01 July 2011

Today in Gender Equality

Glenn Greenwald has been making the point that, these days, most pundits are quite careful not to appear racist or sexist. And in that climate, he says, open anti-Muslim bigotry is the only form of bigotry that is currently being tolerated.

I guess it is.

But I would argue that, in the case of women, that cautious attitude only covers political speech. It is true that, an overtly sexist comment might no longer be welcome in many situations and might earn the speaker at least a mild rebuke. Of course, in that situation the offender would likely roll his eyes knowingly about humorless harpies and over-the-top political correctness, but the disapproval would stand. However, when it comes to policy choices, I contend that this is not true and it costs nothing to throw women under the bus.

You could say it is the age old distinction between form and substance.

For instance, the plight of a Saudi woman who tried very hard to become a surgeon only to get her salary confiscated by her father and locked away in her room did not warrant the same kind of support for the Saudi woman who wanted to drive by herself.

Imagine, if you will, a group of people who are unable to leave their homes unaccompanied, unable to pursue a career, unable to travel or move around without the permission of their rightful guardian, or have no right to question or rebel against the authority of that guardian. Imagine that they have no social, political or economic rights: they cannot work, they cannot vote, they cannot open a bank account.

Imagine, now, that submissive group sharing an ethnicity and being in that secondary position because of that ethnicity. And imaging the guardians belonging to another ethnic group.

How long would it take for us to declare this arrangement unacceptable?

Yet, when it comes to women, nothing. Not a peep.

Usually, people claim that it is the oil that makes Saudi Arabia untouchable. Well, if Saudi Arabia was the only source of oil, I could buy that argument. But it is not: they barely provide 10 percent of US oil:
More than half of the oil that fuels the U.S.—51%—comes from the Western Hemisphere, and only 17% comes from the Persian GulfBahrainIraqKuwait,QatarSaudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Among our neighbors in the West, supplies break down as follows:
  • Canada (23.3%)
  • Venezuela (10.7%)
  • Saudi Arabia (10.4%)
  • Mexico (9.2%)
  • Nigeria (8.3%)
And the US could get that 10 percent from other sources with no difficulty. In fact, if the cost of doing business with Saudi Arabia became quite expensive - the anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa comes to mind - how long do you think American politicians could continue to support that patriarchal regime? If American women made it clear that they would not vote for anyone who is not criticizing Saudi system, how long oil companies could pretend that Saudi regime is untouchable.

But with no one saying a word, it is business as usual:

This woman, like millions of women in that country, was unable to practice her profession freely, control her money, marry the person she wanted, was beaten up and lawfully kept in house arrest for months at a time all because her father did not feel like abiding by her choices. In fact, she has less rights than a child in the US. But that is OK. It is just women.

I don't buy the second argument about Saudi Arabia either: that it is a religious and cultural requirement and we have no business interfering with their internal affairs. Without going into pointless debates whether Islam allows for that discrimination or not, I can prove that the religious argument is rubbish: Slavery is mentioned and sanctioned in all the holy books. You can look it up.

Do we allow that? Universal Declaration of Human Rights and what not.

If some society made the claim that their religious beliefs (including their understanding of one of the major religions) necessitate that they owned slaves, would we say that it is fine and that it is their internal affairs?

Why is it OK for women to be second class citizens?

Why do we get worked up when Qaddafi kills people but we politely avert our eyes when 15 schools girls were forced to be burned alive because they could not leave the burning building without correct Islamic dress?

That is, indeed, my point, it costs nothing to throw women under the bus to maintain the status quo.

Take also the case the South African lesbians who have been subjected to systematic "corrective rape:"
More than 10 lesbians per week are raped or gang-raped in Cape Town alone, according to Luleki Sizwe, a charity which helps women who have been raped in the Western Cape.

Many of the cases are not reported because the victims are afraid that the police will laugh at them, or that their attackers will come after them, says Ndumie Funda, founder of Luleki Sizwe.
Reports of police ridiculing rape victims abound in the gay community.
"Some policemen in the township mock you saying: 'How can you be raped by a man if you are not attracted to them?' They ask you to explain how the rape felt. It is humiliating," says Thando Sibiya, a lesbian from Soweto.
She says she knows two people who reported rapes but then dropped their cases because of their treatment by the police.
Do you think we would be fine if black people were systematically beaten up by white people to correct their identity and sense of self? Wait... it happened and it happened in the same place and we did not find it OK.

How about genital mutilation? Another instance of cultural diversity, right? How about Egyptian army performing virginity tests during the heady days of the "Arab Spring" as a way to discourage women from participating.

That is why I maintain that, not to rise up against patriarchy costs nothing. And that is why no one does it.

At least Greenwald is emphasizing the double standards when it comes to anti-Muslim bigotry.

We need prominent people who relentlessly repeat -to quote a much younger Secretary Clinton-  women's right are human rights.

And act accordingly.

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