Show me authoritarian feminism, and I'll show you some poorly researched tosh: A letter to Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams

Dear En. Hafiz Noor Shams,

Your article, Of it is not hard to choose between liberalism and authoritarian feminism, has pretensions of being an enlightening read on social liberty, but demonstrates the unforgivable laziness and neglect on your part to investigate the larger aims of feminism. To decide that feminism now has an authoritarian edge simply because one person has called the burqa as “an affront” to feminist ideals reveals a person who is easily swayed by his unchecked prejudices.

You have read a few things that confirm your reservations about feminism, and they have led to conclusions about a political enterprise that many, like myself, believe champions personal choice above patronisation and coercion. A political enterprise, En. Hafiz, that is also diverse and more complex than you’re probably aware of at this point. Do not be surprised that in the context of hotly debated issues like the hijab, you will find different feminisms emerging in its defense and others who use the name of feminism to argue against it. The crux of my argument is this: there are different sides to a debate and it is far too simplistic and premature to come to a conclusion about what feminism stands for based on attention-grabbing one-liners that individuals like Elizabeth Farrelly make.

Search a little further on the great world wide web and you will find an abundance of feminist writings, Muslim and other strands alike, in favour of social liberties including the right to wear the burqa. Elizabeth Farrelly and Elizabeth Badinter are not the spokespersons of feminism, nor is the BBC the arbiter of gender equality. So no, they do not represent the so-called “standard” feminist views. If anything, the BBC is a repository of misogyny.

In a blog post that reads under a title that displays some unnecessary syntactical gymnastics, you have tried to strengthen your arguments by piecing together unrelated canards about feminism: like the assumption that radical feminists want more than “simple” gender equality, and the dangers of female tokenism if taken to extremes brought possibly about by affirmative action:

My greatest issue with feminism up until recently is affirmative action. I cannot bring myself to support affirmative action for women and ending up living in a tokenistic system. Worse, some want more than tokenism. Through experience, radical feminists want inequality of rights in their favor rather than simple equality between genders.

En. Hafiz, you have shared with readers some well-meaning but under-developed thoughts about gender-based discrimination that is plaguing our society yet you choose to be carried away by some highly imaginative ideas about feminism. First, women as a whole, and feminists much less, do not have the means to  wield the weapon of authoritarianism. Our influence still remains on the fringes of mainstream politics and as feminists, we certainly do not have the authority to “shove” any kind of identity down anyone’s throats as you have been persuaded to believe. Second, the “simple” gender equality you have alluded to is perhaps a “simple” demand for equal gender representation in the workplace and other public spaces, but the reality of pushing for change in a society with rather conservative attitudes about women’s positions in the higher ranks of power and leadership is far from uncomplicated. And what is this fear of the demands that women may make beyond tokenism that you speak of? A dystopian future of emasculated men?

By Angry Malay Woman

I like plants.


  1. Great work, Alicia! Of course he has to read only one article by one woman and decides she’s the voice of feminism while ignoring the majority of feminist writers on the internetz who are opposed to the ban of the burqa. Still, there are worse Malaysian writers out there. *couch*alzyrahmangavinyap*cough*

    1. Thanks. I thought I had to respond to this article, mainly because I’m so menyampah by the title.

  2. The air gets taken out of your rhetoric pretty quickly once it becomes clear that Hafiz’s article refers not to mainstream feminism, but to only one authoritarian stream of feminism referred to in both of those articles. Straw man fallacy at its best, isn’t it?

    I will qualify my comment by agreeing that affirmative action is a more complicated issue than pure libertarianism would reduce it to though.

    1. Do I detect a snide remark?


      I am so blown away by your critique that I feel compelled to re-write my rhetoric. But that would be too boring.

      Let me just say that I have issues with the use of the term authoritarianism and feminism put together. Authoritarian feminism is an oxymoron because what is described as “authoritarian” (I needed to refer to a textbook on politics for this)

      does not live up to feminism’s central tenets of women’s choice and freedom from compulsion. If anything, the feminism the two women represent in the two articles is a sham. Authoritarianism isn’t the word that should’ve been used by Hafiz, because authoritarianism demonstrates aggression, anti-individualism, anti-choice, and anti-democracy. Hafiz has adopted the term “authoritarianism” because it suits his other arguments concerning the things he is not happy about feminism and pro-women policies like affirmative action.

      I think you are too easily led by the fallacy that a thing like authoritarian feminism actually exists. It doesn’t. Authoritarian feminism is not feminism. Easy as that.

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