July 2017
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response to Obama's speech: one cannot create equality within a structure of inequality


Part of Obama's recent speech in Cairo: ...I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. ...our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice.

I agree that education is a good tool for creating equality, but the glaring flaw in this is that as long as there are "traditional roles," women will "choose" to live in them in order to be accepted, in order to be respected, in order to be safe. Ze's essentially saying, "The structure that causes inequality is perfectly fine, but we need to create equality (without changing the structure)." It makes NO sense -- it is not possible to create equality within a structure of inequality (any more than you can create freedom within a cage!). A structure that causes women to be skill-less, vulnerable, abused, and dependent will not produce women who seek equality. No one who believes they are better off being owned is going to seek out freedom -- especially if that ownership is "benign." It took a forcible change of structure to allow women citizenship in the US: a civil war that made people think about equality and who deserved to be treated as a human being. It was people who fought for the freedom of slaves who later fought for the citizenship of women.

If you have a choice between submitting to oppression and having your basic needs met, or fighting oppression and being attacked, rejected, and quite LITERALLY unable to sustain your own life (because no one will hire you), you're going to "choose" simple oppression. That doesn't mean you had any real agency. There is no freedom to be had within a hierarchy; education might remove the blindfold from women's eyes, but unless and until the structure itself is destroyed, women will remain caged -- and most of them will "choose" to keep the blindfold on because that is safer. Much like most women in the US "choose" to keep their blindfold on and put up with abuses and restrictions -- to fight against them usually means earning even worse treatment, and often risks the loss of one's livelihood (whether through spouse or boss).

And then this just pissed me off: I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal. Having issues with women being covered up against their will is not the same as looking down on women who choose to do it. One is an issue with the system, the other is an arrogant assumption that one knows best for others. They are not mutually inclusive. For a woman to "choose" to cover zir hair, ze must have a CHOICE -- and "submit or die" does not count.

ETA: Considering the depth of issues facing women, to talk about women's "right" to do something which they are FORCED to do while NOT mentioning their right to be free of such forcing is, at best, not espousing equality. Consider abortion. If Obama went on about respecting women's choices to bear children while saying NOTHING about women's rights NOT to bear children, that would imply that either women do not have the right to refuse to give birth, or that that right was not as important as the right to give birth. Alternatively, it's like saying that everyone has equal rights to marry (the opposite sex) -- it pretends equality and respect while ignoring the fact that the law is biased against people who would not choose that path.


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