Worthwhile Reads: Patriarchy is all the same

Patriarchal marriage and “responsibility” on A Sober Second Look

But most of the interpretations of the Qur’an and of Islamic law that we encountered when we first converted did not (and would never have) used the word “patriarchal” to describe their vision of the “ideal” Muslim marriage. Nor did they put much stress on the duty of the wife to obey the husband. Instead, they focused on the idea that the family (supposedly, like every other social institution) needs a leader, or it will collapse. So therefore, the family needs someone who will take on the responsibility of casting the deciding vote in cases where the husband and wife cannot agree. They also talked about how women and children need to be protected and provided with the necessities of life, so men (again) have been given the responsibility to do this, which is why it is “only fair” that the husband rather than the wife is the head of the household.

This vision of how a Muslim marriage “should” work was often presented to us as a really sweet deal for women—a deal that feminists would envy, if only they understood Islam. Men (we were told) had been given this heavy responsibility by God, but women had everything given to them. Guaranteed provision for life, protection from the dangers of the outside world as well as the hardships of the workplace, freedom from the responsibility of having to make major decisions on behalf of the family… what more could any woman want??

You know what’s weird? This is exactly the same way patriarchy was sold to me growing up. And the odd thing? My parents talked about how horribly Muslims treated women. Supposedly (conservative) Christians elevated their women while Muslims treated them like chattel. Except … this.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Ugh! I HATE the “this is a really sweet deal for women” argument which, yes, is made everywhere patriarchy exists. I hate it because it is so dishonest. When I hear a man talking about how great it is for women to be taken care of and provided for and be free from choice and responsibility, I just want to say “Does that sound great to you? Would living that way make YOU happy?” And I think every single guy would answer “no.” Because they know damn well that assuming responsibilities and making choices and decisions, even when it is difficult, is what gives adults a sense of accomplishment, self-respect, and control over their own lives. They know damn well what is wrong with a life of dependence and powerlessness–otherwise they would be clamoring for it themselves (which you don’t see a whole lot of, although you see plenty of women clamoring for what men have. Gee, wonder why?) Basically, they know that their argument is bullshit. And they’re hoping we won’t notice.

    I’m not fond of any argument in favor of patriarchal relationships but, frankly, I’d much prefer to be told by a man that I have to be submissive because it’s my duty, even if it’s painful and frustrating, than be told that I should be submissive because it’s just soooo awesome, when we both know that that is a lie. I suppose some men get around this by convincing themselves that women were created with more dependent natures so OF COURSE a life of “having everything given to them” is not going to sound appealing to men. But that’s still a pretty weak argument, given that it rests entirely on willful ignorance of all the pain that women have endured and all the struggle that they’ve engaged in (across pretty much all cultures and religions) to be free of the confines of what apparently comes naturally to us.

    If you’re going to tell me that I should spend my life deferring and submitting to men, at least by honest and don’t sugarcoat your motives with specious arguments.

    • http://pslibrary.com MrPopularSentiment

      I’ve met many men (and women) who would say that’s the sweet life, and I do think that they honestly believe it. Anyone who had a reasonably good teenhood is going to look fondly on that time when you had many of the freedoms of an adult, some spending money from a weekend job, and none of the worry about having to pay bills or make tough decisions. And I think that for a lot of people, the idea of being able to just have someone else take care of all the big grownup responsibility stuff is very appealing.

      The problem is that it means being a child for life. And while that may well be appealing, it comes with all the downsides as well – being vulnerable to the whims of others, being vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life, and being cut off from the satisfactions that accompany responsibilities.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Sure people get nostalgia about being a kid and never having to handle any major responsibilities or make any big decisions. But I think most men realize that the agency and autonomy you gain from taking these things on is worth the price–otherwise, again, why don’t they long for the woman’s role? How often do you hear a patriarchy-supporting man wishing he could be a woman? In my experience, never. That’s why I say it’s dishonest (even if, for many men, it isn’t consciously so). They’re trying to sell women something that they would never, ever want themselves.

      • http://pslibrary.com MrPopularSentiment

        That is a very good point, Petticoat. I think it’s probably a bit more complicated than that for most men (“I’d love to live like that, but I’m a man so that door is closed to me”), but that’s probably just because I’m loath to assume that people are evil or deliberately lying. People have an amazing capacity for self-trickery!

        But I do think that you have a point.

  • smrnda

    Have you ever read Edward Fitzhugh’s defenses of slavery? His idea was that it was a benevolent institution since it freed slaves from the burdens of making decisions and planning and placed the responsibility on providing for them on someone else. It’s amazing how similar this sounds to that.

    The problem with letting other people do anything for you is that, in the end, you lose freedom and autonomy. Sometimes you need someone else, but within reason, being dependent on someone puts them in a position of power over you. Even if someone doesn’t hold it over your head that they provide for you, there’s an inequality there that I don’t think mots people really want.

  • http://sobersecondlook.wordpress.com xcwn

    “You know what’s weird? This is exactly the same way patriarchy was sold to me growing up. And the odd thing? My parents talked about how horribly Muslims treated women. Supposedly (conservative) Christians elevated their women while Muslims treated them like chattel.”
    LOL. Conservative Muslim apologists would quote really misogynistic lines from the early Church Fathers (like Tertullian’s claim that women are “the devil’s gateway”), and point out that before the nineteenth century in England, married women couldn’t legally control their own property independently of their husbands (unlike in Islamic law)… and so on. They also had all these “incriminating” quotes and historical tidbits about women in Hinduism, Judaism, pre-Islamic Arabia, etc. The idea was that after hearing about how horribly all other faiths supposedly treat women, almost anything would sound like an improvement. I guess it’s a very convincing way to manipulate people; always have them looking down at others who supposedly have it worse than them, instead of looking upwards to how things can be improved. Because then, they might question injustice.

    • http://pslibrary.com MrPopularSentiment

      Yes, my sister-in-law used this one as well. She said that Islam was revolutionary in its time because it gave women so much more freedom and protection than they had in the pre-Islamic Arabic society (which was, to hear her tell it, pretty much the worst society ever conceived of).

      My response was that this may well be true, however Islam doesn’t get points for being more pro-woman than a society from a millennia and a half ago. If Islamic societies (meaning – societies/cultures/groups that live up to her ideal of Islam) today don’t stack up against the broader society in which she is currently living, that’s cause for concern.

  • http://riliansrlog.blogspot.com Rilian

    So, what, men need protection too, but they just don’t get to have it because *someone* has to be sacrificed? Barf.

  • http://pslibrary.com MrPopularSentiment

    I’ve heard this argument from my sister-in-law, who is a Muslim convert. She was saying that she would much rather be in a Muslim marriage than not because in “western marriage” women are worth nothing. In a Muslim marriage, however, women are worth “more than rubies” (I think she used “pearls,” but whatever).

    I tried to explain to her that the reason for this is that for feminists, women are worthless only in the sense that they are not property, and therefore cannot be given a market value. PEOPLE should never be price tagged. And the very fact that she believes that a Muslim marriage assigns an economic worth to women is proof that her definition of a Muslim marriage is inherently misogynistic. It doesn’t assign an economic worth to men because they are accepted as people, but by saying that women are worth more than X, they are saying that women are possessions – and that’s offensive, no matter how valued a possession they are.

    Unsurprisingly, this lead into a discussion of how I just “don’t get it” and that I’m just blinded by my Islamophobia. And that’s largely why she and I don’t talk much any more, lol.

  • Tracey

    Petticoat Philosopher, rejecting the idea of: “how great it is for women to be taken care of and provided for and be free from choice and responsibility”.

    Funny thing is, so many misogynists claim that’s the worst thing about women; that women are all grasping, greedy, helpless infants who have to be taken care of like mentally-challenged toddlers. So they demand women be put in that role, then punish them…for being in that role.

    • http://pslibrary.com MrPopularSentiment

      Like! A thousand times like!

      Wait, this isn’t Facebook?

    • http://riliansrlog.blogspot.com Rilian

      I like this too!!!!!!!!!!

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Yep, it’s the classic sexist double bind–women being coerced into certain behaviors and then reviled for those same behaviors. There are examples of it everywhere. “You have to look “sexy” all the time but if you do so, we will ridicule you as a bimbo and a slut” being another one.


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