Finding Hanna Yusuf’s arguments on the hijab and Western feminism valid, I shared her video on Facebook. Some interesting debate followed, parts of it showcasing the very gestures and stresses mainstream feminists in my own country (the US) have employed to bankrupt their own movement. Oh, well.
I’ve changed the names of some of the participants to protect the innocent. Here they are:
Eric Mader (myself): left-leaning Catholic; American
Paul Wylie: Irish student
Renge Grace: American businesswoman
Christine Mahler: American businesswoman
Matthew Salmon: American liberal; counselor
Theodore Mugg: strip club DJ; New Atheist
Nancy Wellington: Professor of English
David Becker: American
The original video, from The Guardian:
PAUL WYLIE: What do you think?
ERIC MADER: I have much more respect for this woman's position than for Femen or 90% of American self-professed feminists. Especially sharp, and needed, is the clear critique of how "liberatory" Western feminism just plays into the dictates of the market. I call it Sex and the City feminism, which program was little more than a marketing campaign for high-end fashion products, both Stateside and here in Asia.
PAUL WYLIE: We agree! Although I'm probably more angry about the Feminazi movement: "All men are rapists! End the patriarchy!"
ERIC MADER: We agree there too. Absolutely. Feminism has worthy roots, but has managed to grow all kinds of idiot branches. The majority of American feminists who go out of their way to remind you they are feminists manage, within a few words, to prove themselves some of the biggest hypocrites America has on offer. And that's a hard distinction to attain, what with all the competition.
THEODORE MUGG: Kinda ironic that something men compel women to wear in some societies is a feminist choice in a free society.
ERIC MADER: In some societies men compel women to wear Victoria's Secret lingerie and dance on stage in it.
RENGE GRACE: Hahahaha, good one!
THEODORE MUGG: Actually, as a former strip club DJ, this is wrong on many counts. Although more than a few dancers I knew had leech scumbag boyfriends, none of them were compelled. It is less of a cliche than you think, stripping your way through school. And no dancer would wear VS, as it’s far too poorly put together to withstand the rigors of day to day use.
ERIC MADER: I think you're undoubtedly right both on most strippers around the world and on the viability of VS on stage. But: I'm sure there are plenty of "strip/etc." clubs on various continents where the women are compelled.
DAVID BECKER: Love this: "Feminism has worthy roots, but has managed to grow all kinds of idiot branches" Frankly, one can substitute “feminism” with a whole lot of other things.
CHRISTINE MAHLER: Hair = sexuality. The women of this culture cover their hair because the men are not to be held responsible for their sexual attraction to the feminine. It is the woman's job to hide anything which could elicit the "desire" response from men outside of her family. Failure on the woman's part to conceal desirable features in public is a sin, it causes a man to want the woman sexually. The woman in the video is not emancipated, as she claims to be. She has found a clever way to point out the basest forms of Western objectivity of women, and use this as a model to veil her own kept-ness.
ERIC MADER: You put it well here, Christine, and make some good points, but in essentials I disagree. Part of it comes down to the fact that I don't accept the basic American position that we're all getting freer and better and the sky is the limit. Rather, I'd say no humans in society, men or women, can finally be "emancipated". This is true in almost every realm. We live in a web of mutual responsibility in constant tension with the individual’s desire to break free. But such breaking free is largely an illusion; it can never really be attained as a social condition.
As regards women and the current question, I'd insist that "emancipated" in the sense many American feminists now use it is a pipe dream: free to show and flaunt my sexuality--to live for this--but free to have it not noticed by those I don't want noticing it--and to live for this too. How many "feminists" out there gush with pleasure when the handsome lawyer notices their tight jeans, then, on the very same sidewalk, wince in disapproval when the working class man does so. One minute it's: "That guy is so hot. He said 'Hey' to me and turned round." Next minute it's: "Sexist pig.”
Certainly, given such a deep double standard, American women of this sort are not emancipated. Rather they're trapped in a vicious cycle of wanting every day to have their cake and eat it too--and screaming at the male half of the population when this hypocritical demand doesn't always work out.
Often what is gained in one area is lost in another. The Muslim woman in the video understands this, and this is why her choice and her position are valid. Given their refusal to recognize this whole dynamic of the lost and the gained, it's no wonder many American women have grown so bitter. I'd be bitter too if I kept trying to fit reality into an impossible template.
Personally, I'd much rather have lunch with the woman who made this video than with any half dozen of our "emancipators".
MATTHEW SALMON: Feminism has, for the most part, succeeded in its pursuit for equality in Western society. Women now outnumber men as college graduates and attendees as well as holding management positions in business and government. The only areas where women are not equally represented are in upper levels of government and STEM fields, mostly because those are fields women are generally not willing to engage in. Since these goals have been accomplished, the focus has turned to shaming men for "objectifying" women, and praising women as "liberated" while they openly ogle men. Men are "rape apologists" for not embracing all aspects of the new radical feminist movement, yet these women shut down meetings held by groups who want to focus on men's issues such as high rates of suicide and inequality in the family court system. I once considered myself a feminist, I raised money for NOW and NARAL in the 90s during my undergrad, but recently, I have seen where the movement has gone and now consider myself an egalitarian instead.
ERIC MADER: With you 100%. I also once considered myself a feminist. I agree that the legitimate goals of feminism have mostly been reached in the US and Western Europe and that the new wave of feminists is just riding the Grievance Cart for all it's worth. AND managing to censor men as often as they can.
MATTHEW SALMON: Ironically, they often portray themselves and women in general as victims of an imagined oppression, which actually, in my opinion, sets women back.
THEODORE MUGG: Hmm. “I consider myself an egalitarian.” Totally using that. A good answer to the question “Are you a feminist?" Not a dodge or a euphemism, but strikes me as a good way to communicate that you are in step with the laudable aim of making a safer, more equal society for women, but reject the demonization of men that is now such a dominant part of the movement.
ERIC MADER: I’ll be using it too. The perfect answer, forcing anyone within earshot to ask: "Hm, so feminism isn't egalitarian?"
NANCY WELLINGTON: And yet, how pleasant to imagine a world without men! In time, after the fragile Y chromosome gives out and men become extinct, so many other horrible things will also become extinct: ISIS and religious fundamentalism and oppressive religious hierarchies; fear of rape, domestic abuse and unwanted children; guns, big cars, big banks, big armies and big food; Republicans. The list goes on. It's no wonder that men feel threatened.
ERIC MADER: I hear you, Nancy! I'm personally in favor of choosing one of the continents and making it into Amazonia. All the women who want to live without men will emigrate there and build their own states. And of course we know there will be no oppression within these states and no conflict between them because women are incapable of conflict--being genetically peaceful and reasonable and nurturing. The idea of hierarchy or oppression arising within a state composed only of women is a contradiction in terms, I'd say.
At present Antarctica is available. And with the global warming caused by all the male overconsumption of resources going on (just go into any mall and you'll see it full of men buying things they don't need) Antarctica will soon be perfect for Femen habitation. It will be sweaty penguins, Amazons, and shoe stores on every block! Paradise!
NANCY WELLINGTON: Ha ha, Eric! One thing we will miss about men is their adorable and mischievous sense of humor. Suggesting that women could be placated with some uninhabitable ass-end of the planet, like the Antarctic--how cute! How historically consistent with the way male armies have moved indigenous peoples off to other ass-end spots! And the sparkling wit in suggesting that women shopping at the mall (buying stuff for their kids and for the men, who couldn’t spare the time to shop away from their main work of raping, robbing, murdering, war mongering and playing video games) are responsible for global warming--rather than, you know, the men who own the malls, who create the ad campaigns, who own the factories and the Humvees and the monster trucks and the weapons of destruction and other energy-gobbling machines. As for women’s ability to cooperate and get along, rather than rush in and blow up shit, remind me, what was the last war or invasion initiated by a woman? Women don’t want your ass-end spot, thanks all the same. We will inherit the earth, ALL of the earth, and if you’re nice, we’ll create a museum display for the Y chromosome, may it rest in peace. You have a nice day, y'hear!
ERIC MADER: Believe me, Nancy, I'm not interested in placating women by suggesting Antarctica. The idea of placating women is itself something far far away from me. So forget Antarctica. I'd willing give you gals all of North America. It'd be an interesting experiment. I'd love to watch it all unfold.
Of course there haven't been any invasions started by women in recent history, because, you know, patriarchy. Generally men have ruled and thus have ruled the armies. Things would doubtless be different if the majority of modern nations were ruled by matriarchal cultures. But I'm not at all convinced that either peace or social justice would be any closer. Are you? Are you really?
A lot of feminists over the years have told me that if women ruled the world we would have global peace right now. I can agree with this in only one sense. The Cuban Missile Crisis wouldn't have ended as it did, and at present there would be no humans on the planet, so yes, we would have global peace.
One further point: For every man out there driving a Humvee to prove his manliness I’ll bet there are three CARGO CONTAINERS of fashion items being shipped over the seas so women can sate their shopping lust and prove their chic. But it’d be an interesting study: Which gender has more negative environmental impact?
NOTE: I have equal respect for women and men in terms of intellect and judgment. I do believe there are differences between the two, making me an essentialist. I also believe, however, that these differences couldn't be adequately laid out in discourse, as it's impossible to get beyond the question of nature vs. nurture. To what degree is "men's way of thinking" hardwired, to what degree learned? We'll never know. In certain situations I suspect women would perform better and thus bring a better outcome than men; in other situations I think men would perform better. But again--who is to predict with any certainty? And in the multilayered aggregate that is a nation, in society with all its complexities, I think women in a position of rule will prove equally selfish, violent, tribal, and destructive as men, though they might express this in different ways. (For instance, the ICBMs might have a different designer each year: last year Hermes, this year Louis Vuitton, so that the military parades would also be a fashion event.)
NOTE 2: I have approaching zero respect for people who blame the world's ills on "patriarchy" and thus the male half of humanity. So, hopefully you're not actually in this camp, but only playing that you are.
Again, men are brilliant and loving and cooperative. And men are greedy and rapacious idiots. Women likewise are nurturing and brilliant. And vindictive bitches.
I'd really love to sit down and write that Madame Kennedy vs. Madame Khrushchev script.
PAUL WYLIE: No men = no bad in the world? Oh dear. The absence of men would leave a void. The void would be filled by bitchy women. The circle of life . . .
[Nancy didn’t reply to my above remarks, but two days I noticed she changed her profile photo. The new photo was a picture of herself next to her husband, college-age son and teenage daughter, all smiling. So I couldn’t hold off sending her a little barb:]
ERIC MADER: I just don't get it, Nancy. You just changed your profile photo, but as far as I can tell, there are two of those nasty Y-chromosome creatures in the photo with you. What gives? How could you let yourself in for such danger?
NANCY WELLINGTON: Ah, Eric, it's true: You just don't get it! Recently you have been opining left and right on the Woman Question. Maybe it's a seasonal thing? You know how when someone says, "I'm not racist, but . . .” and you know exactly what will follow? That is the vibe you give off whenever you begin some rant on--what’s your condescending term--femen? Women and their dress/modesty? You come across as someone filled with loathing for women, which I can only hope is not what you actually are.
ERIC MADER: You sure I'm the one who doesn't get it? Femen is not a condescending term for women, it's the name of a European-based activist group whose stance and tactics I find ridiculous. Besides, the group was referenced in the hijab video. So in using this term, I'm not criticizing women, but criticizing Femen.
I fully respect women as equal to men. But precisely because of this, just as with men, there are many many women who don't deserve to be listened to. Unfortunately, too many of these women self-identify as “feminists”, and I think it's ruining the movement. What's more, many women agree with me on this assessment.
1) Women who are obsessed with the male gaze, who think only of the sexual politics of everyday life, who think they are victims because they can't be sexy in public without getting reaction from unwanted men--these women are shallow and are ruining feminism.
One of the sillier kerfuffles of last year provoked me finally to write something on this particular raging hypocrisy:
2) Women who actually believe the world's major problems are gender-based (i.e., we are ruining the planet, we are fighting wars, because of "patriarchy"); women who actually believe that an era of peace and harmony would result if women ruled the world's polities--these women are ruining feminism. (It's this latter camp that you were channeling in your comments on the hijab video, and I supposed you were mostly being ironic. But were you? Of course in my view women ruling everything would very likely NOT make the world any more peaceful than it is now. If you think it would, then, voila, you reveal yourself as someone who thinks women innately superior to men--and so in my book you join the intellectual ranks of folks who, for example, think whites are superior to blacks.)
In conclusion, I think the best thing one could do for women and feminism is stridently ridicule "feminists" when their discourse is grounded in either hypocrisy (as in 1 above) or bigotry (as in 2).
Looking forward to any reply you might have to these comments, Nancy. If you have the time to reply. And yes, I "liked" your picture with your daughter and those two Y-chromosoids. You've very sharp-looking kids. What do they plan to do/study in the future?
NANCY WELLINGTON: Just one question: Do you get positive feedback from any woman on your posts?
ERIC MADER: Yes, I do get positive feedback from women on my posts. And sometimes women share such posts. But sorry, I don't think your question here, your reply, is very worthwhile. What would be much more interesting, don't you think, would be your saying something about the two hypocrisies I underline--hypocrisies that, in my view, have made much of mainstream "feminist" discourse entirely useless. Do you think they are indeed hypocrisies, or not?
NANCY WELLINGTON: My question actually was whether you get positive feedback from women on your anti-women posts--I saw no women responding to your hijab post at all, except me. I heard embarrassed silence, in fact. And you are not even remotely qualified to discuss "feminist hypocrisy," whatever you think you mean by that. As a self-described essentialist, surely you can see that! Move on to something you do know well, like education systems in Taiwan or elsewhere.
ERIC MADER: My "anti-women" posts? They are not anti-women, they are against a certain development in feminism. I don't think the current dominant American feminism speaks for women, and millions upon millions of women don't think it does either.
Anyone is qualified to discuss hypocrisy in a movement. I've studied feminist texts going back to grad school, and I've read the pronouncements and watched the stresses of the movement for decades. Why am I not qualified?
Essentialist. Yes, I'm an essentialist, but I don't use my essentialism on this front to claim that I (or anyone else) can exhaustively define women or men; I only believe there are differences that transcend upbringing; there are innate differences. Notice how you, on the other hand, entered this thread straight off with a tirade against men as such, linking the world's ills to men as such, the high point of which was a fantasy about the demise of men and museums in memory of how evil they were. Who is the essentialist (in the negative sense) here?
The formula isn't "Eric uses essentialist viewpoints to attack women" but rather: "Eric uses his observations of rank hypocrisy to attack (one dominant Western branch of) feminism." Surely you can see the difference.
And if I write of "feminist hypocrisy", it's not a matter of whatever I "think I mean by that". It's a matter simply of what I mean. And you still haven't addressed the two salient tendencies 1) and 2) that I underline as a problem. You have made no argument claiming they NOT in fact hypocrisy. And I don't think you will, for obvious reasons. The double standard and hypocrisy in these blighted branches of the movement are too glaringly obvious.
So: Champion women, respect women, recognize women as an equal element of humanity. At the same time, to hell with these kinds of feminists: ridicule them, ignore them, satirize them. Many communists loathed Stalinism; many Jews bitterly criticize the Israeli government; many Americans think Bush and Co. very nearly deserve jail time.
I foresaw that Nancy wouldn’t try to disprove my claims as to these two types of glaring feminist hypocrisy. She didn’t. The only answer I got from her was . . . crickets.
But she did prove one thing by her series of discursive moves. She proved she is herself, unlike me, well qualified to be an American feminist.
Vis.: In what was supposed to be a discussion of the hijab and how it can be understood as representing one cultural alternative to Anglo-American feminism, Nancy never mentioned the hijab once or tried to argue that Hanna Yusuf was mistaken. Rather, her very first move was to raise American feminists’ favorite topic: the inherent evil of men. When challenged to explain whether she was just joking in all this, and how she might reckon the equality (or otherwise) of the sexes, she didn’t do so, but rather just evoked the (supposed) unity of women in support of her side: “Just tell me this, do any women respond to your posts?” and then suggested that my comments on hypocrisy indicate I loathe women (which is absurd: I can respect and loathe both sexes equally, case by case). When finally told that my criticism was not of women but rather of the dominant trends in American feminism, she adopted the classic “You’re not qualified to comment on this”--because, presumably, I’m not an American feminist woman. All the while she herself hadn’t put forth one substantive remark on any of the points at issue. And finally, when I took the trouble to directly invite her to point out where I was wrong in criticizing the hypocrisy I see, she simply declined to respond.
All this is very disappointing; I wish it hadn’t turned out so. I’d much rather have learned something about where I might be wrong. I’m always willing to learn something new. But you rarely do from this tribe. They are a solid wall of self-contradictory soundbites--and their soundbites haven’t changed since 1990.
If this is the standard of discourse, I’m very glad to admit I don’t qualify for such discussions.
Very little of the thread ended up being about Hanna Yusuf’s challenging short video. Predictably, much of the online reaction to the video in Britain is negative. Having read some of it, I think it’s clear Yusuf is getting criticized because she dares to point out the obvious. Feminism as it’s currently screamed in our capitals is deeply hypocritical and ultimately bad for women. Yusuf says clearly that the Feminist Empress wears no clothes. And Western feminists, who’ve spent decades trying to have their cake and eat it too, don’t want to hear it.