Thursday, June 6, 2013

"HOW MALE-DOMINATED RELIGION BLEEDS WOMEN" Article Challenged and Explained







After much time and thought, I felt it appropriate to address the concerns blogger “A Sober Second Look” expressed about my article, “How Male-Dominate Religion Bleeds Women”. 
http://sobersecondlook.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/on-othering-and-feeling-sick/


You can view the post and any following comments on the No Longer Quivering Patheos network here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nolongerquivering/2013/06/how-male-dominated-religion-bleeds-women-article-challenged-and-explained/

 I would like to begin with a brief history explaining how I was compelled  to start blogging, weaving the “Taliban” and oppressive Islamic practices into my writing to illustrate and reveal the extremes to which some American churches extend.

I first began writing my story as a series of facebook notes in June of 2009--nine years after we left  the ‘Taliban’ church we helped start and nurture.  We finally left it after over nineteen years of its gradual deterioration into cult-like beliefs and behaviors. 

When I chose to to make the correlation between our former church and the Taliban, I had one predominate purpose...to shock, to provoke, to disturb, to awaken the intoxicated discernment of our former friends and family still in the church into hopefully reconsidering their actions.

Having been a founder and leader in the church for 19 years, I was intimately aware of how the ‘system‘ there worked as it pertained to anyone leaving without The Preacher’s expressed blessing.  For nine years, we--even though family--were also subjected to that same ‘system’ as so many others before us.

It was pretty simple.  You leave-- you are vilified, ostracized and backslidden at the least, unregenerate at worst.  That’s how the ‘system’ worked.

So, we waited nine long years-- hoping and praying-- that we could somehow repair the damage from the ‘outside’ only to finally recognize it wasn’t working.  I then decided to tell our side of the story for the first time ever, publicly as this was the only way those on the inside would even ‘hear’ our side.  I strongly suspected most  there would not question The Preacher’s rendition of the details of our leaving, so a public writing would likely stir up enough curiosity that they would read it anonymously.  After nine years of estrangement, what was there to lose?

My suspicions were right.

Many still there were reading.  Others of those who left after us were shocked--even mortified, once we filled them in on some of the details previously unbeknownst to them.  Thus, my previously tagged ‘Baptist Taliban’ title--before then only used verbally--became the published “Baptist Taliban Experience” series of facebook notes.

After writing my story in the form of 22 notes for facebook, there was considerable feedback in the comment section and even more in private messages.  My family and ex-friends still in the church did not respond, as suspected, but I knew they were reading via their connections on the outside with whom they DID respond.  

As a result of those notes, I became aware that there were countless others who shared similar experiences who were hungry for more information as well as encouragement and validation through my personal story.  This is what prompted me to open up to a wider audience through blogging.

Before submitting my writing to Patheos, I hadn’t the slightest notion that there would be those with Muslim backgrounds as well as practicing Muslims who felt using the ‘Taliban’ moniker was in significant ways alienating or even dangerous to them.  I explain the origin of the idea here: http://baptisttaliban.blogspot.com/2010/03/why-taliban-title.html

Then, recently, I wrote the piece for my blog, “How Male- Dominated Religion Bleeds Women”, http://baptisttaliban.blogspot.com/2013/01/how-male-dominated-religion-bleeds-women.html.

I was challenged by the author of “A Sober Second Look” about some statements I made in my post that she interpreted as condescending, humiliating, patronizing and dehumanizing to the very Muslimahs whose rights I claimed to be upholding.  I would like to answer those challenges.

From her blog:

But unfortunately sometimes, reading these blogs is more like realizing the answer to a question that been haunting me ever since I saw a memorial display with the statistics (broken down state by state) for lynchings of African-Americans in the twentieth century: Where does such visceral, violent hatred go? What happens to it, when it is finally driven more or less underground? Does it die for lack of oxygen? Or does it lie there in wait, perhaps mutating into something more socially acceptable so that it can rise again?

I can just barely get my head around this correlation.  The lynchings of African-Americans then was the culmination of rationalizations born out of extreme resentment, ignorance and prejudicial beliefs that those whose skin was black were inferior and thus ‘legitimately’ undeserving of any human rights at all.  

These rationalizations had little to nothing to do with extreme religious beliefs and practices of the captive future slaves, not that that would make such abominations any less reprehensible.  African-Americans did not choose to come to this country, but were captured, imprisoned and transported here to be slaves for the monetary benefit of their captors.  

So, you ask what happens to that kind of hatred when it is driven underground, then suggest it may mutate into something more socially acceptable in order to rise again.  Am I interpreting correctly that you fear  Muslims will be the next victims of such large-scale oppression? 

While your point that referencing the very austere attire to which a Muslimah devotes herself and making assumptions about the dynamics of her relationship to her husband might provoke animosity or even hostility from a minority in this age, I think it quite a stretch at this point to equate it with that of the mistreatment of African-Americans of the Civil Rights era, before and beyond.  I recognize that racial prejudice still does exist, but the undeniable realities of that past has forged a more conscientious and empathetic awareness in our society as a whole since then. 

As far as prominent attitudes towards Muslims in this country?  I observe at least a concerted effort by the press, educational systems, inter-faith organizations etc. to NOT stereotype Muslims or any other faith community as forces to be feared because of outwardly judged peculiarities.  I whole-heartily agree with this effort as a preventative and as a means to emphasize the attributes all share rather than ostracizing because of the differences.

But, in the context of the oppression of women, the niqab she was wearing does exemplify an extreme.  It naturally causes one to wonder if she dresses in such a way by choice--given what we know about extreme patriarchal belief systems in our own culture.  

  
Posters and commenters in particular in some of these blogs (and others like them) sometimes use a sort of short-hand that expresses that certain ideas, practices and institutions are oppressive:
  • a fundamentalist, controlling Christian community is a “fundystan”
  • any oppressive, hyper-controlling church or group is a “taliban”
  • conservative Christian teachings (especially on women’s roles) are a “mental burka”
  • to question and reject said teachings is to “throw off the mental burka”
  • and so on

I chose “taliban” because there is no question it was a murderous, oppressive regime.  Surely, no one questions that.  The audience for which my writing is intended needs to have an illustration of the severest form of religious oppression for that culture in hopes that some might begin to make the connection for their severe practices in this one.  It has shock value and shock value just might be the most useful tool at my disposal since nothing else has worked. 


But, as several commenters on that post point out, Cindy doesn’t even know the woman. Cindy has no idea about her life, her marriage, why she covers her face, or what her husband thinks of it. She is just using that woman’s body as a prop in her post, without that woman’s consent. And in order to argue against the oppression of women, no less. The irony of this has apparently escaped her.

Doesn’t everyone do this at one time or another?  Don’t we all compare impressions about people we don’t know based on their dress and other outward behaviors?  It was more about wondering out loud than drawing absolute conclusions.  

And, it’s all about Cindy. And her husband, Paul. Don’t get them wrong, they’re nice folks, so they condescend to share the planet, the nation, the city, the neighborhood, even the restaurant with Muslims. But still. How they feel as white, Christian Americans, seeing a Muslim family eating in the same restaurant is really important. How Cindy pities the veiled woman, and imagines that her husband controls how she relates to her faith. How Paul feels sick to his stomach at the sight of a woman in a face-veil. How Cindy patronizingly wonders how the woman could possibly enjoy eating out.”
The above statements are the ones I found to be most presumptuous of all.  As I have stated in the comment section, we were not ‘condescending’.  I wrote that hurriedly, completely without a notion that it would be interpreted as such.  So, as I had presumed some things about the veiled woman, much is presumed about me in this statement.  Had I known, I would have worded it differently.  I took out the part about my husband being ‘sick to his stomach’ on my actual blog.  I had a different audience in mind, but I do acknowledge that was a poor choice of words. 
I actually was not pitying the woman.  I was identifying with her.  If she in fact, were a victim of imposed indoctrination that has her as imprisoned spiritually, emotionally and even physically as I was, then the differences between the two religions are only a matter of degrees.  I was seeing my former self in her.  
“It also makes me feel very sorry for the veiled woman. Imagine having to eat your dinner in close proximity to those who you know are reacting to you in such negative ways. And having your kids witness all that. How humiliating and depressing.”
All the more reason I could wonder if she were making the choice to dress that way or if she was indoctrinated, manipulated and/or even forced to do so by the men in her life.  I wonder the same when I see the Amish, Fundamentalist Mormon, Penticostal Holiness, Hutterite, Jehovah’s Witness women as well as the extreme Baptist Fundamentalist women in my own history in public.
“Being critical of patriarchal religions is one thing. Writing about a white man’s nausea at the sight of a veiled woman and passing this off as a statement against women’s oppression is quite another.”
Duly noted on this one.
“And, it’s a part of a much wider context. A context in which many people, including some journalists, feel free to use words that imply that Muslim = oppression/violence/danger.”
This is why it is important that Muslims (such as you) speak out, denouncing the oppressive/violent/dangerous factions of this religion whose women dress the same way, which makes the implication an easy one to make. How else are we to know how to make the differentiation?
Those of us who are from Independent Fundamental Baptist backgrounds, and even those who still consider themselves IFB are dealing with the same blanket impressions as a result of those vocal extremists who make the news for such notorious acts as beating their children, covering up sexual abuse for the sake of their ‘image’, satisfying their urges with prostitutes and other immoral and illegal acts while passionately opposing equal rights for women, same sex marriages, dancing, drinking and rock and roll music. The press and other vocal critics refer to these as ‘Fundies’, Bible-Thumpers, Holy-Rollers, Gay Bashers, Charlatans, Misogynists, Chauvinists, Fascists, Right-Wing Fanatics etc, etc, etc... 
But just as “Muslim” does not always equal oppression/violence/danger, neither does Independent Fundamental Baptist always equal the hostile things I listed above.
“Those words are borders, lines. Marking territory for those who belong, for the pure, in which Others (if present at all) are, well, Other. It’s that sort of thing that can help create an atmosphere that could lead to violence against those Others. Hardly something that is going to liberate all women.
Those words were not meant to be borders, lines or marking territory for those who belong to segregate the “Others”.  They were honest impressions made by observation.  They were meant to draw correlations, not borders.  
And since the issue at stake is said to be the oppression of women, this post is all the more remarkable. If the veiled woman is in fact abused, then what is the likely result of encountering white folks oozing pity, condescension and so forth?  Would she feel safe approaching them for help? Is it likely to inspire her to call the abused woman’s helpline, or the police, or to go to a shelter—where you know, she might well anticipate having to deal with more white folks with similar attitudes? Really?”
The issue at stake IS the oppression of women.  To infer otherwise is to judge my motives since I have stated that this was my intention.  I acknowledge that some statements I wrote could be interpreted as condescending and oozing pity but unless I affirm those were my intentions, I should be taken at my word.  If there is a question about those intentions then would it not be more illuminating to ask the questions instead of make presumptions?
If I could have asked the veiled woman if my impressions of her were correct without embarrassing her or compromising her safety and dignity, I would have.  But I doubt I would have gotten an honest answer from her anyway apart from the time it would take to establish trust.  So, using her as a ‘prop’ anonymously, assuming she would probably never know she was used as a representative for women who truly are oppressed is one seemingly benign way to draw responses from those in similar circumstances as one way to gain more insight. 
As for whether or not someone ‘oozing pity‘ and ‘condescension‘  would inspire her to get help, I have to say that if I were her and being abused, I think I would be more apt to seek help from anyone who expressed the slightest suspicion that I needed help before I would someone content to assume that my living under such extreme circumstances were at my own choosing.
So, while I apologize for not expressing clearly and concisely enough my motives for writing this piece, and perhaps being ignorant of and insensitive to the issues that concern Muslim women’s feelings of isolation and fear from living in a culture that does not understand their religion or their ways, I do not apologize for writing it.  
Neither do I apologize for using fitting tags that illustrate the similarities between the extreme, violent and abusive factions of your religion to the extreme, violent and abusive factions of the religion I came from.  I believe those comparisons need to be made in order for those practicing milder forms of abuse in the name of religion can see the extent of where they too can go under the authority and sanction of that religion. 
I sincerely hope this helps clarify my intentions




4 comments:

  1. Okay, I can't even finish reading this. I am very opinionated about this, I realize. But my opinion is based on experience and analysis of reality, so I stand by it.

    Every woman who covers (any religion) is debasing all women everywhere, and raising the ante on us all to "submit": to men in general, and to the patriarchal religions that men use to justify the continued domination of women every where in the world.

    It is NOT about religious freedom, though it was religion that seduced these women into subjugating themselves willingly and proudly to the patriarchy. It is about creating a culture that is HOSTILE to women.

    I will remain adamantly opposed to all attempts to publicly display a woman's submission to any god or man. It threatens all women. My anger at the Mennonite, the Hindu and the Muslim women who have sold us all out for some religious kudos is equal.

    And while Muslims in America might get some of the fall-out from racist America, those people again are about white male privilege. The Muslims would be (and are likely!) acceptable to them as long as they are white. Racism and zenophobia go hand in hand, but if you look like the white patriarchy, the religion thing can be over-looked. You don't see the Amish women being called out my the white patriarchy for their covering because they are white. Being white is more sacred that being Christian in racist America.

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  2. "Every woman who covers (any religion) is debasing all women everywhere, and raising the ante on us all to "submit": to men in general, and to the patriarchal religions that men use to justify the continued domination of women every where in the world."

    I agree, but I don't believe it is a premeditated plan by all those women to do this. I think they actually buy into the belief at first, practice it themselves and then eventually graduate into judging others who don't.

    I believe that at the heart of it all is the healthy need we all have to be loved and accepted. Patriarchal religions exploit that need with expressed dogmas that 'this' is how a woman achieves love, acceptance and ultimate happiness. She, having legitimate needs and desires, heightened by being taught from birth that her value is based on and all wrapped up in finding and pleasing THE man will submit-even to the point of abuse-to acquire that love.

    Some are enlightened and have enough strength to leave if that's the only way. Other's resign themselves to their situation not wanting or able to leave that life usually complicated by children and relationships. Then, there are those who really believe in this way of life as God's Perfect Will and are content and happy (as far as anyone can tell) in it.

    Though it does, as you say, "threaten all women", as long as these women profess it is their belief, I would rather oppose it gently, over time, by presenting information and anecdotes as evidence of the disparities and contradictions

    As for the rest of your comment, I most certainly agree. Thanks for sharing your insights from your experiences.

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  3. I think my only problem with your two posts on this subject is that you seem to ignore the broader cultural influences that Muslimahs who wear the veil face in the US. Yes, there are some parallels to the fundamentalist Christian sects that force women to dress "modestly" and cover up. But I think drawing that comparison in the superficial way you have ignores a lot of the different reality Muslims face. I'm sure you didn't intend it that way, but it comes off as flippant and appropriative to me.

    I also thought your comment about moderate Muslims needing to speak out was a bit patronizing. Moderate Muslims *do* speak out against extremism, quite a bit more than moderate Christians seem to (and I say this as someone who is involved with both faiths). Comparing "Muslim" to "IFB" is also a bit odd to me (in that same section)..."Muslim" is comparable to "Christian," while "IFB" would be comparable to a sect within Islam. It just comes off as ignorant about the faith. And it really isn't any Muslim's responsibility to educate you--if you want to write about the religion, you should take responsibility for educating yourself. I'm not saying you haven't, just that it doesn't necessarily come across in your writing.

    That said, I do agree with you on your general thoughts about veiling/covering women in patriarchal faiths. I don't think there's anything wrong with avoiding fashion and vanity, but "modesty" as it is practiced in these religions is about dehumanizing women and restricting our autonomy.

    I really like your blog, and I have no objection to the Taliban comparison, but I do hope you'll consider that maybe you should consider some of these issues more carefully before you write about them again.

    I apologize for commenting anonymously but I am traveling and on a public computer so am hesitant to log in. I will check back if you're interesting in opening up a dialogue however. If not, that's fine too, just didn't want you to think I am commenting and running. ;)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you very much, Anon. I appreciate your insights and the spirit in which you have expressed them. I will certainly take them to heart.

      I would be interested in more discussion with you, so please, do check in when you get the chance!

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