Friday, May 2, 2008

East Vs. West - The Feminist Divide

We have just enough religion to make us hate, and not enough to love one another - Johnathon Swift.

With the quagmire that has erupted in Iraq, Afghanistan has become the forgotten war. Women continue to die daily due to neglect, poverty, and sexual violence. Their voices go unheard by western governments that are preoccupied with the illegal war in Iraq. Though the new Afghan constitution has enshrined rights for women, the reality is far from what is professed. Womens bodies signify male honor and as such they belong to the males in their family. A woman who has been the victim of domestic violence or is a rape survivor often ends up imprisoned or murdered by her own family. A raped woman is considered to have brought shame upon her family.

Some would suggest that the genesis of male control is religion. I would submit however, that patriarchy is a global institution. Men have historically sought to create women as second class citizens. It is not a case of the crimes of the "dark skinned peoples". We cannot look at this situation, as something that "those" men are doing to "their" women. This is a tactic that many western feminists take in order to infer difference. It is a way of establishing an elitist based hierarchy. There are of course cultural sensitivities, that we as westerners must acknowledge, however we cannot take it to the extent of racializing this issue. Whether a woman is raped in Kabul, or on Fifth Avenue the shame is the same.

In the west women are told to keep sweet, or are offered virginity rings. While these do not have the totalizing effect of the burka, the message is the same, keep the family vagina pure. Our bodies do not belong to us. They are for the use of men. In Arabic, the translated meaning to describe a female child at birth is another's wealth. It acknowledges the fact that despite the investment that is necessary to raise a child, a woman will eventually enrich the home of another. (Goodwin,1994, p.42). In the west women routinely give up their identity when they marry and take on their husbands name. Not even our identity is of our choosing.

Abdul Qayum the chief prosecutor of the eastern province of Nangarhar announced during an interview, "If my wife goes to a bazaar without my permission, I will kill her. This is our culture. This is Afghanistan, not America". While he justifies his right to kill his wife based in culture in actuality he is speaking in the international language of male privilege.

As reported by Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, between 1993 and 1999, an intimate was responsible for 45% of homicides of women age 20-24 and almost 40% of homicides of women age 35-49. (Rennison, C.M., PhD., Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-99, 2001, NCJ-187635)
30% of women murdered in the United States in 1999 were murdered by a husband, former husband or boyfriend. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Homicide Trends in the United States, Intimate Homicide, 2001) 1,260 women were murdered by an intimate from 1976-1996. (Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends, U.S. Department of Justice, March, 1998)
In 1996, nearly 75% of those murdered by an intimate partner in the US were women. (Greenfield, L.A., and others, Violence by Intimates: Analysis of data on crimes by current or former spouses, boyfriends, and girlfriends. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1998. NCJ-167237)
Of 57 domestic homicides occurring in New York State between 1990 and 1997, 75% of the victims had ended the relationship or stated an intention to end it at the time of their death. (New York State Commission on Domestic Violence Fatalities, Report to the Governor, (Albany, NY: 1997)In 1996, approximately 1,800 murders were attributed to intimates; nearly three out of four of these (1,326) had a female victim. (Bureau of justice Statistics)

Location is no guarantor of safety. Each day globally women live under the threat of violence from those closest to us. It is this threat of male violence that must unify us. We cannot allow perceived culture to be a barrier to forming alliances. Lives are dependent on women realizing commonalities rather than difference. Often when we focus on commonalities it becomes clear that difference is not as large as was perceived.

When we look in askance at the practice of polygamy we must remember the FLDS compounds. When we question the Burqa, we must remember its binary opposite uniform, the sexualized female western body. Both are limiting and seek to construct women as other. Patriarchy is reinforced each and every time feminism refuses to see commonality. Note that by commonality, I am not suggesting the construction of a monolithic woman, rather I am suggesting that the female body is globally devalued, stigmatized, and raped. The aforementioned are international crimes against women. How these crimes are negotiated maybe subject to cultural relativities, however their acknowledgment as gender specific assaults must be reified. We cannot cloak Middle Eastern women, in a symbolic burka of victimization without acknowledging our own victimization by western men. The label that we seek to give others, is that which we already own.

Goodwin, Jan. (1994) Price Of Honour: Muslim Women Lift The Veil Of Silence On The Islamic World. New York: Penguin Group.


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"We cannot cloak Middle Eastern women, in a symbolic burka of victimization without acknowledging our own victimization by western men."

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Anonymous said...

I am one 'western feminist' who does not actually think 'it's those dark-skinned people'. In fact I pretty much agree with your post, except for this slur on the evol WHITE FEMINISTS!

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