Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Standing Up Against Misogyny and Islamophobia

This is a story that I believe should be getting more attention from those of us in this country who call ourselves feminists.
Running a human-rights-oriented foreign policy is a challenge, even for the Swedes. In October Sweden became the first Western government to recognise the state of Palestine. Margot Wallstrom, the foreign minister, was duly invited to address a meeting of the Arab League on March 9th. Ms Wallstrom wrote a rather anodyne speech exhorting the member states to live up to their commitments on human rights, particularly women’s rights. Saudi Arabia objected, and the league blocked her from speaking. Now Sweden’s relations with much of the Arab world are in shambles.
Ms. Wallstrom is coming under some pretty heavy fire for her intentions to speak up for the rights of women. The Arab League publicly condemned her - calling her cancelled speech an offense, not only to Saudi Arabia, but to Islam.

It is the equating of standing up for women's rights to the current fervor of Islamophobia in both Europe and the U.S. that is meant to silence those who would speak out against state-sanctioned misogyny. That's where we need to weigh in.

This can be a difficult line to walk for many of us. I know that nothing makes me more angry than to hear people like Bill Maher justify his Islamophobia by condemning the treatment of women in many Islamic countries. He usually couples those remarks with statements about how Western countries abandoned that kind of thing decades ago. In other words, he completely ignores facts like this:
While its true that these acts are not sanctioned by our government, the persistence of violence against women and children in this country puts a lie to the idea that we have some kind of moral high ground to stand on when it comes to the treatment of women.

No...I'm certainly not making a case for moral equivalency between the United States and countries like Saudi Arabia when it comes to the treatment of women. What I'm saying is that we have to approach these discussions with humility and with our eyes wide open to the facts.

On the other hand, we must reject the idea that standing up for women's rights is an affront to any religion. Almost every religion on earth (including Christianity) has been used at one point or another to justify misogyny. The particulars are irrelevant. Women are human beings and, as Hillary Clinton declared years go, "women's rights are human rights."

People are free to practice the religion of their choosing. As feminists, we respect that and stand up for their rights to do so. But that gives no one license to abuse and/or oppress women. That's the line we must walk...loud and proud!


  1. As you have said...Religion has been used to sanction "keeping women in their place"...i agree ...but we must tread carefully in talking about these issues....because there will be a time when speaking out against abuse and oppression of women will be viewed as treading on a religion...

  2. Anyone really think Bill Maher is genuine in his sentiment? Seems to me he's using this excuse to veil his true hatred of Islam in this convenient outrage.

  3. Bill Maher is an atheist! If you insist on calling him a hater, he's an equal religion hater. Personally I think he thinks all people who believe in a higher being w/o proof are fools and bad people use it to their advatage. That is also my position. I'm also heavy into women's rights and have put my time (I'm a writer, I don't have money:) where my mouth is and wrote a book about the campaign and election of the first woman President and the first African American woman Vice President, called Gender Wars - War on Women.


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