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Should feminists complain about other religion's sexist practices?

(34 Posts)
orangeisthenewgreen Sun 25-Sep-11 15:26:31

My oh so favourite publication the DM is congratulating itself on a "special investigation" into the way that muslim men living in the UK are allegedly marrying several wives as a way to rake in benefits.


I was gobsmacked to find the following highly rated comment:

"So what are the feminists saying? They never seem to condemn this disgusting religion or culture where disgusting men use, abuse and cast aside naive and poorly educated women in pursuance of their own selfish gratification - and then expect the taxpayer - for example me, to pick up the bill for feeding and housing all those extra mouths. The politicians (all parties) are useless and the feminists don't tackle the real abuse of women that is happening under their noses."

I mean seriously, not even a DM reader can fail to spot the irony in that? We complain and we're told to shut up. We don't complain and we're told that we're not doing enough! It's just mind-blowing....

Anyway, moaning aside, I was wondering what people thought? Do you feel that we should tread with extra sensitivity to other religion's practices that are sexist (in this instance polygamy) because we couldn't possibly hope to properly understand all the issues at hand?

Or should we put anti-sexism first denounce them regardless of religion?

methodsandmaterials Sun 25-Sep-11 15:44:18

Yay, another Muslim bashing thread! We haven't had one of these in ages!!
<<hugs self>>

orangeisthenewgreen Sun 25-Sep-11 18:31:30

Oh wow! I really didn't mean to "bash" Muslims in any shape or form - it was more a theoretical question, not with reference to Islam in particular, and disagreeing with polygamy doesn't equate with being anti-Muslim as there are many Muslim cultures that don't practice it and some Christian ones that do.

But I guess your response answers my question. I'd rather not discuss the issue than be seen as anti-Muslim. So I'll be quiet.

TheRealTillyMinto Sun 25-Sep-11 19:05:02

i dont think you were bashing Muslim people but you have somewhat prooved what the DM says. On the basis we dont want that....

IMO you cannot take account of religeous differences unless you think that not all women deserve the same rights.

A British Bangladeshi friend (divorced) was married by a Bangladeshi man for visa/passport purposes & when his application was turned down he married another women & did not bother to tell her. she only found out her son called to speak to daddy & the other wife answered the phone.

She wears a headscarf sometimes & her religion has got her through the death of her twenty something brother & shortly followed by the death of her 15yr old son mentioned above. i certainly would not want to take that away from her but the first husband who beat her & the second who used her, cannot be allowed to hide behind their purpored religion or culture.

they are arseholes, pretending to be religious, not religious people following their religion.

orange your OP title makes it sound like feminism is a religion confused or that everyone on this board follows a particular religion - which is not the case. There aren't "other" religions there are just religions. Personally I am an atheist and believe all religions are patriarchal so that doesn't marry nicely with my feminism.

However the misogynistic acts that peole do tend to get grouped under religion, especially if that person follows a particular religion. I don't particularly believe that is true - I think they are just misogynists and would probably not like women much no matter what religion they followed. I suppose what I am saying is that religion can be used both by the accuser (in this case the DM) and the perpetrators as an excuse for misogynist acts. Tosh is what I say to that (although religious structures and tenets can be misogynist too).

There are plenty of feminists tackling sexist practices right under their nose too. That comment makes it sound like the only abuse happening to women is whatever they arbitrate as being "real" and that regular women don't experience sexism or abuse on a daily basis in this country at all hmm. One of the feminist groups I am thinking about that tackle problems facing women such as described in the article Southall Black Sisters. They are pretty vocal although I wouldn't expect someone who comments like that on a DM article to have heard of them!

Beachcomber Sun 25-Sep-11 20:37:19

I'm an atheist too - I consider all religions to be patriarchal and tools of oppression.

I don't think it is wrong for feminists to analyse patriarchal practices that are part of religious institutions that they do not belong to. Nor do I think it is wrong to do the same with non-religious cultural practices.

I just think we have to be careful not to act oppressively ourselves in doing so. We also have to be as aware as possible of our own privilege and listen to and prioritise giving space to women of the religion or different cultures concerned. We must not presume to know more about their lived experiences than them - an easy trap to fall into when discussing a culture one has no lived experience of.

At the same time I think it is vital that women speak out against misogyny and the idea that certain things are none of our business because they exist within a different culture is a very effective silencing tactic.

LRDTheFeministDragon Sun 25-Sep-11 21:31:01

I agree with beach.

I am Anglican. I am well aware of how and where this conflicts with my feminism. To me, this is worthwhile because 1) it's not an issue of choice for me and 2) I think there is something to be said for changing systems from the inside. Short of separatism, we all all participants in patriarchial structures, often because we have to be but sometimes because we choose to be - by being someone's wife, for example. I think these structures can change.

So I think 'complain' is an odd word, but 'practices' is spot on. Complain about the practice, not the belief, I'd say.

BelleDameSansMerci Sun 25-Sep-11 21:34:55

I also agree with Beach.

ThereBeBolloX Sun 25-Sep-11 22:53:14

I think feminists should complain about sexist practices wherever they see them. Obviously, at the right time and place and context - it wouldn't do to complain about the portrayal of courtesans in the middle of Violetta's death scene in La Traviata for example. So the middle of a mass is prob not the right time to start discussing patriarchal persecution by the catholic church, or the middle of a muslim wedding not the right time to discuss the shortcomings of Shariah (unless all the guests are particularly given to energetic discussions at weddings). But in principle, feminists are entitled to call patriarchy wherever they see it. Anything else is silencing.

confidence Sun 25-Sep-11 23:15:16

Well the first thing I would say is not to take anything the DM say about muslims with the slightest seriousness whatsoever.

With that out of the way, I think it's certainly right to examine any form of misogyny happening under the guise of religion in our society. I do think however that the most important voice in that examination is that of the women who are living under the religion, and these voices are often overlooked. The ongoing debate about the burqua is a case in point. Not saying I like it, at all, but I've seen muslim women themselves make a variety of points about it and all too often the reaction of well-meaning liberals to points they find uncomfortable is "oh well they're only saying that because they've been brainwashed to think that way". There may be something in this, sometimes, but I think a truly open-minded starting point is needed that acknowledges the rights of all muslim women to articulate their experience, and not have that experience written off because it doesn't accord with the liberal agenda that has been decided in advance, without them.

Incidentally I don't think polygamy is inherently sexist, and am not against it per se. If it exists it should be equal though (ie a woman should be allowed to marry several men), so it's clearly sexist in the form it takes within Islam.

LRDTheFeministDragon Sun 25-Sep-11 23:25:14

Although .... if the person who wrote Wifework is correct, then polyandry would actually be more oppressive of women than not ...

ThereBeBolloX Sun 25-Sep-11 23:34:44


Imagine having to sort out 6 lots of family birthdays instead of just 2.

And entertaining 6 obnoxious BILs.


tethersend Sun 25-Sep-11 23:44:41

It's a tough one; although I would agree that sexist practices and laws are rarely religious, or are a perversion of religious teachings.

My main gripe with the niqab/headscarf debate is the idea that women are being oppressed by being told what to wear; so the state must tell them what to wear instead. It's just oppression by another oppressor. At no point is a woman considered to have a voice.

AnnieLobeseder Sun 25-Sep-11 23:49:25

I don't see the OP's thread as Muslim bashing, I just think she was using one particular story to illustrate a point. If we have more than 30 seconds to spare I'm sure we could all find practices in all religions that are anti-women.

And I also don't think she meant to imply (sorry if I'm putting words in your mouth, OP) that we're all the same religion.

As I understand it, we're being asked if we should stick to tackling oppressive practices in our own religion only, or extend our activism to other religions too.

There are two sides to the argument IMO.

On the one hand, if you stick to your own religion, you are likely to have more of an inside understanding of the religion and know where best to apply the pressure without completely pissing everyone off and alienating those in power.

But on the other hand, while most religions and denominations thereof have their misogynistic tendencies, some are obviously worse than others, and it may be harder for women of these religions/denominations to make their voices heard. And in these cases it's hard for women in other religions not to want to step in to help.

Very clever of the Daily Fail to manage to have a go at Muslims and feminists all in one story. A creative economy of column space.

NotADudeExactly Mon 26-Sep-11 10:07:15

This is actually a thread I have been thinking of opening for some time.

As I see it, there are several interrelated aspects that are of importance here:

First and foremost, as an atheist I happen to believe that we have a general right to criticize religion in general and those aspects of it we deem to be harmful in particular. This includes - but is not exclusive to - their often extremely patriarchal nature.

In my view a particular difficulty with treating islam in this was is that a) there currently does appear to be quite a bit of negative sentiment about it within parts of society, that b) this cannot always be clearly distinguished from good old racism (albeit often poorly disguised as progressive values) and that c) (pseudo)feminist concerns are being cited as an issue of concern/abused as a fig leaf - often by those who otherwise couldn't care less about women. (Classical example: "We in the west respect our women!"). The tough question for me hence becomes how I can criticize religious principles while at the same time distancing myself from islamophobes and racists.

My own approach to this tends to be rather inconsistent in that I tend to argue to those advocating a certain practice that they are wrong while pointing out to some of their critics some of the more sexist bits of christian scripture. It's not something I recommend or favour, though.

One final factor that I find tends to get slightly lost in these kinds of debates is this: Roughly half of the believers in islam are women - and quite a few of them don't actually find their religion oppressive at all. Now, as a non-believer I disagree on that particular point - nonetheless, the idea of a bunch of non-muslims (extra points for white, educated middle class, non religious ones) looking to "explain" to muslimas how they are disadvantaged by their patriarchal believes is incredibly patronizing.

FWIW my DH is (nominally) muslim. As mentioned, I don't believe in any god, never mind religion. Every once in a while someone tells me - upon learning of his background - how "brave" I am for resisting the burqa. My paternal grandmother whose husband beat the living hell out of her until his cancer prevented him from doing so - and who 30 years on still maintains that husbands may indeed do this - worries that DH might not "respect" me. My new agey dad, who thinks that "souls" have an unchanging gender as which they keep on incarnating is worried that DH might hold sexist opinions.

Every time anyone says anything like this to me I feel like screaming into their face "stop patronizing me with your fucking prejudices, you moron!" I can only imagine what this must be like for someone who happens to believe that some of the stuff being criticized is actually objectively correct as per communication from the eternal big boss. I also happen to know for a fact that some muslimas do feel very negatively about such criticism.

I am wondering whether it is less patronizing for non-muslim feminists to express opposition or offense on behalf of ourselves rather than "them". I.e. is it preferable to say "as a woman I am offended to think that you do not seem to trust my judgment" rather than "It is offensive to muslim women that their testimony is not always regarded as equal to that of a man".

This approach probably has its own drawbacks, would love to hear how others see this, though.

orangeisthenewgreen Mon 26-Sep-11 11:25:21

Phewser! Am glad that others have seen I meant no offence! It is as Annie more articulately said - I am asking " if we should stick to tackling oppressive practices in our own religion only, or extend our activism to other religions too."

To give an example: I was brought up a christian and went to church regularly. As I got older I had no problems pointing out to the church elders all the ways in which the bible and its practices were sexist. Paul's instruction to the Corinthians that women shouldn't speak in church was my favorite quote to throw at them. I think they were glad when I left - one of the elders actually told his son not to date me because I was a "troublemaker" LOL!

But my point is that I felt it was my right to criticize because it was MY religion. I'd learnt enough of the scriptures and the culture to feel I knew what I was talking about. But whenever I have spoken up about what I consider to be sexist practices in other religions I have been told that it is not my place. Recently when I sent my support to the Saudi2Drive campaign I received a message from someone saying that it was "not my business" and I should "stay out". I really still haven't made up my mind, and wondered what everyone else thought.

@NotaDude: I agree with your "racism-dressed-up-as-progressive-values" theory totally - I had to laugh when I saw a demonstration by the EDL with some banners saying things like "women are not property". I mean seriously who are they kidding?! Or with the whole extradition of Assange where the powers that be were on the face of it acting in the interest of rape victims but as Naomi Wolf pointed out this was just a "pimping of feminism".

Oh dear could ramble for ages,as it's such an interesting topic, but alas the dirty bathroom calls!!

ThePosieParker Mon 26-Sep-11 11:32:45

I think religion is the ultimate tool of control and therefore The Patriarchy. The books/laws/stories or whatever you wish to call them all conveniently allow a God to not transcend time and understand that men and women are equal, so for me I cannot fathom how anyone believes this stuff. From the get go religion tells women that they are the protectors of men's lust, from hijab wearing to the evil of Eve and consequential painful childbirth...

What is an Islamophobe, really? Because if you think at the core of religion is control then surely you have to oppose it.

NotADudeExactly Mon 26-Sep-11 11:49:10

Hmm, IMHO there's a huge qualitative difference between "I oppose your system for imposing social control by the means of invoking an imaginary entity" and, say, claiming that it is the ultimate goal of "muslims" (who's in that collective, anyway?) to impose sharia law on the UK and charge us all some form of tax for being non-muslims. And that this is inevitably their desire courtesy of the fact that they belong to a monolithic faith which demands that this must be the objective.

The former is a neat summary of one of the many things that's wrong with religion (there very, very likely not actually being a god would be another one for me). The latter is factually wrong, indiscriminate, intellectually lazy and - this is the biggie as far as I'm concerned - creates (deliberately, IMHO) resentment against members of a group the overwhelming majority of whose members also happen to belong to ethnic minorities and tend not to belong to the economically or politically most powerful segments of society.

LRDTheFeministDragon Mon 26-Sep-11 11:55:19

posie - God does transcend time in Christian theology.

ThePosieParker Mon 26-Sep-11 11:58:21

I feel that I should be able to criticise the religion (whichever) without criticising the individual for their belief, but only for their actions as a direct or indirect result of that religion.....unless it's nothing to do with it.

IE. Honour killing, I blame the construct of the community that accepts this and hides it. I think the religion, ie community, is partly to blame.....agina due to the misplaced importance on honour. But mostly I blame the evil bastards that commit the crime. When something happens as a trend, habit, or whatever within a community we have a right to ask why.....this is from rape & DV in the UK to genital mutilation.

Tyr Mon 26-Sep-11 12:23:59

All Abrahamic religions are patriarchal in nature and oppress all by their insistence on an alien moral code which was imposed on the western consciousness. It is for muslim women to define their place in Islam. I know several women who describe themselves as feminists yet trot off to church or mass on Sunday morning like the obedient little sheep that they are. They even insist on bringing the children to ensure that the poison is passed on to the next generation. I have no doubt that there are a few here too. They will then voice their indignation at the perceived injustices of someone else's religion.
Where there are genuine HR concerns like rape, mutilation of children and so called "honour killings" it is right for all of society to intervene, regardless of what spurious cultural or religious excuses are offered.
As for articles in the DM, words fail me. I wouldn't be seen dead buying it, let alone reading it.

alexpolismum Mon 26-Sep-11 14:53:28

Why should feminists (or indeed anyone, for that matter) not denounce sexist practices in religion? I disagree with the idea that one must be a part of a culture in order to disapprove of or denounce its practices. I think that cultural relativism can be intellectually dishonest. You cannot say "It is not good enough for me, I deserve better, but it's good enough for them because they come from a different culture" It implies that you believe you are superior and therefore the other culture is inferior.

Instead, I believe that sexist practices exist in every culture, every religion, every society, so I have no qualms in pointing them out, whether it's Islam, Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Hinduism or whatever. I had an interesting discussion just recently on why Christians pray to "God the Father" (rather than Mother) and why God had a son and not a daughter.

NotADudeExactly Mon 26-Sep-11 15:01:43

Enlighten me? I never got that one - especially as parthenogenesis produces exclusively female offspring (then again that one was phoney before genetics cleared it for good).

I absolutely agree that we're free to criticize any aspect of any religion, by the way.

My point further up - in case it wasn't 100% clear - was that if we do so we should make it clear that we as the people doing the criticizing are unhappy about it instead of pretending to speak for someone who's part of the group concerned (because a) they may disagree and b) they are capable of speaking for themselves).

NotADudeExactly Mon 26-Sep-11 15:02:43

cleared it up

alexpolismum Mon 26-Sep-11 15:21:34

Yes, I agree with your point about other people being able to speak for themselves.

I was talking to a Christian (I am atheist) about God the Father and the Son. He was saying that God had to have a son and not a daughter because at the time when Jesus was born society was heavily patriarchal, and Jesus would never have achieved anything in such a society as a woman and would have hit the dust of history, no one would have listened to a word she said. This argument seemed a bit lame to me, as surely a woman in the role would have made the point even more strongly, and may have stopped 2 milennia of misogyny before it even got started. Parthenogenesis, I'm afraid, is easily explained as a miracle, something which God is very good at.

However, he did say that women should pray to "God the Mother" if they felt more comfortable with that, as God is neither male nor female, it's just convenient to use a pronoun like 'he' because we have to say something. (He quoted something from Genesis about human beings having been made in god's image, male and female, to suggest that God actually has both aspects, but I don't know exactly where the quote comes from).

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