Misogyny running wild

Moderates unwilling or unable to halt extremism.

July 20, 2010 23:55
3 minute read.
Illustrative photo

women of the wall 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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Religiously inspired misogyny seems to be running amok. Last week Gaza’s Hamas government issued an order banning women from smoking water pipes (shisha in Arabic, nargila in Hebrew) in public places. “It is inappropriate for a woman to sit crosslegged and smoke in public,” Ehab Ghissin, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, announced. “It harms the image of our people.”

Apparently motivated by a strange combination of prurience and religious fervor, Hamas has singled out women for censure since its 2007 takeover of Gaza. In addition to the fairly straightforward female dress code in courthouses, schools and universities that demands the hijab and full-length dresses, Hamas has also issued surprisingly idiosyncratic decrees. These reportedly include a ban against women riding on motorcycles with their husbands, getting their hair cut by a male hairdresser, and walking on the beach without a male chaperon who is a family member. It is unclear why of all possible female “transgressions,” these have been singled out. Perhaps they are the personal favorites of the Hamas functionaries who decide such things.

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Meanwhile, Iran’s deadly hatred for women hardly needs qualification. The story of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a poor, 43-year-old mother of two who’s been jailed since 2005 for alleged adultery – and initially facing death by stoning – is just the most recent in a litany of religious violence directed against the fairer sex by the Islamic Republic. According to Iran’s Muslim-inspired penal law, which already punished Ashtiani with 99 lashes, the rocks used in her stoning must be big enough to inflict pain but not large enough to kill her, at least not immediately. World outrage has so far managed to delay Ashtiani’s stoning. But it is unclear for how much longer.

Nor is Islam the only religion with clear misogynistic tendencies. Just last week the Vatican issued long-awaited revisions to its internal laws aimed at facilitating discipline of sex-abuser priests. But the Catholic Church also used the opportunity to lash out at women. Seemingly oblivious to simple moral distinctions, the Vatican equated the sexual molestation of children with the ordaining of women as priests. Both offenses were deemed graviora delicta (grave offenses), a category reserved for heresy, apostasy and schism. A clergyman who ordains a member of the opposite sex is just as worthy of defrocking as a priest who rejects the Trinity or who is a pedophile.

One can, perhaps, understand the male-controlled Church’s concern over the threat presented by women, especially in light of a recent poll by The New York Times and CBS showing that 59 percent of US Catholics support the ordination of women while 33% oppose it. But to distort simple moral reasoning in order to defend male hegemony is incomprehensible.

And even if the church is concerned that introducing women to the clergy could weaken celibacy, how could consensual sex between two adults possibly be compared to pedophilia?

JUDAISM, TOO, is not immune. Recent examples of misogyny here include the obsessive segregation of women on buses. In Beit Shemesh and Mea She’arim, supermarkets and the post office have separate hours or queues for men and women. Sometimes this segregation is brutally enforced and the immodest dress of women is blamed for various societal ills.

At the Kotel, women who attempt to pray or carry a Torah scroll are regularly attacked either verbally or physically. The May 2003 High Court ruling that forbids women to read from the Torah or to lead prayer groups at the Kotel is based on a “blame the victim” reasoning that such activity is liable to incite (male) violence.

Therefore, due to the inability of police to ensure their safety, women should be prevented from engaging in such activity.

The French parliament’s vote last week to ban full-length veils in public places is a commendable move to curb misogynistic religious extremism that clashes with liberal sensibilities. When possible, a “responsible adult” in the form of secular, level-headed legislators needs to step in and stop the insanity. This is especially true when moderate religious elements that undoubtedly exist in Islam, Catholicism and Judaism are either unwilling or unable to stem the tide of extremism.

Sadly, women in Gaza and Iran will continue to suffer for the foreseeable future. And there are no signs of change in the Catholic Church. But perhaps Israel can learn something from the French and protect the right of women to pray at the Kotel.

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