The Oxymoron Strikes Again: Religious Feminists

It’s hardly an original idea that just because women do something, that something does not automatically become a “feminist” thing to do.  Whether it’s defending prostitution, hailing pornography, living the BDSM lifestyle, or just staying with some asshole who beats her, not all “choices” a woman makes are equally good.  Even more, not all “choices” deserve to be defended by feminists.  Why?  Because they’re dehumanizing, belittling, and deeply misogynistic at their very cores.  Sadly, many women who agree with all those things–women who call themselves feminists–will suddenly come to a screeching halt and scream when religion is added to the list.

I don’t need to pull out the verses of the various holy books that advise on how and when to beat your wife, how to give your sexual slave to a group of men to be raped and murdered, or how to enslave all virgin females captured in war.  I don’t need to list the various religious-based laws, customs and political movements that seek to limit, oppress and exploit  women.  I mean, they all have them.  It’s really not that difficult to understand, is it?

Recently, I have come across some extremely strange defenses of religion.  I thought I would lay those out, and respond to them:

  • Defense #1:  “Yes, there are misogynistic parts of religion, but you don’t have to believe in all of it.”
  • Response #1:  If you have to pick and choose the least oppressive parts of a religion, what is the point?  If there are fundamentally unjust beliefs and practices embedded in the teachings, writings and traditions of a religion, is it not best to just jettison it altogether? If you have to convince yourself something is not unjust, picking and choosing bits and pieces of it, perhaps you should look at why you have to try to so hard.
  • Defense #2:  “But many women who consider themselves feminists believe in Christianity/Judaism/Islam/Hinduism/whatever.”
  • Response #2:  Many women who consider themselves feminists fight tooth and nail to defend porn, prostitution and mainstream American political parties.  It doesn’t make them right.  It sure as hell doesn’t mean that anyone else should join in their delusions and actually defend them as feminist.
  • Defense #3:  “But that’s just how society is.  There’s no use fighting it.”
  • Response #3:  There’s no point in being politically active at all if this is your view of things.  There is not one thing that makes religion necessary.  It isn’t needed for social interaction.  It isn’t needed for people to treat each other ethically or kindly.  (In fact, we have evidence that it causes people to do just the opposite.)  It isn’t needed to continue the species.  It isn’t needed to sustain life in any way.  Furthermore, it is a fairy tale and encourages people to indulge in magical thinking.
  • Defense #4:  “But it’s their culture, and you have to respect it.  No one can judge another culture/religion/tradition/whatever.”
  • Response #4:  I’ve written before about my rejection of cultural and ethical relativism.  It’s a lazy, cowardly way of thinking.  It’s a way to avoid taking a stand.  No, you really don’t have to respect it.  You have to understand where people are coming from and respect them as human beings, but that doesn’t mean that you have to give any practice or belief system a stamp of approval–especially when it is oppressive in both doctrine and practice.

Unfortunately, it is on the Left where you find much of this bizarre defense of religion, especially Islam.  The argument given is that it’s “Islamophobic” to criticize the religion–even as women are oppressed, tortured or killed under said religion.  The Left’s tendency to adopt the position that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” plays into this.  No matter how brutal or oppressive a regime, a group or a belief system, if it opposes the U.S., it is “good”.

Strangely, this tendency to use victimization to avoid criticism is also a handy tool used by one of the Left’s favorite targets:  Israel.  Anti-Semitism, in general, and the Holocaust, specifically, are used to deflect and evade criticism of Israel, its oppressive practices, and its oppressive religion.  The Left does not recognize this very real violence and oppression aimed at the Jews to be a valid reason to avoid criticizing the violence of Israel when it comes to the treatment of Palestinians.  Perhaps that is because Israeli violence and rhetoric are primarily aimed at men, at least in public. (Although women are all too commonly caught in the middle of one group of patriarchal males battling another group of patriarchal males.)  There are plenty of reasons to criticize Israel.  Its treatment of Palestinians is one of them.  Its status as a Jewish state–a state founded on misogynistic doctrine–is another.

In the U.S., we have Christians claiming that they are being victimized.  They point at any attempt to allow people to live secular lives free of religious-based bigotry as an attack on their religion.  They do so even as they pass laws that allow people to use their religious-based hatred to oppress others.

People talk of a “clash of civilizations” between the Christian West and the Islamic Middle East.  I see no such thing.  Playing the victim seems to be the tried-and-true method of avoiding responsibility for the bigotry and oppression at the heart of your religious teachings.  It’s something that all of the so-called “People of the Book” can agree upon.  Is that progress?

The Enemy of My Enemy Is Not Necessarily My Friend

I originally published this piece on Righteous Anger.  The women were convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.  One of them has since been released on probation.

The old adage says that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  This adage often crops up in Leftist thought, especially in conversations about U.S. foreign policy.  The male-dominated Left will often support the most repressive philosophies and regimes, as long as those philosophies and regimes throw a collective monkey wrench into the imperialist foreign policy aims of the U.S. government.  The result of this misguided stance is that real human beings are dismissed. Their pain, their oppression, even their deaths, are seen as inconsequential to the “big picture”.  Of course, these real human beings are almost always women.

The story of Pussy Riot, a Russian punk band, has made its rounds of feminist and punk rock sites and commentaries.  Eventually, it found its way into the mainstream media and has been condemned by mainstream artists.  The all-female band staged a protest against Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s Christ the Savior church.  They were arrested, quickly put on trial for “hooliganism”, and now face up to seven years in prison (although it is commonly believed that they will get three, if convicted).


Unfortunately, there are some on the Left who are engaging in the classic blame-the-victim strategy in regards to these women.  A scathing, ignorant, and hateful piece written by Mike Whitney was published on Counterpunch earlier this week.  Now, Counterpunch publishes submissions (they have published my writing in the past), so the responsibility for these opinions can only be laid at the feet of Whitney, but it is disheartening to see them appear on any Leftist site.  Considering the past behavior of many on the male-dominated Left, it’s also highly likely that his opinions are shared by many others.

In his piece, Whitney uses the age-old method of discrediting women who take a political stand:  he essentially accuses them of being U.S. puppets.  His phrase for them is “useful idiots”.  He rages that they are simply the method to discredit Putin.  He then goes on to wax poetic about the Great Putin, Defender of Russia.  No mention of the horrors suffered in Russia under Putin.  No mention of the fact that these women didn’t ask to be a part of any story in the U.S. or elsewhere; they were protesting conditions in their own country for the benefit of their own people.  Instead, Whitney is too blinded by the “enemy of my enemy” concept to give these women the credit they are due.  His rhetoric condemns their protest as “unauthorised and profane”.  All protests are unauthorized, Mr. Whitney.  What kind of Leftist are you that you don’t know that?

Whitney goes on to claim that if such a protest happened in the U.S., the media would not be so forgiving.  I will give him that.  They would not be as forgiving.  However, the protesters would not face seven years in prison, either.  How do we know this?  Because it has happened.  In 1989, ACT UP and feminists confronted the Catholic Church at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  One hundred and eleven were arrested that day, but not one spent time in prison.  Not one, Mr. Whitney.

Those heroes of the Russian government whom Whitney so passionately defends reveal their true, ugly faces in reaction to the criticism.  Madonna is one of several artists who have come out in support of Pussy Riot.  In response, a Russian official used Twitter to hurl misogynistic insults at the singer:

“With age, every former s. tries to lecture everyone on morality,” Dmitry Rogozin, a deputy prime minister, wrote on Twitter late on Wednesday, using the first letter of the Russian word for “slut” or “whore”. “Especially during overseas tours.”

Are these the people the Left really wants to be allying itself with?  Not the Left I hold dear.  Fortunately, there are some on the Left who agree with me.  In a response to Whitney’s “ignorant defense” of the Russian government’s behavior, Chris Randolph writes:

Once upon the time the Left was in favor of free speech, feminism, and confrontational protest, and simultaneously suspicious of authoritarian predatory privatizers, misogynist clerics and prudish censors.  From the many articles and comments like Whitney’s in the (putatively) left of center blogosphere, we learn that the American Left is now quite alright with misogynist religion, censorship, rigged trials and the like just as long as the oppressing government is a foreign policy foil of the United States.  This turns so-called progressives into just another group of intellectually dishonest bigots.

Randolph’s Left is the one to which I have given my soul.  I’m increasingly frustrated that there is a large contingent on the Left who do not agree.  They are willing to sell women out in order to oppose the U.S. government.  The real lives of real people matter little when it comes to rhetoric.  It is not just the case of Pussy Riot or of Russia where we find this.  We find it quite often in any discussion of the Middle East or of Africa.  The dire situation of women is not to be discussed.  Those who bring it up are quickly condemned as Islamophobic, racist, or imperialist.  The man who will rant for days about human rights violations committed against men will suddenly clam up and get defensive when the violation of women’s rights are mentioned.  Those are cultural and religious matters, we are told.  How dare we try to meddle in that sacred concept of Culture and Religion.  The rights of women, you see, are not human rights.

I will be the first to oppose the cynical use of women’s rights by the U.S. government as a basis for “regime change”.  When Washington suddenly gets interested in the rights of women in a country whose leaders they previously supported, I can only see it as an excuse for invasion.  Afghanistan is a prime example.  The Taliban had been in power for years prior to the U.S. invasion.  As Presidents of the United States, both Bill Clinton and Bush the Younger negotiated with the repressive regime to get an oil and gas pipeline built across Afghanistan.  Some feminists objected, but their concerns got little play in the mainstream media (or in the White House).  I also believe that U.S. military or CIA intervention in the affairs of other countries often leads to a nightmare for women.  One only need look to the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, and installation of the Shah for evidence of that.  The Shah’s brutal repression of Islamists (and Communists) eventually led to the Islamic Revolution.  The lives of Iranian women have never been the same.

The fact that the U.S. government ignores women until they can be used as a convenient excuse for invasion and “regime change” does not mean that indigenous women living under repressive regimes should be referred to as “idiots” for trying to make their country and their lives better.  Anyone on the Left who plays that game is as cynical and small-minded as any imperialist.  And as misogynistic.