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Yoohoo, Ladies...Where's The Outrage?
Via iFeminists, Christina Hoff Sommers has a terrific piece in The Weekly Standard of the lot of women in Muslim societies and the mostly deafening silence of American feminists in response. When they do pay attention to women outside the West, it's often just to draw illogical parallels to them:

The inability to make simple distinctions shows up everywhere in contemporary feminist thinking. The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World, edited by geographer Joni Seager, is a staple in women's studies classes in universities. It was named "Reference Book of the Year" by the American Library Association and has received other awards. Seager, formerly a professor of women's studies and chair of geography at the University of Vermont, is now dean of environmental studies at York University in Toronto. Her atlas, a series of color-coded maps and charts, documents the status of women, highlighting the countries where women are most at risk for poverty, illiteracy, and oppression.

One map shows how women are kept "in their place" by restrictions on their mobility, dress, and behavior. Somehow the United States comes out looking as bad in this respect as Uganda: Both countries are shaded dark yellow, to signify extremely high levels of restriction. Seager explains that in parts of Uganda, a man can claim an unmarried woman for his wife by raping her. The United States gets the same rating because, Seager says, "state legislators enacted 301 anti-abortion measures between 1995 and 2001." Never mind that the Ugandan practice is barbaric, while the activism surrounding abortion in the United States is a sign of a contentious and free democracy working out its disagreements. Besides which, Seager's categories obscure the fact that in Uganda, abortion is illegal and "unsafe abortion is the leading cause of maternal mortality" (so states a 2005 report by the Gutt macher Institute), while American abortion law, even after the recent adoption of state regulations, is generally considered among the most liberal of any nation.

On another map the United States gets the same rating for domestic violence as Pakistan. Seager reports that in the United States, "22 percent-35 percent of women who seek emergency medical assistance at hospital are there for reasons of domestic violence." Wrong. She apparently misread a Justice Department study showing that 22 percent-35 percent of women who go to hospitals because of violent attacks are there for reasons of domestic violence. When this correction is made, the figure for domestic-violence victims in emergency rooms drops to a fraction of 1 percent. Why would Seager so uncritically seize on a dubious statistic? Like many academic feminists, she is eager to show that American women live under an intimidating system of "patriarchal authority" that is comparable to those found in many less developed countries. Never mind that this is wildly false.

Hard-line feminists such as Seager, Pollitt, Ensler, the university gender theorists, and the NOW activists represent the views of only a tiny fraction of American women. Even among women who identify themselves as feminists (about 25 percent), they are at the radical extreme. But in the academy and in most of the major women's organizations, the extreme is the mean. The hard-liners set the tone and shape the discussion. This is a sad state of affairs. Muslim women could use moral, intellectual, and material support from the West to improve their situation. But only a rational, reality-based women's movement would be capable of actually helping. Women who think that looking like a pear is an essential human right are not valuable allies.

I particularly liked the bit in Sommers piece about the flawed thinking of Coochie Monologuist Eve Ensler, who has a hard time discerning the difference between elective "vaginal rejuvenation" surgery in Beverly Hills and forced female genital mutilation in Kenya. "What's wrong with this picture?" Ensler asks.

Sommers nails it:

A better question is: What is wrong with Eve Ensler? These two surgical phenomena are completely different in both scale and purpose. The number of American women who undergo "vaginal labial rejuvenation" is minuscule: There were 793 such procedures in 2005, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. By contrast, a World Health Organization 2000 fact sheet reports: "Today, the number of girls and women who have undergone female genital mutilation is estimated at between 100 and 140 million. It is estimated that each year, a further 2 million girls are at risk of undergoing FGM."

The women who elect laser surgery, moreover, are voluntarily seeking relief from physical irregularities that cause them embarrassment or inhibit their sexual enjoyment. The practitioners of genital mutilation, in countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia, believe that removing sensitive parts of the anatomy is the best way to control young women's sexual urges and assure chastity. Genital cutting causes great pain and suffering and often permanently impairs a female's capacity for sexual pleasure. Thus, the intentions of the handful of American adults who choose labial surgery for themselves are exactly the opposite of those of the African parents and elders who insist on cutting the genitals of millions of girls.

Given her capacity for conceptual confusion, it is perhaps not surprising that Ensler cites "gang rape in a suburban high school parking lot" to show how women in America are menaced. Yes, that is an atrocity. But it happens rarely, and America's allegedly "misogynist" culture reacts to it with revulsion and severe punishments.

Posted by aalkon at May 12, 2007 10:07 AM


See, the thing is, for some women, matters are VASTLY easier if they can believe that their "oppression" is comparable to that faced by women in certain other countries, for a variety of reasons:

1) The self-deluding women in question can continue to see themselves as victims, and blame that for any failures to achieve what they want.

2) If they are just as oppressed as the most oppressed women in the world, then they can't be expected to worry about those other women, can they? They don't have to *do* anything about the horrors faced by others, because they're too busy with their own horrors. Lots of tricky questions can be avoided...

3)...such as ones dealing with the religion and ethnicity predominant in these countries where women really ARE oppressed.

(Don't get me wrong: Plenty of men paint themselves as victims rather than taking responsibility for their own lives, too. They just do so in different ways from the ones outlined here.)

Posted by: mg at May 12, 2007 4:29 PM

Plenty of men paint themselves as victims rather than taking responsibility for their own lives, too.

Actually, it's a big problem I have with a lot of the postings on some of the men's movement sites I read from time to time. In both feminism and the men's movement there's this avoidance of personal responsibility.

For example, some of these guys rail on about how all women are "feminazis" (oh, please -- yes, maybe she took out a bogus restraining order out on you and got custody of your kid, and yes, this is terrible and unfair, and shouldn't married her, didn't you?)

Regarding the sense of entitlement to whine about what life dealt you and cast blame everywhere but on yourself: People generally don't become "psycho" or whatever overnight. Chances are, the clues to who they are were there from the start -- and the complainer just refused to look.

In other words, in the case of some of these men's movement posts, this is about you and her, not evidence that the entire opposite sex as evil and "against men."

Also, the use of the term "nazi" is kind of silly. I really, really feel for men who are discriminated against by the courts -- and there's a lot of that -- but I don't think it compares with having one's entire family go up in an oven. Wild inaccuracy in descriptors helps no one, and really, just comes off like Eve Ensler with a penis.

We're all assholes from time to time. We all go in blind from time to time. Looking back and admitting "I was an asshole," and "I went in blind," is the best way to keep it from happening again.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 12, 2007 4:51 PM

Excellent post, Amy.

I don't know if you heard of Ghada Jamshir? She is a women's rights activist in Bahrain. Well, she is causing a storm in the Middle East. I've been getting emails from friends over there about her actions on behalf of Bahraini women.

This was an interview she gave on Al Arabiya TV:

It is a bit graphic on the details of child abuse during the Shia practice of Mut'ah.

For those who do not understand the practice of Mut'ah is the marriage of a woman only for sexual pleasure. The ages can vary from little girls to the late teens. Also, it can be interpreted on the lifting of Qur'anic sexual restrictions of unmarried Muslim males when they leave the M.E. and live in the land of infidels. Sunni Muslims (which Ghada Jamshir is a Sunni) do not practice Mut’ah.

Posted by: Joe at May 12, 2007 5:14 PM

If you're in the mood for more wackjob sociology along these lines, here's a good collection via Reddit dot com (an excellent website for people who don't have time for those languid headlines on Digg & Drudge):

My favorite-

"Contrary to conventional wisdom, married couples are not the primary building blocks of community life. Married women and men have fewer ties to relatives -- they are LESS likely to visit, call, help, or have intimate talks with their parents, brothers, sisters, or other relatives than are the unmarried. Marriage also cuts off ties to the larger community: The married are less likely to hang out with neighbors or friends. Marriage even reduces political involvement, especially for women: Compared to married women, single women are more likely to attend political meetings or rallies, sign petitions, and raise money for political causes. Naomi Gerstel, Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst."

I fuckin' love that... All her friends got married after grad school, and now she's got no one to hang out with on weeknights. But Naomi's a resourceful creature, so at least she got a thesis out of it.

Posted by: Crid at May 12, 2007 5:25 PM

Totally agree, Amy. I especially get irritated at the guys who claim that "all" women are selfish, self-centered, lacking in morality, etc. etc., and then whine about male-bashing. Is it possible to be completely fooled by someone? Sometimes...but, more often than not, what's happened is that these guys valued something else more highly than they did ethics and behavior, and are now paying the price.

Is it possible that I am somewhat bitter because I'm 30something and single, and would prefer to be married and spawning? Oh, most definitely. (Aha, the truth is out!) I see the lure of behaving like the Naomi that Crid mentions. But really, I know just as many kind, ethical, good women who can't find love as I do kind, ethical, good men - more, actually - while pretty much every high-maintenance witch I have ever met - okay, okay, and every high-maintenance male jerk I have ever met - is beating off members of the preferred romantic sex with a stick. When one gender or the other tries to avoid responsibility for a marriage to a loser, I get rather cranky.

As for the inappropriate use of the term "Nazi," it drives me up a wall. Unless you are talking about people being thrown into a concentration camp in an effort to perpetuate mass murder, you are not talking about friggin' Nazis! There is a perfectly adequate substitute - "fascist." No, I will not get all indignant about people who misuse the word - I'll just think somewhat less of their ability to discern key distinctions.

Posted by: mg at May 12, 2007 5:43 PM

I've read a few MRA sites and they are quite pathetic in nature. They are the male equivalent of the gender feminists.

Everyone has been hurt in a relationship or has been the jerk in one. Get over it and move on. Scapegoating and fixations are not healthy in the long run for any gender.

Personally, I've lived in a dangerously male centric part of the world. Trust me, I value the company of 'soft shoulders' in all my relationships. Friends and girlfriends.

Posted by: Joe at May 12, 2007 6:32 PM

I'm gonna guess that the Jamshir interview didn't get broad distribution across ME networks.

Interviews like that fascinate because the futuristic desk at which they're seated is the typical StarTrekkish thing that we've seen in TV newscasts in Oklahoma for the last forty years, but the ideas getting expressed in them are from much older centuries. It's like the skin of modernity has been stuffed and is on display.

But then when I was a kid, I was sure that television and radio were going to be the death of regional accents here in the States, and that hasn't happened either.

Posted by: Crid at May 12, 2007 6:47 PM

It matters on the particular nations, Crid. The interview was broadcast in Bahrain, S.A., Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, P.A. and other Sunni dominated countries in December of 2005. The reason behind the wide broadcast is that it makes Shia Islam look backwards and fuels the image of it being a deranged heretical sect. But her comments further attack Sharia courts under both Sunni and Shia Islam.

My friends have informed me she has done a series of current interviews that have ticked off some very influential clerics in Bahrain and Pakistan.

Posted by: Joe at May 12, 2007 7:50 PM

There is certainly some woman bashing and gay bashing and refusal to take responsibility amongst someone at every father's rights site I've been to. But there are actually lots of folks there that are not like that at all.

I definitely recommend Glenn Sacks's blog as a father's rights activist.

While he definitely favors fathers, he has called men to ask, and he has defended feminism. He has taken up feminist causes that the feminists seem to have forgotten about. He is much more fair to his opponents by citing their arguments and not distorting those arguments than they are to him.

He is a welcome voice for me, and he is sadly, far too rare.

Posted by: anon at May 12, 2007 8:02 PM

Glenn's a good egg, and I've been on his radio show. He favors fathers in a fair way, I think -- in the way they should be favored, in righting injustice, not inventing injustice. I did take issue with him on the "boys are stupid/throw rocks at them" t-shirt controversy. My take on it: Some guys wear shirts that say stuff like "Women are only good for sucking the chrome off the trailer hitch." Okay, so if that doesn't work for you, don't go out with them. I'm not a fan of the notion that the world should be free of unpleasant speech. In fact, quite the contrary. Be as unpleasant as you are, and speak freely, and then we'll slap you upside the head and show you why your thinking is wrong or idiotic.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 12, 2007 8:35 PM

Amy - I hated much of this piece but you might love it. If things were ever that good over there, we'd know, dammit. Found via a friend of Cosh's

Anon - You should give yourself a distinctive nickname if you're going to hang out here.

Joe - See the link in the next comment (software allows one link per). If you want to listen to a good interview, tape the tiny Oren photo (it will play back for free, as long as you don't mind the tiny window, and it's essentially a radio chat anyway.) At around 12 mins, I found myself thinking of more recent travellers to the region.

Posted by: Crid at May 12, 2007 11:28 PM

Posted by: Crid at May 12, 2007 11:30 PM

I've always enjoyed Michael Oren's views and writings on the M.E. A true neo-realist.

For people who want to know what life was like as a white slave in the Barbary States prior to the US Invasion, I recommend reading "White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and Islam's One Million White Slaves" by Giles Milton. It is a modern interpretation of Thomas Pellow's memoirs as an escaped slave and personal assistant of the Barbary Sultan in the late 18th Century. Milton does a great deal of background information on the White Slave trade of North Africa that Hitchens mentions in some of his speeches.

Personally, my views on committing political reform are similar to the changes occurring in Uganda under their benevolent and enlighten President for Life Yoweri Museveni's 'The Movement' system to reduce tribal conflicts within political parties vying for power. A Middle Eastern version of Movementism should be applied in Iraq as a test model. Applying heavy restriction towards Islamic clerics and disarming militias through a secular police/military force.

Under Movementism, candidates for a political party/tribe must run for office completely disassociated from their parties and tribal affiliations. In Uganda from 1986 to 2005, there existed a nonparty system while reforms for the whole nation were being implemented by Museveni. Parliamentary candidates were forced to think of Uganda first, tribe second. Its not perfect, but it will reduce the impact and problems caused by tribes fighting for the spoils.

Posted by: Joe at May 13, 2007 6:18 AM

But if I give myself a distinctive nickname, then I could be distinguished from others, and not anon?

Given where I sometimes surf from, that could be problematical for me.

Posted by: anon at May 13, 2007 7:49 AM

Why would "anon" versus, say, "John Galt" or "Pied Piper" or "John P. Doe" be preferable? As anon, you can be mistaken for others -- for example, some cowardly person who left some attack posts a while back. At least make up an identity like John P. Doe. Please.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 13, 2007 7:53 AM


"Joe" is not my real name. Originally, it's one long series of Italian names full of vowels in which Giuseppe is part of it.

I do love watching linguistically challenged Americans try to pronounce my full name. Too many 'i', 'e' and 'o's.

So I just use "Joe" with people.

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