Sexism and Feminism

 President Obama’s remarks about Kamala Harris (You have ..to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, …She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country ..) may have been a lighthearted comment between friends but there were enough people calling them “sexist” to have some of his supporters defend them as mere compliments, and have Obama apologize.

From the face of it, it did seem sexist.  Too often, women are judged less on their aptitude, intellect and more on their appearance.  It was sexually objectifying women, and that woman in particular.  Too often, women are judged more for their ornamental value or for their appearance than their accomplishments.  It was no wonder that women that were more sexually appealing to men have a  better chance of growth in career than their homelier counterparts.

It was like saying that the women that did achieve success did so, because their physical attractiveness had a role in it, and not only because of their talents, capabilities and skills. It was like saying they probably wouldn’t have been successful had their physical appearance not been a factor. It was like saying that Kamala Harris reached success also because she was attractive. You see, men don’t have that advantage. It was sexist, because it was this kind of mentality that prevented women from being judged on an equal footing with men.

But the problem isn’t with some men alone. There is no shortage of women who perpetuate such sexism. Many women who judge themselves as attractive  use their wares to make their men more agreeable and have their way. Women who judge themselves as attractive and have low self-esteem often put most of their self-worth on the basis of their physical appearance, and by the amount and kind of attention they receive from men, actually relishing men hitting on them to an extent. Such women are often insecure about their beauty, wondering if it was a change in their physical appearance to something less attractive the reason for any perceived drop in attention or progress.
What they don’t realize before it’s too late is that the same women who bank so much on their physicality would lose the most of what they have when they lose their physical attractiveness – which every single woman does with age and family and the first kid.

Here is where I thought the Hijab came in. Hijab as a means of modesty for both men and women, would include reasonably modest dressing and modest behavior with the opposite gender. In my opinion, Hijab for men entailing modest dressing and behavior with women, and prohibiting lustful gaze addresses the issues of sexism partly.
For Muslim women, by taking out one’s physical sexual attraction out of the equation in a significant way in their interactions with unrelated men, they are in essence asking men to deal with their mind, not their body, and theoretically addressing some of the issues women face.

It was a coincidence that around the same time that Obama apologized for his remarks, FEMEN had naked topless protesters outside of mosques championing the message that they were naked, and they were free. While they had a point that men did not have any business forcing women to dress in a particular way, they were particularly Islamophobic and blamed Islam and Muslim men for women covering up. It was ridiculous that while they were protesting Muslim men patronizing and controlling women, they failed to realize that Muslim women did not need them “liberators” to free them of the clutches of Muslim men – in the vast majority of cases, Muslim women wear the Hijab because they want to, and not because their husbands of fathers or brothers forced them to. And moreover, the unfortunate fact that women are used as objects and commodities, played around by men as ornaments was also widespread in Western societies, just as the Obama episode showed us. Women are used to sell everything under the sun, not through any of their skills and talents, but through their sexual appeal.

I personally know Muslim women who have a strong attachment with the Hijab, relish the Hijab, feet confident, comfortable and in place in it. There are others who struggle in and out of the Hijab. It is true, that a few struggle with their hijab and  wear it more out of societal pressure and fear of gossip and embarrassment than out their own conviction.
Others struggle because they don’t feel confident and beautiful in it – either because of their similarity to the women who perpetuate sexism as discussed above or out of fear of negative reactions at work or school. There are some others who don’t feel the need for any outward clothing but are strong, confident, modest nevertheless, and do not allow men to objectify them.  On the other hand, there are other women who observe the Hijab only in dressing but not so much in their interactions with men. The story of Hijab is very human.

I agree that the remark that Obama made was a friendly one between friends that didn’t deserve controversy, but it served to highlight the underlying issues that are true, nevertheless.

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“Mommy, why were they shouting at me?” When Islamophobic Terrorism came home.

“I don’t know why they were staring at me”. I can almost see my little niece say that as she adjusts her cute little scarf with her tender little hands. She loves ponies – pink ponies and almost everything pink. She loves the fairies in the cartoons and in her animated story books.  She made me play the  me-buying-her-dolls-she -the shopkeeper game.  I’ve also played pony-rides with her. I’ve been embarrassed as I played  twister with her the last time I saw her.  She is much more childish and innocent than children her age usually are.  We call her a pink princess. She’s beautiful,  and gets a pink complexion.  She’s an angel.

When my sister in England called to let me know that her family was attacked by drunk, racist Islamophobes (The EDL) , I had to put the phone aside while she was still talking. I could no longer hold back my tears and I didn’t want her to know I was crying. She assumed a bad reception and hung up.

But I could not bear the thought of my angelic, innocent nieces having faced the barrage of  extremely foul, vulgar words that were thrown at them. Wine bottles and cans were thrown at them and at the car they were in by the drunk, white supremacists. They mostly missed their target, but one of the bottles thrown managed to drench my brother-in-law’s pants with wine when he was at the scene. The first, older niece, a little girl herself,  is an absolute gem; she later said she kept reciting specific verses from the Quran  when all of this was going on. This stunned my sister and brother in law who said they were frozen with shock and couldn’t think of anything themselves.

My sister’s family had stopped at a service station by a motorway in England on the 3rd of September, 2011 in the middle of a long drive, for their sunset prayers and to have dinner. When they got out of the car, members of the English Defense League got out of a bus that was parked behind and started hurling cans and foul abuses, while asking the “Pakis” to go back to Pakistan.

My sister and her family are  British citizens. They did not go to Britain from Pakistan, they were never Pakistanis, and it wouldn’t have mattered even if they were. My sister and her husband are both doctors, and made a good life for themselves with sheer hard work and talent. They pay their taxes and have never broken the law, not even the driving rules.
They are deeply religious and practice their faith openly. My sister observes the Hijab and my brother in law has a beard. They say their prayers outside when they have to. They are not White Caucasian.
The people asking them to get out of the country say that’s not being British. It’s funny they say that because it is as if they’re saying getting drunk, being jobless and on government benefits, living in government subsidized housing, being a drain on the economy using up the very tax money my sister was paying,  rioting, bloodshed, TERRORIZING innocent children and Muslim families, fire-bombing places of worship, ANTISEMITISM, using vulgar language and so on is being British. The vast majority of the EDL are all of this and more. The more intellectual ones’ among them happen to be real terrorists or inciters towards terrorism. Anders Behring Breivik in Norway was one of their terrorist co-ideologues who massacred innocent youngsters. He was a big fan of the EDL.

The amount of hate is just unbelievable. I would never be able to sleep at night if I had as

EDL Protest in Newcastle

Image via Wikipedia

much hatred against anyone as they had in their hearts. A life of sadness, hatred, spite, enmity, bad blood, vengeance, rancor, heartburn. A dark world with no happiness. Compare that with a bright world of happiness, joy and merriment, with no ill-feelings. A world without hate, where all of God’s creation, some white, some brown, some black, some yellow,  people with different ways of life, all live in harmony in the world God gave us all.

My sister’s family did not report the ordeal to the police. They fear for the safety of the children and wanted to avoid court appearances.

My little niece still doesn’t understand why anyone would hate her. Someday in the coming years, she will understand why, but for now, she has had her first brush with the filth the world has to offer.

Islamophobia ?

Islam-A-phobia is the buzzword that’s  flying around these days. In the media, in restaurant discussions, heck, even in my university portal, discussions constantly put Islam under trial in a negative sense.

Most of it has to do with Islam having something to do with violence.  Blaming Islam, perhaps out of naivity, ignorance, or even deliberately defaming it to clear the way and further their own ideologies.

Blaming Islam because some Muslim violent extremists interpreted it in a certain way, not agreed to by the rest of the 99.9% Muslims, and only agreed to by the likes featured on http://www.loonwatch.com.

Blaming Islam because a handful of violent extremists who happen to be Muslim, are working on their political struggles. You never saw this happen with Catholicism when the IRA was active in Ireland. Nor with Hinduism when the LTTE was active in Srilanka.

While it has been universally seen in all such forums of discussions  that the saner voices of moderation and understanding,  are in the majority,  the likes of Fox blasting away anti-Islamic right wing propaganda and hatred still hurts.

But, the media, as someone recently said, is a biatch –  it doesn’t necessarily portray the popular sentiment. It seeks to mould public sentiment according to the individual ideologies of those who own them.