religions - there is no denying or ignoring that. Many of us, however, focus our efforts (and have done so long before one day of marching) on moving over to create more space, better representation, and stronger communities in the hope that women who experience vastly varying degrees of oppression can continue to build a robust movement of liberation without the more privileged speaking for or over them. It is merely a different viewpoint to yours, one that strives to be inclusive and productive. It is a viewpoint that is far from perfect but seeks to position diversity at its forefront.
On the topic of issues women face, you infer that “acknowledging this indisputable fact will offend the sensibilities of regressive Left snowflakes who tolerate misogyny as long as it’s perpetrated by those from culturally diverse backgrounds.”
It is not tolerated.
Many of us harness our energy in different ways. I marched with women who spend countless late nights legally and/or politically advocating for people who have sought protection but remain vulnerable to a system that runs on bureaucracy and profiling, even in the midst of a global displacement crisis. Some of these advocates do so whilst simultaneously juggling the labour of every day family life, full-time work, and part-time law degrees. Others find their purpose through contributing to or supporting the arts in some way.
There is no one correct way to tackle systemic, and even culturally specific oppression, and some of us opt to directly support women caught up in the thick or tail end of that system.
The Women’s March had a specific mission. It aimed to mobilise women who might ordinarily shy away from street action, and align them with those who are already active to send a strong message of solidarity followed by a call to action. Press headlines have interpreted this mission varyingly, but the truth is, we weren’t marching explicitly against the election outcome. We marched to send a message that while we can’t change the outcome of the election, we resist policies that send people's livelihood and access to basic healthcare backwards. We reject both policies and rhetoric that strategically seeks to dehumanise minority groups. And here in Australia, we marched against the conspicuous parallels we see in our own political landscape, particularly surrounding racism, neo-liberalism, class and healthcare.
We also know that Muslims, feminists, and left-leaning advocates and activists don’t simply fit into one type-cast category of their own – as human beings we are far more complex to be lumped into myopic stereotypes. As people, we operate on a wide spectrum of beliefs and behaviours. There is so much nuance, grey areas, and examples of forward thinking acts of empowerment evident in the intersection of said groups, of which your columns fail to shed light on time and time again.
To this, I can only guess that you are quietly summoning an argument based on a portion of your childhood spent in Iran, which you seem to think qualifies you to state ‘the truth’ about Islam from your blatantly right-wing platforms.
This is a perfect example of where one’s personal and lived experiences shape one’s perspectives and areas of acute interest – and understandably so. Marchers were there for a range of reasons, some of which were indicative of issues deemed close to home.
We marched for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, particularly those who have been unjustly detained in Australia’s offshore detention centres. We marched with and for people with disabilities doing incredible things through their work and in their communities. We marched with and for LGBTI people who still face a fight for equal opportunity and representation. We marched with and for women, men and children of colour who only need to turn to a consumer driven ‘new media’ to see a disgraceful embodiment of racism and xenophobia. We marched with and for Muslim women - for their rights and safety. We marched with and for the traditional owners of the land, and for their history that abides and will always do so, despite mainstream culture’s best efforts to bypass its truths.
We marched with and for everyone, the list being as long, as deep and as wide as the beauty that is our diverse Australia.
And finally, our march took place before we made a united pledge to consciously give back to our communities, especially in such volatile times. We promise to continue the work in areas of passion, be it in science, health, on the football field, in the arts, or in business. We promise to actively support women in their pursuits and to do so consciously and continually.
Indeed, the day provided a platform for traditional placards that stuck it to a man caught blatantly boasting about sexual assault. Those placards, in all their grassroots beauty, conveyed a resistance to a man that has threatened to build a wall to fend off minorities. We waved those glittery, painted signs with passion, sass, and some humour, and we did it unapologetically.
But mostly, we marched with our sisters, brothers and children to signify our solidarity and willingness to work towards a better and more informed future regardless of what a politics of uncertainty throws at us.
What could possibly be so wrong with that?