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On Burqas and Being Subordinate

1By Zaineb Alkhaleef

Last Halloween I saw a white teenage boy dressed as an Arab man. His friend wore a burqa — and a rope around (his/her?) neck, which the “Arab man” held as a leash. He kept pulling “her” around and shouting orders. I was shocked and wondered what their motive could be.

It got me thinking about women and rights.

I am a devout Muslim woman who wears hijab, a scarf to cover my hair.

Why do I do this? Because I am inferior and subordinate? Because it is my job to control men’s sexuality?

No.

I grew up hearing that men are sexual predators who are incapable of looking at a woman who isn’t covered from head to toe without wanting to rape them, or “mentally rape” them.

But that’s not why I cover my hair.

In fact, while some say women must dress modestly to keep uncontrollable men from sinning, I don’t buy it.

Read the rest of this entry

In-laws Rip Off Girl’s Fingernails, But Who Cares?

Sahar Gul

Sahar Gul

KABUL, Afghanistan — A court has reversed the convictions of three Afghans jailed for torturing a young relative who had refused to become a prostitute, alarming activists who had celebrated the guilty verdicts as a warning to all those who would seek to reverse the strides made by women here in the past 12 years… the defendants — Sahar Gul’s mother-in-law, sister-in-law and father-in-law — (will) be set free.

From the New York Times

In objection to this reversal, I am rerunning my original post and unfortunately asking this same question: In-laws rip off girl’s fingernails, but who cares?

Fifteen-year-old Sahar Gul’s in-laws locked her away in a basement for six months. They beat her, tortured her with hot irons, broke her fingers, and ripped her fingernails off. Her uncle called authorities and by the time she arrived at a hospital her eyes were swollen nearly shut and scabs crusted her fingertips.

Afghanistan allows multiple wives, including child brides. This young bride had been taken in hopes of pimping her out in prostitution. The abuse was meant to persuade.

What struck me most in the AP report were the following lines:

The outcry over a case like Gul’s probably would not have happened just a few years ago because of deep cultural taboos against airing private family conflicts and acknowledging sexual abuse.

I am heartened that things are changing, with public outrage and an editorial in the Afghanistan Times reading, “Let’s break the dead silence on women’s plight.”

But to think that not long ago horrendous abuses like Sahar’s would have provoked no comment is outrageous. You have to wonder why women’s plight has been invisible for so long. And whether Afghanistan is alone in its blindness.

Women must be poorly valued for such abuses to go on without remark: mere property to be sold off, to make money off of, to beat when “disobedient,” to be stoned as spectator sport. And in some cases, to be tortured like lab rats.

When that is all you’ve known your whole life, when this world seems normal to all around you, who can fully see the horror?

Yet America isn’t always so different. Many still blame rape victims for their rape, and many victims still fear coming forward. Battering victims may be blamed for their abuse. Bullied spouses may feel shamed and cover up — and cover for their partners.

The world may be changing in Afghanistan.

The world needs changing right here in America, too.

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Gay Marriage, Slippery Slope to Polygamy?

Obama and Romney both have grandparents who practiced polygamy, yet both have said (and one’s still saying) that marriage should be between one man and one woman. Some think it odd that they both reject the practice when they’ve each got a family history. But I, too, have grandparents who practiced polygamy yet I don’t like the practice, either. This brings me to the concern that marriage equality is a slippery slope to polygamy.

If you hold marriage to “two consenting adults” the problem goes away.

At the same time, while I have a personal distaste for polygamy, I’m not sure that decriminalization would be a bad thing.

First, the problems with the practice.

Gender inequality can be created by simple supply and demand, with “the one” having more power, whether polygyny (one man, many wives) or polyandry (one wife, many husbands). In the polyandrous Lahaul Valley of the Himalayas women have great say over matters. As one young man in this community explained, “The wife’s voice is the dominant voice in the household.”

Typically, polygamy is practiced under patriarchy (as polygyny) so the power of “the one” man becomes intensified. As one New York Times letter writer observed in response to Jonathan Turley’s insistence that polygamous families should be free to live their religion and values:

(In highly patriarchal families) this is not ‘the right to live your life.’ The men have rights, but not the girls (who are) brainwashed, uneducated and mothers while in their teens.

In polygyny it can seem that women make all the sacrifices so that men may take unlimited pleasure. A Sufi who agreed to be a third wife of her teacher (the article title “My Husband, My Teacher” suggests additional inequality of relationship) described her experience this way:

I went through, as did the other wives, all of the usual feelings of jealousy, fear, and insecurity.

She had to learn to let go of attachment, or seeing her spouse as property. Yet her husband didn’t need to learn any of these lessons, enjoying greater freedom and sexual variety than any of his wives ever will.

The addition of a new wife may even be used as a threat in polygamous cultures. Not surprisingly, 86 percent of Afghani women are against the practice.

Moving to larger societal problems, at marriageable age women and men are in equal number so girls in polygamous communities must be married at younger and younger ages, and are often forced into marriage. Their youth further disempowers them. Meanwhile, teenaged boys may be thrown out of these communities via trivial charges like watching “inappropriate” movies.

Joseph Henrich, a University of British Columbia professor whose expertise lies in psychology, anthropology and economics says higher levels of polygamy are tied to higher crime rates, lower GDP per capita, and worse outcomes for children.

And, fewer available women may mean more frustrated bachelors who support the sex trafficking of girls and women. These young men are also vulnerable to recruitment by extremists in some parts of the world.

There is plenty that is not pretty. So why legalize polygamy?

When the practice is illegal and stigmatized, those who live it end up isolated from the rest of society. That means its practitioners hear few alternate voices, and are less aware of the possibility of living differently. Or, choices become limited as others ostracize them and reject their friendship. In other words, they’re more stuck.

Oddly, adherence to “plural marriage” might actually decrease if it were made legal and destigmatized.

I don’t know if legalization will ever destigmatize polygamy, which is an important step in freeing people to hear different voices and to help them to have more options.

Regardless, I doubt legalization will bring people flocking to the practice. The notion of sharing your husband or wife while being forced to be monogamous, yourself, just isn’t that appealing to most people. In the U.S. polygamy is pretty much only practiced for religious reasons, so it’s not likely to catch on. And where it does, it would be more likely voluntary and not coerced.

If you fear gay marriage because polygamy might come next, I doubt there’s really much to worry about.

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God-Wrestling Nuns

Nun kicks a heavy bag in a gym. Photo by Martin San/Getty Images.

The voice of God would sound differently coming from the mouths of nuns than from the mouths of patriarchs.

U.S. Nuns are grappling over a response to Vatican concern with their doctrinal loyalty. Church leadership wants them denouncing abortion and gays more than saving the lives of women and children, and affirming God’s love for all of humanity.

One sister explains:

We have a differing perspective on obedience. Our understanding is that we need to continue to respond to the signs of the times, and the new questions and issues that arise in the complexities of modern life are not something we see as a threat.

The sisters are in line with Bible heroes.

When Jacob wrestled with God he received a new name, Israel, meaning “He struggles with God.” At the end of the tussle God “blessed him there.”

God blesses one who struggles with Him?

Or, Job questioned why God made him suffer. His companions admonished him, demanding he accept God’s judgment.

Yet God did not think highly of the friends who spewed standard lines about submitting to divine will, repenting and being humble. God said, “You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.”

And then Job conversed with God, proclaiming, “I knew of you with the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes have seen you.” He got to know God, and this would never have happened had he taken the standard “counsels of piety” and played the submissive, unquestioning part his friends advised.  It was only by being authentic in his doubts and questions that he could bring enough of himself to have a chance to get to know God.

These Bible stories speak well to the nuns’ intentions.

Go get ‘em girls!

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Child Rape: Not As Bad As Contraception

Raping children is better than using contraception? Raping children is better than ordaining women priests? Raping children is better than using fertility treatments? Raping children is better than aborting a child to save a woman’s life? And priests raping boys is better than homosexuality and gay marriage?

It appears the Vatican thinks so, raising a furor over everything but child rape. That’s right, a nun was excommunicated for saving a woman’s life by allowing an abortion while pedophile priests were simply transferred to new parishes to abuse new children or were, at best, defrocked. Pretty sad when Vatican officials, including the future Pope Benedict, failed to defrock a priest who had molested a couple hundred deaf boys.

When the crimes of pedophile priests are investigated a nation may be rebuked for stifling church autonomy, as happened in Belgium. Or church leaders become defensive, as when Cardinal Timothy Dolan begrudged a global shaming, since only a few priests were involved in the scandal.

Most recently the Vatican admonished nuns for spending too much time caring for the poor, supporting health care reform, confronting bishops and questioning teachings on male-only priesthood — and not spending enough time fighting abortion and homosexuality.

Interesting that, as the Times’ Maureen Dowd put it, “Church leadership never recoiled in horror from pedophilia, yet it recoils in horror from outspoken nuns.”

Most anyone would find the moral priorities outrageous. Nonsensical even.

Yet one thing makes sense of it all (logically, not morally) and that is patriarchy: rule of the fathers, or here, church fathers.

In its earliest manifestation patriarchy meant the rule of old men over young men, boys, girls and women. This is the world that now stands behind Vatican walls. Old men do as they please and young boys take what they get. Old men who know little of the lives and hearts of women allow them no power over parishes, their bodies, or even their own lives should they become threatened by pregnancy. Anything that imperils the patriarchy must be battled. Anything that sustains the patriarchy is just fine.

Old men control all. And in a manner that is not very Christ-like.

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Good Christians Should Abuse Gays

By Sherrill Lawrence

The devil can cite scripture for his purpose.

-         William Shakespeare from The Merchant of Venice.

I am annoyed by people who comb the bible for scriptural passages that support their personal prejudices — in this case, homophobia.

Two of their favorites are found in the laws of Leviticus (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 17:1-24). Leviticus instructs on the proper way to make burnt offerings, lists animals we may or may not eat; instructs on how long a woman is “unclean” after giving birth; tells men how to trim their beards, plant crops, breed cattle, and so on.

I find it interesting that “Christians” pick two verses out of a couple hundred to justify their hatred. I say, if that one “law” is as legitimate now as it was then, then they all are. Not only should decent God-fearing people hate homosexuals, they should stone fortune tellers, adulterers, and children who swear at their parents — that is after trimming their beards just so and smashing the crockery that a lizard fell into.

And by the way, Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed because they broke the laws of hospitality. The ancient Hebrews were supposed to feed, shelter, and protect strangers, even if they were of a different religion, and even if they were an enemy. The men of Sodom violated that law when they demanded that Lot send out his guests to be raped. Of course, it didn’t help Sodom any that Lot’s guests were angels.

Why do “Christians” root around in the Hebrew bible — aka the Old Testament — for rules of behavior anyway? The title Christian means “a follower of Christ’s teachings.”

In Matthew, Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In Luke, a lawyer, looking for a loophole asked, “And who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. Since Samaritans were the (insert favorite ethnic slur here) of His day, the story clearly means everyone is our neighbor whether we like them or not.

“Christians” looking for loopholes quote portions of three letters from Paul – yes, Paul — who never met Jesus or heard him speak and began his career hunting down early Christians, and who (among other questionable statements) said long hair is a disgrace to a man. Hear that Jesus? Get a haircut.

If you want Jesus’ opinion on the subject of homosexuality, read the Gospels. Jesus said “love” and “forgive” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Nowhere did he say, “Go beat a dyke to death.”

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Women Must Be Free To Follow Their Conscience on Contraception

 

Catholic Bishops continue to plead that they must be free to exercise their conscience on contraception, which entails preventing women from exercising that same right. If there’s any conflict of rights here women should win out since it is their bodies and well-being that are at stake.

And shouldn’t the rights of individuals take precedence over the rights of institutions (whatever the conscience of an institution is)?

The Bishops would not even be the one’s buying the contraceptives. Women would.

In patriarchal societies men feel that they should govern women’s bodies. In some places women must get permission from their husbands to see a doctor. And now these male church leaders want to take on that role for women employees?

As Gail Collins at the New York Times points out, the Bishops can teach, but they can’t force others to align with their teachings.

Besides, why don’t other religions have similar issues? As Times columnist Nick Kristof observes,

I wondered what other religiously affiliated organizations do in this situation. Christian Science traditionally opposed medical care. Does The Christian Science Monitor deny health insurance to employees?

“We offer a standard health insurance package,” John Yemma, the editor, told me.

That makes sense. After all, do we really want to make accommodations across the range of faith? What if organizations affiliated with Jehovah’s Witnesses insisted on health insurance that did not cover blood transfusions? What if ultraconservative Muslim or Jewish organizations objected to health care except at sex-segregated clinics?

Or should employers, insurers or doctors refuse access to a drug or medical procedure because a disease arose from a practice they disagree with on religious grounds, whether that be the use of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, meat, sex outside of marriage, a patient’s sexual orientation, etc., etc.?

And anyway, religious people should sacrifice for their own convictions. They should not ask non-members to sacrifice for their church’s beliefs.

No surprise that political right-wingers have jumped on the bandwagon, given their pattern of seeking to strip women’s rights to their bodies, health and well-being. The far-right has tried to defund Planned Parenthood and some now want HHS to strip contraceptive coverage requirements for all employers, religious or not. Extreme conservatives have worked to prevent abortions that could save women’s lives, they have tried to redefine rape into “no rape,” and some have backtracked on protecting women from domestic violence. In fact, this past year has been widely regarded as a war on women by the extreme right.

Religious liberty? No this is about acting “severely conservative” with the aim of controlling women.

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Rick Santorum: Über-Religious but Lacks Humanity

Presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, thinks contraception is a danger to the country. He apparently feels the same about federal aid for the disabled. And the government should place limits on our wants and passions, he says. After all, gay sex is the same as incest or “man-on-dog” sex.

Other candidates bait the extreme right with nutty social issues but as Maureen Dowd points out, they do it “because it’s good politics; Santorum sincerely means it. His political philosophy is infused with his über-Catholicism but lacks humanity.”

Santorum wants to cut back on federal aid for the disabled. Instead, family, friends and neighbors can help.

But what if friends and family can’t afford the cost? Or refuse? If some suffer and die, well, too bad.

On another note, gays and lesbians must live lives of loneliness because God created marriage for procreation. Aside from the fact that many straight people have not procreated, what good comes from inflicting widespread loneliness?

And few Christians agree with Santorum on birth control. More than 99% of sexually active women have used contraceptives at some point. Birth control can even save lives when women’s bodies cannot tolerate pregnancy.

Many pursue religious ideals without humanity. The Spanish Inquisition tortured those who dissented. European and American religious zealots burned, crushed, and hung thousands of women accused of being devil worshiping witches. In parts of the Middle East today women are eagerly stoned to death.

I know some who are downright mean, but they won’t play cards, and especially not on Sunday, because that’s against their religion.

These individuals follow the letter of the law without catching its spirit, as if a selfish concern for their own rule-bound salvation trumps loving their neighbor.

Yet the greatest commandment of the Christian faith is to love God and second is like unto it: love your neighbor. I don’t see a whole lot of love in Santorum’s pious mindset.

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In-laws Rip Off Girl’s Fingernails, But Who Cares?

Fifteen-year-old Sahar Gul’s in-laws locked her away in a basement for six months. They beat her, tortured her with hot irons, broke her fingers, and ripped her fingernails off. Her uncle called authorities and by the time she arrived at a hospital her eyes were swollen nearly shut and scabs crusted her fingertips.

Afghanistan allows multiple wives, including child brides. This young bride had been taken in hopes of pimping her out in prostitution. The abuse was meant to persuade.

What struck me most in the AP report were the following lines:

The outcry over a case like Gul’s probably would not have happened just a few years ago because of deep cultural taboos against airing private family conflicts and acknowledging sexual abuse.

I am heartened that things are changing, with public outrage and an editorial in the Afghanistan Times reading, “Let’s break the dead silence on women’s plight.”

But to think that not long ago horrendous abuses like Sahar’s would have provoked no comment is outrageous. You have to wonder why women’s plight has been invisible for so long. And whether Afghanistan is alone in its blindness.

Women must be poorly valued for such abuses to go on without remark: mere property to be sold off, to make money off of, to beat when “disobedient,” to be stoned as spectator sport. And in some cases, to be tortured like lab rats.

When that is all you’ve known your whole life, when this world seems normal to all around you, who can fully see the horror?

Yet America isn’t always so different. Many still blame rape victims for their rape, and many victims still fear coming forward. Battering victims may be blamed for their abuse. Bullied spouses may feel shamed and cover up — and cover for their partners. Half of the teens who were surveyed in the Boston Public Health Commission’s Start Strong Initiative poll believe Rihanna should be blamed for the beating Chris Brown meted out.

The world is changing in Afghanistan.

The world needs changing right here in America, too.

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8-Year-Old Called “Whore” for Long Sleeves, Skirts

Naama Margolese became terrified of walking to her second-grade class in a conservative section of Israel when ultra-Orthodox men began spitting on her, insulting her and calling her a prostitute because she wasn’t sufficiently modest.

Come on! As a (merely) Orthodox Jew, she wears long sleeves and long skirts.

And she’s 8!

But as we all know, men aren’t responsible for their sexuality, women – and apparently girls — are. This little girl is sexually provoking men? Who are tempted to engage in prostitution with her? Are they all pedophiles?

The New York Times reports that ultra-Orthodox zealots are increasingly pressuring strict adherence to modesty rules, including enforced gender segregation or excluding women altogether. As the Times describes:

Ultra-orthodox followers cordoned off one section of Beit Shemesh, Israel and proclaimed “Women are asked not to linger in this area.” Outside a synagogue in the Kirya ha-Haredit quarter a sign demanded females cross to the opposite sidewalk and not tarry outside the building. And orthodox male soldiers insist female soldiers not sing, since women’s voices are so beguiling. 

Meanwhile, female reporters – women with particularly high power and visibility — are assailed with epithets like “whore.”

No girls allowed! is the juvenile message.

Ironic, that the bullying is perpetrated in the name of God. Yet this happens all the time, across religions. Bullies commonly intimidate to create a sense of personal power and superiority over others. Who cares if little girls are abused and women are restricted. So long as men feel empowered and superior as they disempower and demean others.

Men can do what they want. Women can’t. Men are at the front of the bus. Women must go to the back. Both figuratively and literally.

Right here in America women who take the B110 bus in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Brooklyn must actually sit in the back of the bus. As the Times reported:

One father who sat in the front with his son and daughter and declined to give his name said men and women “need to be separated.” He looked down at his daughter dressed in a bright red raincoat, with her blue eyes frozen in amazement, and said: “She’s small. When she’s big, she will sit in the back.”

There was a time when Jews were forbidden to walk freely in Germany, becoming increasingly suppressed. Now a few wish to enforce such limits on their own women.

Only a small group of extremists have gone mad. Most Jews are outraged. Thousands have joined protests against the religious fanatics.

I’ve long argued that modesty enforcement is about things like power, control and creating a sense of male superiority. Modesty is not about morality, as claimed.

The reaction to little Naama is Exhibit A. And the rest yield exhibits B-F.

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