Friday Videos: The Sex Talk

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Julia Sweeney has “The Talk” with her 8-year-old daughter.

Phyllis Chesler, Feminist and Islamophobe?

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Phyllis Chesler

I hate sentences that start with “most” and end with some ridiculous pronouncement about what “most” are doing.  Phyllis Chesler appears to be a prime offender, judging by her article on Muslim women and the veil. She writes: “Most Muslim girls and women are not given a choice about wearing the chador, burqa, abaya, niqab, jilbab, or hijab (headscarf), and those who resist are beaten, threatened with death, arrested, caned or lashed, jailed, or honor murdered by their own families.” She also writes that “Most Muslim girls and women are impoverished and wear rags.”

These statements are typical of a person who cares more about justifying her own prejudice than in adding something constructive to the debate. Not only that, but they’re just plain ignorant. Chesler cites examples coming out of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan as being typical of the entire Muslim world. She also equates Muslims with Arabs, when in fact this only applies to 20% of all Muslims.

I especially love this statement of Chesler’s: “It is well known that the Arabs and Muslims kept and still keep sex slaves–they are very involved in the global trafficking in girls and women and frequent prostitutes on every continent.” Where does she get her ideas??

But of course Chesler doesn’t care about being objective—or even factual; she has a career to think of. Dr. Chesler (she has a Ph.D in psychology) is primarily a writer and is the author of thirteen books and numerous articles. (Check out her web site for examples of her writing.) She is also a psychotherapist and an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at the City University of New York (CUNY). By her own account, she was “held captive” in Afghanistan when she went to visit her then-husband’s family, an experience that she says made her an ardent feminist. It also appears to have made her into a rabid Islamophobe.

In a 2003 review of one of her books, Publishers Weekly concluded that “Chesler’s tone and lack of intellectual rigor will not help her ideas to be heard by those who do not already agree with her.” (Source: Wikipedia.) From the samples of her writings, particularly those about Islam and anti-Semitism, I concur.

But what about Chesler’s feminism? Is she really a feminist or a neo-con masquerading as one?

From what I can gather, Chesler is the kind of feminist who blames the victim. One of her books, Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman, more or less says that women are just naturally competitive with other women, resulting in back-stabbing and general meanness. There is no recognition that women are socialized to be competitive by a patriarchal society that encourages them to stake their identities on the men they can “catch.”  (Full disclosure: I haven’t read the book, just this USA Today interview with Chesler about it, so I realize I may be misrepresenting her views.)

Yes, I know I’m dangerously close to saying that there is only one way to be a feminist or that there is a set platform all feminists have to espouse (pro-abortion, anti-pornography, pro-gay rights, etc.). Although, like all people, I am more comfortable with people who have the same views I do, I recognize that we all have our own versions of feminism, just as we all have our own versions of religion. For instance, Sarah Palin calls herself a pro-life feminist. Some feminists are supportive of pornography and sex work. Many women who hold feminist views don’t identify with the feminist movement because they feel that it is too upper-class and white.

Me? I’m just a feminist who believes that feminism is—or should be—incompatible with any kind of racism, prejudice or hatred. For this reason alone, I find it hard to believe that Chesler is a true feminist.

The Nature of God

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“A God who is beyond sex/gender has no investment in favoring males or oppressing women.” So wrote Asma Barlas in her article “Islam and Feminism.” Barlas states at the beginning of the article that she doesn’t like to call herself a feminist and yet she made an observation that could revolutionize religion.

Some feminists, especially in the ’70s, were fond of speculating what religion would be like if God was actually a woman. I always thought that exercise was silly, but I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt that way. Now I know: it’s because God is neither male nor female.

It’s unfortunate that we use the masculine pronoun whenever we refer to God (I do) because that only perpetuates the idea that God is male in character. Some people may honestly believe that He is. Others may honestly believe that She is female. But if you think about it, it’s clear that God is infinitely bigger than any box we can put Him into. We can speculate all we want—He is neither male nor female. He is male and female. He is androgynous.  But it only makes sense that He is, as Barlas writes, beyond sex or gender. He simply is.

It seems to me that if we kept that observation uppermost in our minds we could eradicate much of the sexism that exists in most religions. Of course men like to think of God as a male because that makes it seem like God sides with men. Men also strenuously object to the idea that God could be a woman, because they’re afraid that women would then start to claim the upper hand (as men have). But what if  God sees us each as persons who only incidentally are male and female (because of the mechanics or reproduction)? What if He doesn’t favor men over women or the opposite? What would our church fathers (and I use that term to refer to all religions) do with that?

Continue reading The Nature of God


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William-Aldophe Bougereau, 1901

I haven’t written for a couple of days because I was out of town attending a “Celebration of Life.” One of my oldest and best friends lost her sister suddenly on the 12th. Her sister had  just celebrated her 60th birthday.

My friend was eight years younger than her sister but since their mother died young, they had a closer bond than usual. To say that my friend is devastated is an understatement. She thought they had many more years together. Now there is only my friend and her sister’s daughter left in the family. It’s a lonely feeling, I know.

I lost my parents 15 and 13 years ago, which made me the matriarch of the family (as well as an orphan). The only person I have left of our original family is my sister. I don’t know what I’d do if my sister died. Losing a parent is hard, but at least I shared it with my sister. Except for my parents, she’s the one who has known me the longest. We’ve shared a lot, but mostly it’s been a comfort just to know that she’s there.

We fought a lot when we were younger, but we were inseparable as children. Now I’m lucky if I see her once every two or three months, even though we live less than 40 minutes from one another. But we always know that we can pick up the phone and hear each other’s voice. My friend doesn’t have that luxury anymore.

When my father was dying, he told us that one thing he hoped would come out of his death is that my sister and I would grow closer. It didn’t really happen that way. We both turned handled our grief differently and even when we both went through divorces a few years later, we didn’t turn to each other for support. I can’t say that my sister is my best friend. I can’t even say that she knows me that well, or I her. We have totally opposite personalities. She lights up a party and I sit in the corner, observing. She’s always on the go and I take it easy. She does most of the talking, I do most of the listening. She’s always had strong opinions; I keep mine to myself. She’s willing to fight for what she believes in; I’ll do anything to avoid confrontation.

I’ve always admired her and been proud to be her sister. But I’ve also been envious of her for as long as I can remember. In the past year or so, that envy has been coming out in my dreams. In these dreams, I’m always convinced that my parents love her more and the amount of rage I feel about that is overwhelming—and astonishing. I know that envy is part of what I feel toward my sister, but I always figured it was buried deep inside me. It may be, but it seems that my subconscious is bent on dredging it up.

Continue reading Sisters

Friday Videos: Feminist Super Heroes

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Tuesday Tidbits

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Slightly more Americans are “pro-life” than “pro-choice” according to a recent Gallup poll, reversing a trend that held constant throughout the years 1995-2008. The shift occurred among Republicans and Independents, who (in my opinion) appear to become more conservative during times of national stress.

The French Postal Service has issued a 12-stamp booklet concerning the issue of violence against women. The stamps were designed in recognition of V-Day, a global movement started in 1998 by Eve Ensler to put an end to all forms of violence against women and girls.

The American Academy of Pediatricians has  proposed  “nicking”  newborn girls to “satisfy” parents intent on female circumcision (otherwise known as FGM for “female genital mutilation”). I’m with Swampfoot at Daily Kos on this one: WTF? More information and reactions here and here.

Am I the only one who thinks Miley Cyrus just might be getting out of control? I’ve tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but if she was my daughter…

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill Tuesday that bans ethnic studies classes in the state’s public schools. The new law (see PDF) bans classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government,” “promote resentment toward a race or class of people,” “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Source: Feminist Majority Foundation’s Feminist News Digest