Thursday, December 14, 2006

Misogyny and Fundamentalism

Philip Slater has an interesting post on this at Huffington, entitled "'Morality' is What Right-Wingers Call Misogyny":

UNICEF reports in a new study that children suffer in a variety of ways when women are discriminated against. Big surprise. Let's face it. All over the world, male-dominated societies tend to be thug-dominated societies, violence-dominated societies, war dominated societies. They're also religion-obsessed societies.

Last October Australia's top Muslim religious leader said women without headscarves were like uncovered meat to a cat, and men couldn't be blamed for raping them any more than cats could be blamed for eating the meat.
This attitude shouldn't surprise anyone. Fundamentalism--in Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, or any other guise--has nothing to do with religion. The primary distinction between fundamentalists and all other religious groups is their attitude toward women. For the fundamentalist, women are inferior creatures who should be rigidly controlled and prevented as much as possible from exercising free will. Fundamentalists are not merely anti-choice when it comes to abortion. They are anti-choice of any kind.

Read Slater's whole post. He refers to several theories that have been going around within the feminist literature on the connections between male-God religions and male-dominated societies, and he has several valid points to make. At the same time, the connections between misogyny and fundamentalism are trickier than he describes.

For instance, think of a misogynistic society in general. In such a society, fundamentalism can actually provide a haven for women. At least they won't be hated on randomly, and if they follow every command carefully enough they may even semi-thrive. The point I'm trying to make here is that the realistic choices have seldom been between women and men living as equals or some sort of a fundamentalist woman-hating system. The realistic choices may well have been between a Playboy-magazine type of society where every woman is meat for the cats and a fundamentalist society where some cats are locked out. This is not a defense of fundamentalism, which I see as one of the major threats against women's equality today, but an attempt at understanding why some people, including some women, defend fundamentalist religions as protectors of women.

Or think about this in terms of property rights, the rights that someone has over a commodity: to buy it, to use it, to sell it or to destroy it. In the past (and even today) human beings have been property and other human beings have had the property rights over them. If women are seen as a commodity (for the use of making children and for having sex in general) then the fundamentalists usually say that the property rights to this commodity (oh so valuable! oh so revered!) belong first to the woman's father and then to her husband and finally to her sons, though the property rights of fathers and sons are limited to monitoring the uses of the woman. A Playboy-magazine based world would have these property rights attached to any and all men in the society, which is not necessarily good news for women. Feminists tend to argue that women themselves should have the property rights to their own persons, but feminists have never had the opportunity to actually determine how societies see women, which means that the relevant choices may well have been between different types of men owning a woman. From this point of view fundamentalism may indeed have been preferable to other systems of ownership, if for no other reason then for the simple one that a woman has many more opportunities to influence her fate through her power over a close family member.

All of this is a long way of stating that I think Slater oversimplifies a little in his post, even though his basic argument about the control of women being the essential part of fundamentalisms of all types is very valid. At least I can't think of a single fundamentalist type of religion where women have equal rights.

Added later: This old embroidery of mine may explain the point better. Or its name, "Choices", may do so, in a world where someone else defines the acceptable choices: