Feminism died more than two decades ago but still the backlash against women continues. It comes from various quarters. There is a gradual push of extreme Islamic beliefs into the Western culture by Muslim clerics and some immigrants. There are also those already within the Western culture (the conservatives and extreme Right) who welcome Islam’s rigid patriarchal beliefs because it heralds the return of women’s subjugated role.
Feminism conveyed the message that women throughout history have been considered the weaker sex. It was feminism that alerted us to the reality that women are only perceived to be weaker because patriarchy serves to enforce these stereotypes. Feminism also taught that in order to maintain patriarchy men have to have control over women’s reproductive sex. Today, this happens less by stealth and more by discursive means. Men still try to make women feel obligated to fulfil men’s sexual needs and this is best achieved by regulating women’s sexuality. It might be argued that the pill and abortion have liberated women. However, in a highly sexualised society women cannot freely express their sexuality unless it panders to male desires. This translates into the sexual availability of women rather than the controllability of men’s’ instincts.
Women's sexuality and the jihad
Even before the Sexual Revolution in the West Islamic men had difficultly accepting the overt sexuality of Western women. When Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian intellectual visited America in 1948 he had two major problems, race and sex. America was full of racial tensions at the time but the most threatening aspect of American society for the Egyptian was the sexuality of American women.
When Qutb went back to Egypt he was opposed to Egypt becoming like the Western liberal state. His protests saw him arrested and thrown in prison. There he wrote a book Ma’alim fi-l-Tariq, which means “milestones”. This is the manifesto that Al-Zawahri, bin Laden and all jihadist leaders read. It calls for a vanguard of Muslim youth to mobilise and purify Islam. Qutb was hanged in 1966 and Al-Zawahri started a cell to bring down the Egyptian government. He later formed a partnership with Osama bin Laden and shifted his attention to spreading Jihad - including women’s subjugation - worldwide.
We do not notice the slow indoctrination of social roles, only the public outcries. First, we had the nation’s most senior Muslim cleric Sydney-based Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali blame “immodestly dressed women who don’t wear Islamic headdress for being preyed on by men”. He likened them to “abandoned meat” that attracts voracious animals.
In a Ramadan sermon the Sheik also alluded to the infamous Sydney gang rapes. These attacks took place on four women for which a group of young Lebanese men received long prison sentences. The Sheik suggested the attackers were not entirely to blame. He said “there were women” that “sway suggestively” and “wore make-up and immodest dress” then he went on to ask, “then you get a judge without mercy [rahma]” who “gives you 65 years … but the problem all began with who?”.
He elaborates to force home his point:
“if you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat?”
Not long after this outrageous outburst Islamic cleric Samir Abu Hamza of Melbourne asserted that it is permissible for a husband to beat and rape his wife. Women should submit to their husbands and meet their husband’s needs.
It is not only religious leaders shaping community attitudes towards women. More recently, sexologist Bettina Arndt has been telling women they should negotiate sexual consent. Arndt has always tried to say that “no” does not mean “no”, when it comes to sex. She believes “no” is just a “come-on” and women really want the sex. Now, in her book The Sex Diaries (2009) she effectively tells women who are unwilling to succumb to their husband’s sexual demands to put up it.
This harks back to another misogynist chorus, “if you don’t want sex there is something wrong with you; it must be that you are ‘sick’; or ‘mad’ or a lesbian”. This is what writer Ben Pobjie says of Bettina:
“… if men want to persuade women to engage in sexual intercourse with them, they are fighting a losing battle. Which is why it’s such a blessed relief that Bettina Arndt has, yet again, come to the rescue to solve the problems of the ordinary male.”
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