For the record: This an attack on authoritarian, misogynistic patriarchy regardless of the religion it wears as a disguise. It just so happens that some followers of Islam are especially vehement and uninhibited in their rantings in favor of authoritarian, misogynistic patriarchy. All major monotheisms are patriarchal; all have an undercurrent of misogyny; all will be authoritarian whenever they can seize temporal power sufficient to permit it. Everyone of them is, in my opinion, unfit for human consumption. Nonetheless, this is not about religions as such; it is about their toxic effluent – authoritarian, misogynistic patriarchy
“Be not ashamed women. You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul.” Walt Whitman
Almost midway through the second decade of the 21st century, the authoritarian patriarchy that has dominated almost every powerful culture historically and still does contemporaneously continues to incite, excuse, and ignore the denial of full human and civil equality to women. There are so many tributary streams to the mighty river of male dominance that it is difficult to concisely name them.
In Western societies, one of the largest contributors to the wrongfully unequal treatment is the material versus ideal dichotomy. Usually said to originate with Plato, this concept says the real world is a defective and devalued facsimile of the ideal realm that is the actual reality. Everyone and everyone in the natural world is a poor substitute for the glorious renditions of themselves in the realm of forms. This crucial concept has gone through numerous variations over the millennia from the philosophy of the Greeks and Romans to the religions of the Christians and Muslims. As one might expect, power lusting men have seized upon this dichotomy in order to capture what they claim is the moral high ground.
In the Roman Empire the resurgent material/ideal dichotomy was adopted by the early Christians as a way of denouncing the society around them. They then and now advocate the conflict of the Spirit and the Flesh. This is discussed in sectarian terms, but it is essentially Plato’s disparaging of the real world in contrast to the ideal world.
It is amazing that this nonsense has not only persisted, but ruled for so long. As the Christians [Muslims and Jews] tell it: an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent deity created the first human – Adam, and then, created the first human female – Eve – from Adam’s rib. This sequence of events gives a clue to the authoritarian patriarchy lurking behind the piety. The male is a full-blown creation of the deity, but the female is made from a spare part. What is up with that?
Shortly these two people fall from sinlessness due to their – eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Of course, the female is the first to blame and she catches the blame for misleading the male. After Adam is duped, the deity shows up and denounces his two creations. Not only they, but every other human being who ever exists until the ending of the planet Earth has fallen and is sinful. “Genesis chapter 3 records the fall of Adam and Eve, and with that fall, sin entered into the two previously sinless creatures that God had made. And when they, in turn, had children, their sin nature was passed along to their offspring. That sin nature immediately manifested itself in the very first child born from Adam and Eve, a man named Cain who became a murderer (Genesis 4:8).” So according to this screed, Cain was sinful before he murdered Able.
The preceding is not a field report of what actually happened. It is a propaganda tale. It promptly makes males of higher status than females and it fastens corruption on the entire human race. According to the scriptures human beings, left to on their own, are awash with “impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, spiritism (that is, encouraging the activity of demons), hatred and fighting, jealousy and anger, constant effort to get the best for yourself, complaints and criticisms, the feeling that everyone else is wrong except those in your own little group. One wonders how a perfect almighty, all knowing, ubiquitous deity could have launched such a flawed and foul band of fiends. Of course the propagandists let the Almighty off the hook by blaming “human nature” generally and females especially.
This is hogwash compounded from an erroneous idea and a toxic perspective to pave the way for priests and princes to seize and hold power. From this start, females were sidelined wherever this ideology reined. The first among them was not only not an OEM product, but she opened the door for the downfall of all humankind. Because Eve was naked in the Garden, this status was construed as one of shame and women would henceforth be fiercely instructed to “cover themselves.”
Males, on the other hand, could be hoodwinked into being part of the grab for societal power by being given dominion over females. Only some males of course would reach the pinnacles of power, but all males could wield power over someone and thus, gained from the patriarchal system. This is similar to the way in which poor whites were enlisted as soldiers to defend the wealth of the Planters in the American South during the civil war and later after reconstruction was ended and Jim Crow begun. The rulers benefited most extravagantly, but all members of Club Y gained a bit.
Throughout the centuries since the Roman Empire this combined view of human depravity and male dominance has held sway almost everywhere and at all times. The propagandists have struggled to refine their message and sustain their hold on society’s mores and morality. At times, advocates for different versions of the human depravity / male dominion scam battled with one another, but little outright challenge to this world view ever gained power for long anywhere.
When one considers that the origin myth most embraced in Western culture condemn all humankind to eternal damnation based on the purported actions of two people; blames the female for beguiling the male into transgression and lets a supposedly almighty deity entirely off the hook for the adverse turn of a situation he created and sustained, it is not surprising that women are not given equal status or respect in such a culture. Add to this the error of one of the West’s greatest philosophers of consigning the real world to an inferior status compared to an alleged ideal and one faces a truly toxic brew of anti-naturalistic misogyny.
If the situation is deplorable in the culture of Europe and the Americas, it is even worse in the Islamic and Asian worlds. In India, rapes, especially gang rapes and honor killings abound. In fundamentalist Islamic areas, women are expected to wear a Burga. As Khushwant Singh says, “In my view, shared by all my Muslim friends, burga is the single most reprehensible cause for keeping Muslims backward (it is synonymous to jehalat — ignorance and backwardness). The sooner it is abolished, the better. Naik [an Islamic fundamentalist] castigates the western society in no uncertain terms: “Western talk of women’s liberalization is nothing but a disguised form of exploitation of her body, degradation of her soul and deprivation of her honour. Western society claims to have uplifted women. On the contrary, it has actually degraded them to the status of concubines, mistresses, and society butterflies who are mere tools in the hands of pleasure seekers and sex marketers….” Singh responds: “Dr. Naik, you know next to nothing about the Western society and are talking through your skull cap. People like you are making the Muslims lag behind other communities.” The charge that Western society degrades women because they don’t have to hide their bodies is simply sectarian equine feces. Human bodies are not shameful and humans who show their bodies should be neither blamed nor shamed for doing so. This pertains in the face of direct attacks and sneak attacks that purport to be about objectification. Humans are beings, not things, and no amount of misguided thinking can alter that indisputable fact.
The roots of misogyny run exceedingly deep. Its noxious influence permeates every Western culture and misogynists always exploit every opportunity to divide and conquer their opponents and those they love to oppress and victimize. One of the most nefarious tactics of misogyny is the enlistment of women in its service with the camouflage of traditional concepts of propriety and modesty. Allied to this is the exploitation of competitiveness and pharisaicalness among and by women towards one another. Every culture and every society has modes of dress deemed fashionable and appropriate, but the prevailing ideas on these matters are simply concerted human preferences at any given time in any given place. Current modes of dress are not scientifically established facts. They are choices to which many human beings living in a specific culture have consented or at a minimum assented. Clothes do not and never did truly “make the man” and the presence or absence of clothes most definitely does not make the woman.
As the illustration at the start of this essay declares, dead bodies are grounds for outrage, but nude bodies are not. It is time for all people of good will to loudly and repeatedly insist females are fully and equally human. They have the right to make decisions regarding their reproductive lives, their careers, whether or not to marry and whom to marry, and they can decide about how many and what clothes to wear. Each female has the untrammeled right to make these choices for herself. If other people, including other females, do not concur these people need to keep their opinions to themselves because they make choices for their lives, not for anyone else’s life.
Not only does each female have the right to make her own choice in regards to attire, but every human has the right to like, dislike, or ignore these choices. No person or group has the rightful authority to insist that any female conform to what they believe is proper, modest, feminine, or honorable. This does not mean the judgmental will stop comparing, complaining, and criticizing, it simply means they are without legitimate standing to do so. Individuals have not obligation to abide by the preferred and often bigoted standards of other individuals who live near them in space or time. “Whenever domination is present, love is lacking.” In terms of personal interactions we need to stop comparing, stop competing, and stop criticizing and most of all stop coercing! As Thumper’s mother advised, “If you can’t say anything nice,” shut the Hell up!
This is an extreme presentation of the oppressive claims made under the rubric of modesty, but is emphasizes the key point that this is simply one crafty tactic in the subordination of women. At a local supermarket, a couple was shopping. The male had shorts and a T-shirt as his chosen attire. The woman was covered from head to toe with only her hands and face visible. It was an 85 degree day. These two people, in a 21st century American city, demonstrated the unequal status of men and women in the mind of people who embrace modesty as a predominant ideal.
Women are fully human beings this bears repeating because so many explicitly or implicitly deny it. Women are more than wives, mothers, or other roles in regard to men. The fact that a person or a society subscribes to a supposed ordained superiority of men over women does not mean the misogynistic canard is true or deserving of respect. The preposterousness of this notion is illustrated below:
This illustration is framed in Islamic terms and images once again because these are often more flagrant expressions of the Blame and Shame principle in operation. One should neither forget that this same premise is more subtly expressed in present day fundamentalist Christianity and conservative Western families and societies. Note the declaration: “Good women are obedient”. This reveals the essential quest of the Blame and Shame Game: obedience. Those who wittingly or unwittingly give aid and comfort to the Blamers and the Shamers are facilitating the subordination of women.
It is time for anyone who has a true conception of ethics and humanity to say NO MORE! We are wise to the scam and we will not be part of it. The moral stature of any female is in no way dependent on the style and quantity of her attire. The woman pictured below is not immoral; she is not an object; she is a human being and her ethical status is independent of her momentary attire. Appearing in an advertisement does not objectify her or in any way diminish or mar her humanity or worth. The photograph has not stolen her soul or besmirched her honor.
No one who recognizes the full humanity and civil equality of females and males can be a participant or a bystander in the Blame and Shame Game. Women and their bodies are not evil, dangerous, or morally suspect. They are human beings. Feminism is not an anti-male ideology; it is not the exclusive province or concern of women. As Gloria Steinem truly observed: “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” One simply cannot lend the least iota of support to the Blame and Shame Game and be an authentic feminist regardless of one’s gender. It is not our genitalia that characterize us; it is our authentic convictions and our real actions in service to these ideals.