Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gender Equality and Religion: Using the Burqa Ban as a Jumping-Off Point

A little over a month ago, The Huffington Post put up an Associated Press article entitled “Sarkozy: Burqas Are ‘Not Welcome’ In France.” The gist of the article was that French President Nicolas Sarkozy used “some of the strongest language against burqas from a European leader at a time when some Western officials have been seeking to ease tensions with the Muslim world.” Burqas, for those unaware, are a type of Islamic religious garb for women that cover the entire body. Burqas have a nasty reputation for being a hindrance to female equality in the Muslim world, and also apparently in France. Thus, some in that country would like to see them banned from being worn.

I saw this as an affront to the basic human right of freedom of religion, or more importantly, freedom of expression. It was in this spirit that I wrote this in the comments section of the article:

This is absolutely ridiculous. A woman can choose to where [sic] whatever she wants. When a burqa is a symbol of subservience, it is when the woman is forced to wear one.

Sorry about the dumb spelling mistake. And using the word “the” before “woman” doesn’t sound right, deconstructively. My bad.

Anyway, now that I reexamine what I wrote, I think I only agree with about half of what I commented. I still think that the burqa ban is ridiculous, and that a woman has the right to wear whatever she damn well pleases. However, I think I’m going to have to take back the second half. The burqa is still a symbol of subservience, even if a woman is forced to wear it or not. This is because the religious institution it comes from is sexist.

Some of you are probably offended right now. Wait, keep reading.

My beef isn’t with Islam specifically. Rather, it’s with the Abrahamic religions in general. I’m not a Muslim, but I am a member of another Abrahamic religion—Judaism. The sexist commonality, at least for me, came in the realization of the similarities of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Most people point to specific verses in the Bible/Qur’an when they think of sexism (and homophobia and heterosexism) in the major monotheistic religions. From the Torah’s story of the fall of humankind from Eden due to woman, the execution of gays, the “impurities” of menstruation and seminal fluid, to the New Testament’s call for wives to “submit” to their husbands, and to the Qur’an’s implorations of women’s modesty. These are all pretty damning (yes, pun intended), but not what I see as the most basic cause of these religions’ problems with sexism.

Really, the dilemma is that all three religions seek to assign gender roles to how people should live. Wives are still sex objects, but only to their husbands. Husbands must fulfill the role of provider for the family. In each religion, this concrete separation evolved into intensely patriarchal systems. Oh, and don’t even think about trying to do anything differently, lest you be stoned to death.

Just like social superstructures imitate economic bases, so do specific aspects of religions imitate their simplest principles. Within the confines of religious law, burqas, as well as other religious clothing mandated only for women, like Jewish sheitels, are oppressive in nature.

The trick is, though, that you have to introduce choice into the matter, which is what feminism is all about. Women who are able to choose what they want to wear are not oppressed in that manner. Even though religious garb still may carry oppression symbolically, the woman who wears it is not necessarily oppressed in this particular area of her life, as long as she has chosen her outfit.

In conclusion: a burqa is still symbolically sexist, but a woman who chooses to wear one is not proclaiming subservience to men. This goes for all religions with gender-clothing. Religions are sexist when they assign gender roles, since overcoming sexism means choosing what role you want regardless of sex. France’s burqa ban eliminates that choice, and is thus a dumb law. I should never be allowed to ramble.

Hopefully no one is too mad over what I’ve written. Who knows, I may not agree with this entire post in a month.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A blogging surprise

If anyone out there actually reads this blog, I'm going to be posting on a certain more famous blog very, very soon. I'm really excited.

As soon as it's up, I'll link to it.

OK, here's the link:

The FBomb is a teenage feminist blog that has been featured on websites like Salon's Broadsheet and Jezebel, started by Julie Zeilinger, a teenage feminist who is not afraid to fight the patriarchy.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story

That's the name of Michael Moore's new movie.

I am REALLY EXCITED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Moore on the movie:

It’s got it all — lust, passion, romance and 14,000 jobs being eliminated every day. It’s a forbidden love, one that dare not speak its name. Heck, let’s just say it: It’s capitalism.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


I just realized I posted that I'd be creating a micro blog at Tumblr, but I never gave the URL.


Easy to remember. It's where I'll post things that don't always have to do with politics or current events. Maybe a random musing here or there.



Honduras and The Shock Doctrine

Last year for my birthday my parents got me the Naomi Klein book The Shock Doctrine, which I asked for, since I'm a total Klein-geek. (I also got No Logo, but I haven't read that yet.) I finally got around to reading it, almost a year later. I'm only about 200 pages in, but it's blowing my mind. The basic premise of the book is this:

Free market capitalism as we know it today wasn't born out of peaceful reforms in welfare-state economies. Rather, whenever these countries wanted to radically change their economy into a laissez-faire structure, they had to shock their populations into accepting these changes, or use shocks to quickly restructure the economy. This was the philosophy of the most famous free market economist ever, Milton Friedman.

The scariest thing about this is that the shock treatments that the "disaster capitalists" use directly mimic the use of shock therapy, and later torture, to "remake" people.

People have never willingly subjected themselves to neoliberal policies, and they've mostly been enforced by brute force. There is, then, a discrepancy between the traditional notion of capitalism and freedom (coincidentally, Capitalism and Freedom is the name of Milton Friedman's most well-known book). Pure capitalism cannot exist in a democracy. It must be shocked into existence by quick action from governments when disasters happen.

Think someone like Friedman would never admit the incompatibility of capitalism and democracy? Well, think again:

Friedman's followers at the University of Chicago's school of economics (the "Chicago School") have had a long history of overthrowing Latin American democracies to institute radical free market military dictatorships, the only environment where capitalism can live undisturbed by protesting people. The "Chicago Boys," as they were later known, helped topple regimes in Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, and others. This was always with some sort of American support, whether it was from American corporations, the CIA, or the White House.

That is why the military coup of the democratic Honduran government doesn't strike me as surprising, just disgusting. President Zelaya, ousted by the coup, wasn't exactly freedom-oriented, but his pro-union, anti-neoliberal stance would certainly be of some distress to the right wing.

I submit that the military coup in Honduras was nothing more than the execution of economic shock therapy. The reports of labor leaders being rounded up and the free press being shut down are clear indicators that a fascist Friedmanite free market revolution could be the goal in Honduras.

Now we just have to wait and see what happens.