The question whose answer every Oxbridge student wants to know: which is better, Oxford or Cambridge? This is how I begin my interview with Myriam Francois-Cerrah, a journalist working to bridge the gap between feminism and religion, and, coincidently, an alumna of Cambridge. In response to this crowd-pleasing question, Francois-Cerrah is very down-to-earth. “Oxford and Cambridge both have their charm and their downfalls. They are both places of huge privilege, which could do with an injection of reality. They are both genuinely in a bubble.” This injection of reality is precisely what Francois-Cerrah was trying to get across in the feminism debate at the Union last Thursday.
The debate, ‘This House Believes Feminism Has Been Hijacked by White Middle Class Women’, focused on the different faces that feminism can have and how everyone, not only women, need to recognise that. During the debate, Francois-Cerrah emphasised that one can’t fit every feminist into a specific categorised box. The fundamental necessity of feminism is to ensure that every woman feels supported and represented in some capacity in those situations where she may feel hindered, prejudiced towards, or alone and unsupported. It is precisely this lack of solidarity within the feminist movement that catalysed Francois-Cerrah’s interest in trying to bridge the gap between those that call themselves feminists but refuse to stand with everyone who identifies as a woman.
Whilst obviously concerned with the universal feminist project, she is also interested in female subjugation within a religious sphere – specifically, considering recent events, France. “The majority of the feminist movement in France has not shown itself in solidarity with the struggles faced by Muslim women, specifically the overlapping issues faced by ethnic minority Muslim women. My mission is to be truthful and the truth is that there are huge inequalities facing Muslim women and that feminist women have failed to stand with them, but have stood with the establishment.”
Francois-Cerrah goes on to state that France is actually “increasing restrictions on the visibility of Muslim women under the pretence of a universality which promotes Eurocentric ideas”. The government, and a large part of the French ‘majority’, fail to recognise the steps that need to be taken to achieve equality amongst the population as a whole.
But, I ask Francois-Cerrah, is there any way to counteract this? Specifically, in light of the Union debate, does she think that there is a way for feminists to rise up and establish their own suppressed voices within their hijacked movement?
It would seem that in today’s world, the best way for minorities to raise their voices is to make them heard through the media, especially social media.
The reaction of the Australian people to the anti-Muslim attack in Sydney is a good example of this: #IllRideWithYou overtook most of the negative press against the Muslim community in Australia. This is the type of solidarity that Francois-Cerrah is looking for and hoping to establish within the feminist movement.
As Francois-Cerrah says, “[The] job of journalists is to report accurately. Uncover the alternative narrative, those whose voices are not put in the spotlight. In the case of France, hashtags are an important indicationâ€¨of solidarity with the disenfranchised.
“The French media has perpetuated the idea of an alien, foreign minority that needs to be controlled.
“To increase conceptions of a wider narrative view of citizenship, Muslims, especially Muslim women, should be considered just as much of a French citizen as anyone else with a French passport, regardless of their colour, mother-tongue, and especially their religion and gender.”
â€¨Francois-Cerrah ends our conversation by telling me that the “dominant perception of religion can be imposed upon Muslims, in the name of their so called emancipation. Where the feminist movement has failed is where they do not stand with Muslim women, as they see them as if they are victims of their religion and do not stand with them in respecting the value which they put on their religion and their choice.