Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Remembering the women

In all the noise we make about the victims of terror and holy wars, the one victim we can always count on are the women. This problem dates from time immemorial, and is unlikely to be "fixed" by our war against terrorism, explains Francine Prose of Lapham's Quarterly:

Hardly anyone noticed this summer when former president Jimmy Carter explained why he had decided to leave the Baptist Church. However “painful and difficult,” wrote Carter in an essay that appeared in the Guardian, his break with the denomination to which he had belonged for sixty years had begun to seem like the only possible response to past opinions expressed and codified by the Southern Baptist Convention. “It was an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be ‘subservient’ to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors, or chaplains in the military service. This was in conflict with my belief—confirmed in the holy scriptures—that we are all equal in the eyes of God.”
Considerably more attention was generated some months earlier by another story about how religion conceives and enforces its view of a woman’s place. The horrific attack on two Afghan girls en route to school—the young women were severely disfigured by acid allegedly thrown by Taliban fighters—was widely reported and discussed. Obviously, the assault was more brutal, shocking, and newsworthy than an elderly white guy’s regretful decision to separate himself from the misguided pronouncements of some other elderly white guys. And just as clearly, the Taliban’s plans for women far exceed the darkest imaginings of the Southern Baptists, whose tenets—“a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband”—seem genial and reassuringly vague when compared to the restrictions that the Taliban impose, and seek to impose, on women, regulations that narrow the parameters of daily life down to a space in which anyone, male or female, would suffocate. Under Taliban rule Afghan women cannot work, attend school, leave home without a male chaperone, or ride in a taxi. Minor infractions, such as showing an ankle, are punished by public whippings. More serious violations, such as adultery, are capital crimes for which the sentence is death by hanging or stoning.
The acid attack on the schoolgirls offered graphic and persuasive confirmation of one reason why we have gone to war, or in any case one reason we’ve been given: according to some, once we defeat the Taliban, every Afghan girl can go to school. That’s the outcome everyone wants, though it is less often mentioned that literacy rates among Afghan women were appallingly low long before the Taliban, back in the 1980s when we were still arming the mujahideen—including many future Taliban warriors—to fight against the Russians. The Taliban’s demonic and demonizing attitude toward women represents merely the most current extreme manifestation of the grotesque misogyny fostered throughout history by religion and patriarchal tribal culture. Both the Taliban and the Southern Baptists employ the “lessons” of biology and scripture to “prove” women’s inferiority, a view of our gender unlikely to be eliminated by another air strike or drone-missile deployment, or by the polite demurrals of a former president.

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