I found this powerful letter posted on www.faithfreedom.org and make no apologies for copying it in its entirety. I don't know who Bessy Lions is, but she should be applauded for challenging what has often seemed to me like a conspiracy of silence on the part of western feminists. Having bumped up against cultural relativists myself on more than a few occasions, I felt like cheering when I saw Bessy's letter. She says what I feel, only much better than I could.
Open Letter To Western Feminist Figureheads and Academics
Dear Leading Feminist Spokeswoman,
I am writing to inquire if you know why there has been no discernable reaction by Western feminists and intellectuals to the oppression of women in the Middle East. Do you have any explanation for this mysterious silence?
Why has there never been a candle light vigil, a march in the night, a public statement of dissent and solidarity, a new Association formed, a visit made to Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Afghanistan or Gaza by a famous Western feminist, no delegation to the UN, no banner waved, no scholarly conference, or ANY OTHER public act of protest by Western feminists and intellectuals to the crushing oppression that hundreds of millions of women endure throughout the Middle East? While you sit in your ivory towers doing research into who does what per cent of the dish-washing, Hundreds Of Millions of women are owned, traded, bought and sold, enclosed and suffocated.
Every woman ini Saudi Arabia and Egypt and millions elsewhere are under the strict authority and guardianship of a male, even a punk kid. Would you tolerate that for yourself, you, who won’t tolerate the word “he” used in public? The word “he” is enough to stir up a blizzard of social analysis, critique, agitation, angst, protest and righteous frenzy by the whole noisy shallow pack of you, but millions of girls getting genital mutilation and still this is not enough to inspire a letter to the editor from a prominent feminist spokeswoman. What kind of people are you? Do you think that a woman with no clit who is forcibly married to her stinky old uncle in the next village can truly discover herself as a sexually liberated being? Do you think she can reach the apex of her unshackled potential and fulfillment as a woman, like her sisters in the West? How would you feel if someone cut off your privates and traded you for a goat to a terrorist who hasn’t had a bath or a shave in fifteen years, and who cuts off your nose and ears when you finally run away? Why, it’s enough to make you douse yourself in gasoline and burn yourself to death. But hey, things happens. These people just have a different belief system. No one can really say what’s right and wrong. It’s all cultural, don’t you see, all cultural. It’s all conditioning; it’s the way they are raised. They are conditioned to douse themselves in gasoline and set themselves on fire. They don’t mind it. In their culture, a face full of acid just doesn’t hurt like it would for you and me. You have to look at it from a different prism. It’s not really evil. Evil is when a white man peeks at a woman’s tits. That’s evil, and we’re going to put a stop to it.
You feminist ladies in the west have ranted incessantly because more males seek technical education, but you have stayed silent as millions of women and girls are not even taught how to spell their name. THAT is not enough to get you off of your ample bums and do something about it. Why is this? Is it because they are not white?
Why have all of you been utterly silent for the last 10 years? Why have you said NOTHING?
Every day there is a new atrocity, a stoning, a gang rape and murder, a killing. And beyond this, everyday life is a suffocating bondage, a narrow, miserable imprisonment, for hundreds of millions of female human beings, the ones YOU are paid and depended on and educated and organized and able and funded and expected to represent and champion. That’s your JOB. It’s why you’re such a BIG SHOT. Well, you’re doing the sh!ts. Frankly, you STINK. You’re mute, dumb, silent, stupid, useless, unperturbed. To you, it’s not even happening. There is something wrong with you people. What kind of person doesn’t care enough about a face full of acid to even mention it in her next TV interview, academic paper, panel discussion, graduation address, book, appearance or opinion piece? Couldn’t you write just one of your op-eds in sympathy for the women of the Middle East? Don’t you even care? You all just carry on as if nothing is happening. This is truly incomprehensible behavior. It is truly amazing! You truly have a sickness. It is time to overcome and start acting.
Sincerely, Bessy Lions
After forty years as a feminist I am, frankly, appalled at the responses this thread is attracting. Whatever happened to sisterhood and to solidarity? These were values that were integral to feminism back in the day, but it seems to have been left behind along with a lot of other idealism. If this is what feminism has evolved into - mean-minded narrow self-interest - it's not something I can identify with - in fact, I'd feel ashamed to be associated with this brand of morally bankrupt feminism.
Well... I guess you'll shortly be headed over there to the Middle East and reform the entire place... so that the Middle East may suit our Western ideals... good luck with that. I have plenty of volunteer work to do here first. I volunteered in a third world country in the 90s, it was not very effective, but it was an excellent multi-cultural learning experience.
"... reform the entire place... so that the Middle East may suit our Western ideals."
And you say it's not about cultural relativism for you? Sure sounds like it to me. And no - I don't have to go and personally institute reform. Solidarity is not the same as imperialism. All I need to do is support the efforts of the brave women who are working from within to effect reform. And (for Pamela, who seems to find herself entirely lacking in resources) it's not about empty gestures and lip service, it's about expressing solidarity and providing financial support where necessary.
Some years ago I corresponded for a while with a woman from Morocco, whom I had known in a French chat. She was divorced and somehow I had the impression that she was on this specific chat site hoping to find a European man treating her better than her Moroccean ex-husband.
Being an atheist I started to mention my aversion against a religion, that allows men 4 wives and countless concubines. I expressed my own outrage as a woman. I expected that she would somehow connect her own apparent recoiling from men in her own culture with the islam as the cause of her plight.
But I was very surprised, that instead of recognizing the harm of islam to women, she vehemently defended her religion. That was the end of the correspondence. I am as much an atheist as I am a feminist and this was too frustrating to continue.
She is just one example of the problem of some muslim women. They suffer and protest against atrocities by men forced upon them in the name of a religion to which they nevertheless cling.
I think that muslim women are doomed to suffer, unless they give up the acceptance of islam. Any really modernized islam, in which women are equals, would be so different from what is the core to the islamic belief, that it would be a different religion and not islam anymore.