Saturday, September 2

Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not there

Mark A. Rose muses:

I have never understood why liberal feminists, who are all about women's rights, heap all (or at least 99%) of their vitriol on President Bush, the GOP, and fundamentalist Christianty while ignoring Islam .


It would be presumptuous of me to assume that Mark A. Rose doesn't make the feminist blog rounds every day, but I think it's safe to say that if he did, he wouldn't make such a careless charge.

While it is true that the bulk of American feminist attention is pointed toward our increasingly conservative government and all the subtle and not-so-subtle ways it seeks to restrict and rigidly define women's roles and behaviors and rights, it is patently false that feminists are ignoring fundamentalist Islam and its detrimental effects on women.

As a public service, I want to point Mr. Rose and anyone else who holds this misconception toward just a fraction of evidence to the contrary.

• Here's a list of news bulletins at the Feminist Majority Foundation's website that pop up if you do an article search for "Islam"

• Here's NOW's position on the Iraqi Constitution and the loss of rights women face under it (and, for good measure, all the stories that pop up at NOW.org if you search for "Islam")

• Here's my own post from last year lauding the organizers of the Islamic femnism conference

• Here's a list of all the entries that pop up if you search for "Islam" at Feministing

• Here's an MTSU Sidelines column by Angela White, then merely a lowly college student but a fierce feminist and someone I looked up to a lot, writing about the Taliban months before Sept. 11, when most people had never even heard of them

Despite all this, I think you could absolutely make the case that American feminists — myself emphatically included — could be doing more to help our Islamic sisters. But I don't think you can say feminists are ignoring Islam and its effects on women. When compared with the basic problem of lack of gender parity in the religious Middle East, we probably worry way too much about the outlandish Western sexist traditions of high heels and boob jobs and Caddychicks and all that profoundly stupid and annoying shit. We should worry more about educating and aiding Muslim men and women and working toward an increasingly accepted moderate Islam that does not seek to control its women the way fundamentalist Islam does. Because while American women may face discomfort and self-doubt when they try to live outside prescribed gender roles, women in Sharia-abiding countries and areas face pain and death for what the state and society deems improper. It's sickening.

And I think feminists are acutely aware of how sickening and sad the state of affairs is. I think we just can't decide what to do or how best to approach the problem, because it's such a huge and overwhelming and especially pervasive problem, the whole world over.

There are a lot of factors at play here that keep many American feminists from making this type of global feminism their top priority, above abortion and birth control and stripping and porn and prostitution and rape and Supreme Court justices and everything else. First, and most obvious, is our proximity to the problem. We American feminists are all the way over here dealing with our own society's strange brand of hyperconsumerist sexism, and doing our best to keep the White House from totally taking back the freedoms we've won over the past century (we can still vote, woohoo!), so we are preoccupied with our own immediate freedoms. After all, who else is going to worry about those freedoms if we get preoccupied with helping women elsewhere catch up to the 17th century — Mark A. Rose? Sorry, dude, but I don't think I've ever seen you write anything positive about feminists, so we can't count on you to hold the fort down while we go and save the Muslims from their sexist holy texts.

What makes this so complicated is the whole nature of Islam and how the religion dictates everything about gender roles, and how Islam, because of its status as something relatively foreign to most of us here in America 2006, is both sacred and frightening to Americans. I think a lot of people — not just feminists — are reluctant to confront a culture for its assbackward ways because, well, what makes one culture better than another? We might all be able to agree that the (fundamentalist) Islamic way of treating women is bullshit — just like we may agree that Catholics have a retarded view of birth control — but who are we to step in and say that any culture or religion should be forced to do things differently, or more like we in the sane, secular world do them? That's the ultimate and most daunting problem. While I personally believe that tolerance of intolerance is complete and utter bullshit, I'm still torn about how to best defuse the volatile situation in the Mideast and get some concrete gender parity out of the struggle. You know? Does equality have to evolve on its own? Is it ethical to stand by and just let it happen, even if we're not sure it will? How can we enlighten people without, say, bombing them or condescending to them about how behind the times they are? How do win converts that way, how do you spread secularism? Or just a moderate version of their stringent religion? How can we disseminate the notion that all people are equal and deserving of basic human dignity and parity when the holy books are interpreted by most to mean something very different?

This is the crux of the problem, and it's exacerbated by the fact that there are so many women who actively participate in their oppression because that's what their holy texts and their fathers and mothers and brothers and imams tell them is right.

How do feminists get past that? Who are these Muslim women going to trust, Allah or Gloria Steinem and the scantily clad and morally ambiguous American brigade (please note that I'm being semi-facetious)? Seriously? It's an uphill battle but there is hope. There has to be hope. The fact that there is even an Islamic feminism movement makes me very, very happy.

So, Mark A. Rose, while you may get some giddy satisfaction out of imagining that American feminists — those hairy, shrill, child-support-sucking witches! — are being hyprocritical by "ignoring" their Islamic sisters, you should just remember that American feminists are simply feeling helpless in the face of a monolithic challenge known as religious fundamentalism.

Might sound a tad familiar to you.

10 Comments:

Blogger Rachel said...

Lindsey,
Thank you. I saw Mark's post, and you addressed it more articulately than I think I would have. I'll add that it's through feminists that I knew about the treatment of women in Afghanistan and Iraq long before conservatives needed a "but the poor women!" justification for US actions.

I agree that we could do more. There are women in many parts of the world we could do more to help. I think all forms of activism experience a "my backyard" syndrome, for good or ill - you care about the environment, but the mountaintop removal is in your backyard, or you care about the rights of all women, but you can put your boots on the ground and see change with the women two neighborhoods over. There is so much out there that is sort of overwhelming, so we try to focus on things where we can see progress up close and personally. What we see more frequently is more "there." I think a lot of people don't know, exactly, what they can do that would help women half a world away.

Sat Sep 02, 09:08:00 AM  
Blogger John H said...

When you get all your news from Limbaugh and the Republican News Channel (aka Fox news), Rose's perspective makes sense. Rose doesn't attempt to really examine the issue, because he comes into the issue with a predetermined stance.

My memory is that pre-Iraqi conflict and pre-9/11, there was a lot of publicity and information about what the Taliban were doing to women in Afghanistan. I thought that a war in Afghanistan was justified even before 9/11 based on what the Taliban were doing to country of Afghanistan, esp. to the women.

Oddly enough, Jay Leno's wife, was in the forefront of making sure we Americans knew what was going on in that country (i say oddly, only because I can't stand Leno).

Many supporters of our intrusion into Iraq (including most of the Bush administration) want to paint the opposition to the war in broad colors. We must be pro-terrorists and we must not care about the women in those countries because we don't support the war. That line is utter bullshit, but apparently there are many people out here who believe that kind of nonsense.

All of that is to say - great post, Lindsey. Nice rebuttal!

Sat Sep 02, 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger theogeo said...

Rachel, thanks, and I second what you've said here. If anyone has been sounding the alarm over treatment of Islamic women over the years, it ain't the Right-Wingers.

One of the arguments I tend to see from them is to the effect of "Well, American women should count their blessings that we don't treat them like that over here."

Which makes me so mad I could spit venom. Like a good feminist should. :)

John, thanks, and I definitely agree that this "it's for the women" defense of the war is a ridiculous Hail Mary that has nothing to do with actual concern for the rights of women. Sad, but now that we're over there, if we leave Iraq with a Sharia-abiding government, we will have done women a huge, huge disservice.

But we will claim victory.

And the thought makes me sick.

Sat Sep 02, 10:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Hattie said...

One of the arguments I tend to see from them is to the effect of "Well, American women should count their blessings that we don't treat them like that over here."
Right, theogeo.
Sadly enough, I hear that argument from feminist women, too, particularly those whose experiences of travel and work in poor countries have led them to believe that, as American women, they are enormously privileged.
But the privilege they see has nothing to do with gender. It is because we live in a rich democracy that has enough left over for most of us after the men have taken their cut.
Women in other rich democracies also have rights and privileges, some we could really use, such as universal health care and state subsidized daycare. Things we want to continue to fight for.
I am concerned with the plight of elderly women in this country. Kind of my speciality, since I am 67. Many are badly neglected and facing grim poverty after a lifetime of service to others.
We throw people away. Look at New Orleans.
Well, trying to cram too much into one comment!
You young feminists are wonderful!

Sun Sep 03, 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger theogeo said...

Hattie, good point about wealth fueling privelege. Yet another obstacle to feminism has to confront and overcome.

That may be the hardest one.

Sun Sep 03, 04:35:00 PM  
Blogger TVonthefritz said...

Thanks. I would've posted something similar on his blog, but since he's barred me from the comments section, it impedes my efforts to balance his outright lies and ingrained stereotypes with, you know, "actual facts." But he's comfortable living in his hate-filled bubble world, where a monkey can fly and George W. Bush is our greatest president since Abe Lincoln. Because you know, Jesus shuts people he disagrees with out of his life. It's all over the Bible, right next to making black people our slaves and Sodomite-fucking.

Sun Sep 03, 10:09:00 PM  
Blogger TVonthefritz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Sun Sep 03, 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger TVonthefritz said...

I kid Mark Rose. I've started praying for him because I seriously think he's mentally ill. He knows he's wrong, but can't admit it to himself. He actually rejoices in being wrong. He does it for pure spite.

Sun Sep 03, 10:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you. I don't think the bigger feminist organizations are faultless or anything, but I get so sick and tired of people, and it's not even just right wingers, saying why aren't feminists paying attention to this issue or that issue. My answer usually is, well, they are because I already know a little bit about it, and guess how I found out? Sure, they could always be doing more, but so could everyone including the people complaining, there are a lot of battles to fight and it's not like feminists control the national discourse of have unlimited resources. And it's not like the complainers know what feminists are talking about or bothered to find out how much attention is being paid to any given issue. To them, unless feminists come to their house to give them a briefing they wouldn't listen to anyway, they're completely silent.

Sun Sep 03, 11:11:00 PM  
Anonymous nonwhiteperson said...

Right-wingers should know feminists have been talking about it for a long time. Ms. magazine has always had in-depth international news.

Mon Sep 04, 10:29:00 PM  

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