Let’s All Change Our Names To Clothing Measurements

Over at Opinionated:

Samhita [Mukhopadhyay] and Amanda [Marcotte] discuss Mona Eltahawy's powerful and complex piece on misogyny in Muslim nations. In their version of lightening the mood, they also discuss our comical shock troops for ladies who hate ladies, specifically Lila Rose and S.E. Cupp. For this week's #femquery, they take on the question of post-feminism, that slippery beast.

Foreign-Policy-magazine--001UPDATE: Another response in the Guardian by Nesrine Malik:

Reading the article I found myself bristling, yet simultaneously felt guilty for doing so. For who can deny the serious, endemic discrimination from which women in the Middle East suffer? Reading on I tried to convince myself that it was the author's sensational style that was bothering me, and that this shouldn't obscure the message, or that the title and imagery were unfortunate, but the problems they were attempting to illustrate were real.

Yet to my dismay I found, as I read on that instead of unravelling and unpicking the usual stereotypes which pepper the plethora of commentary on Arab women and exposing missing nuances, the author simply reinforced a monolithic view – holding the argument together using rhetoric, personal anecdotes and a rhythmic punctuation with her main theme – that all Arab men hate Arab women. It did not help that with every page scroll, a different iteration of an unbelievably misguided shot of a naked woman, posed and blacked out in paint to expose only her eyes, assaulted one's sensibilities. A lazy effort at controversy, equating women with sex, and jettisoning the whole point of the edition, by ironically, reducing women to the stereotype Eltahawy dismisses as “headscarves and hymens”.

I grew up in Sudan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and in personal and professional dealings have had to grapple with most of the problems highlighted in the piece. They are very real. But there is a fine line to tread when writing about the status of Arab or Muslim women. For to do anything but condemn outright, and expose the real suffering we go through feels like shirking a responsibility and wasting an opportunity. And the problem with rejecting generalisations around women's oppression is that it is easy to misunderstand this rejection as a denial of the problem. Who could quibble with highlighting child marriage, female genital mutilation, or legally protected domestic abuse? Only a Stockholm syndrome-suffering apologist for patriarchy and moral relativism. How can one truly call for equivocation when we have a war on women on our hands?

The offences mentioned in the article are undeniable. We should not be distracted by the west's reduction of Muslim women to pawns in culture wars or military campaigns. Nor should we be distracted by ad hominem attacks on Eltahawy herself, or complain at the idea of airing of dirty laundry. But these offences are not just because men hate women. Or, as I fear the article suggests, that Arab men hate Arab women. This is not a disease men are born with, or contract from the Arab atmosphere. Even Eltahawy herself, attributes it to “a toxic mix of religion and culture”. And to this I would add the political oppression and stasis that enabled these structures to become de facto governance, where entrenched tribal allegiances, pre-Islamic mores and social tradition trumped weak political culture. A general retardation that extends not just to women but to every aspect of personal freedom and civic rights.