Third World Feminism
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Politics and Activism

Third World Feminism

Let's have that talk that nobody wants to have.

Third World Feminism
King Khalid Foundation

Patriarchal values lie embedded throughout societies all over the globe, and while it's no secret that the systematic oppression of women is latent throughout almost all cultures, there's a more discreet manifestation that typically plagues underdeveloped countries: the fear of an intelligent woman.

Inherent sexism in developing countries is failing those societies, and they need to acknowledge it. Women make up half the population, and creating an environment like the present, where women can study hard, work hard, and still be treated as less than equal by her own culture, drives the intelligent women either out of the country, or into resigned complacency where progress is near impossible. The whole population needs to come together to support the half that has been historically oppressed (the women) in order for the whole society to make significant progress.

The loss of progressive women holds a society back because without the support of its women, no country can truly move forward. While history so often likes to overlook the roles of women throughout the development of nations, without them, their men wouldn't have been able to do the things they did that history and society does remember. While still strictly confined to gender roles, women nurtured men, fed them, created a clean environment for them, and while this type of behavior was expected of women, the men wouldn't be anywhere without them quietly working. Not only have we provided countless contributions to society (scientifically, medically, socially, etc,) that society seems to sometimes forget that we did, we are also, to reiterate, literally half the population. A population split between liberal and conservative ideologies stands in progressive purgatory, awaiting a tipping point.

That being said, I'm continuously baffled upon meeting a woman who claims she's "not a feminist," and more often than not, those words come from the mouth of a woman privileged enough not to have experienced the real harms of sexism in her life in the way that a woman living in a third world nation does. What's more baffling than this socially oblivious woman, however, is the woman who turns on her own--the woman who reinforces the beliefs of her own oppressors in order to gain their favor. We've all experienced these types of women: women who tear other women down for the sake of appearing better in the eyes of men, but this type of complacent behavior often takes on a new, more serious form in the Middle East, where religion plays a vital role in society, culture, and the origins of the law.

Karl Marx believed religion was the opiate of the masses, but I'm here to tell you religion is the opiate of the ignorant and of the uneducated. Religion itself has a lot of potential to provide fulfilling lifestyles for many different types of people. It can become a source of stress relief and anxiety treatment, and a source of love and peace when used correctly. When presented to ignorant people in a tainted light, it can also be perverted into a weapon, used to manipulate a society into certain ideologies and behaviors. While Islam itself does not teach sexism, the sexist male interpretation of Islam that is so often proliferated does, and this is undeniable.

Presently, sexist traces within Islamic interpretation can be found in pre-dominantly Muslim countries all over the world. Women are constantly compromising their own will for the sake of a man's. Not only this, but violence enacted against women, rape victim-blaming, the double standard on "modesty" as well as pressure to wear a hijab, and being confined to cultural gender roles are all played up under the guise of "God's Will" in Islamic societies.

On the other hand, these practices typically don't inconvenience the men in those societies, and therefore, the men typically support or remain neutral on these matters, allowing the cycle to continue. The man thusly ends up with a pious view of himself without having to go out of his way, while the woman must remained locked in a constant struggle to abide by the standards imposed upon her that will make her a "good Muslim", while simultaneously striving to be valued in society, and to be true to herself. In a culture that strives to uphold a certain level of religious piety, hypocritical behavior breeds as a result; women will start wearing a hijab to gain religious brownie points, people will gossip about others' "sinful" behaviors (especially women's), some couples will rush to marry but their desire to do so will be because they want to have sex (but not want to commit the sin of pre-marital sex) rather than marrying for honest intentions like love and commitment.

From day one, women in this kind of society are conditioned to be complacent, this process is instigated on the sides of both genders, and parenting plays a primary role in perpetuating it. The daughter in this society is expected to listen to her parents, and while obedience can be a good thing, developing a backbone, an ability to say no and set boundaries, and having ideas that disagree with those of your parents are all necessary life skills that are highly discouraged. This stumps the girl's personal growth, as she is increasingly encouraged to partake in a gender-role adhering group-think in which she is not entitled to her own feelings, but instead must adhere to her parents always knowing best. She will be expected to adapt the cultural morals, even if they are inherently sexist. And she will be expected to graduate from a parents know best attitude to a husband knows best attitude. The complacent woman does not question the cultural interpretation of "God's Will", and so fails to question her own oppression in society, until it reaches a head.

As she grows into a woman and starts drawing male attention, expectations of complacency and social slut-shaming are deployed that discourage western-style dating and that prevent a girl from developing healthy expectations in a partner, like the expectation that she should be listened to, thanked, treated fairly, and never abused. This type of shaming also serves to hinder personal exploration and discovery of individual interests in women, an area where men are free to explore. While attending/graduating from college and having a career in this day and age are thankfully not uncommon for women in the Middle East, women are still expected to perform in their same gender roles from bygone eras. They are thusly now expected to educate themselves, have a career, marry a man, raise children and do housework all at the same time. While a college education can open up new thought processes and gates of knowledge for her, societal pressures attempt to continue to hinder women from becoming too empowered in this way. That's when a woman enters dangerous territory and may begin to feel dissatisfied with female treatment, cultural expectations, and the intentions of those reinforcing those ideologies under the cape of religion in her society.

What happens next is that these women who have been conditioned to behave in a harmful way by society grow up and become mothers to more men in society, and the mother's role in his life will affect how her son will grow up to view women, whether she herself believes in feminism or not. If the mother is constantly compromising and objectified by her husband, even if she realizes it and is enraged or otherwise upset by it, the son will likely see these interactions and grow up to believe that he's entitled to objectify women and expect women to compromise for him in the same way, and thusly the cycle continues. In this way, it is up to both men and women alike, working together to break a cycle of harm that is now centuries old.

Now don't get me wrong here, there are beautiful things that I love about my culture that I wouldn't trade for the world. Consider this an act of love, I love my roots, and because I love them I want them to grow and change for the better. Forced female complacency in cultures hinders that culture's own progression by perpetuating not only sexism, but specifically in this case, latent sexism within religious interpretation. The difference between cultural sexism and that of the sexism crystallized within a religion, is that religion is harder to change, and always has been. Islam is a faith rich in beauty, culture and history, but our culture needs to realize that this faith was designed in a certain time and place, and not allowing Islam to evolve and shed its uglier aspects will ultimately keep our culture as a whole from evolving, which it desperately needs to do, and continue doing long after. There are moral politics involved as well as fears, doubts, and pressure involving re-interpreting a faith to make sense in a modern context and allow for positive change, especially Abrahamic religions that are so far embedded into the roots of our cultures and civilization, and which hark upon tradition so heavily. But the longer we wait to push for change, the longer we allow it to calcify into our faith, lives, and culture.

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