When female privilege backfires

Editorial note: The following is the basic transcript of Girl Writes What’s video When Female Privilege Backfires. As per usual sometimes she goes a little off-script in the video but this is what she had to say, for those of you who prefer to read rather than listen to videos. Still, here’s the video, with a couple of other links to items she references. Translations of this transcript are also available in Spanish and Swedish.–DE

The journalist, a woman named Mika Rekai, and I…we had an interesting discussion. She seemed quite pleasant, though that doesn’t mean she’s not planning on writing a hit piece. If she isn’t planning on writing a hit piece, it’s probably a toss-up as to whether her article will make it past the editor’s desk, something she admitted could well happen, but that’s a whole other story.

Anyway, we’ll see. But some of her questions got me thinking. At one point I told her that what was once radical feminist thought is now mainstream–not mainstream feminism but mainstream culture. That if, for instance, you walked up to anyone on the street and said, “Women were historically oppressed,” their answer would be “of course”. And I’ve even seen MRAs, and MRM-friendly people such as Christina Hoff Sommers, parrot this line of thinking–that women in the past were oppressed because they were women.

Ms. Rekai responded with something along the lines of, “Wait, so you don’t believe women were oppressed?”

I said no. I tried to explain myself, though I don’t know if my arguments were as cogent as they could have been. And I mentioned a conversation I’d recently had with my sister, who has some bit of knowledge of the Canadian military and its operations, about certain customs in Afghanistan. Specifically the local custom followed when people sought medical care at free clinics run by the military or NGOs. The tradition there is men first, children second, women last.

Now, I had asked my sister if she could figure out some reason other than “men are privileged” or “because penis” to explain that custom. She said, “Well, yeah, I suppose the reasoning for it is that if the man dies, the whole family is toast. That if the man gets too sick to work, the whole family suffers.” At the same time, she attributed that state of affairs to the fact that under Taliban rule, only men were allowed to work outside the home–that men were, in fact, the only ones allowed to even LEAVE the home unaccompanied.

Now, I mentioned to the journalist, Mika, that the Taliban had been very clever in how they forced both genders into very restricted and regimented sets of roles and duties. They restrict the freedoms of those who value safety over freedom (women), and they thereby impose the role of protector/provider–falsely naming it “freedom”–on those who value freedom over safety (men).

That is, if you have two people and one of them is ordered to stay home, and you tell the other he is free to go outside…well, what do you have? You’ve got two people stuck in their roles, not just one. Is the second person REALLY free to decide what he wants to do? There are only two of them, and one is confined to the home, not allowed to work. Someone has to go out and perform the tasks that require interaction with the world. Neither of these people are free. And one of them is at significantly greater day-to-day risk in a place like Afghanistan. Hint: it’s not the one who stays indoors.

It was not always this way in Afghanistan. Prior to the 30 years of proxy warfare that ravaged their country, Afghan society was quite progressive, relatively speaking. Most westerners would probably be surprised by the number of older women confined to their homes by the Taliban, and barred from paid work, who were educated professionals. But people who understand how societies operate understand that safety and prosperity go hand in hand with the relaxing of often stringent cultural and legal standards. When the Soviets invaded, all that progressiveness kind of went out the window. And after thirty years of other societies taking a wrecking ball to Afghanistan, they found themselves back in a Dark Ages of poverty, conflict, subsistence living, and regional warlords interested in grabbing land and power, crushing the poor and the hapless under their boot heels to do it.

The Taliban offered order. A top-down method of controlling the chaotic that was, at least nominally, based on a moral doctrine to which most Afghans already subscribed to one degree or another. It offered to slash back the power-grabbing of warlords, and replace it with a life-path for ordinary people that, while repressive and totalitarian, appeared on the surface to be a safe one, so long as you didn’t step off its tightrope breadth.

The Taliban offered a narrow fundamentalist interpretation of the social and moral structure that already existed within the culture. And it represented a codifying of what had previously been random–unlike under the warlord system of regional government, under the Taliban, you at least had some idea as to what behaviors would get you shot in the back of the head.

One thing the Taliban didn’t do was completely rewrite Islamic law pertaining to female privilege and male obligation.

And here is the root of things, they way I see it. Afghanistan became a society where leaving your house was taking your life in your hands, and where there were few opportunities to earn money or generate productivity, but where people still need to eat. And under Islamic law, women bear no economic responsibility to anyone. Not even themselves.

I watched a video not too long ago where a Muslim woman named Zara Faris spoke quite persuasively about how Muslim women do not need feminism.

One of her arguments was that Islamic law does not specifically prohibit women from working–on the contrary, Muslim women can not only work under Islamic law, but they need not share their earned income with their families. Basically, if a Muslim woman has a job, the money she earns is hers and hers alone, while her husband remains obligated to provide any and all economic support for the family, including the necessities his working wife requires for her own upkeep.

I work with a man from Lebanon who confirmed this tradition for me. He has a wife and five children, and works two jobs to support them. His wife stays at home, and that’s exactly where he wants her. Not because he’s being a dominating, repressive, misogynistic man, but because if she CHOSE to work outside the home, he and their children have no right to the smallest share of her income, and yet he is still required to provide for his wife’s basic needs. On the other hand, if she were working, daycare would become a “necessity”, and it would be my coworker who would be stuck with the bill. In other words, if his wife CHOSE to work outside the home, to pay for luxuries only she had any right to indulge in with that money, he would have to take a third job to make it possible for her to do so.

And this is…well, I suppose it’s great for a lot of Muslim women when times are easy. Not so great when things are harsh.

Because when you have a group of people who MUST use their productivity to support themselves and others, and another group who are entitled to be supported by the productivity of others, and no obligation to even be productive… well, when the shit hits the fan, which of these groups is going to be barred from taking the few available jobs? Will it be the group who must use their income to support themselves and other people, or the ones who don’t even have to support themselves?

Under Islamic law, a woman with a job can technically allow her own children to starve, even if she has the money to feed them. If those children DO starve, it is her husband who will be considered socially, morally and legally accountable for failing to provide the necessities of life to his children. And while I doubt there are many women who would actually do this, it’s how the law is written.

In Afghanistan today, a woman with a job (a job she doesn’t need because under Islamic law she has an entitlement to be supported by her husband, father or son) is not just taking that job from a man, she’s taking food out of the mouths of that man’s family. If she takes a safe, easy job (as women are wont to do), then the man she displaces will have to take a more dangerous one. If he’s killed, she’s taken the provider away from the woman and children who depended on him.

Likewise, if her daughter takes one of the few available desks in school, someone else’s son may be denied an education and the future job he will be obligated to take, to support both himself and the people who are entitled to his support, will be less well-paying, and the quality of life of multiple people will suffer.

And Islamic law and custom is so strict on this set of entitlements and obligations that in Afghanistan, you can find 13 year old boys selling themselves as sex slaves to provide for their mothers and sisters.

Echoes of this set of entitlements and obligations resounded in the western world after feminism had its way with the second half of the 19th century. Prior to that time, a woman’s income and property was subsumed by her husband, but depending on where you are, that all changed sometime between the mid 1800s and the turn of the century, at which point women’s income and property rights in the west actually became a carbon copy of what exists under Islam.

A story in the Milwaukee Journal from 1912 illustrates this quite well, in its examination of the tactics of British suffragettes who used a loophole in the law to turn their husbands into prison-cell activists by manipulating the exact same legal and cultural standards at play in Afghanistan. To elaborate, a married woman’s income and property had been emancipated, by feminist activism, from the institution of family for some time–not just from her husband’s influence, mind you, but from anyone’s benefit but her own. However, her husband’s patriarchal obligations to finance her “necessities” remained intact, and one of those necessities was the burden of taxation on her income. If she earned income, her husband and children had no right to it, but her husband, not herself, was the person obligated to pay tax on that income. If he had no means to pay–after paying for all the material necessities of the entire family, including his wife–it was he who would be imprisoned for tax evasion.

Editor’s note: See that 1912 story here. –DE

What I find amusing in all of this, since in the west these circumstances had only emerged due to feminist activism, is that Islamic law had enshrined these particular ideals of women’s liberation long before the Declaration of Sentiments was signed at Seneca Falls in 1848, or even Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women was penned in the late 1700s.

This is why the idea of male privilege is so fucking bogus. Privileges are entitlements. What men have had through history wasn’t entitlement, because it was a necessary element of their obligations–a tool handed to men because it was needed by men in order to fulfil their legally, economically and socially enforced obligations to women and children, not because penis.

There are duties and there are rights. To have a duty necessarily entails having a right. The rights granted generally facilitate one’s ability to perform one’s duties. If one has no such duties, the rights required to fulfil them are not only unnecessary, they may actually be detrimental to the ability of others to fulfil their duties to you.

If you have a duty to be productive economically and utilize that productivity to economically provide for yourself and others, you must have a right to engage in activities that result in economic productivity. If you have a duty to make sure you and others have the material necessities of life such as clothing, shelter, and food, then you must have the right to determine that the money is spent on clothing, shelter and food. If you have a duty to protect yourself and others, you must have a right to make decisions for yourself and those you protect, and a right to place yourself in danger.

If you don’t have those duties, you do not need the rights attached to them. In fact, you having those rights may actually interfere with the duties of others to provide the entitlements you enjoy through their obligation.

And when everyone’s living on the bottom tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you’re probably not going to be given those rights, because you having them would interfere with the ability of those who do to perform them, for you or for someone else who is entitled to them.

A husband cannot fulfil his duty provide for a wife if someone else’s wife displaces him from the workforce. A husband cannot fulfil his duty to ensure his family has the things they need if he doesn’t manage the family purse. A husband cannot fulfil his duty to protect a wife if she is not required to duck when he tells her to duck.

Historically, all of these things–provisioning, protection and support–were FEMALE entitlements. This is female privilege. And, though I hate to borrow a phrase from feminism, what happened in Afghanistan around barring women from work and girls from education, is essentially female privilege backfiring on women and girls. When jobs are scarce, you don’t give them to people who have an entitlement to benefit from the obligation of others to work. When education is scarce, you don’t give that to people who have an entitlement to benefit from the obligation of others that is facilitated by education. You give those things to the people who have a duty to share the benefits of them with others, not the people who are legally allowed to hog all those benefits for themselves.

Afghanistan is not a society that oppresses women. It’s a society where everyone’s stuck in the grip of cruel circumstances and Islamic laws that burden men with duties that require rights, and bestow entitlements on women that don’t, and coping the best way they can. And the only way you’re going to “improve” the situation for women and girls in Afghanistan, you know, get them access to jobs outside the home or to educations and not have a huge backlash, is to remove the entitlement women have to the material support and protection of men, and thereby remove men’s obligation to provide those things. Until you do those things, you’re just spinning your wheels, and harming the only people who have any obligation to anyone but themselves, while handing unfettered potential to earn money and power to people who don’t even have a duty to feed of their own children.

Another example of female privilege backfiring would be the continually skewing sex gap in births in China. Female fetuses are selected for abortion. Female babies are abandoned, drowned or smothered. And feminists would have you believe this is because men in China are privileged and arbitrarily over-valued, and women hated and arbitrarily undervalued.

But you can read any Chinese newspaper and come across stories about this elderly couple or that elderly couple, suing their sons for not taking proper care of them in their old age. You never see any of them suing their daughters, because their daughters have no obligation–legal or social–to take care of them. A girl’s parents actually still have an obligation to take care of her, if she doesn’t marry and can’t (or refuses to) support herself.

For all of Mao’s rhetoric about women holding up half the sky, he did nothing to ensure women did so when the sky was full of elderly people who needed economic support, did he? He liberated women by encouraging they exploit their own economic productivity without holding them responsible for even themselves, but oddly enough, kept men chained to their traditional, non-egalitarian obligations.

In China, you have no social safety net to speak of, nothing much in the way of social security or pensions, no one but your son to make sure you don’t starve when you’re too old to work…and you have a policy that allows you to have only one child.

What do you think is going to happen when you have that situation and couple it with a set of gendered duties and entitlements that mean a family who has a boy is potentially a two-child family (son and daughter in law), and one who has a girl is in the best case scenario a no-child family.

If feminists really cared about what’s going on in China, what they’d do is agitate to burden women with a duty of care for their parents, or emancipate men from said duty. That would solve the problem, eventually.

I know there are families in China who want girls, who even favor them, because even given this harsh economic incentive, many families still have girls, and because in rural areas where families can sometimes get away with having more than one child, they’ll often have a girl as well as a boy.

But you won’t stop people from preferring boys under a one-child policy until you obligate girls to be as useful and exploitable to their families as boys are. You just won’t. You especially won’t if men’s obligations make them useful to their parents while women’s entitlements make them a potential burden to those parents in old age.

You certainly won’t solve the problem by attributing it to “male privilege” and “lack of equal rights for women”. Because that’s not what’s causing it. What’s causing it is a lack of equal obligation for women. You can give women all the same rights as men, but if they don’t have the same obligations as men, they won’t be treated equally, and that inequality is going to emerge in extreme forms during extreme circumstances like Afghanistan after 30 years of decimation, and China when people are only allowed one child and circumstances are such that that one child will be either a crutch or a pair of cement shoes when you’re too old to work.

Societies don’t oppress women or privilege men. They do tend to treat men and women differently and exploit them in different ways. What feminism seems to be about is expanding women’s rights without applying obligations, and expanding women’s entitlements while freeing them from the restrictions that used to be necessary for men to fulfil them. They’re about giving women the advantages of being a man without any of the costs, and removing the costs of being a woman without giving up any of the advantages.

When men got the vote, (and for a long time prior to that) they were obligated to serve their countries if need be, and obligated to serve their communities through civil conscription–bucket brigades, assisting police officers, things like that. When women got the vote, they had no reciprocal obligation placed on them.

When men received automatic custody after divorce, it was because they were solely obligated to support the children. When early feminists pushed through the TYD, that obligation did not shift onto women–mothers got custody, but fathers were still required to provide material support. Incidentally, once this doctrine was in place, the divorce rate, which had been a constant for centuries, increased 15-fold in just 50 years. Huh.

And the bill that was recently vetoed in Florida, that might have ended lifetime alimony? One of the primary justifications for that bill was that more women were finding themselves paying lifetime alimony to former partners due to mass male unemployment during the recession, and those women had just never expected they’d have to and thought it was unfair. By more women, I’m thinking probably 3% of all lifetime alimony payers in Florida. What do you know? Being treated like a man in every way just ain’t that great, is it? And contrary to what feminists try to tell people, it never has been.

That bill was put forward because women don’t like to be obligated the way men are–to pay their whole lives for the upkeep of a former spouse–and even a tiny percentage of them being forced to do it will get people to rethink a law that has obligated men for decades or even centuries.

Hell, just dare to suggest that a woman who chooses to have a baby without the consent of the biological father should be solely financially responsible for that child, let alone that a woman who chose to leave her husband out of boredom and take the kids with her should finance her own decision, and you’ll face vicious opposition from most feminists. Even though that exact situation–getting the kids and the entire job of feeding them–is defined as “historical male privilege” and “patriarchal oppression of women” when it used to happen to men.

Frankly, if women today were forced to bear the burdens that were historically had imposed on men, for which their greater rights were little more than the tools required to do the job, I think 99% of women would consider it a raw deal, and 99% of feminists would call it “oppression of women”. The fact that they’d see it that way just shows how privileged in many ways women have always been, and how shallow feminists’ view of the world, past and present, really is.

So I have an idea. How about feminists perform a little experiment.

First go to China and try to sell the idea of obligating daughters economically to their parents the way sons are. See if any of these young women will jump at the opportunity to take care of shit like a man is expected to.

Next, go to Afghanistan and tell women they are allowed to do anything their husbands do–work, get an education, even have custody of their children. Hell, tell them they can have all the BEST jobs. All they have to do is give up any and all entitlements to provision and protection, any and all obligation on the part of the men in their lives–fathers, husbands, brothers, sons–to help or support them, and let them know they’ll have to single-handedly provide for the material needs of any children they have. You’re on your own, honey. Grrl power. Good luck.

How many Afghan women does anyone think would take them up on it? When even in a middle class neighborhood in London–where she enjoys a set of rights similar to men’s, and would actually be capable of real economic independence–a Muslim woman can argue against feminism on the basis that Muslim women might have to give up codified female entitlements provided through male obligation?

I hate to tell you this, Zara Faris, but you really don’t have to worry about any of that. Feminists aren’t going to take away your privileges or remove your husband’s obligations to you. They’re only interested in taking away his privileges and removing your obligations.

References:

To rile you up and lighten your wallets: http://www.avoiceformen.com/a-voice-for-men/from-stu-to-you/

British suffragettes arrange to have their husbands jailed: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=5JQWAAAAIBAJ&sjid=7CAEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6049,712919&dq

Zara Faris at the London debate on feminism and Islam: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zI7tZDW4zQM

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