Turning a Blind Eye to Misogyny

I’ve a piece on the the calamitous effects of the decline in feminist principle in Standpoint

The comparison with the international anger directed at Apartheid is instructive. The oppression of blacks was once an affront to the conscience of the world. When we turn to the oppression of women, however, we find that the United Nations loses its conscience and encourages the ideologies of their oppressors. In 1990, Muslim foreign ministers challenged the first line of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights by replacing the ringing statement that “all human beings are born free in dignity and in rights” with the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights which announces that “all human beings are God’s subjects”. The UN’s declaration says that everyone is entitled to its stipulated rights and freedoms “without distinction of any kind”. The Cairo declaration says that rights can be restricted for a “Sharia prescribed reason”. Nothing in it prevents forced marriages of pre-pubescent girls, or the death punishments for apostasy, homosexuality and the betrayal of a family’s “honour”.

Far from fighting off this direct assault on women’s rights, the UN went along with it and entertained the idea that those who criticise Sharia are guilty of the crime of “defaming religion”. In the West, the motion “Is feminism dead?” is a favourite at debating societies, but a glance around shows that it remains in rude health. I do not want to underestimate continuing sexism, the pay gap and the difficulties of working mothers, but wherever women enjoy freedom their cause is advancing. To encapsulate the advance in a sentence, it is now politically impossible for the leaders of parties of the Left or Right anywhere in the advanced world to exclude women from their cabinets.

Yet at the same time, the Archbishop of Canterbury can call for Sharia law to be imposed on British Muslim women, safe in the knowledge that his own women priests will nod their approval. Similarly, the former Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips can call for Sharia at the East London Mosque and women lawyers will not remind him that the mosque is a centre for Jamaat-i-Islami, which in India insists that husbands who throw out their wives have no duty to pay them maintenance.

The emancipation of women is necessary and essential for white-skinned women in London but not for brown-skinned women in Lahore. Or, to move from the global to the local, the emancipation of women is necessary and essential for white-skinned women in Hampstead and Highgate but not for brown-skinned women in Bethnal Green and Bow.

When pressed, the characteristic response to accusations of indifference is for hypocritical Westerners to protest that of course they do not support the imprisonment of rape victims. True, but they do not oppose it either. Their bad faith is evidenced by their palming of the moral-equivalence card from the bottom of the deck. I first saw it being waved in triumph in 1993 when Germaine Greer declared that attempts to outlaw female circumcision were “an attack on cultural identity”. In her mind, there was no difference between religious traditionalists forcing an eight-year-old to submit to the removal of her clitoris and labia, and an American teenager voluntarily trying out body piercing. “If an Ohio punk has the right to have her genitalia operated on, why has not the Somali woman the same right?” asked the author of The Female Eunuch as she excused clitoral castration. At the time, I thought that Greer was a crass contrarian who would say anything to grab attention. I should have taken her more seriously. In the intervening years, her casuistry became the dominant mode of argument.

Read the whole thing

2 thoughts on “Turning a Blind Eye to Misogyny

  1. The ending words of Nick Cohen’s book Pretty Straight Guys are these:
    If your fears are being manipulated, or if you are turning away from the victims of oppression, or if you are going along with the handover of control of economic life to incompetent corporations, or if you are selling yourself and others short because you are frightened of being called an elitist, or if you are doing what everyone else is doing solely because everyone else is doing it, the positive message of this book – its manifesto for the new century – is: stop it.

    Those words would be worth trying to get out in time before you popped off, wouldn’t they?

    In his following book – What’s Left? – the All the Russians Love the Prussians chapter shows how various people in the Thirties reacted to the fascism of that time. There’s this sentence of Nick Cohen’s which chills me every time it’s read:

    ‘Then as now, if you believe that everyone in power is a totalitarian, you needn’t worry about actual totalitarians, and already your neutrality is tipping over into support for the other side.’

    We in Britain aren’t under tyranny, and contrary to what many are presently shouting in America, neither are they, but elsewhere plenty of other people really are.
    Turning a Blind Eye to Misogyny shows a gruesome picture of that reality for women in such places.
    A couple of weeks ago, Kate Humble was interviewed by Clive Anderson for Radio 4’s Loose Ends. She was there for her programme The Frankincense Trail, where she’s in the middle east. Anderson questioned her about some of the treatment shown towards women in some of the footage. She replied stiffly enough, saying: ‘ she didn’t like it at all.’
    A few minutes later, when the subject again was raised, she went on to add that ‘ it’s not for me to say; it’s their culture, it’s a different place…’

    What was wrong with just sticking with her first answer? Is she fearful that the next sunny job to come along may go to someone else?

    I had read that – it’s their culture – bit somewhere earlier in the day and it’s in this essay. Azar Nafisi is all to familiar with it; that, and also about women being stoned to death.


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