Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Big, scary, global questions. What are your thoughts?

Yesterday I had a meeting with Maya to work on her opening comments for the September 21st show, called "Global Sisterhood: Women Helping Women," which I thought would be a piece of cake.  After all, even for people who are skeptical about feminism and it's modern implications in this country (don't worry, we'll convince them otherwise), it's tough to argue that  some girlpower wouldn't do wonders around the globe.  After all, how do you defend practices like stoning women for committing adultery, or performing cliterodectomies?  As they say (okay, I actually heard this from Bill Maher, but I believe there was a more significant "they" before him), "Don't get so tolerant that you tolerate intolerance."

But ending these practices and mobilizing women toward their own liberation is not so simple as calling out the injustices and telling women to fight.  After all, when we put on our feminist hats, does that enable us to remove our American ones?  If we tell women that they want the right to choose, the right to dress and marry and divorce and bear children as they please, take whatever career they please, is that not perhaps just another way of imposing our "enlightened" American culture on a "third world" culture?

On the other hand, if we say that cliterodectomies are acceptable because they are a deeply engrained cultural and religious rite of passage which many women want to experience, are we not denying basic human rights?  Are we not condoning one of the most violent forms of female oppression possible?

These are extreme examples.  But how about this one: President Sarkozy of France recently announced that he would be backing the movement to outlaw burqas in his country, because they were a symbol of women's "enslavement" (read the full story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/world/europe/23france.html?_r=1&scp=4&sq=sarkozy&st=cse).  Personally, I agree with his analysis of the symbolism of the burqa.  But I cannot help but see his move as more strongly motivated by his anti-immigration, xenophobic attitude, rather than his passion for women's rights.  So do I fight for the religious rights of Muslims, or the symbolic freedom of women?

These are the kinds of questions that we must address when we discuss the meaning of global sisterhood.  Do we choose the liberation of women when it implies a disregard for cultural differences?  Can we promote the freedom (religious, social, political, emotional, reproductive, etc.) of women without disrespecting the fundamentals of their culture and religion?  Or does a fundamentally patriarchal and oppressive culture deserve disrespect? 

Okay, now my head is actually spinning.  Have any thoughts on these questions?  Please, comment!  Give me clarity!  Make my head spin more!  Or, if you have brand new questions swirling around in your mind, please send them my way so that perhaps our panelists can help to answer them.

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