Thursday, July 7, 2011

Different enemies, same feminist

There's been a lot of talk recently about our post feminist world. See Skepchick, Isis , Emily Finke and others.

The crucial controversial comment is the following, made by Richard Dawkins
Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.


I hesitate to write this post. I'm afraid of offending women in the the two worlds I've lived in instead of being a bridge between the two experiences.

I spent > 2 years working with women like the stereotyped Muslima addressed by Mr. Dawkins. This week I read a story about a single mother in the city I used to work in who lived in such poverty that she would take home free samples of cough syrup from the local doctor's offices to flavor the staple starch she served her kids. She could afford no other ingredients other than this staple to feed them. Stories like this make me want to tear my heart out and give up on life.

I've lived the last several years in the US, where I've met a woman who've been propositioned by the man she was asking for a post doc position. Her advisor then tells her to calm down, "it's not as if she'd been raped." But if that's the standard, I have numerous family members and friends in this country who have been raped. If non-date rape is the only standard of "bad enough" you will accept, I can supply those as well. Not to mention having to call cops on abusive boyfriends of friends, being followed in cars while out walking at night with girlfriends. And don't even get me started on abortion. Before living for 2 years in a third world country, my experiences here made me despair about what progress feminism had made over the last several decades.

We have made progress. My struggle as a woman is not as hard as my mother's was. And I thank every woman who has fought and bled and died before me for this. But that does not mean that where we live now is a "post-feminist" world. My answer to Mr. Dawkins is that if he thinks that women in the developed world are not suffering violence like women in other parts of the world are, he has the wrong facts, and hasn't been reading the local newspapers. I can't, and won't argue with someone who has the wrong facts.

The irony of it all may be that I've had an easier time explaining to people in my parent's homeland that women are still oppressed in the west than to people in my homeland.

I started my work with the women's movement in my parent's homeland on the week that a major newspaper published an editorial about a new Barbie doll just released in the US. My colleagues wanted to know if women's movement in the US had been reduced to such triviality as arguing about the appropriateness of girl's dolls. I explained to them about the messages these dolls taught girls, that "math is hard, lets go shopping", and how this was the same issue as families in that country not wanting to educate their girl children. The message stuck.

The avatar of the violence and the brainwashing is different in the developing vs. the developed world. The extent is lower in the west, but only because my predecessors have worked so hard. And if we choose to lie back in comfort, pretending that they have won the battle for us, then we will do a great disservice to both the women in this country, and to those of the developing world. We will also make sure that our daughters will face a life harder than what our mothers faced.


  1. I dont think Richard Dawkins was talking about women in the developing world. I think Dawkins was talking about women in the MUSLIM world. I suggest you read the 2nd word in his comment for the hint.

    What's the difference? In the larger developing world, women face obstacles not due to systemic oppression, but as a natural consequence of low levels of education. Thus, in the developing world, it is only a matter of time.

    In the Muslim world, female oppression is systemic, government mandated and 99% of people who suggest otherwise can expect to die a horrible death with full legal sanction in broad daylight.

    Trying to conflate the developing world with the Muslim world is weird and offensive to the 2.5 billion plus people of Brazil, India and China who are trying their best to get their nations to go ahead and beat the "developed" world.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I really appreciated this perspective.