Feminism's Freedom Fighter? On Feminism, Atheism and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

By Sikivu Hutchinson

In mainstream media, public conversation about the intersection between atheism and what I will loosely term third world feminism is as rare as Halley’s Comet. In the corporate media universe, the groundbreaking work of feminists of African descent like bell hooks, Angela Davis and Patricia Hill Collins remains largely unknown, relegated to academe. Feminism, when invoked at all in mainstream media, is framed as the province of white women, a vestige of a less “enlightened” phase of American civil society.

The phenomenon of world renowned atheist feminist author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, however, would seem to defy this pattern. In a recent Los Angeles Times interview entitled “Feminism’s Freedom Fighter,” the Somalian-born Ali proclaimed women’s rights the human rights issue of the 21st century. An outspoken critic of Islam, Ali is a controversial and uncompromising figure with a compelling personal story of triumph over adversity. A victim of clitoral mutilation in her youth, she has dedicated her life to challenging institutional sexism and patriarchy in Muslim societies. Her activism against gender-based terrorism and repression of Muslim women has been influential in the West, generating international accolades as well as death threats from Muslim extremists. Rising to prominence in the post 9/11 anti-Muslim hysteria of the Bush era, Ali has elicited controversy for her perceived Muslim-bashing, garnering a plum position at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and morphing into a champion of Israel.

Much of Ali’s feminist ideology is based on the contrast between the violent repression of women under Islam and the liberal humanist traditions that supposedly shape women’s rights in the West. In her writings and public discourse she is fond of making sweeping pronouncements deriding the cultures of Muslim societies, valorizing the West in ways that downplay its cultural hierarchies. In a 2007 interview with Reason Magazine she waxed, “Western civilization is a celebration of life… everybody’s life, even the life of your enemy.” Of course, in many Muslim societies feminism is still a dangerously radical concept. For many Muslim feminists, the very notion of women’s personal freedom is a space of epic struggle. Yet Ali’s totalizing assessments set up a false dichotomy between the West and Muslim societies. By portraying feminism as a battle that the West has already won, she absolves bourgeois democracies like the United States of their schizoid relationship to women rights and human rights, a relationship in which rape and domestic violence are part of the national “democratic” currency. And by ignoring the historical context of the “third world within the first world,” she ignores the very real socioeconomic differences that exist between American women of color and white women.

For Ali, white supremacy is no longer a credible threat or motivation for feminist struggle. In the Times interview she rightly criticized men of color for their perpetuation of sexist beliefs and practices, calling for heightened focus on the “internal” politics and tyrannies of misogyny in “third world” communities. Addressing the subject of President Obama’s recent trip to Cairo she stated, “It would have been fantastic if…Obama had said, we have taught the white man that bigotry is bad and he has given it up, at least most of it. Now bigotry is committed in the name of the black man, the brown man, the yellow man.” Ali’s apparent unwillingness to engage the connection between white supremacy, imperialism and sexism is a critical blind spot. Her failure to acknowledge the persistence of institutionalized segregation and its relationship to the disenfranchisement of women of color is problematic. These biases, and her paternalistic stance on Islam, explain why she has been such a darling of the European American conservative elite.

Certainly when one assesses women’s socialization into and investment in organized religion there are many commonalities between Muslim and Christian systems of patriarchy. Granted Western women are not subject to some of the more overtly terroristic and repressive social prohibitions that Muslim women are. Clitoridectomies and honor killings are not part of Western cultural practices (nor, as many critics of Ali have pointed out, do they occur in all Muslim societies, and in fact derive from tribal not Islamic law). And granted men of color are responsible for the very intimate interpersonal violations of the lives and bodies of women of color. However, legacies of colonialism and racist beliefs about the sexuality of women of color continue to limit equitable access to health care and social welfare in the U.S. Women of color in Western societies are still subjugated by the dictates of Judeo Christian culture masquerading as secularized society. Puritanical prohibitions on women’s sexuality and mobility inform institutionalized sexual and domestic violence against women. Rising rates of sexually transmitted disease and (in many highly religious white fundamentalist Christian and Latino Catholic communities) compulsory pregnancy due to failed abstinence-only sex education policies continue to imperil life conditions for women. Staggeringly high HIV/AIDS contraction rates, infant mortality rates and intimate partner homicide rates among African American women bespeak unequal access to health and social services in communities of color. Epidemic rates of sexual assault among Native American women reflect not only patriarchal control but the invisibility of Native communities vis-à-vis federal health public policy.

Thus Ali’s contention that the West has “adjusted” its cultural and institutional structures to redress the hierarchies of Judeo Christian ideology is short sighted. Indeed, one need look no further than the wide cultural berth given to the Religious Right to see that it is one of the most powerful contemporary threats to civil rights and civil liberty in American history. The white Christian fundamentalist movement’s assault upon human rights, women’s rights and reproductive justice have the potential to reverse gains women have made in the U.S. over the past few decades. In the aftermath of decades of abortion clinic vandalism, bombings and murders of practitioners there is still no international outcry over the insurgent white Christian fundamentalist terrorist movement in the U.S.

From an atheist feminist of color perspective it is problematic to espouse reductive critiques of non-Western religions through the lens of a Western or American exceptionalism; particularly when these paradigms are based on the othering of people of color. The West has xenophobically demonized Muslim societies for their backwardness while “whitewashing” its own anti-democratic traditions and human rights transgressions. Ali’s perspectives unfortunately reinforce this propaganda.

As an atheist woman of African descent Ali’s life narrative and struggle for gender justice is a powerful example for women under the yoke of traditional Islam. Yet her analysis of the path to liberation has been severely clouded by superstar patronage from the very forces that would undermine the human rights mission of feminism.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • silentsanta

    That was an interesting read, thank you; although I cannot help but disagree on several fronts.

    I suspect Hirsi Ali’s reluctance to engage regarding the (considerable) remaining obstacles to Western equality for women is not as simplistic as you have made out here.
    My own interpretation is that it is -largely- her refusal to dignify ‘what-aboutism’, a poor argumentative technique described by one of my favourite journalists – Johann Hari.

    While western countries -including my own- suffer from some appallingly backward practices, significant child and spousal abuse, and are far from free of sexism, there is a categorical difference between societies that acknowledge these behaviours as problematic and take steps to confront them, versus societies that seek to justify the abhorrent status quo.

    Yes, we have a long road to go; and yes, progress is slower than we would like, and changing attitudes, as always, seems to take several generations. None of this obviates Muslim countries of their need to take all practical steps to address these problems, nor does it make any less abhorrent the actions of those who would try to enshrine (and perhaps even succeed in enshrining) their sexist attitudes in law, using their holy texts as justification, the recent Afghani debacle as an example. Kuwait, as another example, has achieved women’s suffrage as recently as 2005 if I recall correctly.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Sikivu
    Excellent post. I do however concur with silentsanta in that, from Ali’s perspective, even the inadequate progress of the west must seem like a feminist’s nirvana. This is not to belittle your agenda, it needs all the oxygen it can get, particularly in the U.S where the religious right could still as you say reverse the progress made. I think Ali is best equipped to fight her fight, with Islam and third world cultural practices as that is her experience. You are best equipped to tackle the injustice in your society as that history is yours. The agendas are not mutually exclusive, nor do I think Ali is subverting the message by holding up some elements of western progress as examples of what can be achieved.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Thank you for this. I have great admiration for Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I read this particular interview and am familiar with her work. I am in complete agreement with her universalist stance on women’s rights. But, I agree with you too. I think she has on blinders with respect to the status of the vast majority of women in the US. It’s hard to blame her for this — this country has embraced her, for the greater part, and she is far safer and freer here than she is anywhere else in the world — even in Europe.

    But, she is not alone in not recognizing the plight of so many women in the US. Even in France, at Ni Putes Ni Soumises, where I am working in Paris — a women’s rights organization that also takes a universalist approach to women’s rights without compromise — they were surprised by my assertions of the mistreatment and subjugation of so many women and girls in the US, especially within insular religious communities (most of them Christian) hiding behind the cover of religious liberty.

    The mythos surrounding women’s emancipation in the US looms large. And, the idolization of religious liberty obscures the human rights violations perpetrated against women in these communities. This is our great challenge as women’s rights activists in the US. The US has yet to ratify CEDAW! The US has yet to amend the Constitution to enshrine gender equality as a right in this country! That is the most shocking to me. Turkey has gender equality in its Constitution. The argument is that gender equality will somehow make us less free — less free to practice religions that demonize women.

    This is why I think it’s so important for women who have escaped these cults to speak out about their life experiences — the world needs to know — it should be done as an act of solidarity with all of the world’s women.

  • Archimedez

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s early life experience primarily in Somalia, and her academic studies and work as a politician in the Netherlands, were focused mostly on Islam and Muslim societies and communities. Hence, it seems reasonable to me that that’s where she would be most passionate, interested, and specialized. Given her knowledge, interest, and motivation in these areas, I suspect, also, that that’s where she believes she can be most effective in influencing change.

    I have to disagree with what seems to me to be the upshot of Sikivu’s article that seems to imply that Hirsi Ali ought to (a) stop criticizing the problems with Islam and some Muslim cultural practices, (b) cut ties with the AEI, and ( c ) take on all of these other issues and perspectives that Sikivu mentions in the article.

    Sikivu writes: “Rising to prominence in the post 9/11 anti-Muslim hysteria of the Bush era, Ali has elicited controversy for her perceived Muslim-bashing, garnering a plum position at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and morphing into a champion of Israel.”

    Hirsi Ali rose to prominence as a politician in the Netherlands; I’m not sure how much this has to with Bush.

    Sikivu: “Clitoridectomies and honor killings are not part of Western cultural practices (nor, as many critics of Ali have pointed out, do they occur in all Muslim societies, and in fact derive from tribal not Islamic law).”

    Hirsi Ali did not claim that clitoridectomies and honor killings occurred in all Muslim societies. They are indeed cultural traditions that are not a necessary part of Islamic law, but at least some Islamic law (e.g., Shafi’i school; though at least in Egypt the grand mufti has recently come out and rejected female circumcision and clitoridectomies) does regulate female circumcision, and at least some Islamic law does allow a reduction in penalty, or no penalty, for parents who kill their children. Consequently, countries such as Jordan allow lighter sentences for the perpetrators of honor killings. There is not a sharp distinction between the pre-Islamic Arab tribal traditions, and then the Islam and then sharia that was built up in the context of those traditions. The hajj, for example, was a pre-Islamic tradition of the numerous Arab tribes, and this was adapted and incorporated into Islam. Some traditions were explicitly rejected in the formation of Islam (especially the tribal polytheisms!), but honor killing as such was not explicitly rejected. In any case, the bottom line is that many Muslims still practice this, and Hirsi Ali is justified in criticizing it and calling for change.

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali criticizes problems in Islam and Muslim societies because that’s what’s she’s knowledgeable and passionate about. So?

  • http://whoreofalltheearth.blogspot.com Leah Elliott Hauge

    As a former Mormon who is now an atheist, I know firsthand that misogyny is alive and well in the tradtions of Western religion. So long as the masses believe in God, and that God is male, women will never be able to gain an equal footing. Thanks for this post.

  • Katherine

    I’ve read laudatory essays about Ms. Ali written by atheists, and sharply critical commentary about her from Muslims, but before this post I hadn’t seen any analysis of the problematic aspects of her work and celebrity from the perspective of a freethinker. It’s given me food for thought. Thank you, Ms. Hutchinson.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    What a thoughtful and thought-provoking essay! It is often difficult to reconcile the relief I feel that things like honor killings and clitoridectomies are but horror stories in most of the West, with the brute fact that in less developed/advanced/fortunate/whatever-label-you-like parts of the world they’re an everyday reality. “Yikes” doesn’t seem to cut it; but I’m otherwise at a loss for what to say… it’s such a big problem, and I’m just one person among billions.

    The first two comments on “what-about-ism” (from silentsanta and Steve Bowen) are relevant, but missing a key component. “What-about-ism” cuts both ways, depending on the perspective one adopts: we may say, “This faraway thing is worse, so that should be our priority;” but we may also say, “This fixable thing is close, so it should be our priority.” People of the first camp say to those in the second, “But what about this way worse thing that so happens to be far from you,” while people of the second camp say back to the first, “But what about this still-pretty-bad thing right on your doorstep?” I think that both perspectives are valuable, because both point out legitimate evils and seek to correct them; but in terms of what should take our priority first, I don’t think there’s a principled and non-arbitrary way to decide. On the one hand, helping people “at home,” while others abroad have it demonstrably worse, seems to leave one open to criticisms of isolationism; on the other hand, prioritizing the worst parts, far away as they are, seems to draw criticisms of callousness and settling for too low an at-home standard. To any question of “What about X,” I respond, “Well, X is important, too – but I’m doing Y, ‘cuz it’s also important in its own right. X is being taken care of by this, that, and the other group/department/person/whatever.”

    For my part, I think that we have enough people on the planet that focusing on one thing until it’s “solved forever” is going to be tremendously wasteful; we can have much more lasting long-term success if we divide and conquer, making what progress we can in several areas at once. It’s slow going, of course, but there comes a point when more people/money/outrage/whatever just won’t solve a problem any faster, and those excess resources could be better spent elsewhere.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    D

    The first two comments on “what-about-ism” (from silentsanta and Steve Bowen) are relevant, but missing a key component.

    Yet you seem to come to essentially the same conclusion as me…

    we can have much more lasting long-term success if we divide and conquer, making what progress we can in several areas at once.

    In Ali and Sikivu we appear to have two politically engaged “women of colour” addressing aspects of gender inequality from their respective strengths and experience. This is healthy and if multiplied by activists around the world will be our best hope for equality for all women.
    It maybe that in the AEI Ali has found a refuge from the cultural relativism she perceives in other areas of western involvement and an ally against Islamism (My enemy’s enemy is my friend). Whether she realises that other aspects of neo-con policy such as abstinence only contraception regimes are counterproductive to her cause, well I don’t know, perhaps she is resigned to the compromise.

  • Johan

    I think that Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes the judgement that despite the flaws of the West, the Islamic world is much more oppressive to women. I can’t blame her for that, partially because of her background, but also because it is true. She also has much more “cultural competence” of the Islamic world than many others in the West.

    “…she absolves bourgeois democracies like the United States of their schizoid relationship to women rights and human rights, a relationship in which rape and domestic violence are part of the national “democratic” currency.”

    What sort of democracy are you after then? A “popular democracy”?

  • Polly

    On the one hand I agree with Hutchinson that there is some hypocrisy in the West where we attribute all perfection to our side and look down our noses at the lesser countries. Especially since to me the wealth of a nation seem to precede greater civil liberties. OTOH, the difference is not just in degree but in kind.

    Silentsanta hit the nail on the head:

    there is a categorical difference between societies that acknowledge these behaviours as problematic and take steps to confront them, versus societies that seek to justify the abhorrent status quo.

    Even if we are lax in barging into every compound and hauling away the women and children it is NOT because we accept the condition and treatment of women within those communities. It’s because we tend to tread cautiously when it comes to invading private citizens’ personal space. A caution that I applaud. Where that balance should leave us, is a matter of opinion.

    So, there is a WORLD of difference between the perspectives and not just the end results.

    The best thing we can do is provide information and ideas via radio, satellite, and internet. I wouldn’t be opposed to some daring individual/s air dropping freethought literature over Riyadh, Damascus, Amman, or Tehran. It’s very much the same we need to do to spread the idea of secularism in the US.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Steve,
    Oh, we totally agree! You even said that it is only by conceit of comparison to worse places that the West looks good at all, and Sarah’s point below that seemed to make a point of the fact that the West still has flaws. I think both perspectives are valuable and important: I think that bringing up the rear is important, and I think continuous progress on the leading edge is also important. The only thing I meant to say your comment was “missing” was the explicit declaration that we can’t afford to rest on our moral laurels: just because we’re “ahead for now” doesn’t mean that we’re “done fixing sexism” or even “close enough.” But being ahead for now is good in its own right – just not as good as it could be.

    As you pointed out, we come to the same conclusion, I was just seeing if I could bridge the gap between what you were saying and what Sarah said so that we could get a bona fide hippie agreement-fest going on here. Polly really hits it on the head with, “Even if we are lax in barging into every compound and hauling away the women and children it is NOT because we accept the condition and treatment of women within those communities. It’s because we tend to tread cautiously when it comes to invading private citizens’ personal space. A caution that I applaud. Where that balance should leave us, is a matter of opinion.” We are “merely better,” not “entirely good,” so we should keep aiming for the latter even if we will always need to live with the former during our own lifetimes (which may well be the reality of the situation, no matter how much that sucks).

  • Johan

    “The best thing we can do is provide information and ideas via radio, satellite, and internet. I wouldn’t be opposed to some daring individual/s air dropping freethought literature over Riyadh, Damascus, Amman, or Tehran. It’s very much the same we need to do to spread the idea of secularism in the US.”

    Drop “On Liberty” by John Stuart Mill translated into the local languages. It’s a very good book, though it suffers a bit from Anglo-centrism. But given that it was written in the 19th century, I think it is overlookable.

    It can be read online in its entirety: http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/mill/john_stuart/m645o/

    Ideas can move mountains…

  • Sarah Braasch

    D, don’t hate me, but I don’t agree, at least partially, or at least I think I don’t agree in part. However, I am intent on not causing another ruckus, unless you want me to.

    I don’t think the govt or the moral majority or the religious right is shy about entering the private sphere. They want to be able to dictate when you have sex, how you have sex, and with whom you have sex, as if the subject were of great interest and concern to them. Just read Scalia’s dissent to Lawrence v TX. He basically says that the moral majority should be able to vote on just about anything you do in the privacy of your own home, and that’s all the due process he needs, as long as your specific activity is not an explicitly enumerated right. If they want to pass a law saying that it’s wrong for you to pick your nose in your bedroom with the door closed and the shades drawn, they can.

    To be honest, I don’t care much what a private citizen does. I care what the govt does or doesn’t do.

    And, when the govt turns a blind and knowing eye, or even condones and encourages, the abuse of women and children in religious communities, I see that as a clear and egregious violation of the Establishment Clause.

    I think we do, en masse, knowingly accept the abuse and subjugation of women and children on a massive scale, under cover of religious liberty.

    And, yes, I do think religious liberty is really code for “the sexual slavery of women.”

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    I also agree that Silentsanta and Ali are correct. We have eliminated sexism from Western government: it is no longer legal. True, we have not eliminated it from Western culture, but then, we haven’t eliminated Reality TV shows. Nothing’s perfect.

    The difference between a cultural problem and a legal problem is huge, and Ali is correct to celebrate it. That in now way diminishes the remaining cultural change that is needed. If anything, it highlights it as we seek to make our cultural ideals conform to our legal ideals.

  • aoi

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the primary object of Ayaan’s feminism the more grievous counts of sexism and oppression which exist in the world such as that promoted in fundamentalist Islam, as opposed to the comparatively trivial instances and tendencies? That being the case, her “blind spot” may simply be a prudent focusing of her concentration and effort for where it matters most. And rather than distract the rest of us from the lesser forms of sexism, wouldn’t the sheer act of thinking and feeling for the liberation of women heighten our sensitivity to the lesser forms of sexism as well as the serious ones?

  • silentsanta

    Yahzi, I wouldn’t actually have made such a bold claim as yours; I feel we’re still a long way from having eliminated sexism from western government. For example, the US still hasn’t had a female president, and while the UK had Thatcher, she was arguably more masculine than her opposition.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Whoa, Yahzi. With the acknowledgement that I was recently accused of hyperbole myself (and I can get a bit hyperbolic when I really care passionately about something), do you really stand by that statement?

    Which western country are you in?

    Because, in the US, culture and law are not mutually exclusive. It’s a back and forth dialogue between the two. They inform one another. It is a fundamental aspect of our legal and political systems. I think it is represented by the dialogue between the majoritarian (political) and counter-majoritarian (judicial) branches of government, as well as by our system of federalism (the dialogue between the states and the federal govt).

    I would also add that our current laws, and even our Constitution, are hardly ideal with respect to the status of women and girls in the US.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    culture and law are not mutually exclusive

    So true, but they can be dichotomous. You can legislate against all the ..isms you can think of but without changing the way people think the abuses go on.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Mr Bowen,

    I am finding that you are a palliative voice of reason on this site.

    I appreciate your contribution.

  • J

    *However, legacies of colonialism and racist beliefs about the sexuality of women of color continue to limit equitable access to health care and social welfare in the U.S….*

    No they don’t.

    *Women of color in Western societies are still subjugated by the dictates of Judeo Christian culture masquerading as secularized society.*

    No they aren’t.

    *Puritanical prohibitions on women’s sexuality and mobility inform institutionalized sexual and domestic violence against women.*

    No they don’t.

    *Rising rates of sexually transmitted disease and (in many highly religious white fundamentalist Christian and Latino Catholic communities) compulsory pregnancy due to failed abstinence-only sex education policies continue to imperil life conditions for women.*

    I blame religion.

    *Staggeringly high HIV/AIDS contraction rates, infant mortality rates and intimate partner homicide rates among African American women bespeak unequal access to health and social services in communities of color.*

    They do?

    *Epidemic rates of sexual assault among Native American women reflect not only patriarchal control but the invisibility of Native communities vis-à-vis federal health public policy.*

    Federal health policy causes rape on reservations? That’s pretty imaginative, Ms. Hutchinson.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    J
    Just gainsaying doesn’t make for a very interesting debate (is this a five minute argument or the full half hour?). I’m sure others with better knowledge of the U.S health system will have something to say, but I will address this point..

    *Women of color in Western societies are still subjugated by the dictates of Judeo Christian culture masquerading as secularized society.*

    No they aren’t.

    Modern attitudes to women do have roots in the mysogony of Judeo Christianity. Just because a lot of the west is notionally secular does not mean we have abandoned the legacy of religion. It pervades our laws, notions of morality and attitudes to race and gender. Our culture has marinaded in religion for centuries and the taste just won’t go away. The only change I would make to Sikivu’s sentence is to omit “of colour” as I think all women are disadvantaged by this, although the degree of “subjugation” will depend on which bits of society they inhabit.

  • J

    *The only change I would make to Sikivu’s sentence is to omit “of colour” as I think all women are disadvantaged by this, although the degree of “subjugation” will depend on which bits of society they inhabit.*

    Forsooth.

    Essentially, I’d much rather see our side win elections than be applauded by departments of comparative literature. That being the case, I have ZERO use for affirmative-action apologetics and/or identity-politics flagwaving.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Yahzi wrote:

    We have eliminated sexism from Western government….

    I disagree. We still have laws and regulations on the books which limit the opportunities of women, to wit, their treatment under regulations in the military, the refusal to explicitly legislate their equal status, the lack of maternity support in many regions of the country, and such.

    J wrote:

    *Puritanical prohibitions on women’s sexuality and mobility inform institutionalized sexual and domestic violence against women.*

    How then do you explain the Jeffries cult? They would seem to embody this exact charge with a high degree of accuracy.

  • J

    How is the Jeffries cult “institutionalized”? Isn’t he in jail now?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Sarah,
    Consarn it, why’d you have to go and ruin my hippie agreement-fest? I kid, I kid. And as for starting another ruckus, I may or may not be alone in this, but I see ruckus as a sign of healthy, vigorous debate. Y’know, as long as nobody’s getting physically or financially damaged, because then it’s not just words.

    That said, I agree with you that the Fanatical Wrong (as a group) harbors a perverse desire to infiltrate every part of every person’s life. The way that many of them see things is that anything bad that happens is because private citizens are straying from the straight and narrow, causing God to lift his magical dingus of protection from the country and allowing teh terrists access to our “precious bodily fluids” or whatever. By labelling “things they don’t like” as the product of their spiritual enemies (both internal and external), they set themselves up for perpetual conflict in a cycle of empty hate and rhetoric so fucking similar to 1984 that I don’t think they would know irony if it bit them in the face. It’s really kind of sick.

    At any rate, I think you would agree to the following propositions, and please correct me if I’m wrong, because this is all I was trying to establish with the last comment:

    1. Patriarchy is pretty much all over the planet Earth, and that sucks really bad.
    2. Patriarchy isn’t exactly the same in any two nations, neighborhoods, or even houses.
    3. The fact that women in the USA have recourse to the law if raped, can vote at the same age and with the same efficacy as any individual man, are held to the same educational standards as males, and have laws on the books stating that they ought to get equal pay for equal work, makes the USA a “less awful” place for women than places in the Middle East where such things do not apply at present.
    4. “Less awful” is better than “more awful,” even though it doesn’t mean “not bad at all.” Specifically, though the USA is less awful, we Yankees still have a ways to go before we’re “not bad at all” on the patriarchy scale.

    And so, while I would choose to live in a future utopia if I could, I can’t and so I’m happy living in the USA, given the fact that many of the alternative choices are much worse. Again, this is no excuse to rest on our moral laurels, I’m just saying that being less awful does in fact make us better than the alternatives, even if we’re still pretty bad. Does that make more sense now?

    Oh, and one elaboration: while religious liberty certainly includes the sexual slavery of women in a lot of cases, there’s a bit more to it than that, such as the freedom to abuse one’s children by withholding necessary medical care (Christian “Scientists,” cough cough…), or punishing them for imaginary crimes (e.g. making children feel bad for masturbating, etc.).

  • Sarah Braasch

    D,

    I love your comments. You are hysterical.

    Yes, I am quite fond of the good ole US of A, in many respects. I am very happy to have been born there, rather than a lot of other places in the world. And, less awful is better than more awful.

    I think we’ve reached hippie consensus.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    How is the Jeffries cult “institutionalized”? Isn’t he in jail now?

    Inside their communities, their beliefs were certainly institutionalized. And if you think his arrest put a stop to all that….well, we can hope.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Reaching the hippie consensus isn’t a necessity around here. :)

    That said, as I’ve previously expressed my admiration for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, let me offer some thoughts on Sikivu’s article. (My posting a guest essay doesn’t necessarily mean I completely agree with it, if that wasn’t already understood.)

    I consider the difference between these two viewpoints largely a matter of which direction you’re facing. Imagine a diversity of possible societies, all ranged along an axis which quantifies how they treat women and minorities. At one end is a tyranny where women have no rights whatsoever; at the other end, the (as-yet hypothetical) perfectly egalitarian society where there’s complete equality between and among the sexes.

    The Islamist societies like Saudi Arabia fall very close to the former end of this spectrum, while ours is somewhat closer to the middle. We, the ones who are participating in this discussion, are all standing pretty much in the same spot. But which way you’re looking makes a big difference. You can look towards the egalitarian ideal and see the many ways in which we still fall short by comparison. Or you can look towards the lower end and see how tremendously far we’ve come, compared to the misogynist tyrannies that still prevail elsewhere in the world. Both perspectives are valid, to my mind; the difference is one of emphasis.

    I especially liked silentsanta’s citation of Johann Hari, who’s also a favorite of mine. I love the phrase “what-aboutism” for what it reminds us to do and not to do: We’re very far from perfect, and we shouldn’t pronounce ourselves superior to those benighted theocracies and conclude that there’s nothing we need to fix on our own shores. But even as we strive to remedy the still-existent and serious inequalities in our society, we shouldn’t make the opposite mistake of falling into the relativist trap and thinking that we have no right to criticize other societies as long as our own isn’t perfect. We have every right to point out that they haven’t made even as much progress as we have.

  • J

    *Yet her analysis of the path to liberation has been severely clouded by superstar patronage from the very forces that would undermine the human rights mission of feminism.*

    No it hasn’t.

  • J

    *”Less awful” is better than “more awful,” even though it doesn’t mean “not bad at all.” Specifically, though the USA is less awful, we Yankees still have a ways to go before we’re “not bad at all” on the patriarchy scale.*

    Actually, we’re fine. This “they’re bad, we’re bad” is bullshit. They’re bad, we’re good. The end.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    @ Ebonmuse: I wholeheartedly agree about perspective and emphasis – they make such a difference in how a person sees things, and when people can’t step outside their own perspective or refuse to abide a shift in emphasis, then all manner of communication breakdowns can occur.

    @ Sarah: Glad I could tickle your funny bone, but I resort to humor as a defense mechanism, otherwise I just get angry and depressed about things. Then I don’t do productive things like give to charity and write my congressperson, I instead simply fester with impotent rage. I mean, the world is a really rotten place in a lot of important ways, and I wish I could do more than is in my power to do, but I cannot and for that reason alone, I do not. So when people say crap like “God is good” or “God provides,” I want to deck them. Your family, your governmental safety nets, and your social support system provide for you and are good; God doesn’t do shit for the people who starve to death every single day, so fuck that guy and fuck his stupid plan.

    @ J: What are you on, and how can I get some? I mean, if it’s pure essence of patriotism, or plain-old contrariness, then I’m not interested. Do you really think that the USA doesn’t have room for improvement, or that if it does then we don’t need to then go and make those improvements? Are you just wearing some rosy blinders of your own, or being a troll, or do you honestly believe that we’ve got this whole “civilization” thing pretty well handled? Because I can tell you that we have quite a ways to go as long as we as a nation behave consistent with idiotic ideas like “politicians can’t have crazy sex because that’s just wrong,” or “everyone’s authentic cultural roots are a good thing,” or ” you can’t have a basis for morality without believing in a magical sky-daddy,” or “people automatically deserve respect for believing whatever the Hell they want.” Man, I didn’t even get started on women, minorities, Othering, or a million other things. “They’re bad, we’re good, The End?” The Dark Ages called, honey, and they want their morality back. We’re not fine, we’re just less wrong for now and we need to keep at it lest we backslide.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    No it hasn’t.

    Oh it’s the full half hour then.

    I’ll grant you that the OP is largely just Sikuvu’s opinion and quite a lot of the comments challenge that, but at least they try and state why.Where please is your western utopia? give me a zip code and I’ll turn on my sat-nav, ‘cos I want to go there.

  • Polly

    Where please is your western utopia? I’ll turn on my sat-nav, ‘cos I want to go there.

    I don’t know about his, but mine is here.
    70 39′50″N 23 41′24″E
    God reise. :)

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Oh it’s the full half hour then.

    Sounds like I’m not the only one that felt like I was reading a Monty Python sketch.

  • Sikivu

    “My own interpretation is that it is -largely- her refusal to dignify ‘what-aboutism’, a poor argumentative technique described by one of my favourite journalists – Johann Hari.
    While western countries -including my own- suffer from some appallingly backward practices, significant child and spousal abuse, and are far from free of sexism, there is a categorical difference between societies that acknowledge these behaviours as problematic and take steps to confront them, versus societies that seek to justify the abhorrent status quo.”

    Thanks to all for your thoughtful critiques and comments. One of my intentions in writing this article was to foreground the political context of Ali’s embrace by the American right vis-à-vis the undermining and invisibility of third world feminism in this country. Again, it is Ali who insists upon totalizing simplistic valuations of “the West” (without historical context) versus Islam, not her critics. By valorizing “the West” in ways that do not acknowledge the considerable debt to liberation struggle by people of color in the U.S., and the degree to which these struggles have made the very idea of “liberal humanism” remotely possible within a context of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (to use bell hooks’ terminology), I believe Ali’s critique of Islam obscures the parallels between Western patriarchy and “Muslim” patriarchy. As an African American feminist what troubles me most about Ali’s reductive reverence for the West is the seeming absence of critical consciousness about the history of Western colonial occupation of Africa and its contemporary implications for the disenfranchisement of women of color in the U.S. Her meteoric rise within and championing by the European American conservative elite has not simply been informed by her powerful critique of Muslim repression of women, but by the tenor of Islamophobia that informs most mainstream European American perspectives on Muslim societies. As I suggest in the article, this does not invalidate the authenticity of her critique from the perspective of her lived experience and cultural ideology. Rather, my assessment is designed to highlight the political terms in which her view has been privileged by the American conservative establishment, an establishment that has been complicit in maintaining the very structures of oppression that delineate a third world within the first world. Further, the reality of American capitalist, and yes, bourgeois democracy is predicated on hierarchy and plutocratic control, not the pluralism and inclusivity propagandized in traditional narratives of Western democracy. For example, one need look no further than the epidemic incarceration rates of African American women due to draconian federal drug sentencing policies and criminalizing perspectives of communities of color to see that the ideal of the West relies on this first world/third world occupation dialectic. African American women are approximately 6% of the U.S. population yet represent nearly 30% of the incarcerated population in the state of California. What is this attributable to? Again, governmental sentencing policies coupled with cultural beliefs about the criminal pathologies and moral degradation of black women. Black women receive longer, stiffer sentences than white women who have committed similar crimes, many of which include spousal or intimate partner homicide. So when reviewing actual empirical data on such issues as incarceration rates, pay, access to health care and other socioeconomic indices, it is myopic to conclude that sexism has been “eliminated” from Western government. Sexism is not a subset that exists as a hermetically contained unit of analysis but is intersectional with race, class, sexual orientation and other social dynamics. This nuances discourse on the global implications of sexism and patriarchy, rather than relying on obfuscating dichotomies that ignore the gender regimes that the West creates and sustains.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Sikivu,

    What is this attributable to? Again, governmental sentencing policies coupled with cultural beliefs about the criminal pathologies and moral degradation of black women. Black women receive longer, stiffer sentences than white women who have committed similar crimes, many of which include spousal or intimate partner homicide. So when reviewing actual empirical data on such issues as incarceration rates, pay, access to health care and other socioeconomic indices, it is myopic to conclude that sexism has been “eliminated” from Western government.

    Although I don’t disagree that sexism has not been “eliminated” from the West, this example is more of an example of racism not being eliminated from the West. African American males are also more likely to receive harsher sentencing than white males for similar crimes (and much more likely to receive a capital sentence).

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Sikivu,
    I echo OMGF’s criticism that comparing black women to white women is a racial comparison, and doesn’t indicate sexism. I agree that sexism is a real and awful thing in the USA, but the statistics you cited do not show this. Do you have data on the differential sentencing of black women as compared to black men? Or white women as compared to white men? Or all women compared to all men? That would indicate sexism. Or were you trying to illustrate that us Yanks got racism in our sexism, and sexism in our racism, to make the worst peanut butter cup ever? That would require even more data and statistical rigor (which you could probably get, I’m just saying that confounding variables are confounding).

    For the record, I also want to add that I completely agree that “isms” are intertwined and tough to sort out. Othering is a messy thing that lots of different people do in lots of different ways. By the same token, I’d say that this is precisely what makes good statistical analysis a “must” in such a discussion, otherwise we’re stuck with table-pounding and anecdotes. And I also agree that we must not let ourselves be lulled into thinking that progress has a finish line which some modern nation has already reached. On the whole, this was an excellent article and a solid reminder that even our most revered role models have real flaws. Great stuff!

  • Sikivu

    Yes, of course the over-incarceration of black women is due to institutional racism. Yet my more nuanced point is that this disproportionality is also informed by the intersection of racism and sexism, both in “intent” and effect. What is the sociopolitical context of black female incarceration and its implications? Black women are perceived as more hyper-sexual and morally degenerate than are white women; which is due to the legacy of sexual exploitation of black women under slavery. It is partly because of these deeply rooted cultural beliefs that black women offenders (most of whom are single mothers), unlike white women offenders, do not have the benefit of softer alternative penalties like “monitoring” or substance abuse therapy. Hence, African American women represent the fastest growing prison population in the U.S. precisely because they are disproportionately locked up for petty drug offenses and more gender specific self-defense driven offenses like intimate partner homicide (which women are twice as likely to be convicted and serve longer prison sentences for than are men). So let’s break down the intersectionality issues. Because black women (relative to white men or white women, see, for example, the U.S. Labor Department’s disaggregated data on income and race) are more likely to be poor; are more likely to be victims of intimate partner and/or sexual abuse (relative to black men, white men or white women, see the California Black Women’s Health Project); are more likely due to poverty to lack competent legal representation (relative to white women and white men); and are more likely as single parents to bear the sole responsibility for child rearing (unlike white women, white men or black men, see the Urban League’s 2009 Status of Black America report), prison sentencing reflects and reinforces the nexus of racism and sexism. Hence ultimately, the over-incarceration of black single mothers (more so than that of coupled or single black fathers) results in the over-representation of African American children in an under-resourced foster care system that essentially perpetuates a regime in which poor black children are funneled into a school to prison pipeline. In my view reductively decoupling sex from race in this instance results in an analysis of the prison industrial complex that privileges the model of black male incarceration and the life trajectories of black male inmates without the overlay of how racialized prison policy concretely informs gender inequity.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Sounds like I’m not the only one that felt like I was reading a Monty Python sketch.

    Actually, I was more reminded of this.

    More seriously, J, if you want to make a more substantive argument, I’d be interested to hear your take on the results of this study on discrimination in hiring from the University of Chicago and MIT:

    From July 2001 to May 2002, Bertrand and Mullainathan sent fictitious resumes in response to 1,300 help-wanted ads listed in the Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune. They used the callback rate for interviews to measure the success of each resume. Approximately 5,000 resumes were sent…

    The catch was that the authors manipulated the perception of race via the name of each applicant, with comparable credentials for each racial group. Each resume was randomly assigned either a very white-sounding name (Emily Walsh, Brendan Baker) or a very African-American-sounding name (Lakisha Washington, Jamal Jones).

    The authors find that applicants with white-sounding names are 50 percent more likely to get called for an initial interview than applicants with African-American-sounding names. Applicants with white names need to send about 10 resumes to get one callback, whereas applicants with African-American names need to send about 15 resumes to achieve the same result.

    …Statistically, the authors found that discrimination levels were consistent across all the occupations and industries covered in the experiment. Even federal contractors (for whom affirmative action is better enforced) and companies that explicitly state that they are an “Equal Opportunity Employer” did not discriminate less.

    I have two questions for you about these results, J:

    (1) Do you believe that this is a problem?
    (2) If so, what do you think should be done about it?

  • J

    *…to which these struggles have made the very idea of “liberal humanism” remotely possible within a context of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (to use bell hooks’ terminology)*

    Okay: You lost me at “bell hooks”.

    I had to read one of her bullshit books for a class once–this being before I realized that all social sciences and most humanities are exactly the bullshit they are joked about being–and read and read and read and understood NONE of it. I said so in class. And in a paper. And the professor essentially told me I was a racist and “unreflective”.

    So I lied. I wrote my other papers out of pure pap and giant lifted quotations from “bell hooks” (why the fuck doesn’t she capitalize? oh wait, sorry: I’m being unreflective again). And I got A’s. What moronery.

  • J

    *This nuances discourse on the global implications of sexism and patriarchy, rather than relying on obfuscating dichotomies that ignore the gender regimes that the West creates and sustains.*

    Okay, now a *sane* person would have stopped writing six or seven paragraphs ago and actually joined an organization or started on trying to change legislation. But, oh sorry, yeah that would be too much an exercise in “bourgeois democracy”. Too, y’know, logical and rational and the entire enterprise would smack of that hated concept, “liberal democracy”. And it would all be so dreadfully *accessible*. Why, *any* person could join in such an effort and how would we police such a thing so as to make sure that only properly indoctrinated, jargon-speaking academicians were in charge of such a thing? People might start to think that good intentions coupled with right, substantive action *actually matter more than pointless jargon*.

    Plus, if substantively racist laws–i.e. the Rockefeller crack/cocaine laws in NYS–were actually to be changed, that might lessen the already-limited market for this kind of impenetrable rhetoric.

    close-tag sarcasm

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    How do you know that Ms. Hutchinson is not part of an organization already? And why does her choice of words that you personally don’t understand constitute insanity on her part?

  • J

    *And why does her choice of words that you personally don’t understand constitute insanity on her part?*

    Because they cannot be understood by anyone. If the intent were to actually communicate, then the words would be clearer. No, I do not accept any kind of “technical language” explanation for this. This woman is supposedly in favor of political change, which, in a democracy, you’d think would militate in favor of plain speech and clear words. But this sort of Academi-Cant has only gotten *more* impenetrable over time.

    The anti-slavery, suffrage and civil rights movements used pretty accessible speech and had pretty A.) clear explanations for what was wrong and B.) a concrete platform of fixes they’d like to see. As a result, we view them historically as brave and smart people. *No one* will ever say that about “bell hooks” or her apostles of unclarity. I have NO fucking clue what they’re talking about (or, at the very least, why they are talking about it at such length and in such viscous jargon) and I sincerely doubt they have any political platform that could be put into effect by actual human beings.

  • silentsanta

    J,

    while it’s somewhat tangental to the topic, these aspects of postmodern style are something that fascinate me. I imagine you’ve already read about the Sokal Affair (if not then I suspect you’d enjoy it greatly), or perhaps the criticism of several postmodern thinkers offered more recently on Dawkin’s website in the article Postmodernism Disrobed?

    While I’m not prepared to throw out all postmodern thought, I don’t doubt for a second that it masks a large amount of vacuous crap, at least as much as any other movement that willfully insulates itself from criticism. Much of it has come to resemble theology for good reason.

    Years ago, I used to avoid capitalizing the word ‘i’ because I objected on the grounds that ‘you’ had no such capitalization; looking back, I was nursing a fairly substantial christian inferiority complex at the time. Recently I read that bell hooks’ reasons for her capitalization are somewhat similar to by own; she claims she wants the focus to be on her content.
    I ended up discarding my idiosyncratic style when it became clear that it actually added an additional, unnecessary barrier that must be overcome by my readers before they could process my content. At some point, a person has to decide whether the point of written communication is to effectively convey some thought or emotion to their readers, or whether it is an exercise in self-indulgence, (even one perversely born from humility, as mine was).

    For this navel-gazing epidemic, I wonder if perhaps some concept akin to ‘falsifiability’ is needed; the demand that a writer express themselves clearly enough for mistakes to be visible. Somewhere, when people engage in things like Lacan’s phallic math (linked above in the Dawkin’s article), either the author is making a radical new point that can be contested or they are talking out of their ass. And it is the writer’s task, and not the critics’, to make it easy to see which is being done.

    I have not read enough of bell hooks’ work to have an opinion on her, but there are a fair number of postmodern writers for whom I feel nothing but contempt. And like the Catholic Church and their response to their internal failings, I see the failure of much of academia to call out these charlatans as damnable complicity.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    No, I do not accept any kind of “technical language” explanation for this. This woman is supposedly in favor of political change, which, in a democracy, you’d think would militate in favor of plain speech and clear words. But this sort of Academi-Cant has only gotten *more* impenetrable over time.
    – J, #43

    Whoah, wait – you lost me as soon as you started using big words that I don’t already know, like “militate” and “Academi-Cant.” What am I supposed to do, look them up or something? Damn, if only I had some way to do research while communicating with people on the internet!

    I actually found Sikivu’s latest comment to be a clarifying one, though I did need to go to the trouble of occasionally re-reading a sentence if I didn’t get it right away (oh, teh noes!). I now have a better understanding of the mechanisms she says are responsible for keeping women down – though I would like to see more math, or at least a couple links to some statistics that support her argument. And Sikivu, if you’re still reading, please throw a book at me! I want to look more into this (and I’d also like to know what you think can be done about the problem).

    Word of caution, J: when criticizing another’s rhetorical tactics, it often pays to police one’s own a bit more rigorously than usual. You get a thumbs-up for clearly delineating your clauses with an A and a B; but you get a double-thumbs-down for putting the word “pretty,” which clearly applies only to your A clause, outside both clauses (which indicates that it applies to both). And no, I do not accept any kind of “I was in a hurry” explanation for this. You’re supposedly in favor of clear speech, which, in an internet discussion, you’d think would militate in favor of well-organized clauses and easy-to-read formatting flourishes. But your abuse of asterisks, when you could make so much more productive use of HTML tags, has only gotten more intolerable over time.

    Sound familiar? You’ve disqualified yourself as a competent speaker on the worth of others’ words, since your own set such a vapid example. It quite frankly doesn’t matter at this point whether this bell hooks character writes Tru Fax or pure bullshit, I sure as Hell won’t be taking your word for it.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    D
    I think you have just invented the Ad Penicullus argument :)

  • Archimedez
  • J

    *…at least as much as any other movement that willfully insulates itself from criticism. Much of it has come to resemble theology for good reason.*

    That’s good: I agree. At least alchemy was A.) an effort to understand and manipulate the real world and B.) gave birth to some useful knowledge that led to the real science of chemistry. Theology, philosophy and a lot of literary studies seems like they aren’t even trying to grapple with anything real or which could even *be* real. Who was it who talked about a man who spent so much time dreaming about the ideal lover that he lost all interest in actual women?

  • bbk

    I think that what it comes down to is that Western societies are still the best role models that Islam has. With the prevalence of anti-western rhetoric in the Muslim world, it’s important to counteract that. It doesn’t do anyone any good one of the most notable critics of Islam in the world to go around nitpicking what she doesn’t like about Western society. Given her target audience, the level of rhetoric in the countries she’s trying to reach, her message can’t be mixed.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    @ bbk: That’s a good pragmatic point, the problem is that it can inadvertently leave some people with the idea that us Westerners are now able to take it easy. More fundamentally, I’d say the problem is an inability to simultaneously do justice to both of the following ideas: first, that the West is more or less unequivocally better than the Middle East (in terms of civility, permissivity, promoting human flourishing in all its beautiful shades, etc.); and second, that the West still has serious problems of its own which need to be addressed (and will probably continue to do so forever, since there’s no such thing as a perfect world). Reality is nuanced and complicated and tough to sort out, but giving time to either one of those messages will doubtless invite criticism from otherwise respectable persons that the other side of the coin is being ignored, because opinions naturally vary (even among smart people) on just where our focus should be right now.

    @ J: I share your frustration about the stuffy ivory tower predilections of… shall we say, “traditionally hands-off fields of study?” It aggravates me to no end that almost all undergraduate philosophical courses are primarily focused on studying past philosophers, not on doing good philosophy. A good musical education will teach a person various ways to analyze music, how to identify different types of music, as well as how to make music of one’s own; philosophical educations tend to suffer for the comparison at present. Your point on alchemy is also an excellent one – it reminds me that “science” used to be called “natural philosophy” back in the day, since natural philosophers were those who studied “God’s works,” while theologians mainly studied “God’s word.” I just think that at this point in history, it’s high time all organized religions went the way of alchemy and dropped out of the meme pool.

  • Donald

    bbk, “western society” is not a monolith. Once we realize that, it becomes clear that the western world as a whole is not the best role model the Islamic world has. The best role model for women’s rights is probably Sweden, which is very different from a lot of the western world (including America). Within the Western world, America would be towards the bottom of the list, below most Western countries and even some non-Western ones. A little nuance from Hirsi Ali would only help her point, rather than hurt it.

    J, you’re a thoughtless idiot. I can’t believe anyone is attempting to even engage this troll. “No, it’s not”? Seriously? That’s not an argument, that’s a temper tantrum. So is calling bell hooks’ writing “bullshit” when bell hooks (1)writes very clearly, and (2) has a lot of important insights about the significance of feminism for black women.

    Don’t believe me? Check out the GoogleBooks preview of her book, Killing rage: ending racism. It starts with a very clear, very sharp description of how women’s voices are rarely heard on the subject of racism. Which is both a race issue and a feminism issue. And no, it’s not incomprehensible unless you’re a fool with the vocabulary of a 10-year-old.

  • J

    *Don’t believe me? Check out the GoogleBooks preview of her book, Killing rage: ending racism. It starts with a very clear, very sharp description of how women’s voices are rarely heard on the subject of racism. Which is both a race issue and a feminism issue. And no, it’s not incomprehensible unless you’re a fool with the vocabulary of a 10-year-old.*

    Okay, reading . . .

    Alright, two pages in, there’s this:

    “Since white women’s bodies embody the sexist racist fantasy of real womanness, they must not sully themselves by claiming a real political voice within public discourse about race.”

    Yeah, no, can’t understand a word of it. Or, rather, I understand *only* the words of it and not the sentence or sentiment itself. What the fuck is she actually describing? Is there any actual politician who is on record as saying something like this? Is there a law that puts this sentiment into effect?

    Yeah. No. Bell Hooks is bullshit.

  • J

    Oh man, thanks for directing me to that Google Books preview, Donald: It is *delicious*:

    “Denial is in fact a cornerstone of white European culture and it has been called out by the major critical voices who speak to, for and from the location of whiteness (Marx, Freud, Focault).”

    It’s the friggin’ gift that keeps on giving:

    1.) Denial is not a cornerstone of white European culture:

    Macduff: “…All my pretty ones [dead]?
    Did you say all? O hell-kite! All? . . .”

    Malcolm: “Dispute it like a man.”

    Macduff: “I shall do so;
    But I a must also feel it as a man:
    I cannot but remember that such things were,
    That were most precious to me. Did heaven look on,
    And would not take their part? . . .”

    2.) I would be *burned alive* for attributing *any* negative characteristic to another entire race or culture. But it’s okay to attribute any old thing you want to any and sundry “white Europeans”.

    3.) What the fuck is the “location of whiteness”?

    4.) Marx, Freud and Focault are your heroes, huh? Okay, let’s break it down:

    -Focault is just white, French Bell Hooks times ten: Complete verbal tangles obscuring very low-grade thinking. Bullshit from front to back.

    -Freud is fun to read, useful for his general assertion that we don’t suddenly become sexual upon reaching puberty and that “respectable” people who “restrain” their sexuality probably end up perverted in other ways (i.e. Ted Haggard) but otherwise wrong in every statement of fact he made.

    -Marx. Marx, huh? You really want to deploy Marx? Really? This side of the twentieth century? Okay. That’s your decision.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Taken in context with the rest of the passage, she’s talking about how women are excluded from talks about racism – due to its political implications. I don’t see why that is so hard for you to grasp, as it’s actually pretty clear.

  • J

    *Taken in context with the rest of the passage, she’s talking about how women are excluded from talks about racism…*

    Except, y’know, they aren’t. Her book was published.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Mostly excluded then. You’ll note that had you not simply stopped reading she goes into some detail about sitting in on panels even with African American men and being marginalized when speaking about racial issues.

    I’m beginning to think that your problem isn’t simply that you don’t understand (you don’t) but that you don’t want to understand. It’s so much easier to stick one’s head in the sand than to actually look around and look for instances of racism and sexism and own up to being part of that culture. It’s so much easier to simply belt out things like your denunciation of Marx, which shows that you are probably only familiar with Marx’s writings from association with those ‘godless, atheist, communist Russians.’

  • bbk

    Donald, I think you have to treat Western society as a whole, without nuance. If you don’t, someone from the Muslim world will accuse you of cherry picking your facts.

    I don’t know about J, but I can’t take bell hooks seriously, either. If you think you’re going to read her and find references to sociological studies, economic data, historical facts, you’ll be dissappointed. If you want to read a narrative derived from celebrity quotations and excerpts from other authors who string together celebrity quotations then maybe she can explain black society in a way that makes sense for you. But IMO she belongs in Ms Magazine rather than in an academic setting.

  • J

    *…he goes into some detail about sitting in on panels even with African American men and being marginalized when speaking about racial issues.*

    Oh NOES!!! She was *marginalized* while sitting on a *panel*!!! Clutch your precious pearls, m’lady!

    Y’know what, I had this argument already. It was with a very nice, very articulate, utterly humorless gay friend of mine who was a self-appointed member of the Language-and-Sentiment Police. He was the sort who’d classify someone who made a joke about a Jewish-American Princess as being in league with Hitler and/or someone who even barely, sorta, slightly cracked a smirk at a fat man wearing a tutu as being just as bad as the men who beat and killed Matthew Shepherd.

    I was game for his brand of awareness-raising and sensitivity-heightening for a while–maybe a year–until finally his tiresomeness made me snap and I said, in exactly as many word, “H., you need to TOUGHEN THE FUCK UP!”

    Bell Hooks and her ilk need to toughen the fuck up.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Well, there you have it. J says that all those whiny b*tches need to toughen up and just take the male-centered culture they live in and deal with it. Don’t speak out. Don’t get hysterical. Just take it and deal with it.

    Let me guess, you’re a white male whose tired of these illegal immigrants coming into our country (you speak ‘Merican, not Mexican!), tired of these gays rubbing it in your face, tired of these feminists that want equality, tired of vegetarians, tired of libruls, etc. You long for the good old days where women and racial minorities knew their place, right? Well, while you’re telling women, gays, and racial minorities to STFU, I’ll be defending their rights for equality. And guess what, you need to deal with that and toughen up enough to realize that bigotry doesn’t make you a big man.

    I think I’m done with you now.

  • J

    *Let me guess, you’re a white male whose tired of these illegal immigrants coming into our country…*

    Not particularly. I think we need more, not fewer immigrants.

    *…tired of these gays rubbing it in your face…”

    No.

    *…tired of these feminists that want equality…*

    No.

    *…tired of vegetarians…*

    Only because I wish they were vegans like me.

    *…tired of libruls…*

    No. I am a liberal.

    *You long for the good old days where women and racial minorities knew their place, right?*

    Pepperridge Farm remembers. But I don’t. I wasn’t born until 1979.

    *And guess what, you need to deal with that and toughen up enough to realize that bigotry doesn’t make you a big man.*

    Okay. Done.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I know the discussion shifted towards a critique of academese, but I think this is very interesting. I know from personal experience that many of these folks have a deeply hued rose tinted view of the West, but, nonetheless, it’s quite telling, I think (and since I’m usually attacked for too much rhetoric and not enough statistics):

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20091103/lf_afp/migrationusafricaasiaeurope_20091103190030

  • Polly

    Sometimes we forget just how recently the enlightened west emerged (and is still emerging) from the dark ages. I never would have suspected Switzerland of rampant sexism.

    I was checking someone’s facts and came across this. Women didn’t get the vote until 1971?!? and even then the vote wasn’t a blow out?
    Go figure.

  • Donald

    Yeah, no, can’t understand a word of it. Or, rather, I understand *only* the words of it and not the sentence or sentiment itself. What the fuck is she actually describing? Is there any actual politician who is on record as saying something like this? Is there a law that puts this sentiment into effect?

    Then you’re stupid. She’s describing a cultural sentiment for which there is mountains of empirical evidence. White women’s bodies have symbolized “pure” and ideal femininity in western culture–this is a trivially obvious statement that any historian or sociologist would agree with. bbk, you obviously haven’t read hooks if you think she doesn’t quote sociology, history, or other empirical studies. If you can’t understand what she said, that’s your problem. I find it easy. So does OMGF.

    And bell hooks was published, so she can’t have been marginalized? Great! So Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth couldn’t complain about their social class being oppressed and silenced, because, hey, they weren’t!

    And yeah, being marginalized on a panel is important. Because the point of a panel is to educate people. If you are invited onto a panel and then nobody lets you talk, you can’t educate people, and your perspective is lost. If that happens again and again to women, that means women’s perspectives get lost.

    And cry me a fucking river with your “oh I can’t criticize other races and cultures” complaint. Go tell that to some disgruntled white male who thinks affirmative action is oppressing him.

    Donald, I think you have to treat Western society as a whole, without nuance. If you don’t, someone from the Muslim world will accuse you of cherry picking your facts.

    On the contrary, it would be cherry-picking facts to look at (say) Sweden and treat it as representative of (say) America. Find me one example of a Muslim accusing someone who rightly distinguishes between Western countries as “cherry-picking your facts.” I don’t think you can. And if you did, they would be wrong and stupid, and we shouldn’t sacrifice intellectual clarity to them. But why would they? Why would they object to someone who says “Sweden treats women very well, while America treats them less well” with an accusation of cherry-picking facts? What would be their rationale?

    Muslims are more likely to respond angrily to people who claim that the “West” is monolithically good than to those who argue for distinctions.

  • Donald

    J is obviously a childish foot-stomping troll, by the way. I’m responding to him because I don’t want anyone else to catch his misguided view of anti-racist activists, not because he is worth engaging with.

  • Donald

    Oh, and Marx, Freud and Foucault are not bell hooks’ heroes–she’s saying that they are prominent among white intellectuals. Which, you know, they are. And “speaking from the location of whiteness” is obviously a metaphor, a way of describing their social milieus and statuses. If you cannot handle a simple and obvious metaphor, then yes, bell hooks is not for you. Neither is most of literature and political commentary.

    But of course, you can probably handle metaphors just fine so long as they don’t come from black women being too strident in their opposition to racism and sexism.

  • Donald

    Sorry for spamming, but I just had to add: you could play the same game with plenty of white male writers of crying “Academese!” and saying “what the fuck does that mean?” whenever an obvious metaphor is used. You could do that with Daniel Dennett easily. You can even do it with Dawkins, especially when he gets going about “memes,” and because he often rants and rambles rather than presenting a linear train of thought. I know quite a few religious people who have this reaction to him. But this reaction is a dishonest exercise, because anyone who wants to know what these men are saying can figure it out. And because they’re white male atheists, nobody here plays dumb about what they’re saying.

    Heaven forbid a black woman should start talking about racism, though. Then atheists here respond with a lot of nonsensical babble and tantrum-throwing about academese. That’s hardly a way to win allies from outside your own racial/ethnic group. Don’t be surprised when black atheists ignore you, if that is your attitude.

  • Davies

    It is glaringly obvious that Ayaan has very little knowledge of Islam. The author is the actual one with a problem painting a very dark religion with extreme views and right wing ideology. In fact she is the one stoking up religious hatred with her anti-Islamic views. If a muslim or any one else for that matter was too say the same thing about judaism he/she would be called anti-Semitic.

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali has neither the necessary critical skills nor the moral integrity to speak for Muslim women. And since Muslim women live in highly diverse cultural, political, economic and linguistic contexts, no body can speak about Islam and Muslims in an abstract ahistorical manner.

    Karima Belhaj and Miriyam Aouragh are directors of the largest womens shelter in Amsterdam. They scoff at the idea that Hirsi Ali is a champion of oppressed Muslim women. She has never fought for the oppressed. In fact, shes done the opposite. She uses these problems as a cover to attack Islam. “She insults me and she makes my life as a feminist ten times harder because she forces me to be associated with anti-Muslim attacks”,Aouragh said.

    After being booted out of the Dutch parliament she’s now part of a right-wing think tank. A think tank supported by Dick Cheney of all people. People are just stating facts. She doesn’t speak for all women, she speaks for herself and to spread her extremist atheist mentality. This mask that she hides behind of “wonder woman defender of all women” is laughable.

    She moved to the USA because she was nearly stripped of her Dutch citizenship which she gained by identity fraud: she lied about her name, date of birth,the country from which she came to Holland, as well as the reasons why she fled to Holland. She had to leave her PM-position in the Dutch Parliament because of that and was nearly stripped of her Dutch citizenship. She is a shameless liar, a disgusting human being who cannot be trusted even for a second.

    Excuse me, Ayaan, but in the U.S Muslim women decide for themselves whether or not to wear the veil.I understand that the American far-right have taken you in when you needed to leave Holland, but you will lose most or all of your authority to speak against Islam if you allow yourself to be coopted by them. If American people associate you with the Neocons, ninety percent of them will write you off.

    Ali is all talk and no action. Her stint in the government was a series of grandiose statements about how sheplaned to emancipate Muslim women. She sees the parliament as her stage and in effect promotes only issues related to Islam. As one can see from the comments alone- Muslims have no interest in her messsage and some have no idea what she is talking about.

    Of course, actions such as the murder of Theo Van Gogh are not justifiable, but to describe the incident as I dont understand how someone can be so angry at a mere film (as Hirsi Ali states in her book) is ridiculously blind to the fact that Submission was not a mere film. It was a film that insulted its Muslim viewers in the deepest core of their being.

    She ends her book by noting that some people have told her that her criticisms of Islam are too aggressive, but goes on to say that the pain oppressed women suffer is far worse. But do all Muslims have to be constantly insulted in order for women oppressed in the name of Islam to find relief? According to her atheist dogmatism, religion is the bane of all existence. And so despite billions of peoples intimate, meaningful connections to their faith tradition, it is perfectly okay to insult them.

    Ayaan is a rampant opportunist who succesfully seduced soft-in-the-head Dutch liberals with lies and divisive posturing before shiting on the Netherlands and joining her right-wing, neo-liberal compatriots in the USA.

    It’s appalling that this bigoted ignorant woman who believes that all immigrants should completely and immediately de-ethnicize/de-racinate/de-religionize themselves once they move to the west is now plaguing our newspapers and airwaves with her revolting bilge. We have plenty of people like her over here already to do this filthy work, we don’t need anymore. It figures that she’d fit right into the Washington cocoon of rightwing think tanks and Fox News. Instead of coming over here and PROVING her precious concern over the fate of Muslim women by reaching out to Muslim women here, she just ignores them and spouts to the already Muslim-hating converted.

    This is a woman who believes that all immigrants should completely divest themselves immediately of all vestiges of their home nation’s culture, traditions, connections, etc. Here in NYC, for example, we have a tradition of ethnic parades on Fifth Avenue – the Irish, Scots, Italians, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and other Caribbeans, and other nationalities (plus a Gay Pride Day Parade) have long been a NY tradition. Ali despises this kind of thing. To her, I as a Brazilian immigrant should never again listen to Brazilian music, cook Brazilian food or support the Brazilian football team.

    And for those of you who see nothing wrong with bashing Muslims, then what is so wrong with bashing Jews?

    The simple test of how Muslims are perfectly compatible with western secular society is the fact that they have lived in western societies for centuries with no history of violence. Muslims have been living and working in the US since before the founding of the republic with no problems. They continue to do so. They vote, run for elections, write for newspapers, work in the entertainment industry, have their own businesses, etc. They obey the law, practice their faith in private and just go about their lives.

    If there was such an innate conflict between being a Muslim and living in the US then none of this would be true. Indeed, throughout US history it is fundamentalist CHRISTIANS who’ve shown themselves thoroughly incompatible with western secular values — it is they who founded violent organizations like the KKK, not Muslims.

    Muslims have also been living and working in the UK for centuries — as have Christians, Hindus, Jews, and so on. Most of them have few problems going on about their daily lives living and working in your secular western country.

    It’s the ignorant hate-filled bigots who insist on inventing this myth that these people–solely by virtue of their religion–are incapable of living out their lives as any ordinary person does. It’s these bigots who tell all Muslims living in western countries: YOU MUST RENOUNCE YOUR RELIGION OR LEAVE.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

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