July 2018
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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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Comments
chinese rabbit
cunningbunny ══╣chinese rabbit╠══
I can't comment on the context of his speech, as I haven't heard it. But I do disagree with this: "No woman (or man) in the West believes that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal." That's a sweeping generalization in and of itself, and disregards simple religious prejudice that most certainly exists in our culture. There are people who look down upon a woman simply for that action, and don't look deeply enough into the issue (or simply, don't care enough) to look at the reasons behind that action and spurn those reasons rather than the woman or action itself.
jesuisgringoire ══╣╠══
that's what I was thinking upon reading that.

I think people (not saying this is what Belenen is doing at all) tend to feign feminism to cover their xenophobia and ethnocentrism. I've heard the wars in afghanistan and iraq justified by pseudo-feminism far too many times not to be suspicious of a society that detests hijab while simultaneously doing immense violence to the body images of its own women.
feminist
belenen ══╣feminist╠══
I agree with that. I can't stand how some people pretend to be feminists in order to further other prejudices.
feminist
belenen ══╣feminist╠══
well, yes, that's quite true, some do. That was a quote, btw, not something I said -- I'd have phrased it more like "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." I probably should have just rephrased instead of quoting.

(I'm going to edit to remove the quote.)
chinese rabbit
cunningbunny ══╣chinese rabbit╠══
I did notice that it was a quote, don't worry--even if I'd missed the punctuation, the "her" would have tipped me off. :-P

I think your edit made the post clearer as a whole. The abortion example is a very poignant one.
febrile_lune ══╣╠══
I agree with your sentiments, ESPECIALLY the parts about how it makes no sense to say that we need a structure of inequality to create equality. The whole... choosing "traditional" lifestyle thing... well, I see so many flaws in that. Maybe if someone does want to... I dunno... be a stay at home parent, or something, and if that's best for them, fine. BUT. It is REALLY hard to separate the conditioning of gender roles and to know if that's really why someone chooses that. On the other hand, IF and only if there was no such thing as "traditional gender roles" anymore, and people of either sex chose to be a stay at home parent... that would not be a problem. But, the fact of the matter, is that we DO have a system of inequality that is perpetuated by gender roles.

On the other hand, I think I would have been offended if Obama had said something about how women need to choose not to take on traditional roles. While I agree with that, I think maybe what he was trying to do was avoid coming across as the "privileged male" who thinks ze (trying that out here) understands what women go through, and has the authority to criticize them for it while in the same position of power that oppresses them. WHen in reality, internalized oppression is a way of surviving. Not that that makes it a good thing. But, I hear a lot of people in the debunking communities talk about how when someone is oppressed... it does not help as much to blame them for their choices, because their choices are a matter of survival in many cases whereas the privileged person's choices are matter of convenience in many ways (since, if one so chose, a privileged person could entirely ignore the problem of privilege and not be systematically affected).

Anyway, I absolutely agree with you about traditional gender roles and I find the argument very flawed; at the same time, I don't think it is helpful to focus on criticizing the woman's choices when coming from a position of oppressive power (though it is important to focus on the bigger picture, yes, which includes how internalized oppression kind of "perpetuates" it).

About the last part --- I think Obama might have been coming from a position where... well, he's addressing a lot of people who think very poorly of Muslim people and tradition and who paint them misogynistic, as sort of a racist attack, if that makes sense... Not focusing the misogyny in a constructive way but in a way that paints the culture as inferior without having to address the misogyny in ones own culture or lifestyle. Most people do not understand very much about the Muslim religion and culture and I think this might have been an attempt to diffuse racist attacks -- it's very tricky, of course, because I very much believe in fighting for the rights of women to the point where one actually has a true and legitimate choice to not cover ones hair.
In the US if a woman chooses not to cover her hair, she may receive "punishment" at home by family members but not systematically, whereas in other places, she would be severely punished by the government. That does not make the "attacks at home" (or the ways in which I think many people DO subconsciously look down on Muslims) any less serious, but I do think some approaches are better than others with regards to trying to help the situation. (regardless, again, it does not logically follow to argue that the "choice" of oppressive roles is a good thing. I do not have a solution to something he could have said as an alternative).
finding_helena ══╣╠══
I agree with this.
febrile_lune ══╣╠══
Yeah... though the more I think about it, the more I'm starting to feel conflicted. I don't know what he could have said differently, so maybe he shouldn't have said anything at all... because I can see SO many people taking what he says as some sort of excuse to be like, "Ha! Yeah! Traditional roles aren't ALWAYS bad! Those feminists are so extreme..."

Sigh.
finding_helena ══╣╠══
Yeah, but people who would say that are already thinking it anyway.

Perhaps better would have been some mention that traditional roles may be favored by some women, but there is always the danger of a woman making that choice because she feels pressured into it, and we want to try to remove the sorts of structures that are making her feel pressured in that way.
feminist
belenen ══╣feminist╠══
I'm not suggesting that Obama say something about how women need to choose not to take on traditional roles. I don't think ze should have criticized the act of covering but I think it was very out of place to affirm that (as if THOSE are the rights that are being attacked!).

I was pointing out that it is completely backwards to affirm women's rights to do what their culture or law dictates they do. Obviously one has the 'right' to obey the law. 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.
febrile_lune ══╣╠══
Yes, and I agree. Despite everything, when it comes down to it, yeah, I do agree. I feel like it's a tough situation but that doesn't mean... yeah.
feminist
belenen ══╣feminist╠══
I would have said, (my edits in brackets):

"I know there is debate about this issue. [[I do not think religious actions like covering one's hair are a sign of inequality]], but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and 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 [[religious roles, as long as they are freely chosen, but I think that education is a right for every human being.]] That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams."


There! no implication that women already have the ability to "choose" these roles.
febrile_lune ══╣╠══
:D
wolfmare ══╣╠══
I chose a 'traditional' role... Because it was right for me. Not because it's expected of me, but because it suits what I want in life.
feminist
belenen ══╣feminist╠══
right! It's completely different when one has the right to choose.
wolfmare ══╣╠══
Well, it also came down partially to responsibility. My child is 6 years old, and the other 'parent' did little more then contribute genetic material. I could do the whole wailing and gnashing of teeth and let someone else take responsibility for what *I* did, or I can raise my child to the best of my ability. To do anything else would sacrifice my sense of honor.

I'll avoid using gender pronouns here, though admittedly it's a hard habit to break on my own journal simply because of habit and the speed I normally type posts out at... But I'll never deny the name for my role. I'm a mother, and that is a role that despite being accidental at first... Is now what I would choose, regardless. My life revolves around my child, and while I may not be the best or most 'normal' parent in the world... I love my child, and do my best to make sure I'm always there.
saturnsdaughter ══╣╠══
A young woman who works with me and recently completed her undergrad degree said that she would much rather be a traditional housewife and mother than a full-time worker. This baffled me at first, but I would relate this to what Obama appears to have said. In a country like Canada, there isn't nearly the level of social constraints the Muslim world has when it comes to the choices women can make. Here, my co-worker could just as easily decide she wants to be a working woman and no one would think twice about it. I think that's what Obama was driving at: that despite the inevitable inequality that exists within a traditional structure, if women are fully aware of it and still decide to take on that role then it's still better than never being allowed to see the alternative. Maybe I personally don't find the idea of living as a "traditional woman" appealing, but if that's what my co-worker would be happy with (fully educated and all), who am I to judge?
feminist
belenen ══╣feminist╠══
Well, it's not that I think Obama was wrong in anything ze said. It's what ze chose to affirm and what ze left out that's the problem. I don't think ze should have criticized the act of covering but I think it was very out of place to affirm that (as if THOSE are the rights that are being attacked!).

I was pointing out that it is completely backwards to affirm women's rights to do what their culture or law dictates they do. Obviously one has the 'right' to obey the law. 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.
chillychilly22 ══╣╠══
So glad you made a post about it because I was going to ask you to explain further. lol

Sometimes you're words fly over my head because your line of thinking is different than mine. Not in a bad way, just DIFFERENT! :)

So having read all your comments... I think I finally had an epiphany of what you've been saying all along... Here it goes... !

So while you agree with Obama that one should be able to wear the veil if they choose to, he did not address the other side... In the Islam world, those that do NOT want to wear it are still forced to wear.

So while in America many of the Muslim women that we do see covered up are doing so free of will. They chose to do it. I know a handful of muslim women that do and do not feel oppressed. I know a handful of women that choose NOT wear the veil and they aren't being attacked for their choice.

HOWEVER, Muslim women in, let's say Afghanistan, pretty much have to wear it. And if they don't, then they get attacked/jailed/killed for their choice. Obama failed to recognize that if a women wish not to wear the veil she should not be looked down upon as well.

WHOOT! I think I got it! lol

While I hear you out on that and agree that he did not recognize that side, could it be he did so purposely? He can't show up in the Arabic country trying to patch up a bad relationship and start attacking their culture off the bat.

One step at a time right? Change is not going to happen in one speech. Let's get the children educated so that they can learn and start their own movement towards equality.
clown_frog ══╣╠══
As far as speeches go, I suppose they must be tailored to the audience. "must" is the wrong word, perhaps. But politics is in a big way about oratory, in the effort to draw in as many people as possible. Like the bastard BNP (british nationalist party) in this country - they are trumpeting the whole "british jobs for british workers" thing, and backstaging the more extreme, horrific racism. Anyway... sidetracked. But I bear that in mind when reading political stuff, the agenda of getting as many people as possible on your side, which isn't really relevant to your post, but is relevant to my pleasure at the words "But it should be their choice." Acknowledging that it isn't always.

Completely agree with you about the veil thing. That there is a difference between having issues with something and looking down on people.

I find it very difficult, to cry out against something, like wearing a veil, or polygamous marriage (been reading a bit about mormon history), because it is a choice. And because its a religious choice. And yet... I disagree with religions that have these rules for women and not for men (men can have multiple wives, but women not multiple husbands? The polygamy I have not a problem with, the one-sidedness I do!). Like you say, its choices made within a structure. And that structure is unequal. This post has helped me a bit in clarifying that, that it is a choice but a choice within a structure.

The thing about traditional roles. Hmm. Something is gnawing at my mind and I'm not clear what yet, but something. I don't know. I wouldn't describe myself as taking a traditional role if I had a partner who worked and I stayed home and looked after the children. I wouldn't be doing it for "traditional reasons". I suppose it depends how it is meant. I'm inclined to say that if you're choosing a way to live your life then you aren't choosing a "role".

As far as:

I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality

A group of people who are denied somethine which another group of people are given freely are being denied equality. Whatever that something is! Not objecting to the speech, because inequality in education should be highlighted, and specifics are more likely to be taken note of. Nonetheless, its a shame that something so obvious should need said. But good when someone says it!

The Metro newspaper here had the headline "The day America became a little bit cool again" the day Obama was elected. I don't know much about politics, or what he's doing, but it does make me feel positive.
on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.