Posts Tagged sexism
Do the names ’Sofia Wilen’ and ‘Anna Ardin’ mean anything to you? No? Well then, keep reading.
Ever had that feeling where you’re watching someone on TV and every second brings you closer to throwing something at the screen? I came quite close to breaking my beautiful 47″ LCD last night watching the Julian Assange love-in on ABC 24′s The Drum TV.
The whole thing was abysmal, but I was particularly bothered by Assange biographer Andrew Fowler at 5:00,
Julian Assange is a journalist seeking political asylum from Australia, saying that Australia won’t protect him.
And at 5:20,
I think, you know, the issue of the third party, which is the issue of national security, would appear to be what we’re talking about. We’re not really talking about an extradition for sexual molestation.
He’s right, we are not talking about an extradition for sexual molestation. What we are in fact talking about is an extradition for sexual assault, which is a more serious crime than “molestation”.
But that’s not really what our friend Andrew meant, and we all know that. Yes he was trying to make “rape” sound more palatable by using softer language like “sexual molestation”, but what he was really saying was that there is a US conspiracy to extradite Assange once he reaches Sweden and the rape charges are all a fabrication.
Now where does that line of thought come from exactly? Well, you see, Fowler thinks that Assange is a pretty good guy. Assange seems to be a hero for a lot of people around the world who think that pissing off the US government is more important than the lives of US collaborators in Afghanistan or maintaining good diplomatic relations around the world. I personally don’t agree — I think dumping all of those cables was completely irresponsible and a real hero would have gone through them first and only published ones that were actually important — but Fowler is entitled to his opinion.
Here’s the thing though, there’s this old trope that nice, upstanding guys couldn’t possibly be rapists. When women who were clearly throwing themselves at Assange later accuse him of rape, that must be false — they were obviously asking for it.
It is telling that I get 340 words into this post before I mention the two women who are at the centre of this whole affair. Want to know something ridiculous? I had to look up the names Sofia Wilen and Anna Ardin — who, by the way, are the victims. All of this media coverage over the last two years and I did not even know their names off-hand. I do feel a little guilty about this (pun not intended), but then you probably had no idea who they were either.
See, this notoriously egotistical Assange character has managed to convince the world that it is all about him.
This is some huge conspiracy to persecute poor little Julian. It’s really the US, UK, Australian and Swedish governments all secretly coordinating to get him into an electric chair in CIA HQ. He‘s the victim.
It’s not like we’re talking about an extraordinary rendition to Guantanamo Bay here, he’s being extradited from the UK to Sweden. Both are European countries with very strong legal institutions and the rule of law. In fact, there is no logical argument that I can see for Sweden being easier to extradite him from, or why the US wouldn’t be trying to extradite him from the UK right now if that was the intention.
It especially bothers me that so many people seem to be attacking the Swedish legal system for being too easy on rape victims. Seriously. Now that’s the argument that the pro-Assange left is using — end Sweden’s draconian anti-rape policies!
Put simply, Julian Assange is doing everything that is humanly possible to avoid standing trial for rape in a liberal, democratic country. Of course he’s entitled to the presumption of innocence, but his victims are also entitled to justice. If the Swedish prosecutors believe that they can prove the charges, Assange must have his day in court and if he continues to avoid doing that, it only makes him seem more guilty.
In a way, it feels similar to the people who are willing to overlook the horrific culture of abusing women amongst Palestinians because it doesn’t fit their anti-Israel narrative. Because it’s Assange and they like Assange, he is being treated as an oppressed hero and not an accused rapist.
Here’s the reality: nothing you may like about Assange or Wikileaks means that he is not capable of committing sexual assault. Nothing about the behaviour of those women towards Assange means that they were Asking For It.
If you have any credibility, stop making excuses for Assange, it’s not about him. If Julian Assange had sex with Sofia Wilen and Anna Ardin and they did not consent, he is a criminal and should go to jail. The only way to resolve the situation is for him to stand trial in Sweden, which he must do by law. That is all there is to it.
He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
Markham highlighted something that seems obvious, but everyone who claims to fight intolerance constantly seems to miss. Intolerance cannot be defeated with more intolerance, convincing people to be more tolerant of you requires being tolerant of them. The debate will not be won until you understand where the other side are coming from and recognise that they are not bad people and they have a valid perspective.
The best way to not win a debate is to start shouting “BIGOT! RACIST! SEXIST! HOMOPHOBE!” or whatever it may be, based solely on their being against a policy that you are in favour of and without actually listening to what the person is saying.
Don’t draw your own circle and shut him out the way he shut you out, draw the circle that takes him in.
Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy has a piece in this month’s Foreign Policy on the problems faced by women in the Arab world. This is a very important article and I would encourage you all to read it, but I want to highlight the central point in her thesis — which has been proven overwhelmingly by the response that has exploded literally hours since her article went online (the print edition is not even out yet).
Eltahawy begins her essay with the point that when anyone normally brings up the issue of Arab women, they are shouted-down with problems women face in the West. As if this is a reason not to speak about something far, far worse.
This is the third-worldist cultural relativism that I have highlighted a few times. It is the insipid prejudice of low expectations — using “cultural differences” to justify holding others to a lower standard. It’s hard to even imagine the outcry that would follow a white, American pastor coming out in support of female genital mutilation — yet one of the leading clerical celebrities in the Arab world does so unashamedly and no one blinks. He even gets invited to hang out with London Mayoral candidate and career antisemite Ken Livingstone.
If no one says anything, nothing will ever get done about this. Good on Eltahawy for standing up to the cultural pressures trying to crush her into silence. Elections in Egypt will not bring democracy so long as female candidates cannot even have their faces on electoral material.
So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.
But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either. …
First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women.
Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.
For those who have not been following the debate, America’s number one “shock jock”, Rush Limbaugh, recently made a whole lot of enemies when he called a woman on his show a “prostitute” because she was in favour of a Bill that obligates private healthcare providers to provide contraception to their clients. His thinking was that id she wanted this so she could have sex (she didn’t) then she was demanding to be paid to have sex, and was therefore a “prostitute”.
Note: there is every possibility that Limbaugh has never encountered a woman who would have sex with him without receiving some kind of cash incentive:
Point is, it seems that the whole brouhaha has alerted Big Money to the facts that young women buy a lot of stuff, angry old men do not buy much, and sponsoring Rush Limbaugh may make their products popular with old men, but it will make them unpopular with young women.
Ergo, they are no longer sponsoring Limbaugh’s show:
Premiere Networks, which distributes Limbaugh as well as a host of other right-wing talkers, sent an email out to its affiliates early Friday listing 98 large corporations that have requested their ads appear only on “programs free of content that you know are deemed to be offensive or controversial (for example, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity).”
This is big. According to the radio-industry website Radio-Info.com, which first posted excerpts of the Premiere memo, among the 98 companies that have decided to no longer sponsor these programs are “carmakers (Ford, GM, Toyota), insurance companies (Allstate, Geico, Prudential, State Farm), and restaurants (McDonald’s, Subway).” Together, these talk-radio advertising staples represent millions of dollars in revenue.
… this latest controversy comes at a particularly difficult time for right-wing talk radio. They are playing to a (sometimes literally) dying demographic. Rush & Co. rate best among old, white males. They have been steadily losing women and young listeners, who are alienated by the angry, negative, obsessive approach to political conservations. Add to that the fact that women ages 24–55 are the prize advertising demographic, and you have a perfect storm emerging after Limbaugh’s Sandra Fluke comments.
As pressure grows for advertisers and radio stations to drop Rush & Co., there will be much talk about the dangers of censorship, with allies talking about a left-wing “jihad” against Rush (language his brother David Limbaugh has already used).
But the irony is that the same market forces that right-wing talk-radio hosts champion are helping to seal their fate. Advertisers are abandoning the shows because they no longer want to be associated with the hyperpartisan—and occasionally hateful—rhetoric. They are finally drawing a line because consumers are starting to take a stand.
The contraception debate is being championed by Catholics in the Republican party (primarily Rick Santorum) because of a Papal decree that makes contraception against Catholic dogma. Everyone else is defending the right of the Catholic Church not to have to indirectly pay for something which may be used in a way that would go against what the Pope says is right.
Liel Leibovitz has gave some insights into the differences in religious dogma between the Catholic Church and Judaism, even though both are applying the same passage from the Bible:
In the Yevamot tractate of the Talmud, there’s a tale of one Rabbi Hiyya and his wife, Judith. Having just given birth to twins, and suffered greatly in the process, she decides to put her child-rearing days behind her. Cunningly, she wears a disguise and comes before her husband with a halachic question: “Is a woman obligated to procreate?” Rabbi Hiyya hardly blinks; the answer, according to Jewish tradition, is no, as pru u’rvu is the domain of the man and is focused around the semen and its potentialities. Hiyya replies that the woman is under no obligation, only her husband. Vindicated, Judith drinks a sterility potion.
When Hiyya discovers the ruse, he is distraught, but there’s little he can say without contradicting his own rabbinic judgment. Judith had already given him two sons, which, according to custom, was enough to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation anyway. And as she was under no other obligation to reproduce, she was free to do as she pleased.
… Compare this complexity of roles with Paul’s decree—“man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man”—and it’s not too hard to realize why Catholicism ends up with 1930’s Casti Connubii, a papal decree emphasizing the sanctity of marriage and prohibiting Catholics from using any form of birth control. Protestants, on the other hand, have largely moved away from such strict attitudes; since the Reformation, an alternate view gained traction, stressing the uniting element of sexual intercourse—the emotional and spiritual bonding of husband and wife.
Also interesting is a section in Rabbi Shmuely Boteach’s announcement that he is running for Congress. Boteach reflects on the approach that the “Conservatives” in the US are currently taking to family values, noting that for some reason the focus has been so incessantly on how to prevent marriage that no one has been trying to find ways to keep people married once they have already tied the knot.
The point being that the insane level of debate given to issues like gay marriage, abortion and, more recently, contraception is completely overshadowing far more important family values questions like why is the divorce rate so high?
The values that have dominated the American political landscape for decades are the American obsession with gay marriage and abortion, to the exclusion of nearly all others, which explains why our country is so incredibly religious yet so seemingly decadent. It’s time to expand the values conversation and policy agenda.
Let’s begin with really saving the institution of marriage by focusing squarely on the outrageous 50 percent divorce rate. I will promote legislation that will fight marital breakdown by making marital counseling tax-deductible.
Let’s give husbands and wives whose families are collapsing a financial incentive to get the help they need so that their kids don’t end up like yo-yos bouncing from home to home. I am a child of divorce and hosted a national TV show that saved families from being part of a tragedy that must finally be addressed on a grand scale.
Women could be the saviours of the Arab World
The Australian media this week has been intently focussed on how many women we have on corporate boards, why there aren’t enough and how to solve this. There was even an odd slip-up from shadow treasurer Joe Hockey, who in a complete break from the Liberal Party’s usual position, promoted the idea of gender quotas for corporate boards on ABC’s Q and A (this was subsequently rejected by Tony Abbot).
For the record, I am completely against the idea of quotas – I believe that it is dangerous and counter-productive. People promoted in order to fill a quota know that this is why they were chosen for the position and so do their colleagues. Not only is it extremely patronising to be told “we’d like to bump you up to management because we’re trying to put more [minority] there”, but the person will likely struggle with a position that they are not qualified for and they will be resented by their colleagues who had to work harder to get to the same place.
So now that I’ve finished that little rant, here’s a more interesting point. I was sent this article ages ago, but only just got round to reading it – it’s an interview with veteran Middle East analyst Bernard Lewis by David Horovitz for the Jerusalem Post. Lewis reaffirms a lot of what I’ve been saying about democracy in the Middle East, particularly the Western fixation on elections, but he adds some great insights. One thing worth reading the article for is his idea of consultative rather than electoral democracy as a model that would work in the Middle East.
The other thing that stuck out was what he said about women:
There’s one other group of people that I think one should bear in mind when considering the future of the Middle East, and that is women. The case has been made, and I think there is some force in it, that the main reason for the relative backwardness of the Islamic world compared to the West is the treatment of women. As far as I know, it was first made by a Turkish writer called Namik Kemal in about 1880. At that time an agonizing debate had been going on for more than a century: What went wrong? Why did we fall behind the West?
He said, “The answer is very clear. We fell behind the West because of the way we treat our women. By the way we treat our women we deprive ourselves of the talents and services of half the population. And we submit the early education of the other half to ignorant and downtrodden mothers.”
It goes further than that. A child who grows up in a traditional Muslim household is accustomed to authoritarian, autocratic rule from the start. I think the position of women is of crucial importance.
I’ve heard this argument before and it makes a lot of sense. The Middle East is being run by men who were raised by uneducated and subjugated women, in households where their fathers were unquestionably in charge. It does not require a huge amount of imagination to see how this would result in an autocratic culture.
The exclusion of women in the work force also leads to the extremely high fertility rate that is really the cause of all this Arab unrest – there are constantly more and more youth reaching working age and less and less jobs to acommodate them; this led to the anger that we saw exploding so vividly.
Growth rates are consistently too slow to keep pace with the population, and little space remains for private entrepreneurship. In its 2009 Arab Human Development Report, the United Nations found that, as of 2007, the Arab states as a whole were less industrialised than they were in 1970, with governments using revenue from oil, gas and other outside receipts to maintain the large public workforce and cheap goods.
It feels really ironic that there has been such an outcry in a country with a female prime minister and a number of women in very high-profile positions. Obviously Australia has a lot to work on, but really we’re lightyears ahead of some parts of the world. Consider the problems we’ve been debating in our newspapers with the debate in Saudi Arabia. For example, Samar Fatani for the Arab News:
Economists stress that the high cost of living and inflation make it difficult for single-income families to provide the basic needs of the average family living in Saudi Arabia today. The participation of women in the work force is no longer a luxury; it has become an economic necessity. Therefore, it is crucial now to mobilize a more effective national program to tap women’s talent, enhance their skills and provide them with career opportunities so they may contribute equally in our nation’s social and economic development.
Women have every right to be provided with a healthy, civilized lifestyle more in tune with the 21st century way of life. We need to see women in the council of senior scholars or as advisers to the grand mufti to address their needs and grievances and have a say in decisions that affect their lives and their families. Women face injustice and discrimination because many judges and senior ulemas are unaware of the suffering.
Cultural limitations and tribal laws rather than religious rulings are the impediments that are strangling our country. It is time for the educated to boldly counter the vicious campaign of the extremists — men and women — who continue to attack progress. It is ironic how these “medievalists” so resistant to change adopt the Internet and modern media to attack the educated calling for the empowerment of women in Saudi society.
Of course, this isn’t absolutely true across the Middle East. Lewis points to Tunisia as the notable exception and Fatani also praises several of the smaller Gulf states, such as the UAE and Kuwait. Nevertheless, there are not only tribal regions and societies, but entire countries in the Middle East where a 7th century view on human rights, as well as women’s rights, is seen as the ideal – with social norms and legislation reflecting this. This attitude is detrimental to the whole society and is one of the key reasons for the backwardness of the region in relation to the rest of the world. If women take a leading role in these revolutions that are happening everywhere, there may be a chance of genuine progress in the Middle East.