I only watch Late Night With Bill Maher, when I like his guests. How this man manages to pass himself off as a liberal, is truly beyond me. Every time I think that he has reached a new low, he manages to surpass it. In a conversation of Tavis Smiley, who is not without a history of sexist commentary himselff about democracy in the Middle East Maher declared that "Muslim men have a terrible attitude about women". For Maher, a true democracy is impossible without the liberation of women. Before you get all warm and fuzzy about this, a quick look at how he framed his argument, proves that once again Maher just does not have a clue.
Maher: Let me get to the other religion which is on my mind because I was more excited about the Arab revolution in the Middle East this week, before we heard the horrible news about Lara Logan and I looked at this: 94 journalist last year were killed - that's a lot - a 139 the year before. You know it's forget when you see what we consider tv stars cause there are anchor men and anchor women over there; it's not a reality show. This shit is really dangerous and we do not know the details of what happened there, but I think it's fair to say Muslim men have a bad attitude about women in general and I would just like to say to them, that you're never gonna have this revolution happen, unless there is also a sexual revolution that goes with it.
(The audience starts to applaud what Maher has said and Smiley begins shaking is head in the negative.)
Really Tavis? Muslim men don't have a problem with women?
Tavis Smiley: No I am not going to argue that.
Bill Maher: Oh good.
Tavis Smiley: Let me just say up front that I argue with you.
Bill Maher: I was going to cut your head off
Tavis Smiley: No, no, no, ... I was going to say first of all what happened to Lara Logan is horrific, reprehensible, we can't find a language to describe what happened to her. But having said that, if our democracy Bill, if our readiness for democracy in this country is demonstrated by our respect for women, then we ain't ready for democracy in this country.
Bill Maher: That is a false equivalence, oh please.
Tavis Smiley: No, no, absolutely not.
Bill Maher: Are you serious? Do you think the men in this country have an attitude that even comes close
Tavis Smiley: I am suggesting if you think the way that we treat women in this country with women still alive and well, sexism still alive and well is determanitive of demonstrative of how our democracy runs, I think you don't understand how maltreated women still are in our society - that's all I'm saying
Bill Maher: What I'm saying is that you have no perspective.
Tavis Smiley: I'm saying you have no perspective, that's what I'm saying
Michelle Caruso Cabrera: If you look at the history of the United States, I would say that actually, democracy leads to better attitudes towards women, because when the United States was founded of course women couldn't vote:
Bill Maher: Right
Michelle Caruso Cabrera: African Americans couldn't vote and we got there eventually. So, I think you've got it reversed.
Bill Maher: No I don't. 19 of 21 Arab countries, women cannot vote. In Egypt women, if you want to divorce you husband you have to go to court. If a man wants to divorce his wife he just has to, what you call that the triple talak, "I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee." That must like happen on like the first fight... In Saudi Arabia women cannot drive a car, sail a boat, fly a plane, which is why their tampon ads are just horse back riding.
Michelle Caruso Cabrera: But don't you think that in the end people have a right self determination. You're saying that - how does a continuation of strong man rule lead to better attitudes towards women?
Bill Maher: Civilization begins with civilizing the men. The women are sort of already there. You have to bring along the men. I know that this is anecdotal but you know, talk to women who have ever dated an Arab man, the reviews are not good. They have a sense of entitlement. They will say, "yes we put women on a pedestal" as long as their obedient they're on the pedestal.
Michelle Caruso Cabrera: Every man that I've ever dated has a sense of entitlement
Bill Maher: Have you ever dated a Middle Eastern Men?
Michelle Caruso Cabrera: No
Bill Maher: Okay
Taivs Smiley: What I am saying respectfully is that I don't disagree that they have a long way to go. What I suggest to you is, that when we have these conversations about how they treat women, as if we somehow treat women better in this country it demonizes Muslim men.
Bill Maher: We do. Demonizing, that's saying I am prejudiced. I am saying, I'm not prejudiced. That's pre- judging; I'm not pre-judging, I am judging. I'm judging. They're worse, what's wrong with just saying that? You're a cultural relativist; it's not relative.
Michelle Caruso Cabrera: Are you going to call him a republican?
Tavis Smiley: No. I don't think there is a worser version of sexism. It's either right or it's wrong. You're trying to shade this thing.
Bill Maher: Really? Let me give you two examples of how it might be worse. We talked about this a couple of years ago but it was in the paper last week. A man in Buffalo, a very successful man, a Muslim man named, Azamo Hassan - he ran a tv network aimed mostly at countering Muslim stereotypes. Um he cut his wife's head off - got mad at her and cut his wife's head off. He was convicted just last year and got 15 years to life. Boy 15 years you get for cutting your wife's head off, that's a pretty good deal.
John Heilemann: I gotta say, I want to talk about Lorena Bobbit cutting of her husband's penis.
Kevin Smith: Hey that's my territory. I'll do the jokes dick jokes her.
John Heilemann:There are wasps who dismember their (incomprehensible)
Michelle Caruso Cabrera: All these things are horrible, but are you saying that they shouldn't be able to have democracy?
Bill Maher: No I'm not, I want them to have democracy. I'm saying it's not going to happen unless you get right with your attitudes about women. That has to come with this or it's never going to happen.
(an audience member stand and begins to make commentary about drone attacks in Afghanistan)
Tavis Smiley: Respectfully Bill, that not withstanding (he's referring to the interruption by the audience member), that it might surprise us to go into our papers in this country everyday and to see stories just like this of how women are maltreated in this country everyday.
Bill Maher: That's such bullshit.
John Heilemann: There's a 1 in 3 rape statistic in this country.
Michelle Caruso Cabrera: Don't you think things have gotten better? Just look at Mad Men, life has gotten so much better.
Bill Maher: I mean in this country we treat women badly because
Tavis Smiley: Because we're sexist and patriarchal
Bill Maher: They don't equal pay, or someone calls you sugar tits or something like that. In those countries
Tavis Smiley: But you think that's okay though
Bill Maher: I don't but I don't think it's comparable to cutting their heads off, not letting them drive, not letting them work. I mean
Tavis Smiley: And all I'm saying is that you missed the point. If all you want to do is compare, you win that argument.
Bill Maher: Oh okay then.
Tavis Smiley: But my point is that it's not about comparing, either right or wrong how we treat people and I think that it's wrong there, and wrong here.
Bill Maher: It's more wrong there. Degree matters, degree matters.
Tavis Smiley: Malcolm X said, "If you put a knife in my back and you pull it out six inches you call that progress. I've still got a knife in my back." I don't necessarily agree that degree always matters Bill.
Bill Maher: Really?
Tavis Smiley: yeah
Bill Maher: What would you rather do, make eighty cents on the dollar, or have your head cut off?
Tavis Smiley: I would rather us stop acting like we know the answers to everything, that' we're always right, that are way is always better, that we don't make mistakes. That's what I'd like.
Bill Maher: We don't know the answers to everything but I do know that we treat women better.
Michelle Caruso Cabrera:I'm going to agree with that.
Bill Maher: You know what, when you tolerate intolerance, you're not really being a liberal. Let's move on
Proving that it occasionally snows in hell, and that even a broken clock is right twice a day, I found myself rooting for Tavis Smiley. I am sure that is something you will never see me write again. I am going to say it for you, to save you the effort, Bill Maher is a MEGADOUCHE. Attitudes like his have become far too commonplace in supposedly liberal conversation circles. I have even seen feminists side with this kind of argument. As bell hooks says, there is no such thing as a good oppression. Comparing and contrasting them only suggests that the sexism that is happening in the U.S. is okay and not completely damaging to the women that have to negotiate it. In his effort to demonize Muslim men, Maher completely ignored the emotional abuse, violence, domestic violence and rapes that happen in North America everyday. The U.S. is not some sort of female haven, where all women feel safe and are appreciated. There are women that have difficulty just walking to their car in a parking garage -- but none of that matters -- because he has a people and a religion to demonize.
Just like a lot of White people who say racist things, he doesn't want to be called a racist, but that is exactly what he is. It is furthermore a sign of his overblown western, White male privilege, that he believes he has the right to tell an entire people what they need. I find it ironic that at the end he says, "when you tolerate intolerance, you're not really being a liberal," because that is exactly what he is doing - explaining away the harm that sexism and patriarchy does to western women.
This argument is going to continue to come up and so rather than going into more detail about how feel it is not only Islamophobic, sexist and racist, I would like to know what you think. Do you believe his argument has merit, and if not how have you countered such a position in the past? I think that it is time we begin to break down this issue.