June 17, 2007

Women, revolutionary movements and misogyny

I was reading this article last week about a group in Kenya that was accused of beheading its enemies. The Mungiki is a sect that was both religious and political; supposedly following old traditions of the Kikuyu as Mau Mau.

The Mungiki, which means multitude in Kikuyu, claim to have more than one million followers across the country.

The sect promotes female circumcision and oath taking and was outlawed in 2002.

Those sentences stood out more than the brutality. The women who joined apparently had no problems with the fact they practiced female circumcision. This story gives you a little more background of the Mungiki’s activities.

As one’s mind makes connections, the Iranian Revolution image of the women fighters dressed in fatigues, military rifle and black hijabs entered my mind. Somewhat like this picture. Sometimes they would be wearing a chador (long black dress). Shortly after the revolution I saw an interview with the women who had help Ayatollah Khomeini come to power. I could not understand how they would embrace the Ayatollah, since one of their complaints against the Shah, had been how he and his government had treated women, but they didn’t seem to get the connection of absolute dress code to the status of women. They thought they would have more freedom, that the old ways would liberate them. I would have liked to have found a reference to this interview. I think this article, Iranian Revolution Turned Against Women Who Supported It expresses some of what the women’s thinking was.

Inspired by hopes for democracy, economic prosperity for all classes, gender equality and a leadership that would not allow Iranian culture to be swallowed up by Western values, many Iranian women joined the 1978-'79 rebellion against the rule of the Shah.

Women came together to protest such sexist attitudes as expressed by the Shah in 1973 when he said, "A woman is important in a man's life only if she is beautiful and charming. . . . You are equal to a man in the eyes of the law. But excuse me for saying so, you are certainly not equal [to a man] in your capabilities."

At the time I knew it was only a matter of time before they were realize they would not have any more rights under the Ayatollah than under the Shah. They must have thought they were the worthy ones while the women being stoned to death were deserving. This is what began to happen.

Iranian women began to receive the rewards for their support of the Islamic Republic soon after 1981. The first of these was the compulsory hijab (Islamic modest dress) in the work place.

This was followed by a law ordering the hijab in all public places, for all women, Muslim or not.

Women had fought in the revolution so that their choices would be expanded. They had donned the veils at the demonstrations against the Shah to say that nobody could stop them from wearing the veil if they wanted. The Islamic regime reversed their statement and made it impossible for women to choose not to practice the hijab.

The government justified its policy with statements such as the one made by the cleric, Muteza Mutahhari: "The disgraceful lack of the hijab in Iran before the revolution. . .is a product of the corrupt Western capitalist societies. It is one of the results of the worship of money and the pursuance of sexual fulfilment that is prevalent amongst western capitalists."

But many women did not buy the rhetoric. They saw the enforcement of hijab as a means to suppress and denigrate the status of women. After their attempts at repealing the law failed, many women began to flee the country.

read more

Another perspective

Is there some reason that women are seduced into movements that require they give up there rights? I would include their sexuality as one of a woman’s right. That is always what is manipulated. The hair and skin can’t be shown for some man might see and become uncontrollably lustful. Deny the woman any possibility of experiencing pleasure from sex, because she might masturbate or become an adulterer and jeopardizes her health as well. I hate to admit this, but the “Black Power” movement had its share of misogyny.

Women may subjugate their beliefs in order to marry or enter into relationships, for either emotional or economical support. I could not see this as being a motivation for joining a revolutionary movement, so I was trying to find someone else who had approached this issue. Matthew Lyon has written “Notes on Women and Right-Wing Movements” for Three Way Fight. In this article Lyon believes that what attract women to these groups is the quasi-feminist agenda. Here he describes quasi-feminism.

Quasi-feminism - This current advocates specific rights for women, such as educational opportunities, equal pay for equal work, and the right to vote, and encourages women to engage in political activism, develop self-confidence and professional skills, and take on leadership roles. But quasi-feminism can't go too far with this, because like other fascistic ideologies it assumes that humans are naturally divided and unequal. This means that quasi-feminism accepts men's overall dominance, embraces gender roles as natural and immutable, advocates only specific rights for women rather than comprehensive equality, and often promotes rights only for economically or ethnically privileged women. (None of this is unique to the far right, of course.)

Note that he doesn’t restrict this to the right only and later in the article he expands this to religious fundamentalism. He shows the evolution of such tactics in Christian Right.

The U.S. Christian right has recruited large numbers of women with a contradictory blend of messages. On the one hand, the movement promotes a system of gender roles that offers many women a sense of security and meaning and, in Andrea Dworkin's words, "promises to put enforceable restraints on male aggression" (p. 21). Women are told that if they agree to be obedient housewives and mothers, their husbands will reward them with protection, economic support, and love. Feminism is denounced as unnatural, elitist, man-hating, and a dangerous rejection of the safety that the traditional family supposedly offers women.

Within this overall framework, however, Christian rightists often implicitly use concepts borrowed from feminism—for example, arguing that abortion "exploits women" or that federal support for childcare is wrong because it supposedly limits women's choices. A bestselling sex manual by Christian right leaders Timothy and Beverly LaHaye declares that (married, heterosexual) women have a right to sexual pleasure, endorses birth control, and encourages women to be active in lovemaking. Christian rightist women's groups have also encouraged many women to become more self-confident and assertive, speak publicly, take on leadership roles, and get graduate training—as long as they do so in the service of the movement's patriarchal agenda.

Beverly LaHaye's Concerned Women for America, which claims over half a million members, vilifies feminism as a threat to the traditional family and healthy moral values. Yet the CWA's website is studded with feminist-sounding language regarding political and social equality, sexual harassment, violence against women, the importance of women's education, and other themes. A CWA position paper opposing comparable worth is titled "Undermining Women's Choices." It argues, not that women have a duty to be homemakers, but rather "women have taken incredible strides in the workplace" and "it is already illegal to pay unequal wages to equally qualified men and women who do the same job." "The real hardship women face is having to compromise staying home with family and working outside the home for financial reasons. Women who choose to stay at home with their children have not received the respect and support they deserve." In such ways, Christian rightists use specific realities of women's oppression to bolster their patriarchal agenda.

Lyon goes on to give more examples in other religions and cultures. His focus in more on fascist and right wing agenda and his explanation for why this is happening, he calls “housewifization .”

In addition, patriarchal traditionalism itself can serve global capitalist interests, at least in some contexts. Maria Mies, in her groundbreaking book Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, argues that "housewifization" -- the process of defining all women as housewives -- is itself a part of capitalist development and replaces older gender roles, as the nuclear family replaces older forms of social organization. In today's global economy, housewifization enables the new international division of labor to function smoothly. When homemaking is defined as women's natural, proper role, then all of women's paid work can be defined "as supplementary work, her income as supplementary income to that of the so-called main 'breadwinner,' the husband" -- which means women can be paid much less than men. Housewifization also makes it easier to control women politically: "Housewives are atomized and isolated, their work organization makes the awareness of common interests, of the whole process of production, very difficult. Their horizon remains limited by the family. Trade unions have never taken interest in women as housewives" (Mies,118, 116).

The complete article, including sources.

That last statement about unions, I would think not quite true. The unions may want women to be in the work force, stand on the picket line and do the grunge work of organizing; but how many women major union leaders do you remember?

I am still mystified why women can’t see thru these quasi-feminist agendas. There many professional women who joined the Iranian Revolution. Are women so blinded by a need for activism or do women think they can make a deal and be able to change the agenda from within? The movements are set up so that women, who become in charge, only have power to keep women in their place, not to change anything. Is a little power satisfying the goal of women’s equality? There may be other reasons that women join those movements, but I do think Matthew Lyon’s article is very plausible.


mark said...

Hello Hathor I am 100% against sexism. I believe that in order for black people to make serious progress we will have to start treating out women fully as equals.

I think that was one of the major problems of the civil rights movement is that women did a lot of the work behind the scenes but men were the ones mainly on tv.

The quickest way for us to began to move forward is for black men to completely uplift black women and start to view and treat them as full equals.

romancing the crone said...

Hathor, I'm very pleased to have found your blog! You pose some vital questions about the state of global womenhood.

There are so many factors at play, including generations of indoctrination. Deeply entrenched indoctrination is very difficult to dislodge. There is also the justifiably immobolizing fear of horrific reprisals if women dare to buck the patriarchy. Immobolizing fear and decades of indoctrination are a potent combination.

I look forward to more of your posts. I'm in the crone phase of life and rallying for empowering older women, shedding light on abuse awareness, and reclaiming women as spiritual leaders, teachers, and healers. I seek to dialogue with women and men attuned to that need, on their blogs and mine.

I'm happily :) adding your link next time I log-in.

Hathor said...

I seem to remember us being uplifted during the sixties. A pedestal is a lofty prison.

romancing the stone,
Thanks for visiting. Can't say my post will be fulfilling the wisdom of the crone, though. They come in fits and starts.