the Intangible Chain of Oppression and the Feminist’s Moral Obligation
This post is originally written as a commentary for another post written by a courageous woman named Marwa which can be read here: http://aveilandadarkplace.com/2013/07/01/what-it-is-like-to-be-a-muslim-woman-and-why-we-know-what-freedom-is/
I’ve been in the same situation as Marwa found herself in. I’ve been struggling to find my way out too for years, and finally 2 weeks later I will leave for the US to continue my graduate studies.
There are two things that I agree from Marwa’s post. First, the fear of having the capability to be free. That fear is very real, the fear to feel the happiness is real. I am frightened by the capability of setting myself free and letting all the other woman who lives the same nightmare as mine drown into that patriarchal culture for the whole of their life (I say it’s ‘culture’ not ‘religion’, and I will explain it why later). What I am afraid is that I am going deep into the spirit of freedom and then once I get back home I will find the society’s rejection so strong that I can’t help my sisters, cousins, mother, aunties, and all the closest women in my life out of that situation.
The fact that currently by seeing my determination to study in the US some female cousins are eager to have their higher education too, is worsening my fear. I am afraid that their flame of spirit will be gone when I can’t continuously supporting their steps due to the society’s rejection. I am afraid that my little sister will just go through the same things when she grows up and I can’t do a thing to help her out.
The second point that I agree upon is, that intangible institution of repression is really there. Just like what Marwa said, some of us have our ‘fake freedom’. We go to work, we go to school, we have money, etc. But the social constraints are so strong that we can’t have the substantive freedom. I have a keen interest for studying other religions and have some holy scriptures in my possession, and yes, I have to hide it away because people around me will be worried so much if they find it. They’ll keep accusing me of trying to convert into Christianity or Judaism only because I read the Bible and Torah. The fact that I am also studying Quranic exegesis and staying true to my Islamic rituals like wearing Jilbab and pray five times a day wouldn’t cease their doubt away. I am just too ‘alien’ and they don’t understand me.
On the other hand I have some points to make as well. First, I always believe that all the oppression to women that we see today is bigger than just religions. It’s not a matter of Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, or others. It’s not a matter to blame on the mere existence of men as well. It’s a matter of the world that is build upon the patriarchal perspective, and women as well as men are the victims of it. For women the struggle and fear might be clearer, we try to free ourselves from the tangible/intangible bodily exploitation from time to time. For men, the struggle and fear might be more obscure, but it is there. I am sure a number of them are sick to see social expectation that depict ‘an ideal man’ as the one who act like a prince charming, gentle, rich, smart, yet has a deadly power, muscular body, and never cry. Women never have to fulfil those expectations, but it doesn’t mean that our condition is better.
To me, the patriarchal culture embodied itself in the tight family and social control which takes on religious claims to justify its existence. Furthermore in my case the culture can be traced back to the Javanese royal tradition, where the daughters of nobility and clergy shouldn’t roam around alone or out of the house in the night to keep the purity of the bloodlines (they say that it’s for the betterment of the girls of course, but clearly it’s for the sake of the absurd patriarchal pride of the family, or for saving/adding the family’s wealth). Similar things might have happened to Marwa and thus I can really feel what she felt.
Second point to make, since it’s clear to me that the religions are only used as a justification for all the oppression. I can’t put the blame on the Qur’an which I believe as the central tenet of Islam. In fact, I believe that God never wants us to oppress each other, or more, to do it in His name. Qur’an, like all other holy scriptures, is an inanimate object and free for any interpretations. It is the human’s mind that speak for it, thus, if there are any oppressions in the name of Islam, it’s the Muslim who does it. Take example, there’s an Ayah in the Qur’an that is often used as the justification for the men to take an absolute authority in the family, or the men to forbid any women to be a leader in prayer (“Qiwamah al-Rajul”/The Leadership of the Men). A part of this Ayah, which is becoming the basis of the claim is “Ba’dhahum ‘ala Ba’dh” (Q.S. al Nisa, [4:34]) (translated: what Allah has given one over the other ). The patriarchal reading of this text of course will say that ‘men is given (by God) certain qualities over the women, and thus men is the leader of the women’. But the critical reading of this part of Ayah will reveal different interpretation since God never mention explicitly whether the ones who are above the others are men over women or vice versa. The critical interpretation might draw a conclusion that whoever is more able to do certain things than the others deserves to be a leader (either in household level, society, religion, government, etc) and thus very much an emancipating message.
The third point to make is that the families or societies who do the oppression are only the product of the same fundamentalist teaching and tradition. When I ask my mom and aunties how their childhood were, they were also been forced to submit themselves to the same destructive tradition. One of my aunty was married as early as 13 years old. And if I could ask my long gone grandparents as to why they married their daughters very early, most likely that they would reveal the same bitter experience and that they learnt from it. What I am trying to say is, for those of us who are able to make our way out and find the empowering experience of freedom, we have the moral obligation to cut the viscious circle in which we used to find ourselves in. We have to pick our battle and spread the message that women can go far, and I think the first thing to do is to save our own sisters, moms, and aunties. Because the world is indeed would be a better place when women and men find each other as equal partners.