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"Women hold up half the sky"
August 19, 2009 3:10 PM   Subscribe

The Women’s Crusade: Why Women's Rights Are the Cause of Our Time.
posted by homunculus (39 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Congrats homunculus on your 1000th post!
posted by netbros at 3:12 PM on August 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


The latest New York Times Magazine is focused on the rights of women. Another notable piece:

A School Bus for Shamsia: A writer returned to Afghanistan to buy a bus for Afghan girls who were attacked on their walk to school. But it turns out giving isn’t always easy.
posted by homunculus at 3:17 PM on August 19, 2009


> Today, Saima is a bit plump and displays a gold nose ring as well as several other rings and bracelets on each wrist. She exudes self-confidence as she offers a grand tour of her home and work area, ostentatiously showing off the television and the new plumbing. She doesn’t even pretend to be subordinate to her husband. He spends his days mostly loafing around, occasionally helping with the work but always having to accept orders from his wife. He has become more impressed with females in general: Saima had a third child, also a girl, but now that’s not a problem. “Girls are just as good as boys,” he explained.

DTMFA
posted by you just lost the game at 3:18 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Fortunately, more and more people working on effective ways to end poverty and improve the lives of people in developing countries seem to be recognizing that improving the status of women is a key part of the equation. Jeffrey Sachs and Hans Rosling have had some especially helpful insights on this point.

Back in April in this blog post, Kristof recommended Michelle Goldberg's The Means of Reproduction for further reading on this topic.

(Full disclosure: Michelle is a friend.)
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:18 PM on August 19, 2009


Women make up the wide majority of slaves and human traffic as well.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:22 PM on August 19, 2009


Feminism is certainly the most important entirely anthrocentric cause of our time, but I'm going to have to go for environmentalism as the cause of our time.

It does seem that, to some people, the work of feminism is done, and anyone left who is crazy enough to call themself a feminist is some kind of crazy extremist.
posted by Edwahd at 3:46 PM on August 19, 2009


The subjection of women
posted by hortense at 4:26 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nice post. I'm producing a radio program right now about the situation in Congo, where its arguably worse than anywhere else, considering the 2007 rape of an 11 month old baby girl. Among many other mind boggling atrocities. It's hard to think about.

However, I really don't think there is a lot of value in playing the whole 'what cause is the cause of our time' game. Mainly because its just too damn reductionist, and dangerously ignores the much more complex relationships between things like poverty, carbon emissions, women's rights...

focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.

I mean, this seems awfully hyperbolic. Empowering women and protecting them - especially in places like the Congo - and ubiquitously giving them their due status is absolutely necessary. But its no panacea.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:38 PM on August 19, 2009


It does seem that, to some people, the work of feminism is done, and anyone left who is crazy enough to call themself a feminist is some kind of crazy extremist.

yes - this drives me nuts.

good article - I was just reading this yesterday, and it makes a lot of good points too.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:58 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is no such thing as a 'cause of our time'. There is only 'a cause', of which there are many that are interrelated.

And that kind of intellectual shallowness in generalizing about the problems of the age is one of the major problems plaguing our society today. We need to combat stupid.

Lutoslawski, it'll go a long way toward fixing the other problems. For one, it'll provide a bigger pool of people to work on the other problems.
posted by kldickson at 5:00 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Edwahd, it does tie in in at least one way--educated women with higher status have fewer babies.

It's a startling piece in that men in developed countries do not come off well at all, in terms of being drinking, whoring, money-wasting assholes. I'm not sure that the piece doesn't get a little gender essentialist. Probably not room to go into the understanding that men being assholes and women being caretakers are living out the roles they've been assigned, by and large, and I would assume some men are not assholes and some women blow through money like drunken sailors.
posted by emjaybee at 5:10 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Great article on as important a subject as there is—thanks!

> I find religious people in general quite blameable

Yes, you've made that quite clear, repeatedly and frequently unpleasantly. Perhaps you could give it a rest.
posted by languagehat at 5:35 PM on August 19, 2009 [7 favorites]


Thanks for a very inspiring post. Now, off to find a tin can.....
posted by effluvia at 6:07 PM on August 19, 2009


I find religious people in general quite blameable. Yes, religion owns part of the blame, but people* get REALLY crazy when they're in total poverty.

The idea of empowering women with micro-credit is awesome, but EDUCATION is key. Education for all in impoverished areas. There is no need to fight against a religion when a decent basic education can help one develop their own personal philosophy about how they want to live and how they want to be perceived by others.

Of all of the horrors that I've witnessed on the internet over the years, the atrocities against women and girls is the ONE I cannot be desensitized to.

*I'm not including American funamentalists. Their brand of crazy is based on "fear of others", not poverty.
posted by snsranch at 6:41 PM on August 19, 2009


I literally burst out crying when the Times graphic flashed that 1 percent of the world's property is owned by women. Wow.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:15 PM on August 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Lutoslawski, it'll go a long way toward fixing the other problems. For one, it'll provide a bigger pool of people to work on the other problems.

Oh for sure. I'm just saying that - and I think that history has proved - that thinking putting all effort into one issue doesn't solve all the issues.

But my god - educating and financially supporting women in the third world would have a truly tremendous impact on many factors.

And I am personally of the opinion that some more women executive positions in the American workforce (and I'm basing this almost purely on research on how testosterone affects personality) probably would have prevented most of our current economic problems (not that women haven't also been involved in the mess).
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:29 PM on August 19, 2009


"The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls and women are now missing from the planet, precisely because they are female, than men were killed on the battlefield in all the wars of the 20th century."
Wow. Just .. wow.
Thanks homunculus, for this and the previous 999.
[As an aside, the media's recent focus on the alleged gaffe by Clinton in Africa to the near exclusion of all the serious topics addressed during her visit, particularly those affecting the welfare of women, was pretty appalling I thought.]
posted by peacay at 8:45 PM on August 19, 2009


MeTa.
posted by Kattullus at 9:29 PM on August 19, 2009


Here's the Kristof/WuDunn book: 'Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide'.
posted by peacay at 10:49 PM on August 19, 2009


Germaine Greer wrote about this decades ago.

(But great post, homunculus.)
posted by nax at 4:18 AM on August 20, 2009


Good timing. I just finished Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book, "Infidel". I can't help be angry at Islam and Muslim cultures for the heart of these issues. To quote the article:
"Of course, it's fair to ask: empowering women is well and good, but can one do this effectively?" No! Especially when women who are beaten often feel they deserve it. Or at least are conflicted about the abuse versus their submission to Allah.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:44 AM on August 20, 2009


> I can't help be angry at Islam and Muslim cultures for the heart of these issues.

I can understand why you and others have the impulse to react this way, but please try to resist it. The fault is not that of Islam, it is that of sexist assholes who cherry-pick the writings and traditions of Islam to justify their sexism. If they were brought up in some other tradition, religious or not, they would do the same with whatever writings and traditions were available. (Russia, to take an obvious example, is full of sexist assholes who were not brought up in any religious tradition.) There are plenty of non-sexist Muslims. Try not to let immediate (and, again, understandable) rage overwhelm your critical faculties.
posted by languagehat at 8:59 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't help be angry at Islam and Muslim cultures for the heart of these issues.

Being "angry" at a particular religion or culture seems, in my mind, to be somewhat misdirected -- not just because many of the practices Hirst critques (such as genital mutilation) aren't "Muslim" or "Islamic" per se, but more importantly because as far as cultures and religions go, there's plenty of misogyny to go around -- as Kristof points out in the blog post I linked to above. The oppression and marginalization of women is a systemic problem in developing countries, with deep links to poverty, poor infrastructure, and low levels of education. Viewing it as a "Muslim problem" is both inaccurate and unproductive.

I'd also add that while Hirst Ali is a charismatic figure with a compelling life story, she is not a good source for serious or thoughtful analysis. Again, I'd recommend the books by Kristof/WuDunn or Goldberg on this issue of the relationship between religious ideologies and the status of women.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 8:59 AM on August 20, 2009


Feminism is certainly the most important entirely anthrocentric cause of our time...

I think someone is confusing 'Feminism' with 'Equality'. SO not the same thing.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:41 AM on August 20, 2009


A crusade?
posted by bukvich at 10:04 AM on August 20, 2009


The fault is not that of Islam, it is that of sexist assholes who cherry-pick the writings and traditions of Islam to justify their sexism.
To some extent, there are sexist assholes who do that. But they are given the green light in the Quran! If a line (or lines) of text says it is acceptable to beat your wife for not giving up sex when you want it, that justifies the beating. Not to mention worse offenses like honor killings.

But the point to what I was saying (not very well, I suppose), is that it's not simply "people think this way because it's in the Quran". The submission of women, women as property, women as worth less than men, is ingrained in the culture. And that culture is driven by the Quran. Hence my anger.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:28 AM on August 20, 2009


BTW: Hirsi Ali, not Hirst Ali.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:37 AM on August 20, 2009


> To some extent, there are sexist assholes who do that. But they are given the green light in the Quran!

You're not grasping my point. They are "given the green light" in all (established) religious traditions, because they were all established while basically the entire world was sexist. This means that you can find justification for your sexism everywhere. (Try reading the Bible sometime.) The Quran was actually quite progressive for its day in the way women were treated (which does not, of course, mean it's progressive for this day). You are blaming the religion for the assholery of the assholes.

> The submission of women, women as property, women as worth less than men, is ingrained in the culture. And that culture is driven by the Quran. Hence my anger.

Nonsense. There is no single "culture," there are a bunch of cultures that have been influenced by Islam, and they have all been influenced by different aspects of Islam in different ways and to different degrees, to a large extent reflecting their pre-Islamic cultures (Persia, for instance, never did really get on board with the anti-alcohol and anti-image injunctions). Nothing is "driven by the Quran" except the religion as such; individual people decide, as they do always and everywhere, what they want to take from their religion.

I'm getting the feeling that you are clutching on to your anger and not willing to allow yourself to be dissuaded from your irrational and unhistoric association of it with Islam. That is, of course, your right, but you'll permit me, if that is the case, to form my own judgments about your motivations and thought processes.
posted by languagehat at 11:28 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hmm... I understand what you're saying, but I think you're putting words in my mouth (thoughts in my head?).

I think you're simplifying my point too much. I agree that the Quran was progressive for its time. And, yes, I know there are passages in the Bible that are similarly sexist (or stupid, backwards, etc.). But I also blame Christians who try to justify their evil position (e.g. homosexuality is a sin) by using the Bible as support. You can't strip the asshole from his faith, or vice versa.

And, yes, I know there is no single "culture". But I am speaking generally about muslim/islamic cultures. I have to disagree when you say "nothing is 'driven by the Quran' ". From what I've read, and experienced (I have a number of Muslim friends in Egypt, and I've traveled there a lot), Islam seems to be much more integral in a Muslim's life. Compared to Christians, say here in the US. There are more, what I call, "armchair Christians" (or what some say "cafeteria Christians" - take a little here, a little, there, don't take any of that) than "armchair Muslims".

And, sorry, but with all due respect, I'm not clutching onto my anger. I am willing to be dissuaded. And I don't think I'm irrational. Also, please don't judge my motivations or thought processes by one post here. I think my experiences are more extensive than you might think. I'm just saying. But do tell me where I am wrong. I really do respect you, man!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 3:31 PM on August 20, 2009


First off, sorry for leaping to the "clutching on to your anger" thing, but I was responding to a comment in which you seemed a lot more dogmatic about it than you do now.

As to the substance: you have no right to be "speaking generally about muslim/islamic cultures," since you clearly have a limited and superficial knowledge of them. (That's not meant as an insult, simply as a description. There are many topics of which I have a limited and superficial knowledge, and many more of which I have none whatsoever.) You "have a number of Muslim friends in Egypt," and you've "traveled there a lot"; that's great, and it enables to you speak with some authority about your Muslim friends in Egypt and at least to be taken seriously if you talk about Egyptian culture (do you speak/read Arabic, by the way?), but what do you know about the Islam of Senegal, or Morocco, or Yemen, or the eastern region of Saudi Arabia, or Central Asia, or Malaysia? Have you studied the various strands of Islamic philosophy? Are you familiar with forms of Sufism other than those practiced in Egypt? And again, while it can be a useful form of shorthand to talk about "Muslim/Islamic cultures" as long as everyone in the conversation is on the same page about what exactly is meant (although Hodgson preferred "Islamicate culture" precisely because it lends itself less to this kind of conflation), it is meaningless in this context, because culture and religion are not the same thing and you are trying to conflate them.

> There are more, what I call, "armchair Christians" (or what some say "cafeteria Christians" - take a little here, a little, there, don't take any of that) than "armchair Muslims".

With all due respect, you don't know this, and you have no real reason to think it's true. The country with the largest number of Muslims in the world is Indonesia, and the vast majority of them are what you would probably call "armchair Muslims" (although the dismissal and/or marginalization of vast numbers of Muslims because they don't hew to the standards of Saudi Wahhabism is a serious problem in both scholarship and the real world). You are projecting from your tiny slice of personal experience, with huge helpings of guesses and preconceptions.

I don't want to quarrel with you or insult you, and I appreciate your willingness to listen, but there's an awful lot of this simplistic approach to Islam going around, and it's hard to be patient with it. Surely you can see that a billion people who profess the same faith coming from many, many different cultures and traditions cannot possibly be lumped together as you are doing. I'll be glad to give you a basic reading list if you're interested.
posted by languagehat at 3:53 PM on August 20, 2009


Another point that should be more widely understood: the whole "fundamentalist Islam" thing that's scaring everyone these days (and with good reason, don't get me wrong) is the result of two historical accidents: the alliance of the Al Saud family with the Wahhabi sect a couple of centuries ago and the fact that the Saudis are sitting on one of the world's richest deposits of oil. This gives them the means to spread their fanatical and repellent doctrine throughout the world. But before they started doing that, Islam was by no means a hotbed of fanaticism, and it should not be blamed for the current prevalence of that one strand.
posted by languagehat at 4:13 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


The fault is not that of Islam, it is that of sexist assholes who cherry-pick the writings and traditions of Islam to justify their sexism.
That's not really a helpful position to take languagehat. You seem to imply that certain places just contain more sexist assholes and that it has nothing to do with the religion that they then, according to you, choose to motivate their already existing opinions with. How do you rule out that Islam is not a factor in creating sexist assholes in the first place? Are sexist assholes born that way, as you seem to imply when you say
If they were brought up in some other tradition, religious or not, they would do the same with whatever writings and traditions were available.
Which oddly enough should be evidently untrue given that you already seem to have noticed that basically the entire world was sexist at one point. That is, unless of course, you believe there existed some evolutionary pressure that selected for non assholes in some cultures but not in others?

What also should be pretty clear to your keen eye is that, how religious populations are seem to be correlated with the amount of rights granted to their women.
There is also a plausible explanation for why that might be the case, i.e. that the populations draw influence from a text that is de facto sexist. Even if the explanation might be wrong it's not stupid or ignorant despite you not agreeing with it.

Also I'll be glad to give you a basic reading list if you're interested in learning to converse in a less condescending manner. I don't want to quarrel with you or insult you of course and me saying that will surely ensure that I haven't.
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 8:07 PM on August 20, 2009


JeNeSaisQuoi: Eponysterical. I'm happy to discuss this with ObscureReferenceMan because he's civil and willing to listen and learn. You seem quite happy with your ignorance and prejudice, so I won't waste too much of my breath trying to change your mind. A couple of questions, just for the heck of it: Are you under the impression that the only difference between those Islamicate cultures that still display egregious built-in sexism and those Western cultures that have overcome it to some extent is religion? And does the statistical overrepresentation of Jews in Russian revolutionary movements mean, as certain popular attitudes of the time claimed, that Judaism is inherently dedicated to the overthrow of Christian civilization? Think about it.
posted by languagehat at 5:34 AM on August 21, 2009


Good going. An Ad hominem right out of the gate. You argumentation skills are dazzling.

Do I believe it is the only difference? No. Do you believe religion is not a factor, at all? That is, if you ran a regression with the relevant variables would the dummy variable for "population is predominately muslim" be significant? Because that is pretty much all that I speculated that it would be. Start by answering that question before formulating more of your own.

Yes ObscureReferenceMan seem to be willing to learn, possible that is why he ended up holding opinions that you don't. It's not like you assumed the same stance as he did and listened to what he had to say with the willingness to be proven wrong.
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 6:36 AM on August 21, 2009


JeNeSaisQuoi: That is, if you ran a regression with the relevant variables would the dummy variable for "population is predominately muslim" be significant? Because that is pretty much all that I speculated that it would be. Start by answering that question before formulating more of your own.

That's a questiont that's impossible to answer because it is impossible to "[run] a regression with the relevant variables." You can't rerun history with tweaked variables. The probability of what happened having happened is 1. If the question is nonsense don't expect people to answer.
posted by Kattullus at 7:13 AM on August 21, 2009


Not quite sure what you're talking about Kattullus. "rerun history with tweaked variables"? What?
"The probability of what happened having happened is 1", true, but I fail to see the point of that statement all the same.

The regression I had in mind would use cross section data.
I think such a regression would be very much doable, but it's a tangential thought in any case. The question as posed was a hypothetical one.
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 8:21 AM on August 21, 2009


Ah, I misunderstood you. I thought you meant that you wanted to figure out the historical variables which lead to the differences today, not look at differences today.

I still think it's a nonsense question, just a different kind of nonsense. Let's take two close-by nations, one which is predominantly muslim and one which isn't. Ghana has a population that's roughly 70% Christian and Guinea has a population that's roughly 85% Muslim. I find it hard to imagine that any significant differences in sexism in these two countries can be laid at the door of churches or mosques. Here are a number of other facts, just to show how complicated it is to compare countries. One was colonized by the French and the other by the British. One covers an area that was under the control and influence of the Songhai empire and the other an are that was under the control and influence of the Ashanti empire. Both were heavily ravaged by the slave trade but also economically dependent on the same. Guinea has a population of roughly 10 million and Ghana roughly 23. Ghana is a soccer powerhouse while Guinea's national team are perennial journeymen. Average life expectancy in Ghana is roughly 57 years, while it's 46 in Guinea. Since the subject of discussion is sexism, here's how the Afrol news agency summarizes the different status of women in each country:
Women in Ghana are subjected to severe abuse and violation of their constitutional rights. In rural areas women remain subject to burdensome labor conditions and traditional male dominance. Rape and domestic violence remains a significant problem in Ghana. Female Genital Mutilation is also a serious problem. Each woman averagely gives birth to 3,95 children (2000 est).

Women in Guinea are objects to polygynous marriages. Divorce laws favour men. Legal evidence given by women carries less weight than that given by men. Every woman in Guinea averagely gives birth to 5,46 children. Up to 90% of Guinean women undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
I find it hard to see how the difference between these two countries in the same part of the world can be reduced to religion. So much else goes into the make-up of these societies.

I could list similar differences for Indonesia (roughly 85% Muslim) and Malaysia (roughly 60% Muslim) and Laos (roughly 65% Buddhist), Thailand (roughly 95% Buddhist) and Burma (roughly 90% Buddhist). There are so many similarities and differences between neighboring countries, reducing it to religion is silly. Religion is one strand in the complicated weave of society. My contention is that it's essentially impossible to isolate it from other factors.

And that isn't taking into account that sexism is not something that's easy to measure across cultures. For instance, workforce participation isn't going to tell us much about Ghana, where the traditional societal role of women is to work in the fields. Enumerated legal rights and the enforcement of such rights aren't always the same thing. And all that aside few people agree on the exact definition of sexism.

So your question is nonsense because it is asking to measure something that's impossible to measure.
posted by Kattullus at 10:39 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


My contention is that it's essentially impossible to isolate it from other factors.

I'm not disagreeing with that statement as much as you seem to think I am. I'm not convinced that it's impossible, but it's certainly something that makes strong conclusions somewhat perilous to make while maintaining your intellectual honesty. Especially to the degree languagehat does, holding his opinions in uncertain matters to such conviction that other peoples' opinions can only be explained by them not being having been subjected to the basic reading list of some self proclaimed intellectual giant.

That's also why I pointed out that the explanation might be wrong when talking about the possible effect religion might have on how populations treat their women. When I mentioned that the regression needed to including relevant variables you should have noticed that I was already in agreement that other factors might be the real causality link.

Still, you don't know, I don't know, languagehat certainly doesn't know, but in that absence of solid evidence of anyone being right there is room for speculation. And I contend that speculation isn't bad, it's the first step to actual finding something out. We could talk in greater length about what data I look at in order to think religion has a real effect, but I feel you seem too preoccupied with the idea of being right instead of finding out what is right, for that discussion to be worthwhile. And when you refers to an other person's opinions as nonsensical without making sure you understand what that person is saying you're giving the impression you're not really interested in a real discussion.

Also I never said I believed this question could or should be reduced to religion only that it might be one many factors. But then I'm of a different opinion then you are so my world view must be much more simplistic then your nuanced one, right?
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 4:01 PM on August 21, 2009


Talk about over thinking a plate of beans! Yes, religion is a major factor but it's tertiary to poverty and lack of education.

No form of fundamentalism exists, in the terms we're using, without those elements.

The same can be said of Christian fundamentalists here in the U.S. But in that case fear is more of a factor than poverty and lack of education is paramount.

This thread is driving me nuts because so much information here, especially languagehat's historical notes can be directly related to the persistence of terrorism as well as these human rights issues.

So many of these issues could/would be solved in a lifetime if they were a real priority.

Unfortunately, keeping people hungry and dumb is the easiest way to manipulate the masses and to maintain power.
posted by snsranch at 5:04 PM on August 21, 2009


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