Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Two Things

The first is at Pandagon, where Amanda wrote about Huckabee:

McCain has the Republican nomination, but Huckabee’s continuing ability to win certain states is still a major story. Now that he can’t get the nomination and the schadenfreude pleasure is over, it’s time for us to very carefully examine why an out-and-out ayatollah is so fucking popular in this great, modern nation.
That's saying, pretty explicitly, this Christian is so misogynist he's a misogynist as a Muslim.

The other is at The F-Word, a British site. This one probably needs some background. A while back The Archbishop of Canterbury (the head of the Church of England, the official religion of Britain) gave a speech where he discussed the role that Sharia law could take within civil law in the British legal system. If you're interested in what he said I'm guess it's a good idea to read it, rather than a summary, because to say the British Press frothed at the mouth in response to what he said is a vast understatement.* I was shocked at the response on the F-Word. The author of the post said that she wasn't going to comment, because she didn't know much about Sharia law, and then said that she thought this anecdote was relevant:
A few weeks ago, I was chatting to a woman who works in an advocacy role for Muslim women in an area that, quite independently of the Bishop of Rochester, she described as a ‘no-go area’ for non-Muslims. Her clients were women in the process of being sectioned into mental health units in the NHS. This woman, who for obvious reasons begged not to be identified, told me: ‘The men get tired of their wives. Or bored. Or maybe the wife objects to her daughter being forced into a marriage she doesn’t want. Or maybe she starts wearing western clothes.There can be many reasons. The women are sent for asssessment to a hospital. The GP referring them is Muslim. The psychiatrist assessing them is Muslim and male. I have sat in these assessments where the psychiatrist will not look the woman patient in the eye because she is a woman. Can you imagine! A psychiatrist refusing to look his patient in the eye? The woman speaks little or no English. She is sectioned. She is divorced. There are lots of these women in there, locked up in these hospitals. Why don’t you people write about this?’
Posting that story, in the context that she did, implies that the central fact here, is the religion of those involved. It treats these sorts of events as a horror which only occur in another culture. Nothing could be further from the truth. Families with connections to the medical establishment have been able to do all sorts of things to women by claiming they're mad(a famous example is Rosemary Kennedy, but it's not as if she's alone). Why didn't the f-word present this story in that context?

I think it's offensive when white feminists create an 'other', which is the . I think it is a vile misuse of feminism when the other they chose serves imperialist goals, as islamophobia so clearly does.

But I also find it mystifying. Feminist bloggers stare down the vile misogyny of the culture that we live in everyday. I don't understand why any feminist blogger would need to invent an 'other', or how she could escape from the fact that her culture hates her.

* I'm personally too lazy to read what he said. I can see the arguments in favour in allowing people to pick the framework they use to decide civil matters. But I think limiting those choices to frameworks based on different religions prioritises religion in a way that I believe is totally unacceptable. In Britain, (or the US, or NZ) it would also leave all those without religion still suck with a framework that is based on Christianity. I don't think the solution to a legal framework based on one religion is to say 'we'll let other religions have an influence in some parts of that framework'. Although I'm willing to be convinced if people want to argue about that issue in the comments.

10 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:16 pm

    Families with connections to the medical establishment have been able to do all sorts of things to women by claiming they're mad(a famous example is Rosemary Kennedy, but it's not as if she's alone). Why didn't the f-word present this story in that context?

    Could it be because, although the kinds of abuses this lady talks about aren't unique to Muslim communities, it is the Muslim communities where it is mostly taking place right now?

    If I, as an ordinary white Anglo-Saxon male, tried to pack my wife off to a mental hospital without her consent, I don't think I would have very good odds of succeeding - because, believe it or not, my culture frowns on and punishes people who try to do that sort of thing. I certainly wouldn't be able to count on having a sympathetic GP or psychologist- the very idea is laughable. But obviously it's not laughable in all communities.

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  2. I think the controlling of women by making them crazy is often more subtle than it used to be. We like to think we're so much more enlightened than we used to be in terms of mental illness. And of course there are still plenty of people in NZ that get locked up against their will because they don't fit the norms of emotional/mental/behavioural health.


    Maia, I haven't read the detail of the Archbishop's stuff (can't be bothered either) but I do think this is as much about culture as it is about religion. In NZ it's much easier to separate out those things, but I'm not sure that it is in societies where religion still is such a huge part of the culture.


    The thing that I find scarey about the Muslim women and sectioning piece is that if there are no feminists and/or mental health activists within those Muslim communities then nothing will get done and nothing will be able to be done. I hear you that the blog writer could have put that in better context, but I also think that the main point is that no-one with the power and freedom to do so is talking about this in a way that matters.

    I don't know that blog well enough to know if it's part of general islamophobia there, or if such brief posts are the norm, but yeah the more I think about it the more I can see what you mean. At the very least feminists need to be explicit that they're not engaging in vilifying the other, and relate it back to their own culture and lives.

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  3. Hi, so sorry for the completely OT post, but I couldn’t find an email anywhere.

    You’ve been nominated for a Canadian F-word Blog Award (International category)!

    Details (and code for a badge if you like) are at A Creative Revolution. Congratulations and good luck!

    http://www.acreativerevolution.ca/node/596/

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  4. Anonymous1:34 pm

    I think the controlling of women by making them crazy is often more subtle than it used to be.

    It has to be. Mainstream society doesn't accept women being dominated or abused, so the only people who get away with it are those who are able to keep it low-key and out of sight. The exception is in disfunctional communities, where it may be more open.

    We like to think we're so much more enlightened than we used to be in terms of mental illness.

    We definitely are more enlightened than we used to be about mental illness. Compare the mental health institutions of 50 or 100 years ago with those of today. Where would you rather be treated? If there are problems today with society's attitudes toward mental illness, that does not negate the progress which has occurred.

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  5. Anonymous: I'm really happy your culture frowns on and punishes that type of thing. Unfortunately that has not been the experience of myself and many, many other women in recent years and I would hazard a guess in similar places and cultures to yours. (I lived in an overwhelmingly white, "developed", English speaking and largely Christian country and society.)

    Perhaps it is not husbands or fathers that have this treatment forced on us, but let me offer as examples of ways the mental health system does act towards women:
    - being made (through threats and bullying) to take large doses of anti-psychotics which leave you with long term physical and psychological, when in fact your real problem was not psychosis but a quite logical post-traumatic reaction
    - being told that not shaving one's legs is a symptom of psychosis (something which would be laughable in isolation, but really isn't in context)
    - the particularly unpleasant diagnoses of Borderline Personality Disorder - women who are abused get diagnosed with BPD which is something inherently wrong with them, men who are in combat get diagnosed with PTSD which is a treatable response to external problems (of course, most of them are still denied proper treatment, but that's an argument for another day)
    - the use of strip searches, ostensibly to check for self harm, but in practice part of a pattern of manipulation, particularly when targeted at women who have been raped or abused
    - dismissal of women's complaints, either because they're doubly irrational (female and mentally ill, or because they're clearly PMS or just haven't been getting enough lately)
    - anything from presumption of heterosexuality to the pathologisation of anything else

    I'd be an idiot and a liar if I claimed that these issues and others do not affect Muslim women in particular ways (though I suspect a large part of those are not resulting from the views and actions of Muslim men) but I want to hear about that from Muslim women, and if I can go about fighting these problems it's going to be by supporting them in the way they want to be supported, not taking away even more choices from them.

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  6. We definitely are more enlightened than we used to be about mental illness. Compare the mental health institutions of 50 or 100 years ago with those of today. Where would you rather be treated? If there are problems today with society's attitudes toward mental illness, that does not negate the progress which has occurred.


    Anonymous 1:34 PM, I didn't say there haven't been changes. I said that we think we are enlightened now about mental illness, whereas we're not. Modern psychiatric practice will eventually be judged for the barbarism it is. Yes, we are better in some ways at not abusing people who are mentally ill, but that just hides the fact that we abuse them in other ways. We don't have to compare ourselves to the past, we have to compare ourselves to what we are capable of now, and unfortunately that comparison leaves us sorely lacking.

    Further, the history of mental health service provision of the last 15 years in NZ is shameful This is a time when there has been a big move to remove stigma from mental illness, where debate about mental health has been in public and there's been alot of energy put into trying to improve things, but it's also been a time of continuing to devalue people who have mental health issues and to treat them very badly. That bad treatment is often rendered invisible. Look at any hospital service plan and things look great on paper. But mostly it's a load of crap and the reality is something else entirely.


    A, are you in NZ? Do you know if there are any resources on women's current experiences with psych services? I'm familiar with historical resources on women and mental health, but would like to know what work is around now that is in the public domain. Thanks for your post.

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  7. Hi Weka. I am in NZ although I wasn't when effectively all of this took place (I had one incident of the presumption of heterosexuality with an otherwise generally good counsellor, but in the scheme of things that wasn't more than an irritation). I'm not familiar with much current and local - there are some interesting posts on this blog: www.stonesoup.co.nz/ecoqueer/ - it takes some digging to find them, but its well worth it. I'm still figuring out a lot of my own experiences and how to place them in a context.

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  8. Anon, 2:16 If I, as an ordinary white Anglo-Saxon male, tried to pack my wife off to a mental hospital without her consent, I don't think I would have very good odds of succeeding - because, believe it or not, my culture frowns on and punishes people who try to do that sort of thing.

    I have heard of such things happening - here, in NZ. Anecdotal, so I can't give a time frame (though I could perhaps ask the teller).
    I don't think it's frowned on as much as you like to think.

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  9. A, yeah ecoqueer's done some great posts. Her stuff on Ashburn Hall was brilliant, such a pity she had to go through such crap.

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  10. I find it amusing that so many foreigners feel compelled to comment on American Politics without having a clue how our system works or who the candidates are.

    Comparing Huckabee to an Ayatollah is simply absurd. Lumping all Evangelicals together as a monolith is beyond absurd. Claiming that Monolithic product or your imagination has the same collective goal of islamists is beyond the beyond.

    Your "news source" on Huckabee appears to be blog-writer who is certifiably insane. Ever consider using a fact-based rational news organization as an alternative source?

    Huckabee was ELECTED to 5 terms of office as a Governor. Number of agenda items he pushed that could properly be called Theocratic?

    That would be ZERO.

    Number of laws passed that were "more misogynistic" than Sharia?

    Again, ZERO.

    The man has a record. If you're going to comment on him, perhaps you might consider learning a few FACTS about that record.

    A Neutral Observer,

    Michael Cletus Gomer Huckabee Jr.

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