Reports this morning that the vast majority of Aussies -- including a majority of Muslims -- are refusing to accept Sheik Taj el-Din al-Hilali's confession, shows in one respect how far we've come in trying to end the inequality between men and women. The fact the comments were made at all, though, also prove we have a very long way to go. It also reflects a problem that exists in a small but dominant part of the conservative side of the divide. To promote their anti-woman agenda, they nitpick about some rather uncomfortable truths and exploit them as being far worse than the good they did for all women -- indeed all people.
Indeed many of those in the anti-feminist movement have demonzied those who are considered the builders of the feminist movement from decades ago. Margaret Sanger, who fought an epic battle against Anthony Comstock to legalize the dissemination of information about birth control, also supported eugenics and active euthanasia. Canada's "Famous Five," who battled for the right for women to be recognized as legal persons so they could sit in the Canadian Senate (and have been honoured by, among other things, being featured on the current version of the $50 bill), not only endorsed eugenics but ranged from mildly to blatatly racist when it came to the country's then immigration policies and the directions they should take.
One can easily reverse the argument and suggest some world leaders of the past and present (nearly all of them men, not coincidentally), despite their appalling human rights records, manage to feed their people and keep most of them relatively satisfied. Does the fact they don't respect free speech, democracy, or both make them bad persons as a matter of course?
The double standard was alive and well during my high school days. It wasn't just my fellow students and me, it was also the teachers. If a male teacher got divorced, he was seen as a hero for "getting away from the bitch." But if it was a woman teacher, she was condemned, at least by her more conservative colleagues for "not being grateful for what she had."
Why do I file this under "religion"? Well, the fact is that most if not all religions have had a history of prejudice against women. It is often forgotten that it's the intervention of women at the most opportune times that have changed the course of history within religion. It was the faith of Abraham and Sarah that led to their becoming the patriarchs of the world's three great monothesitic religions. It was the faith of Ruth when she stuck with her mother-in-law Naomi that led to her becoming the great-grandmother of King David. (Note the one who abandoned Naomi was Orpah, the name sake of Oprah Winfrey, the unofficial New Age Pope -- which I do not think is a coincidence either, although I fully support Winfrey's right as a woman to have a religion or a total lack of it). And who was it who Jesus of Nazareth relied on for financial support during his ministry? Women, including some in the Roman civil service. Who did Jesus appeared to after his Resurrection? Mary Magdalene -- a woman. Not Peter, a man.
It's been often said that as graditude for the good women have done for religion, they've been treated as second class citizens. And that has flowed through to civil society as well. A lot of Canadians forget that the last province to give women the vote was Québec, both because of the Roman Catholic Church as well as misogynists like Maurice Duplessis -- females there didn't get the vote until 1940.
So let's set aside the battle against stem cell research or severely restricting access to contraception or birth control, or even rolling back the "no-fault" divorce laws; although all are inherently linked to the war against women. Here are some questions I'd like to ask conservatives.
- Do you believe that a woman should be forced to have children against her own will?
- Should a woman be forced to take her husband's name upon marriage, or should that be her own choice?
- Must a woman be told that she must have her husband co-sign any loan she undertakes?
- Should all teenage girls be forced to carry a dowry or a hope chest?
- Does a woman forgo forever her right to say "no" when she gets married?
- Can a woman be denied employment or promotion or equal pay because she's thinking about having kids?
- Should inheritance rights flow through only to the male heirs, or to all members of the family?
- Should rape cases be decided based on what a woman was wearing at the time of the alleged criminal act?
If they can make a conclusive case for all of them, then maybe I'm on the wrong side. If they can't convince me on just one of those points, then maybe feminism isn't such a bad thing after all.
UPDATE (12:55 PM EDT, 1655 GMT): The cleric in question has now been suspended for three months. Not good enough. He should be fired, period.