Sunday, January 06, 2008

Faithful Assertion

This is strange. The government is offering assertiveness training to Muslim women, hoping they'll be encouraged to get more involved in local politics, etc. Now at first glance, getting people involved in politics should be a good thing. But don't they realise that a great deal of Muslim culture is set up to punish and ostracise women who assert themselves? How are they going to react when these women end up on the streets, or victims of honour killings?

Seems to me that these women are already being pushed around by the men in their own families and religious leaders, why should we add to that by pushing them in to local politics? And if we were successful and got these women into local politics, would they represent their own interests or those of the men who tell them what to do in every other aspect of life? Then we can say that women have a share of the power but still do 100% what men want...

All that said it might, might do a teeny bit of good if some of these women get enough distance to realise how abusive their families and religious leaders are being and are able to do something about it without endangering themselves. But I think at best it's a pretty long shot.


Legible Susan said...

That seems a bit over-generalised - is "patronising" the word I want? Warning people of the risks is one thing (tho I'd think they'd know already), but assuming they can't cope doesn't sound right from you. People who are signed up to religion aren't clones, and there are outspoken Muslim women activists all over the place - RAWA, for instance, and the ones who pop up on angryblackwoman's blog. In this country, doesn't Southall Black Sisters include Muslims?

Cruella said...

I don't think Southall Black Sisters or RAWA need assertiveness training. They need support from the government (s). But sadly rather than be seen supporting women speaking out against the culture they come from the government would rather try and bully the "quiet" ones into speaking out in favour of the culture that is oppressing them. Then the government can legitimately do nothing at all to help women in these communities and still claim to be responding to their needs.

I think the trouble with two ideologies (feminism and Islam) is that you have to decide at some point which one comes first. Islam tends to have (for many adherents) a heavy Islam-before-everything-else component, more so than many other religions. For example Anglicanism and Judaism have both adapted to modern times and now have female church leaders, this is not something that is even on the debating table for Islam.

Jennifer Ewing said...

But sadly rather than be seen supporting women speaking out against the culture they come from the government would rather try and bully the "quiet" ones into speaking out in favour of the culture that is oppressing them.

So you're saying only the ones who speak out against their culture should be encouraged, and the others shouldn't?

You're making an awful lot of assumptions about Islam, aren't you? No offense, but I kind of question how qualified you are to do this, because not long ago, you described religious people as "having an imaginary friend". But religion is mostly something social and community based, and in fact very little about religion has to do with imaginary friends at all. In fact, the idea of "God" doesn't necessarily have to involve the supernatural, it can be just a philosophical concept, and often is. In fact, if you're talking about Christianity, unless you're specifically talking about American-style Evangelical Christianity, it's actually blasphemous to treat God as an "imaginary friend". So that's for that part.

You're also being incredibly reductionist about Muslim women. I'm no authority on the subject either, but read this:

The Rights of Women by Noorjehan Barmania

Noorjehan Barmania also once described how keeping the Ramadan made her feel a sense of community with other Muslim women the world over, during her childhood in South Africa, where it was very difficult for her to feel that sense otherwise because of Apartheid.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, you're advocating helping Muslim women rather than letting them speak, and in fact saying that if we let them speak they'll only defend the interests of their men. Don't you realise that was one of the excuses not to give women the vote in the first place?

And I don't like saying stuff like "holy shit I don't believe I'm reading this on a feminist website" normally, but, holy shit, I don't believe a feminist is trying to tell us that a category of women shouldn't be encouraged to speak up politically, because they might be oppressed in some way. Surely, one of the main points of feminism is to allow the oppressed to have a voice.

And anyway, if you don't allow women to speak up politically on grounds of them being religious, then you're excluding an awful lot of women from speaking up politically.

Seriously, you should give all this stuff some thought. And I hate to say it, but since you write on religion so much, maybe read some theology, there's a lot more to it than imaginary friends and arbitrary rules and regulations.

Cruella said...

I disagree - religion is 100% about having an imaginary friend.

If you obey religious laws - you do so because you believe a non-existent imaginary entity has set them.

If you pray - you do it to an imaginary friend.

If you take the God out of religion - what's left isn't religion. And what's left is a set of cultural standards which are flexible, which can change and adapt to what best serves the community. Standards which can be questioned and debated by everyone.

The only dangerous thing about religion is the expectation of blind faith. And that is 100% related to having an imaginary friend. There's nothing else to it.

Jennifer Ewing said...

Actually, a lot of religious rules aren't supposed to be set by a God (or several Gods), and they're certainly not arbitrary - certainly ascetism isn't. And what about pantheistic religions, that don't specifically have a God? What about Buddhism, that doesn't have one at all? Actually, the only people who have a God who is an "imaginary friend" - Evangelical Christians - deny that they're religious, and believe that being religious is a sin. They don't have a religion, they have a "relationship with God". I'd be interested to know what you've read on the subject - since you write about it so much - other than Richard Dawkins.

Whether this is the case or not, the vast majority of people in the world are religious in some way. By wanting to keep all religious people out of politics, you'd actually be excluding the majority of women from feminism, on the grounds that they're not as smart as you believe you are. That makes sense.

I'm also sure someone in Pakistan right now is very disappointed that they killed Benazir Bhutto, when they were clearly aiming for her husband.

Cruella said...

OK firstly I'm not saying that Muslim women shouldn't be allowed a voice - I'm saying pushing people who don't want to or are afraid to speak up into speaking is the wrong approach. And if you read my post, I even say assertiveness training may do some good. My point is there are much better ways the government can spend that sort of money to support women in the Muslim community.

And my qualifications for discussing religion? GCSE science covers most of it. There is no God and the sooner people wise up to that fact, the easier it is to discuss individual needs and generate the cultural shift we so desperately need towards a fair and balanced society.

There are those working within the confines of religion to try to improve conditions for those still enthralled to the idea of one or many Gods. Good for them. I believe the future is brighter for all of us if we can first throw off the shackles of religious belief that slow our progress so much.

The major world religions are responsible for so much misogyny that I find it incredible that feminists would defend them. Read your Bible, where it says a man may hit his wife if she disobeys him, or your Koran where it says disobedient women should be shut at home and beaten.

If you truly believe men and women to be equal then you must believe that the Bible and the Koran contain lies. Now interestingly most types of Christianity allow for the idea that the writers and translators of the bible were flawed humans and that you don't have to take the whole book 100% seriously. Islam doesn't offer that get-out - almost all types of Muslims believe the Koran is 100% fact or you're not a proper Muslim.

Now, asceticism is not a religion, it's a lifestyle. And I think you're confusing "spiritualism" with religion. If you enjoy some of the traditional practices associated with your (or someone else's) ancestral religion, that doesn't make you religious. Many atheists find, for instance, that meditation helps them focus and calms them. Many atheists enjoy the sense of community they get from going to church services or joining a religious choir, etc. That doesn't make them religious. Religion is about belief. Belief is something which isn't there.

Jennifer Ewing said...

Okay, this is another long one (and please don't read it in an angry voice or anything, it's kind of refreshing to argue with someone on the internet who doesn't take stuff personally, or suddenly make out that you diss on dead babies and are worse than Hitler or anything like that. Thanks for a good argument!).

And my qualifications for discussing religion? GCSE science covers most of it.

Well, that covers exactly my problem with your reasoning on religion. By saying that, you're pretty much saying that religious people aren't smart enough to pass GCSE science. Surely, if it was that simple, there would have been no need to ever have religions in the first place.

What you're describing isn't really religion, it's fundamentalism. Religion is more complex than that. Why do you think there are so many religious practices - such as ascetism, such as the Rastafarian diet, such as washing yourself in a particular way five times a day for praying. Why do you think there's so much emphasis on charity and sins and stuff in Catholicism? If people did those things just out of obedience to a God, surely it would be a huge bore and they would have said "screw you, God" by now.

And you're right, there is a lot about every major religion that's indefensible - there's not just the approach to conjugal relationships, there's the way the Catholic church exploits little old ladies, for instance. But then again, it's not like it's as simple as every major religion having a holy text and all its followers following that text to the letter. A lot of religious texts came about over a number of years, sometimes centuries, and are simply a reflection of society at the time, or the vision of the guy writing it. And a lot of them are actually just basic ethical rules, and philosophical reflections about God, with a lot of ancient tribal history and a heck of a lot of politics thrown in.

You can't just go round saying "God doesn't exist", either, because there are so many definitions of God, a very few of which involve him being a vengeful old man on a cloud throwing lighning bolts around. I had a grandmother who was kind of moderately religious, who believed that God was the good part of each of us and Satan was the evil part - that's one example. Then there's polytheism - how can you know, when someone tells you there's a God in every river and every stone, that they mean there's a little dude jumping up and down inside? How do you know they're not just describing nature to you? And that's the other thing: language. So many religious texts have been translated so many times, they're massively open to interpretation. And surely we can give religious people, who have practiced their religion all their lives, the credit for being able to figure that out, if we're able to while being both pretty poorly read on the subject.

Although there is obviously plenty of opportunity for people to exploit people in the name of religion, because of the language factor among other things. I'm not "defending" religion, exactly. I'm just saying it's a lot more complex than you make it out to be. You're basically assuming that most of the adult population of the world is still childish enough to believe in fairy tales. If only they all listened to Kate Smurthwaite, how much better the world would be! And you said yourself, you laugh at yourself for being a slightly posh white girl who secretly thinks she should rule the country. I'm just saying it's not that simple, as I'm sure you realise.

I'd also point out to you that your own views wouldn't be the same without religion. I've no idea if you had a religious upbringing, or anything, but our entire society is founded on religion, so a lot of our views on most things, whether they concern belief in God or not, come from there. And then, you're an adamant atheist, and I'm not giving you the old bullshit about atheism being a religion too, but being as adamant as you are, a large part of your views exist relative to religion, so sometimes they end up as a kind of negative image of religion, if you see what I mean.

Getting to another point, you say you don't believe Muslim women should be excluded from politics, so far so good. But you also imply that all they'd need GCSE science (with the benefit of which they would no longer be Muslims), and assertiveness training. So, when are you planning to build the Kate Smurthwaite Academy of remedial feminism, then, where they get their diploma in "rejecting the culture they come from", as you say? It's like they can't possibly have anything to contribute until they agree with you on a few crucial things. And yeah, a lot of them won't be feminist, but is that really surprising, considering how feminists tend to objectify whole classes of women? Namely, you're saying they (okay, the "quiet ones") shouldn't participate, they should be helped.