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Islamic Feminism

[Note: In this post, I am specifically responding to Margot Badran’s text, Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Conversions.  My thoughts on “Islamic feminism” are much more complex and I have not had time to post them all up on this blog.  For more of my thoughts and opinions, check my tumblr]

I’ve written before about what feminism means to me, insisting that feminism is not something that can be simply qualified due to the fact that all individuals have different experiences and positionalities that shape their relationship with identity politics and ideologies about equality.  There are many times when other issues, specifically relating to culture and religion, seem to divide the feminist movement into subgroups; however, I would argue that these differences only work to make the fight for gender equality stronger, as they provide an opportunity for individuals to share their stories, learn new perspectives, and rethink their own understandings of gender and sexuality.  A perfect example of this comes up when discussing the relationship between feminism and Islam.  As Margot Badran notes in her book, Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Conversions, this relationship is full of complexities.

There are some that believe that feminism and Islam are completely incompatible.  Feminism, in many parts of the world, is seen as a Western import, “another form of Western assault upon ‘their’ culture,” therefore constituting “a blasphemy to religion” (1).  Similarly, many individuals living in the “West” see the two as separate entities because of the notion that feminism must be based in secular principles; some go so far as using this “to justify colonial and neo-colonial incursions into Muslim societies, or simply to make a show of arrogant superiority” (1).  Although this is largely in part due to misinterpretations of culture stemming from a combination of inaccurate media representations, ignorance, oblivion, and more, the consequences are very severe.  As Badran says, “When Muslim reactionaries, whether in the East or West, sustain repressive patriarchal versions of Islam to maintain control of women and to perpetuate the conventional hierarchal order – and with this their own power and privilege – they concurrently solidify Western stereotypes” (1).

I completely agree with Badran that the way in which this type of disagreement is discussed in the feminist community is extremely problematic.  The differences between cultures and religions need to be used as a platform for consciousness-raising rather than for the manifestation of Western imperialism and hegemonic discourse.  In order for the feminist community to come together and bridge these gaps, we must create a safe space to listen to the stories of the women that are actually experiencing life in Islamic societies.  This has already started to occur, as feminist activists and academics have utilized different media outlets which allow women to share their experiences in the public sphere, therefore working to challenge the dominant ideology on women’s roles.

On another note, I found it very interesting that Badran felt the need to make distinctions between individuals that advocate for women’s rights in the Middle East.  On the one hand, there are those that willingly identify themselves as feminists and work with popular organizations such as the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association.  On the other hand, there are Islamists, who advocate for the restructuring of society in accordance with Islamic principles.  Then there are those that fall somewhere in between, from those that have feminist values but do not identify with the term, to individuals that identify as “pro-feminists.”  According to Badran, all of these groups fall into a broader category of gender activists, in that they share “women’s common ‘feminist’ modes of thinking and behavior in the public sphere without denying the reality of distinct feminist and Islamist ‘movements’ and the separate experiences of uncommitted (pro-feminist) women” (142).

She goes on to explain that this framework for understanding “gender activism” is a commentary on current relations, whereas “Islamic feminism” represents the ongoing shift in society that allows for religion and feminism to be seen as complementary.  She explains that this branch of feminism is necessary because “Islam is becoming a paramount cultural and political paradigm,” that is part of the experience of a growing number of women around the world.  For those that identify with Islam, there is a need to have a feminism that validates their experiences and allows them to navigate their experiences as women within a “newly interpreted, gender-progessive Islam” (219).

Above all, Islamic feminism seeks to reinterpret religious texts through a feminist perspective, as scholars such as Wadud have already done.  This is crucial because the Qur’an and the Hadiths are used to justify Islamic law, which in turn reinforces traditional customs.  Furthermore, Islamic feminism addresses issues that are specific to the lives of Muslim women by listening directly to the experiences of Muslim women and encouraging empowerment through self-discovery.  For example, rather than dismiss cultural traditions such as female genital cutting and veiling as inherently evil manifestations of religious oppression, Islamic feminists work to challenge these ideologies with religious frameworks that celebrate the creation of the human body.  In order for this to be successful, activists are working locally and making changes within their own community, which ultimately as a ripple-effect in the lives of those around them.

Bradan’s discussion of Islamic feminism is crucial because it highlights many of the faults of hegemonic feminism.  Most importantly, the association between feminism and Western imperialism is the source of great conflict abroad, as many individuals are reluctant to accept feminist principles due to the misconception that feminism is opposed to religion.  As the text points out numerous times, feminism and religion are not only compatible, but inextricably linked.  One cannot identify as a feminist without confronting the ways in which religion influences their daily life, whether personally or collectively through social institutions and governmental policies.  This is particularly interesting considering that the opposition to Islam is much stronger than critiques made against other religions, specifically Christianity.  This is not to say that these concerns are not well-founded; women’s rights are often used as a political tool, only to be manipulated and further marginalized.  Take, for example, the ongoing war in Iraq.  During the Bush administration, it was stated time and time again that the American presence would help “emancipate” women from the oppressive political regime.  Meanwhile, women are continuously victimized by violence and terrorized by the omnipresent “security” forces.  Funneling money into the military and criminal justice system is not beneficial for women’s lives.

“Let’s take the $250 billion (which could ultimately become $1.3 trillion) that it cost to bomb the haert out of Iraq, to murder the children there, to kill and maim thousands of people, to scatter ready-to-explode cluster bomblets on the Iraqi earth, to fill the bank accounts of the CEOs at Halliburton and Bechtel. Let’s take that money and make compassion the end goal, human connection the end goal, honoring all people the end goal. Then I promise we may not know security, but we will certainly know peace.” – Eve Ensler, Insecure at Last

Ultimately, the goal of this movement, being Islamic feminism, would be to deconstruct traditional understandings of Islam and feminism, in a way that will allow both to be reformed and transformed (220).  Although this restructuring of feminism may seem ideal, it is important to look back at historical lessons to see how feminism has evolved over time.  Only one-hundred years ago, white women were leading the feminist movement, advocating for the right to vote; today, women (and other individuals of all genders), of all economic classes, sexual identities, and racial and ethnic backgrounds, have come together to advocate on behalf of the collective good.

What I found most important about Bradan’s theorization of Islamic feminism was her assertion that “Islamic feminism stands to benefit us all, Muslims of both sexes, as well as non-Muslims living side by side with Muslims everywhere” (250).  This is such an important concept, yet does not receive much attention in mainstream feminist discourse.  In order for feminism to live up to it’s goals, it must acknowledge and respect cultural diversity.  A conception of feminism that is dismissive of the experiences of Muslim women does not challenge patriarchy; it reinforces it.  Although Bradan understands these specific principles as part of Islamic feminism, I believe that they need to be present in all aspects of feminism in order for feminism to be considered a truly representative, powerful movement.

Reinterpreting Women and Islam

Fatima Mernissi’s The Veil and the Male Elite was very similar to other books that I have read this semester in that it offered a unique, feminist perspective on the history of Islam and how the past has worked to shape the present.  She opens the text with a brief introduction, explaining to readers that she intends to “lift the veils with which our contemporaries disguise the past in order to dim our present” (11).  Over the course of the book, Mernissi successfully debunks myths that have come to dominate the (mainstream) Western ideology on Islam.  The historical analysis was really helpful for me in understanding how cultural attitudes have shifted over time and I really appreciated the way in which she situated Islam within a bigger picture of other religions, cultures, and ideologies.

Although Mernissi’s discussion of the origin of the practice of veiling was completely new to me, it seemed to make sense it light of other issues present regarding Western misconceptions of Islam and the role that patriarchy has played in shaping religion and culture.  First, she explains that veiling did not originate to encourage female modesty.  In fact, the veil was initially used as a curtain for separation.  After the Prophet married his wife Zaynab, they invited over many people for dinner.  Mohammed was eager to spend time alone with his new wife, but three of the visitors would not leave.  In order to give the couple privacy, a curtain was drawn between them and the others in the space.  There was no mention at this point that the veil would be only used by women nor was there a discussion of how this cloth could “protect” or “oppress” women.  It was not until later that the veil was to be used exclusively by women.  To prevent sexual violence against “free women,” those that were not slaves, would veil themselves.  Female slaves were to be unveiled and therefore open to the gaze of men; violence against them was seen as permissible.  Today, veiling has become a culturally significant practice that is evident in many Islamic societies, but it is not mandated in the Qur’an or required by Islamic law.

The reasons why women veil vary drastically depending on the individual situation.  Some women veil because it is a symbol of their faith, others veil because of their socialization, and others veil for many other reasons.  Making assumptions about why a Muslim woman does or does not veil is incredibly problematic; it is also problematic to tell a woman what her actions should be regarding veiling.  For example, women in France are forbidden by law from entering the public sphere while veiled because the government believes it represent women’s oppression.  Veiling is a personal decision and should be treated as such, not regulated and restricted by governments.  However, as Mernissi notes, this is often the case.  “All debates on democracy get tied up in the woman question and that piece of cloth that opponents of human rights today claim to be the very essence of Muslim identity” (188).  I think this is an incredibly interesting point, and one that accurately represents how women’s rights are treated in society.  Unlike intangible inequality, the veil can be seen and felt., whereas the wage gap, sexual violence against women, the lack of reproductive rights, and other gender dynamics in social institutions are more abstract concepts.  Mernissi brings this up in her discussion of how women’s sexuality is stigmatized across religions:

“All the monotheistic religions are shot through by the conflict between the divine and the feminine, but none more so that Islam, which has opted for the occultation of the feminine, at least symbolically, by trying to veil it, to hide it, to mask it.  Islam as sexual practice unfolds with a very special theatricality since it is acted out in a scene where the hijab (veil) occupies a central position.  This almost phobic attitude towards women is all the more surprising since we have seen that the Prophet has encouraged his adherents to renounce it as representative of the jahiliyya and its superstitions” (81).

By standing out against “women’s oppression” through opposing the veil, the French government seems to be interested in eradicating gender inequality.  This illusion of action and equality only serves to reinforce the status quo, marginalize Muslim women, and spread Islamophobia in the West.  If gender equality was really the concern of government officials, they would be working to address and improve issues that directly affect women’s lives, but as Mernissi notes, power dynamics and vested interests play a crucial role in systems based on patriarchy, capitalism, and politics.

“Not only have the sacred texts always been manipulated, but manipulation of them is a structural characteristic of power in Muslim societies.  Since all power, from the seventh century on, was only legitimated by religion, political forces and economic interests pushed for the fabrications of false traditions” (9).

In this passage, Mernissi points to the significance and variability of interpretation.  Historically, these sacred texts have been interpreted by a fairly homogenous group of individuals, namely men that identity themselves as Muslim.  Recently, more individuals have started to examine this text from new perspectives.  Of most interest to my personal project are feminist interpretations, which focus on the ways in which gender and sexuality are situated within the religion.  What these scholars have found is that the way in which a text is interpreted has the potential to completely shift the way in which societies operate.  Since the seventh century, it has been (mostly) accepted that these texts have aspects which are inherently misogynistic and violent.  However, as many have started to notice, these principles are exactly the opposite of what Islam advocates.

Mernissi continues to refer back to this argument throughout the text.  I was particularly struck by her discussion of her personal socialization, by which she came to understand Islam.  At home, her grandmother offered a beautiful, complex portrayal of Islam that valued self-discovery, peace, and happiness.  Meanwhile, her schoolteachers offered a completely different understanding; they required her to memorize the text, recite prayers, and portrayed Islam as a monolith.  She says, “This dual attitude that I had toward the sacred text was going to remain with me.  Depending on how it is used, the sacred text can be a threshold for escape or an unsurmountable barrier.  It can be the rare music that leads to dreaming or simply a dispiriting routine.  It all depends on the person who invokes it” (64).

I completely agree with Mernissi’s perspective and think it can be applied more generally to all religions.  Our positionality and personal biases have a clear effect on the way in which we interpret religious texts.  There is not just one interpretation and we cannot accurately conclude that one is “right” or “wrong.”  I recognize that this line of thinking could also be used to justify misogynistic, violent interpretations, but feel this does not stand up to the fact that religions are based on certain values and principles.

A religion based on equality, social justice, and self-growth does not match with one that opposes human rights, gender equality, and sexuality.  If you, as I do, see Islam as promoting these basic ideas, then you cannot also link it with discrimination and exclusion; it is so important to break down this relationship.  Associating religion with these inherently oppressive and negative ideologies is demonizing and ostracizes a very important part of human existence.  Although I personally identify as an atheist, I think it is incredibly problematic to write off religion.  Rather, I think we should adopt the perspective of Mernissi’s grandmother.  “Her Islam was an occasion to journey to strange countries, to spread one’s wings, and to discover love and enlightenment there” (63).

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and “Emancipation” for Women in Islam

At the Sydney Writers' Festival: Ayaan Hirsi Ali under the Western media spotlight!

My decision to construct an independent project based on the relationship between women and Islam was based on my own personal frustration with the anti-Islamic rhetoric that dominates the West.  I was eager to read material that offered a truly feminist perspective, but recognized the importance of understanding the multitude of opinions that exist within the literature.  Having heard so much about Ayaan Hirsi Ali while I was abroad, I figured it would be worthwhile to include one of her numerous texts in my syllabus.  After having read two books that offered a feminist understanding of the Qur’an and Islamic history, I felt I was prepared to handle Hirsi Ali’s strikingly different views, but nothing could have prepared me for the extreme hatred and contempt that she expressed in The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam.

She begins the book by briefly summarizing how different individuals responded to the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2011.  Whereas political leaders in the West saw these events as indicative of the need to simultaneously bridge and reinforce the divide between Western and Islamic cultures, Muslim individuals urged the world to understand that the actions of these nineteen men were not representative of the entire Islamic community.  Following this, Hirsi Ali poses the question that offers the framework for her entire book: “Was the aggression, the hatred inherent in Islam itself?” (viiii)

According to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the answer to this question is seemingly obvious.  She continuously asserts that the relationship between Allah and Muslims requires complete submission, unhappiness, and a lack of personal self-fulfillment.  For those that do not live according to the established principles, there are countless negative consequences.  Not only will they experience internal emotional struggle while confronting their own actions and thoughts, they will be criticized, maybe even completely isolated, from their communities.  She explains that the inequality that exists within Islamic societies is justified by the extreme language found within religious texts, only to be exacerbated by cultural attitudes.

In general, I found Hirsi Ali’s critiques of Islam to be under-theorized, poorly supported, and highly generalized.  Although she intended for this work to be a critique of Islam, I felt it was more a critique of all monotheistic religions.  Her bias against religion was highly evident in this work and her inability to understand the complexity of culture highly problematized the arguments she made.  Before getting into the text, I would like to turn the discussion to her documentary film about women and Islam, Submission.  This controversial film has been the subject of international praise and criticism, including death threats directed at Hirsi Ali.  She dedicates a chapter in her book to the first part of her film:

I could write for days about every time I took issue with her writing, but think it will be more effective to highlights passages that really effected me as a reader.

“The West needs to help Muslims help themselves, and not support them in their illusion by avoiding the underlying questions.  Despite the compassion and understanding one may feel for personal suffering, one cannot lose sight of the fact that this personal suffering is the inevitable result of the form Islam takes at home, at school, in everyday life, and in the media” (5).

A recurring theme throughout the book was the idea that the West represented the ideal, global standard for human rights.  She refers back to this countless times, ultimately concluding with this question:

“Why are Westerners so insecure about everything that is so wonderful about the West: political freedom; free press; freedom of expression; equal rights for women and men, gays and heterosexuals; critical thinking.  Why are Westerns reluctant to scrutinize ideas about faith?” (160)

Hirsi Ali’s disillusioned and unrealistic understanding of the current state of affairs in Western countries is astonishing.  She paints a picture of the West as a utopian land in which all individuals are considered and treated equally in all aspects of life, but fails to note the prevalence of institutional, individual, and symbolic discrimination.  Freedom is a completely abstract, ideal conception that only exists for individuals belonging to certain groups within society.  Economically privileged individuals that support the status quo are responsible for constructing the social institutions which contribute directly to our socialization; examples of this include the education system and the mass media.  Although all individuals have freedom of expression, those whose voices are heard are not those that challenge norms.  For example, mainstream news station ownership is concentrated in the hands of a select few individuals that come from a socially and politically homogenous group.  As this is a capitalist society, their goal is to maximize profit and increase their appeal to a wide audience.  Those with the most social buying power belong to the upper-classes and tend to have similar pro-capitalist attitudes.  Therefore, the mainstream media indirectly supports capitalism through the material they focus on and directly supports it by promoting the ideology of consumerism through advertising.

I was also deeply disturbed by her claim that people of different sexual and gender identities are considered equal in the west.  “Women and men, gays and heterosexuals” are surely not equals by any definition of the word.  Sexism and homophobia are deeply rooted in the dominant ideology; these attitudes manifest themselves in legislation which limits and violates the rights of women and individuals in the LGBTQ community, stereotypical representations in the media, violent crimes, and so much more.

Lastly, I found it very problematic that she equated Islam with personal suffering.  As I have previously written about, the inequality that is present in Islamic societies is not justified by any religious tests.  She claims that Muslim people are subscribing to an illusion which prevents them from understanding their own reality, but I find this extremely offensive.  Although there is a strong relationship between culture, religion, and politics in Islamic societies which is often used to justify social problems, the same can be said for Western societies in which Christian beliefs have laid the foundation for a “secular, democratic” society.

In an interview with Irshad Manji, Ayaan Hirsi Ali says, “I have read on the web that you have been dubbed Bin Laden’s nightmare.”  In response, Manji states, “I am openly lesbian.  Muslims are forced to regard this as sin.  We have held this view for hundreds of years, they say.  Is that a valid argument for rejecting homosexuals?  Because you have been doing it for such a long time?  The Koran states that the diversity of nature is a blessing.  That should shut them up” (75).

Again, the Qur’an does not justify or support inequality; in fact, it supports social justice and encourages all individuals to value diversity.  I thought the inclusion of this quote in the text was necessary as it offered a different perspective that I feel is a much more accurate representation of Islam.

“At the root of the problem is the Islamic concept of premarital sex.  What we need is a coherent cultural campaign to promote discussion about sexuality” (96).

Although I disagree with Hirsi Ali’s approach that singles out Islam, I do agree that we need to implement a campaign in which individuals can openly and honestly discuss issues of sexuality.  I feel that this needs to happen on a global scale because sexuality, particularly female and queer sexuality, are so stigmatized.  As countless studies have proven, gender equality is crucial for a country’s development and the well-being of individuals within that country.  If we do not learn how to discuss and appreciate our sexualities, the world will continue to be based on unequal power dynamics and social problems.

“So my party and I are in favor of introducing a screening program that could help prevent female circumcision.  Girls from ‘high-risk countries’ should be checked once a year to see if they have been circumcised” (103).

This quote was absolutely shocking.  Not only would this be invasive, but her formulation of what constitutes a “high-risk” country is clearly based on a negative bias towards Islam.  First, female circumcision is a practice that takes place in countries all over the world, regardless of geographic location and culture.  There is no checklist of factors for who will undergo circumcision and her attempt to establish these criterion is based on discrimination.  Although I agree that we need to take preventive steps to eradicate female circumcision, I think that this approach is extremely problematic.  Instead, we should focus on using a bottom-up approach based on education, cultural sensitivity, and women’s health.

“A spokesperson for the Netherlands Muslim Broadcasting Network says: ‘Hirsi Ali has a problem with these verses from the Koran.  But it is not the Koran that incites men to abuse women, it is the men themselves.  She should address them directly and invite them to discuss the matter.  Emancipation begins from within.  If you attack what people value, you will lose their trust” (140).

I completely agree with this quote!  The root cause of violence against women is not religion; it is patriarchy and misogyny.

Sign these Petitions!

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  • A few months ago, I briefly wrote about a lesbian couple in Tennessee whose house was burned down while they were out of town.  The police department has yet to make any arrests, even though they have been made aware that the couple’s homophobic neighbor had been making threats to them prior to their house burning down.  The couple’s insurance company has also failed to pay on the claim, asserting that there is not enough evidence to indicate that this fire was arson.  Meanwhile, the “home had no gas service” and there was no one in the home at the time of the fire.  Sign this petition which demands that the insurance company pay these women.
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  • In an article in The New York Times published on March 8th, James C. McKinley Jr. tells the story of an eleven-year old girl that was gang-raped by eighteen boys and men.  Not only did Mckinley Jr. sympathize with the perpetrators, arguing that they will have to live with the consequences of their actions for the rest of their lives, but he engages in victim-blaming by discussing her “inappropriate” fashion choices, makeup, and behavior.  This article is just one example of how our society encourages victim-blaming and trivializes violence against women.  Sign this petition to “tell The New York Times to apologize for blaming a child for her gang rape.”
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Numbness to Violence

This is the second in a series of letters I am writing for one of my gender studies’ courses, which I wrote in response to Mother Tongue by Demetria Martinez:

Dear Jose Luis Junior,

At times, I find myself inspired by your newfound passion and dedication to activism in El Salvador.  As you grew older, you transformed from an apathetic teenager to an educated man.  Perhaps you needed to fully immerse yourself in your past to understand your present and future.  Hearing about inequality and violence or seeing it on a television screen is not the same as having conversations with survivors, traveling through the affected communities, and witnessing how much devastation has occurred.  Unable to look away, you were forced to confront reality.

Although I was moved by your experiences, I was often saddened by your words.  When looking through the photographs of dead bodies, your emotions are conflicting; you want to look away, but need to focus in order to find the picture of your father.  “You just have to go numb sometimes.  You have to look at the bodies as if you were watching television” (Martinez 182).

How have we allowed ourselves to become so accustomed to violence and suffering?  How can we look at these images and hear these stories without being overwhelmed with horror, grief, and despair?  Violence has become so ingrained in our lives that its existence no longer elicits the emotional responses one would expect.  We can watch the news without bursting into tears, simulate war on our video gaming systems, and watch “entertainment” films which glorify violence.  This feeling of numbness which you describe is terrifying, yet completely reflective of how society has come to view and deal with violence.

In thinking about this conundrum, I find myself wondering how our world would be different if this numbness did not exist.  My initial thoughts lead me to believe that this is not only idealistic, but impossible.  In my utopian vision, a world without numbness would ultimately lead to a world without violence, but I worry that we are too far gone.  We cannot turn back time nor ignore the roles that Western imperialism, capitalism, patriarchy, racism, and more play in shaping the modern world.  Unequal power dynamics are inherent in these systems, which ultimately leads to exploitation, inequality, and violence.

However, this does not mean that we cannot combat these forces.  Your story highlights how and why activism has the potential to make a difference.  Seemingly small, insignificant gestures, like locating the photograph of your father, are life-changing, even life-saving.  Individual changes will ultimately impact larger groups and communities, hopefully leading to a world with less violence and less numbness.  Your story is a perfect example.  Your experiences in El Salvador opened you up to a new world.  The individual change that occurred within you allowed you to see and act differently.  Your decision to spend your summer volunteering in El Salvador will help all those around you, as your help them move forward into a better life.  You are just beginning on an endless journey of self-discovery; your life “has taken off in another direction” (Martinez 189).  Regardless of where life takes you, one thing is certain: you now have the foundation you need to make a difference and the possibilities are endless.

Sincerely,

Michelle

To Whom It May Concern

I wrote this letter after reading Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldua.  In this work, Anzaldua offers her own commentary on the status of women’s rights in Mexico and shares her personal experiences of living in a “border culture.”  I hope that the message and intent of this letter will be clear, even to those that have yet to read this book.

To Whom it May Concern:

“Though we ‘understand’ the root causes of male hatred and fear, and the subsequent wounding of women, we do not condone, and we will no longer put up with it” (Anzaldua 105).  For centuries, women have suffered at the hands of male-dominated societies which oppress women and violate their rights.  We are tired of being considered second-class citizens and demand that our voices be heard.

Perhaps you do not recognize the privilege which comes with your biology.  Perhaps you simply do not understand how your verbal and physical abuse is dehumanizing, degrading, and humiliating.  Regardless of your justification, there are no excuses.  You can no longer sit back and enjoy your comfortable lifestyle, while women around the world are being exploited, taken for granted, and assaulted.  This letter is a call to action, a reality check.  On behalf of women everywhere, you must change the way you think and act.

As a male, you may think that gender inequality benefits you in numerous ways.  Your language represents your identity as a male and your modern culture is founded in patriarchal ideology.  Male privilege manifests itself in your life on a daily basis, whether or not you recognize it.  When you come home to a clean house and a homemade dinner, when you walk down the street without fear of being harassed or assaulted, and when you receive a paycheck that does not devalue your work simply because of your gender identity.

However, have you ever thought that this inequality which benefits you in many ways also has negative affects?  The lack of economic development, the rise in unemployment, and climbing poverty levels; soaring rates of domestic violence and sexual assault; and more.  These issues are bound to affect you on a more personal level, therefore you are forced to acknowledge their existence and attempt to overcome them; but you never will.

There are numerous systems of social stratification which are present in our society.  You may be at the top of one, but you find yourself at the bottom of a system of world order.  How did it feel when American corporations came in and stole your land, your business, your history?  How does it feel to watch as your friends and family members lose their work, their homes, their belongings?  You may feel shame, embarrassment, and horror, as you watch the life your ancestors built being torn to shreds by Western imperialists and capitalist businessmen.  These emotions which you experience are those felt by women around the world each day as their freedom becomes the property of government officials, male relatives, and any other man she encounters in her daily life.

Although this is somewhat similar, there is no way to understand how women feel without living in their shoes, so to speak… but this does not mean that you cannot help.  Show respect and compassion to the women in your life.  Help with household chores and childcare.    Educate yourself and those around you about women’s issues, human rights, and current social movements.   Align yourself with the politics which support the notion of a new masculinity, and ultimately gender equality.  This will change your life, but more importantly, it will change the world.

Sincerely,

Michelle

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