Sunday, October 2, 2011

Muslim Women Are a Tool of Western Imperialism

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced this past week that women would be able to participate in elections for the first time.  Of course, in the U.S. this news was used a platform for self-righteous sermonizing about the treatment of women in the Middle East.  On the Daily Show, Jon Stewart jumped on the bandwagon by making several insensitive jokes (for example, showing a picture of voting booths constructed out of women and their veils).

First of all, having the "right to vote" by no means signifies liberation for women in the U.S. or any country.  In fact, the focus on voting is another example of the way in which discontent is channeled into activities that ultimately support the system.  I would link to another post in which I made this point, but I feel like it is becoming a pervasive theme in this blog.  Voting is an illusory, symbolic privilege that ornaments a highly stratified, oligarchic global society.  (The fact that the Saudi king would be willing to allow women to vote as a sort of PR stunt - a response to regional instability - very well exemplifies the true nature of voting.)  Women may be able to vote and even hold elected office, but that doesn't mean society is any less patriarchal.

Moreover, there has been a long history of Europeans pointing toward Arab/Muslim/Middle Eastern (undistinguished) patriarchy in contrast to the supposed liberation of European women (long before they ever got the right to vote!) as an excuse for the colonial project.  And it continues to this day.  The plight of Afghani women under the rule of the Taliban, for example, is used as a rationale for U.S. military involvement in the region, even though most women see the violence resulting from these operations as a greater menace than the veils they wear.

Some women like wearing veils and burkas.  It has spiritual meaning for them and serves as a form of agency, a means of self-discipline.  Who are we to tell them that they can only be free if they don't wear a veil?

Furthermore, where women do feel oppressed, they have the ability to act on their own behalf and fight their own battle.  They do not need or necessarily want us to liberate them.  They are not passive and helpless.  However, their vision of "liberation" may differ from the Western feminist vision of liberation. But Western feminists will not recognize it.  In this way, white feminists are actually denying agency to women of other colors and faiths.

But the bottom line is this:  whatever liberation movements may have occurred in different places and at different times, the system has not changed in its fundamentals.  All women are oppressed, and by the same systemic processes, though they may be oppressed in different ways.  It does not make sense to play the game of "who is more oppressed?"  Yes, women in some regions have to cover their entire body and can only appear in public with a male chaperone.  But women in other regions may feel forced to expose or sell their bodies, and are tortured daily with self-imposed starvation and feelings of inadequacy.  Is it any more liberating or honorable to be treated as an object and to hate one's own body?

No comments:

Post a Comment