Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Today is Women's Equality day!!!

So as you see, today is a great day! Let's take a moment to remember the many countless women who worked for this, and the male allies (though few) that helped bring about this immense change. Taking a moment to reflect, the movement for women's equality has not been stopped by the rampant misogyny or sexism throughout our society. We have to keep pushing back against anti-women forces throughout goverment, policy makers, the judiciary, law enforcement, the media (hello chris matthews and fox news bleh), entertainment (yeah hollywood, talking to you, you anorexic producing, drug addled, old boys club, white standards of beauty perpetuating misogynistic media factory), religion, social attitudes and behaviors.

Go forth and be the change!!!!!

Michelle- sister girl, we need to talk! Part duex

Watch the video of Michelle Obama's speech here. My expanded critique follows.

After checking out feministing.com this morning to check out the online responses
to Michelle Obama's speech, I didn't feel so frustrated. I'm glad I wasn't the only person watching the speech who was annoyed by the contrived nature of the speech and the resulting family tableau, and the over-emphasis of Michelle's existence and achievments as a mother, daughter and wife.

Very little mention was made of her accomplishments or her work. There was so much vocabulary used that is anti-feminist; all these terms from the "family values" lexicon, calling her dad her family's provider, her brother her protector, mentioning that Barack worked in the South side of Chicago as a community organizer in depressed neighborhoods full of frustrated black men who couldn't get jobs to provide for their families with. No mention of the millions of single mother led families throughout America, especially in the African American community, especially in Chicago's South side.

The time she should have mentioned it was when she referred to the parents who work the day shift, come home, kiss their children goodnight and then head out to the night shift. She said "parents" when she could have easily have said "mothers." She mentioned men as providers multiple times during the speech, but didn't mention women as providers once. She touched on Barack's single mother, but that was the only mention of the overwhelming reality for so many mothers, so many families.

There is nothing wrong with women being mothers or very dedicated mothers; in fact the overwhelming amount of work that women do in order to be nurturing mothers is immense, and is work that society consistently devalues except during photo-op settings like the speech. Because of this, the emphasis on Michelle's motherhood being key to her being a good woman and wife (and potential first lady) as evidenced by her statement "the first thing I think of in the morning is my daughters, the last thing I think before I go to sleep are my daughters" (and many supporting statements by Michelle's brother and mother) is negative. Depicting our potential future first lady as a super mom with no professional life just reinforces all the archetypes and lifepaths that we as feminists reject as social expectations for women! Pandering to the "center" full of these white middle and working class voters by towing this narrow line of what family is in American life is really ridiculous.

I didn't like Michelle's referral, more than once, to Barack's funny name. Barack's funny name is not his albatross, it is his strength. Trying to run from his Muslim step father or his experience within the Muslim community and reinforcing Islamophobia by working so hard to prove his Christian-ness and emphasizing how bad it would be if he were Muslim is also reinforcing the bigotry and racism of society. How is that the politics of change?

I also didn't appreciate Michelle's mention of Hilary Clinton's 18 million attempts to break the glass ceiling and her work to do so enabling our sons and daughters to dream a little bit bigger. To me, it made it sound like a woman in the White House would be achieved by the next generation instead of in the near future. Maybe I'm being too critical, and it's true we have to pick our feminist battles, but since Michelle is so eloquent and such an inspiring speaker, I was expecting more than what was offered and am annoyed that no one in the mainstream media (so far) seems to have noticed the obsequeous, family values tone to the whole speech in any of its negative connotations.

Michelle's mention of the enduring American Dream was disingenuous outside of her own experience. A generation ago, when she was born into a nuclear family on the South Side of Chicago, her parents were able to provide her a home with a stay at home mother and a working class father who worked for Chicago's water plant. Through this family set up and scrimping and saving, both Michelle and her brother were able to attend an Ivy league school, Princeton. That is so far from the realities working families, poor families and middle class families face today that simply mentioning her and Barack's journies as improbable wasn't enough. If the American Dream was so accesible and enduring, her journey and Barack's journey wouldn't be so improbable, and we'd see a lot more of it amongst my generation.

Oh, and the "Isn't She Lovely" theme song for her speech? WTF? Glad to see others were confused/appalled/annoyed by that choice as well. She is lovely, but that isn't the point. Being a good first lady has nothing to do with your looks or whether or not you are "cute." Again- WTF? at Barack's dimunitive compliment of his wife after the speech? I thought maybe I misunderstood and he was really talking to his younger daughter who was saying "Hi daddy!" and "I love you daddy!" I really hope that is what was going on, but it didn't seem like it. While Barack was beaming after the speech, his response to it was utterly lame. "now you see why I asked her out so many times?" Okay Barack. Come on. Your wife gives what you call the "best speech of the campaign" and that's your response? Bleh.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't vote for McCain for anything in the world. But as an American Muslim Third World feminist and early Obama supporter, I am increasingly disappointed with the path that Obama's campaign has taken and the movement to the center of his positions on many issues.

Michelle, sister girl- we need to talk!

After watching Michelle Obama give her opening speech at the democratic national convention tonight, I am sure her speech writers are no doubt delirious after tonight's supposed slam dunk. I, however, was less than impressed! I was shocked!

I will give an in depth analysis when i have time to treat it properly... but did anyone watch the speech? it was a 1950s throwback! as we know, michelle obama is many things, including accomplished lawyer, community activist, supporter and proponent of national service, but in tonight's speech, was reduced to being simply a daughter, wife and mother! The language used and the story illustrated was so old-school, complete with nuclear family and references to frustrated men in chicago's south side that couldn't get jobs to provide for their families once the steel mills shut down. not a single mention of the lives of single mothers, even when a chance arose during a line about "parents who work the day shift, come home to kiss their kids goodnight, and leave for the night shift" this would have been the perfect place to mention the millions of single mother led families out there, especially african-american ones! I was astounded by the completely anti-feminist tone the entire speech took, though i understand trying to pander to the working class white masses out there, forging a connection to them, proving to them that despite Barack's "funny name" he's still american, with good old family values and hopes of the american dream for all. what i was more astounded by were the many tear filled eyes filling the convention hall!!!! while my sisters and i were apalled at the speech, apparently many delegates were deeply touched. BLEH! Also, when Michelle referred to Hilary Clinton and the 18 million cracks she put in the glass ceiling, she said that it was Clinton who allowed America's sons and daughters to dream bigger and higher htan they did before, apparently for the potential woman president to come. Uh- why do we need to wait another generation before a woman can fill the Oval office? Does that strike anyone else as a strange choice of words and sentiment?

Here is the link to the text and the video of Michelle's speech, but scroll down to the bottom of the page to read the full text and see the video.

More to come!

Please weigh in- does anyone else see what i did? a total pander?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Progressive Muslims: Why so often an oxy-moron?

I've been asking myself this question for much of my life, but especially lately. I read an article this morning on Beliefnet.com by Omad Safi, a professor at UNC titled "Tricky Terrain: 'Progressive' and 'Religious'" . It deals with this tension within the Muslim community, and it pushed me to finally write about this, though I've been talking and thinking about it often as of late.

I had the great fortune of appearing on the UK television network Channel 4's special Shariah TV series about life for young American Muslims in the post-Sept 11th world. The episode I appeared on was focused on our lives in America called "Pledging Allegiance." It was about how we as young American Muslims navigate American culture and remain true to our Muslim identities. Where do we cut corners? What are we comfortable with? It was a truly interesting experience, with an incredibly diverse panel of young people coming from all over the spectrum of America's Muslims. Many of the young people were activists within their Muslim communities, working to make their communities better places. That was a first for me- meeting Muslim peers who are also involved in activism and social justice but from a particularly faith-based perspective, as opposed to my civic-minded, secular perspective. I met a fellow progressive (and Sagittarius!) that day on the show, and we clicked. We've been having really interesting and useful conversations about what being progressive young American Muslim women means, and how we feel within our greater Muslim communities as a result of our staked out ideological and social positions. We have had decidedly different experiences, but definitely both feel isolated within the Muslim communities we've experienced in addition to the progressive communities we've been a part of.

Being a woman within the framework of speaking about Islam and being Muslim is an incendiary position to be in. I find that speaking to other Muslims, my Islamic authenticity is challenged and questioned, as if believing in equal rights for all people, not supporting injustice of any kind and being pro-social justice makes my shahada (declaration of faith) less valid. People, including a coworker last week, will literally quiz me on the pillars of Islam or details regarding the proper way to pray or verses from the Quran that all Muslims must memorize in order to be able to pray. I find these interactions incredibly insulting and frustrating- I self identify as a Muslim, therefore I am.

I believe in one God, whom I refer to by the Arabic name of Allah. I believe in the same God that Jesus, Moses and Adam all prayed to and were messengers of, and count them among the prophets of Islam (peace be upon them all). I believe in the books that were revealed by Allah/God- the Torah, the Bible and the Quran.

Granted, I do believe that both the Torah (the Old Testament) and the Bible (the New testament and the Gospels) have been changed many times over the centuries by those in charge of the transcribing and translation in order to fit political and social convenience and gain.

None of this faithful belief infringes on my ability to think that women should have control over their bodies always and under all conditions and that women deserve nothing short of reproductive justice and freedom- all the time, no matter what. That includes everything from access to abortion, birth control, family planning, right to marry or not marry as one chooses, the right to an education, the right to move freely where and with whomever and wherever a woman pleases, the right to work, the right to pursue any occupation, career or life path a woman might ever want, the right to love whomever she wants, and the right to protection against all forms of rape, genital mutilation, assualt, harrasment, domestic violence, molestation, and any type of intimidation or coercion that puts any girls or women in any kind of danger.

My beliefs in Islam do not in any way hinder my dedication to developing an active, informed civic society on all levels of our citizenry, regardless of race, class, gender, sexuality, education levels, religion, geographic allegiance, political orientation, economic standing, incarceration status, immigration status. Islam is not opposed to democracy or social justice in any way. In fact, my belief in Islam supports all my beliefs in social justice and activism.

I would argue (supported by many scholars, activists and important historical figures) that Islam exhorts its adherents to oppose injustice at any turn and to always fight for those voiceless, marginalized people who cannot fight for themselves, and to aid those who are fighting for self determination, justice, respect and their human rights.

Speaking to many members of the various progressive communities I'm a part of, you'd never know those above statements are true or even possible. By declaring myself a Muslim woman, many in the progressive community think that I am oppressed and need their help. think I am acting out of sheer defiance of my "oppresive, violent" faith in having the ideals I do and organizing on behalf of non- Muslims, women, people of color, gays and lesbians, civic engagement, national service and my anti-war beliefs, to name some. Although, according to them, since I don't wear hijab and since I speak (rather loudly and often) about what I believe I must not be all that oppressed.

On the other hand, sometimes I get embraced in a rather ferocious way because I am willing to discuss the rampant misogyny I've seen abroad in undereducated, economically depressed and oppressed Muslim communities and the violence against women and the insistance of some ultra-conservative immigrant families on keeping their daughters from getting higer education, getting their drivers licenses and getting their daughters married off very early, often to a member of the extended family. This ferocious reception and acceptance is strange, and sometimes makes me feel strange about my position as a dissenter. I in no way mean to provide ammo to Islamophobes, xenophobes or anti-religious people. I do my utmost when discussing what I see as unjust amongst Muslim communities to educate my listeners to understand Islam and the true nature of what the Quran intended, as opposed to the way American media, and Western media in general depicts my faith and the many misconceptions many people have about it as a result.

I'm not trying to badmouth my faith or my fellow Muslims. I am deeply critical of this oppressive, dangerous patriarchal behavior that people try to pass off as being couched in Islam. It isn't. Racism, classism, materialism, sexism, misogyny, imperialism and oppression have no place in Islam or in the culture of Muslims.

I've been recently introduced to the group Muslims for Progressive Values and was overjoyed. Finally, a group that embodies all the progressive values that are vitally important to me, completely in harmony with Muslim values and people who don't see a need to change Islam, but the way Muslims regard Islam and its practice!

Also, after reading Omad Safi's article this morning, I checked out his new collection of essays online, called Progresive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism and also found the book Quran and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Texts from a Woman's Perspective and plan to get both of them. I hope to find more information to strengthen my sometimes lonely positions.

There is a new masjid being built and started in my hometown that many people I know are actively involved in. One of the recipients of the various articles I send out every day recommended that I attend some of the board meetings to bring "the sister's perspective" to the planning process of what function this masjid is going to serve for the surrounding community. I think it is equally important to have progressive voices represented during this process as well. Just wish I had more support and allies to work with me on this. We'll see....

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

In Russia, sexual harrasment keeps humanity going!!

Anyone see this ridiculousness?

Apparently, in Russia, Sexual harrasment is condoned, even encouraged by the Russian judiciary! A young Russian woman lost a sexual harrsment case against her older male boss becuase the judge reasoned that the boss acted "gallantly" and that sexual harrasment ensures the continuation of the human race (aside from all the rest of the absurdity and disgusting nature of this case,it's as if there aren't over 6 billion humans on the planet!).

Here's the link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/2470310/Sexual-harrassment-okay-as-it-ensures-humans-breed,-Russian-judge-rules.html

Just a small excerpt from the short article:

"She alleged she had been locked out of her office after she refused to have intimate relations with her 47-year-old boss.

"He always demanded that female workers signalled to him with their eyes that they desperately wanted to be laid on the boardroom table as soon as he gave the word," she earlier told the court. "I didn't realise at first that he wasn't speaking metaphorically."

The judge said he threw out the case not through lack of evidence but because the employer had acted gallantly rather than criminally.

"If we had no sexual harassment we would have no children," the judge ruled.

Since Soviet times, sexual harassment in Russia has become an accepted part of life in the office, work place and university lecture room.

According to a recent survey, 100 per cent of female professionals said they had been subjected to sexual harassment by their bosses, 32 per cent said they had had intercourse with them at least once and another seven per cent claimed to have been raped. "

So- instead of standing up for women's rights and trying to fight against this clearly pervasive issue that renders women's quality of life and safety at almost zero, this judge gallantly stands up for the entitled men throughout this patriarchy. With attitudes like this rampant amongst Russian men, along with political and economic insecurity in the country, it is not a suprise that Russia's birth rate has been significantly declining for years.

Despite Vladimir Putin's call in 2006 for subsidies and cash incentives for women to have children, and the import of motherhood and Russian families, respect for women has not risen accordingly. Through not adressing the widespread problem of sexual harrasment women in Russia face, and especially through this judicial ruling condoning this criminal behavior, it seems that the Russian state simply wants women to have sex and babies, and has little concern or respect for them otherwise.