Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Women = Family

So a Greek news agency (which I have never heard of, but is apparently reliable) reported last week that Iranian state TV now requires that the word 'woman' be replaced with 'family'. How does that work, exactly? "Families in Iran complain that they are required to wear the chador"? "Iranian families attending university with men complain about unequal treatment"? It's really kind of funny.

If it only were a joke. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time in the Middle East, I feel pretty comfortable saying that the veil has various significations for different people and maintaining my feminist bent. However, this piece of the veiling ethic, the idea that women need to be shielded from society because of their dangerous charms, does not sit well with me. I maintain no illusions that this idea is confined to Middle Eastern societies, either, which makes it even more depressing.

I did not particularly enjoy the movie Little Women (the Winona Ryder version - in case there was another one) but there was one part that I remember very vividly. Jo is sitting with a posse of men talking about suffrage and they are sharing their thoughts. She interrupts them and sort of demurely says "Women should have the right to vote, not because we are angels and men are animals, but because we are human beings and citizens of this country," and the conversation stops and they all look at her like she's fallen from the sky. As if it had never occurred to them that women were the same as they were. Astounding.

I haven't been able to figure out if that idea is an export (or an import, for that matter) of Christianity. (I am reading the Bible now looking for clues). To the best of my knowledge the Islamic sexism is a bit different - it's not that women are so incapable, necessarily; it is that they are so sexual. The very mention of a woman on television inspires men to impure thoughts, which presumably ruins everything. If a woman is so sexual, is she necessarily too weak to reason, as Jo's incredulous audience seems to think? Do those two branches of sexism grow from the same tree? Or do we have to cut down a whole misogynistic forest?

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