It is very important to study and understand the feminist movement because it claims to represent the emancipation and welfare of women in these times. A need to appraise its logic, practical implications and viability is required, all of which will be addressed in this chapter.
The word “feminism” itself is very subjective and has been used indiscriminately, which has led to a certain measure of confusion and the existence of several definitions. Among the current definitions of feminism are:
- Any groups that have tried to change the position of women, or the ideas about women, have been granted the title of feminist.
- A doctrine advocating social and political rights equal to those of men.
- Feminism means we seek for women the same opportunities and privileges that society gives to men, or that we assert the distinctive value of womanhood against patriarchal denigration. While these positions need not be mutually exclusive, there is a strong tendency to make them so. Either we want to be like men or we don’t.
- Feminists must not only work towards the elimination of male privileges but the sex distinction itself; genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally. The tyranny of the biological family would be broken and with it the psychology of power.
The emergence of feminism in the West was mainly due to the dual standards of law in favour of men, which were based on the teachings of Christianity. The earliest feminist campaigners demanded an end to the double standard of sexual morality,l but this did not mean that they sought an overall lowering of moral standards: the early feminists saw chastity not as oppressive, but as both natural and necessary.
Until fairly recently, Western political systems were open to men only (and there were restrictions on precisely which men were allowed to take part, namely socio-economic class). Women had no say whatsoever. The suffragettes campaigned for women’s rights to vote and participate in the political process.
As late as the nineteenth century, oppressive marriage laws were still restricting women about earnings. In the event of a divorce, women were further humiliated by being denied access to their children and being cut off from any source of maintenance. The divorce laws were heavily biased in favour of men.
The development of the factory system drew women out of the home, and the oppression perpetrated by employers who saw women as cheap labour led to the emergence of a women’s movement that demanded equal pay and fair treatment. The struggle for equal pay lasted ostensibly until 1975 when a law was finally passed in Britain. However, as women are still being exploited in the workplace, and it is not unknown for women to be paid less than men for the same work, the struggle is not yet over.
The existence of all these oppressive laws and practices led to women coming together to demand equal rights and justice. However, as time passed, capitalism and men in positions of power diverted Western women onto a different track. The early feminists’ attack on injustice evolved into a movement in which women looked at and accused themselves. So what began with a struggle to change society’s (in most cases, men’s) attitudes and laws ended up changing women, arguably to the delight of men.
The feminist movement has become an academic quagmire which has spawned nearly a dozen schools of thought. These may be grouped under the headings of Marxist (or Socialist), Liberal, Sexual and Radical feminism. These will be examined and their theories and practical implications discussed.
The socialist or Marxist tradition has its roots in the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. However, the idea of socialism predates both and had already been in circulation among philosophers, economists and politicians. The thought of Marx and Engels is exemplified in the following quotation:
“As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. Hence individuals depend on the material conditions of their production”.’
Marx’s concept of labour and value may be summarised as follows: The value and power of labour contained within this product can be realized only if others want the commodity – if it has an exchange value in the marketplace. In return for such productive labour, the worker receives a wage, which has within it two components – one a measure of profit or the surplus value appropriated by the capitalist, and the other, the product of necessary labour, is used by the workers to sustain themselves, their family and the next generation. Marx’s depiction of capitalism includes a further class, a group which is only tenuously linked to the production process at any given time: the unemployed, the immigrant workers, and the women (italics mine). This group comprises various parts of the reserve army of labour ready to be mobilised when production needs to be expanded rapidly and then demobilised during times of recession.
The Marxist theory emphasises the idea that what makes us human is the fact that we produce our means of subsistence. We are what we are because of what we do or, more specifically, what we do to meet our basic needs in productive activities. What is distinctive about Marxist feminism is that it invites every woman, whether proletarian or bourgeois, to understand women’s oppression not so much as the result of the intentional actions of individuals, but as the product of the political, social and economic structures associated with capitalism.
Before the introduction of industrial capitalism, the family or household was the site of production. Parents, children and relatives all worked together to produce whatever was needed for the family’s survival. Women’s work – planting, preserving, canning, cooking, weaving, sewing, childbearing and childrearing – was as essential to the economic activity and success of the family unit as was the work of men. But with industrialisation and the transfer of production from the home to the factory or other public workplace, women who for the most part did not enter the public workplace, at least in the beginning- came to be viewed as “non-productive,” in contrast to “productive” wage earning men.
This is Engels’ theory of the cause of women’s inferior status, which he blamed on the capitalist system, the family and marriage. To bring about an end to the oppression of women, Engels proposed extending legal equality to women and then introducing them en masse to the workplace. Such a move would be a prelude to the alliance of all women with the working class to socialise the means of production, abolish private property, and usher in an age of monogamous sexual love.
It was thought that women’s primary oppression lay in their role as unpaid domestic workers. This analysis implies that the benefits to male wage earners directly offset the disadvantage inherent in their class position. This points to one solution: the abolition of housework as it is now known.
What angered Marxist women most about women under capitalism was the trivialization of women’s work. Women were increasingly regarded as mere consumers as if the role of men was to earn wages and that of women was simply to spend them on “the right products of capitalist industry”.
A prominent Marxist feminist, Benston concluded that unless a woman is freed from her heavy burden of domestic duty, including child care, her entrance into the workforce will be a step away from, rather than towards, liberation. Marxist women, therefore, worked towards moving the women onto the factory work floor and towards earning a living of their own, as a means of proving independence and equality. Another socialist, Warrior, argued that in general, males benefit from women’s labour and capitalist males benefit twice. Women are the source of all labour in that they are the producers of all labourers. Their labour creates the first commodity, male and female labourers, who in turn create all other commodities and products. Men, as the ruling class, profit from this commodity through their labour. The male capitalist class makes a profit when it buys this labour power and then receives the surplus value of its visible economic production.
Marxist feminists believe that all women in the capitalist system are subordinate. Middle-class women are subordinated in general to the men with whom they live and work, but as members of the middle class, they enjoy material and social advantages over both male and female members of the working class. Working class women, on the other hand, bear the dual burden of their subordinate gender and class identities. In the family, as wives and mothers, they are the principal reproducers of the labour-power from which capitalism extracts its surplus, for which service they receive no payment. In addition, many of them, even mothers with children, are in paid employment, which permits the direct extraction of surplus value, while the wages they earn serve to meet family needs, created in increasing number by capitalism itself, for which the income of the male “breadwinner” no longer suffices.
Yet another theory within Marxist feminism suggests that it is not childbearing, physical weakness or any other presumed biologically determined differences that are the basis of women’s subordination in capitalist societies; it is the social allocation to women of responsibility for children. The obstacles to changing this connection lie in the capitalist system of production.
In Capitalism, the family and personal life, Zaretsky3 detailed Marxist feminist theory regarding public/private conceptualisation. She argues that patriarchal ideology is vital in the reproduction of capitalism and further that the illusion of a private sphere wherein one’s “personal life” is conducted is an integral part of this philosophy. This introduces an entirely new factor: the concept of personal life, a subjectivity that is self-consciously seeking personal fulfilment. This had not been a factor in the analyses of non-capitalist modes of production. Indeed, one of Zaretsky’s arguments is that this search is specific to capitalism.
Zaretsky has two main arguments. The first is that the rise of industrial capitalism promoted a new search for personal identity outside the social division of labour. The second is that the expansion of this “personal life” beyond the place of work created a new basis for women’s oppression since the responsibility for maintaining a refuge from an impersonal society was given to women, or at least to wives and mothers.
Zaretsky traces the particular process of the proletarianization of the pett) the bourgeoisie, which gave rise to a need for a search for personal identity outside the sphere of work. This became increasingly so as capitalism required a rationalised labour process undisturbed by community sentiment, family responsibilities, personal relations and feelings.
In 1973, Vogel introduced an idea that represented a shift from the original Marxist understanding of domestic work. Vogel wrote: “In short, domestic labour is neither productive nor unproductive… Women’s productive activity in the family does not fall under the capitalist mode of production strictly defined. The common characteristic of women, that of being domestic labourers is significant. Thus women who perform domestic labour form a group whose labour is appropriated distinctly in a capitalist society, in a mode of production whose social relations differ from those of capitalist production. This means that an autonomous women’s movement is necessary to represent the oppression which women share as domestic labourers”.
What Marxist feminists have tried to highlight is how women’s domestic work is trivialised in comparison with wage-earning work, and how women are given the most boring and low-paying jobs.
Dallas Costa published the article ‘The Power of Woman and the Subversion of the Community (1973) which carried an introduction by Selma James and made the unorthodox Marxist claim that women’s domestic work is productive not in the colloquial sense of being “useful” but in the strict Marxist sense of creating surplus value. No women have to enter the productive labour force, for all women are already in it, even if no one recognises the fact. Women’s work is the necessary condition for all other labour, from which in turn, surplus value is extracted. By providing current (and future) workers not only with food and clothes but also with emotional and domestic comfort, women keep the cogs of the capitalist machine running.
Given the view of women’s domestic work as productive work, a “wages for housework” campaign painted a picture of women who enter the public workplace as carrying a double load which meant that the day started with paid, recognised work on the assembly line and ended with unpaid, unrecognised work at home. The way to end this inequity, suggested Costa and James, is for women to demand wages for housework. They proposed that the state – not individual men (fathers, husbands) – should pay wages to housewives.
The practical application of Marxism has itself dealt the death blow to its theories, for if Marxism truly intended to save women from oppression, then the people of the Eastern bloc countries would not have risen up as they did in recent years. The failure of Marxism in Eastern Europe is sufficient proof against this theory. However, we should also look at some of the practical issues:
- Wages for housework is an idea that is neither feasible nor desirable as a strategy for the liberation of women. It is not feasible because if the state pays wages to housewives, it will only do so in a way that preserves its own interests. The state would most likely impose a special tax on married men, which would be used to pay wages to their wives. Depending on how large a bite was thus taken out of the husband’s income – and there is reason to believe that it would be a hefty sum – the wife’s pay cheque would most likely represent nothing more than a rise in status, as there would be no real rise in the family’s real income. The housewife’s pay cheque would have the further, undesirable, effect of imprisoning women in the home.
- To regard childbirth as the production of people to be evaluated as a financial asset is a failure to understand and appreciate the value of human beings. In chapter III, we saw numerous ayat of the Qur’an and ahadith which indicate the higher status of the female due to her gender and unique ability to bring forth and nurture children. Islam has elevated women beyond the narrow, worldly concerns of the workplace and earning a wage, and has decreed that her production and nurturing of children gives her a status that equals, if not exceeds, that of men. If Allah and His Prophet have told us that the value of a mother is even greater than that of a father, then the status of motherhood must be reinstated to its proper, elevated position.
- The underlying Marxist theory assumes equality between individuals in terms of financial independence: people are only equal if they earn independently to support themselves. Far from liberating women, Marxism has in fact served the interests of the bosses by supplying them with a surplus of workers which makes it easy for them to demand cheap labour. Real-life experience has shown that few who do get financial independence have gained it by sacrificing their own physical and mental health. However, the majority have become the victims of rather than the winners of society. From Chapter II we can deduce the ills befalling women in the non-Islamic societies of today.
- Zaretsky suggests that the family is seen as not only a haven for men but also the arena for the personal fulfilment of fathers and husbands, this can only happen at the expense of mothers and wives.’ This view is contrary to Islamic teachings, which advocate the family as a place where both man and woman obtain serenity and peace. The family thus is the arena which provides both partners with personal fulfilment and protection.
- The assumption that child-care duties in the home form the basis of oppression imply a need to create communal nurseries, canteens and sleeping quarters. Feminists have falsely assumed that all women would rather be on the shop floor or in the office than spend time with their children. In fact, it is highly improbable that women would like to be whisked straight from the labour ward to the factory floor, thus losing the opportunity to nurture their infants. As far as communal living is concerned, there are not many people who would willingly exchange their privacy and personal space for an open kibbutz-style life. Another consideration is that in a communal environment, it would no doubt be the women who would be employed to take care of the nurseries and canteens, no doubt at unsociable hours and with the lowest status in the hierarchy of roles. (This is in fact the case in many Israeli kibbutzim where women tend to be stuck with the menial tasks and childcare whilst the more interesting and prestigious jobs go to the men).
It may be argued that to expect the state or commune to take care of children is absurd. Since parents choose to have children, they should take the responsibility for their upbringing. If we think of children as valued possessions, we should not say that it is unfair that a family of four should live on the same income as a family of two: we should say that one couple chooses to spend its income on children, whilst the other chooses to spend its money on holidays or furniture. There is no justification for expecting the state to care for children. In a capitalist system, money has become the reward for everything. The feminists have lowered women’s value by demanding financial compensation for an asset which they should be proud of.
The Marxist theory appears to have little room for questions that deal directly with women’s reproductive and sexual concerns: contraception, sterilisation, abortion, pornography, prostitution, rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence.
Marxist feminists try to retain their loyalty to both socialism and feminism. Consequently, they continue to give priority to the issue of class, although – unlike orthodox socialists – they no longer see feminism as a necessary consequence of a socialist victory.4 They agree, however, that feminism without socialism is impossible (Mitchell, 1971) and for this reason, if no other, the struggle for socialism is given prominence. At the same time, these women find that they can only do so by means of what amounts to a very radical critique of orthodox Maviews on the position of women.
If the oppression of women is based on the economic and legal power that men have over them, and if that power is class-based, then it follows that abolishing private property and socialising production destroys the economic foundation of women’s position.’ However, the experience of socialist countries has been used to question this logic. Women under Marxist regimes throughout the world have been the unfortunate victims of oppression in the home, the workplace and in the educational and political spheres. As far as the liberation of women goes, Marxism has offered nothing more than the illusion of justice.
Liberal feminists see working towards the elimination of the differences between the sexes as the first step towards true equality.
Modern liberal feminist theories of gender equality are based on the assumption that in order to achieve equal status, all stereotyped social roles for men and women have to be abolished. Conventional women’s work roles assign to them the major responsibility for unpaid domestic work, especially childcare, and thus handicap them with regard to their occupational roles. Despite the legal rights of women to equality in employment, men use women’s actual or presumed domestic handicaps to perpetuate de facto discrimination by forcing women into a small number of occupational roles that are segregated according to labour market types and working time schedules, and that have lower pay and prestige than comparable men’s occupations. Employed women’s lower income is used as a justification for the perpetuation of their unequal burden of domestic and childcare work and their inferior power in the family. Their segregated and inferior roles also hinder their acquisition of economic and political power. It is in the interests of men of all strata to use the unpaid domestic services of women and prevent women from competing with them for better jobs.
Liberal feminists seek to create an androgynous individual, that is an individual which would combine some of each of the characteristics, traits, skills and interests that are now stereotypically associated with either men or women. Another goal of liberal feminists is sexual equality or gender justice, which means freeing women from oppressive roles and enabling them to rise above their lower (or non-existent) position in academia and in the workplace.
These aims raise immediate questions: should women become like men in order to be equal to men? Or should men become like women in order to be equal to women? Or should both men and women lose their identities and become androgynous, each person combining the “correct” blend of positive masculine and feminine characteristics in order to be equal with every other person? The problems thus raised are phenomenal.
It is impossible to create an androgynous individual because of the physical, anatomical, biochemical and physiological differences between the sexes. Another point, made by Ann Ferguson, is that it may not even be desirable for people to be socialised to develop the potential for androgyny. The complete elimination of gender differences raises major legal and economic issues. For example, if a woman is allowed to take six months off work following childbirth, should not the equal male be allowed the same time off to spend time with his new baby? If men and women have the same intellectual capacity and reasoning skills, then surely there is no particular need for female philosophers: men can point out inequities and suggest reforms just as effectively as women.
Liberal feminists seek to prove that women are as good as men. But we may ask: why is this necessary? Why should women have to be like males before they are deemed equal? The direction taken by liberal feminists is destroying the very essence that makes women special.
The oppressive roles from which liberal feminists seek to free women are not confined only to females. The immigrant population, male and female alike, are the worst victims of oppression; but even Caucasian males may be discriminated against in the case of jobs such as child-care and secretarial work, which are “reserved” for females. No doubt women suffer more than men, but they cannot be seen as unique when ethnic minorities and immigrants in the Western world are also suffering oppression. The roots of this inequity lie in capitalism and its need to seek cheap labour in order to increase returns on investment.
Elshtain, a critic of liberal feminism, states that “there is no way to create real communities out of an aggregate of freely choosing adults”. She argues that liberal feminists have over-emphasised the male up to the point of equating masculinity with humanity, manly virtues with human virtues. She argues that liberal feminism has three major flaws: the assumption that women can become like men if they set their minds to it, the notion that all women want to become like men, and the claim that all women should want to become like men and to aspire to masculine values.
Liberal feminism has a tendency to overestimate the number of women who want to be like men, who want to abandon the role of wife and mother for that of citizen and worker. Any woman whose identity is that of a wife and mother is likely to become angry or depressed when, after years of investing blood, sweat and tears, she is told that being a wife or a mother is a mere role and a problematic one at that. It is one thing to tell a woman to change her hairstyle; it is something else altogether to tell her that she should get a more meaningful identity.
A profound statement by Elshtain states that liberal feminists are wrong to advocate that women should reject traditional values. Articles are written for women about dressing for success, making it in a man’s world, being careful not to cry in public, avoiding intimate friendships, being assertive, and playing hardball serve only to erode what after all may be best about women. It is wrong to assume that women must be the same as men in order to be socially, economically or politically equal. In fact, the sexes can be different, carry out different tasks, and still be equal on all these levels.
From the Islamic point of view, there is no room for entertaining a desire to create androgynous individuals. If the Creator had intended this for us, He could have created us as asexual beings who would reproduce like the hydra. However, the issue of oppression of others on the basis of their sex or skin colour still needs to be addressed. Equal opportunities and equal pay must be implemented for all, without bias. Laws should be instituted that would guarantee such equality, whilst taking into account any physical differences and ruling in favour of the weaker individuals. As stated earlier, the Qur’an tells us that Allah has assigned to the male his duties and to the female hers. The Prophet is reported to have said: “Allah’s curse is upon those men who imitate women and those women who imitate men”.
The New York Feminist Manifesto of 1971 declares:4
“Radical feminism recognises the oppression of women as fundamental political oppression wherein women are categorised as an inferior class based upon their sex. It is the aim of radical feminism to organise politically to destroy this sex class system. As radical feminists, we recognise that we are engaged in a power struggle with men and that the agent of our oppression is a man in so far as he is identified with and carries out the supremacy privileges of the male role. For while we realise that the liberation of women will ultimately mean the liberation of men from their destructive role as oppressors, we have no illusions that men will welcome this liberation without struggle. Radical feminism is political because it recognises that a group of individuals – men · have set up institutions throughout society to maintain this power”.
Radical, or extreme, feminism regards men as evil, benefiting from their power over women in every way, from ego-satisfaction, economic and domestic exploitation, sexual domination and political power.
Many radical feminists argue that in order to make a complete commitment to feminism, a woman has to be or become a lesbian. A leading radical feminist, Bunch believed that only lesbians can be serious feminists and that lesbianism is best understood as a revolutionary rejection of all males and male-defined institutions.
Adrienne Rich suggested that compulsory heterosexuality is the central social structure perpetuating male domination.3 A refusal of heterosexuality acts as an underground feminist resistance to patriarchy. She defines a lesbian as a woman bonded primarily to women who is sexually and emotionally independent of men.
Rich’s “lesbian continuum” proposes that all women are lesbians, insofar as they want to identify with other women. She makes two basic assumptions in her defence of the lesbian continuum as a construct for understanding female resistance to patriarchy. First, she assumes that compulsory heterosexuality is the key mechanism underlying and perpetuating male dominance; second, she implies that all heterosexual relations are coercive in nature. Radical feminists allege that marriage is at the root of women’s subjection to men because, through it, men control both a woman’s reproduction and her person. Marriage is thus seen as slavery for women, without the abolition of which freedom for women cannot be won. A prominent feminist philosopher, De Beauvoir stated, “Women pay for their happiness with their freedom”. She insisted that this price is too high for anyone because the kind of contentment, tranquillity and security that marriage offers a woman drains her soul of its capacity for greatness.l
The effect of removing men from the scene altogether is not only weakening the traditional male/female tie, if not destroying it altogether, but the bond between father and child is eliminated. Meanwhile, the tendency for men to become merely temporary sexual partners and to lose their parental role increases. Instead of making men responsible and share in the duties of nurturing children, women are inadvertently freeing men of all responsibilities, no doubt to the great delight of capricious men.
Radical feminism’s main aim is the destruction of patriarchy, which Ruth Blair defines as: “the historic system of male dominance, a system committed to the maintenance and reinforcement of male hegemony in all aspects of life – personal and private privilege and power as well as public privilege and power”.
Gerder Lerner defines it more clearly:
“Patriarchy means the manifestation and institutionalisation of male dominance over women and children in the family and the extension of male dominance over women in society in general..”.
Patriarchy is a system of structures and institutions created by men in order to sustain and recreate male power and female subordination. Such structures include institutions such as law, religion and the family; ideologies which perpetuate the naturally inferior position of women; socialisation processes which ensure that women and men develop behaviour and belief systems appropriate to the powerful or power group to which they belong.
Patriarchy also has a materialistic base the economic systems are structured so that women have difficulty getting paid labour in a society which values only paid labour and in which money is the currency of power. Women without economic independence cannot sustain themselves without a breadwinner: they cannot leave a brutal husband, they cannot withdraw sexual, emotional and physical servicing from men, and they cannot have an equal say in decisions affecting their own lives, such as where they might live. Radical feminism has therefore stressed the necessity of women exercising economic power in their own lives.
Charlotte Buch has emphasised the importance of class analysis in radical feminism. In her words:
“Women’s oppression is rooted both in the structure of our society, which is patriarchal and in the sons of patriarchy: capitalism and white supremacy. Patriarchy includes not only male rule but also heterosexual imperialism and sexism; patriarchy led to the development of white supremacy and capitalism. For me, the term patriarchy refers to all these forms of oppression and domination, all of which must be ended before all women will be free”.
Arguments from within the feminist group state that absolute separatism from men is neither feasible nor desirable. It is not desirable because “women will destroy patriarchy by confronting it, not by isolating themselves from it”.
One of the first radical feminists to gain prominence was Shulamith Firestone, who wrote:
“The end goal of feminist revolution must be not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself. Genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally. The tyranny of the biological family would be broken and with it the psychology of power”.
For Firestone, it is from sexual differences that women’s subordination sprang, in part, as reproductive biology condemned women to a fearful existence of bearing children, to be oppressed, in squalor and in pain. Firestone states: “Nature produced the fundamental inequality which was later consolidated and institutionalised in the interests of men”. In this account, the reproductive bond is not even remotely pleasing; it is wretched. Firestone then draws the logical conclusion to such an opinion she proposes freeing women from their long ordeal by means of changes in reproductive technology that would allow women to avoid pregnancy and childbirth just as is happening now:
“Until the taboo is lifted until the decision not to have children or not to have them naturally is at least as legitimate as natural childbearing, women are being forced into their female roles”.
Therefore, according to this way of thinking, women must rebel. Women must control fertility. Women must own their bodies and new technology. Above all, women must control childbirth and childrearing. In Firestone’s view, this “natural” inequality can only be overcome when there is a complete separation of reproduction from women’s lives so that women and men are made equal through technological innovations. Technology that will allow artificial reproduction outside women’s bodies must be developed.
Whilst some radical feminists like Firestone want to free women from biological maternity, there is another version of feminism that wants to free maternity from male domination. This thesis describes and deplores the transfer of maternity care from women (midwives) to men (male obstetricians) that has occurred in the West over the past century or so. This liberation of maternity from male domination entails the return of childbirth to the care of women themselves, but for many feminists, it also includes the progressive removal of the rights and duties of fatherhood.
If men in themselves were the enemy, as many radical feminists believe, then the solution could well come to be the abolition not only of marriage or even of the family, but of men themselves, whether by their exclusion from women’s society or by more extreme means. It is not likely that many women in the movement envisaged the physical destruction of men, and certainly, it is difficult to see this as a practical possibility.
Many feminist theories suggest that men have conditioned women and have taken control of them. Feminists thus ignore the views of the majority of women by assuming that women have let their minds be manipulated by men and are not capable of deciding what is best for themselves. But if feminists believe that women are weak and stupid enough to be conditioned by men, then it follows that if women follow their ideologies, then they have merely exchanged one type of coercion for another.
Feminists object to the allocation of gender roles and complain that men and women are expected to do different sorts of work solely on the basis of their sex. But if, like the feminists, we go to the extreme of assuming that we have not rid ourselves of tyranny until men and women are doing the same sort of work, we risk a different problem, that of forcing them to do the same things although the majority may have the inclination to do different things.
Feminists object to sexism although the majority of people see gender as relevant. When there are fewer women in certain positions on the career ladder, it is the feminists who are quick to point out sex differences.
Firestone’s suggestion that reproduction must take place outside of women’s bodies before women are liberated is senseless. If any advances in “test tube” reproduction are made, the technology will no doubt be under the control of males. It is true to say that radical feminism is not practical and would not survive for long if it were implemented: If heterosexuality were halted, this would prevent the production of a new generation and the human race would come to an end. Some might suggest that children could be produced by means of artificial insemination or cloning. For women to totally succeed in this they will no doubt be confronted by men, who will rightly fight for their survival. It cannot be envisaged even by the most ardent feminist, that the battle of sexes should lead to the battle herds of war. It is in fact absurd to regard men as the core of evil because there is no real benefit for men as a whole in suppressing women. Men have to co-habit with women, and most sane human beings of either gender would prefer to live in peace and harmony with their spouses, the “battle of the sexes” makes no sense at all.
Research has shown that the majority of lesbians go under the banner of feminism and that they represent around 10% of active feminists.” In this case, it appears that some women have used feminism as a guise to fulfil their deviant sexual desires. Homosexuality is completely forbidden in Islam, and there is no room for “gay” religious movements such as those that have emerged in Christianity. Homosexuality represents something which is at odds with the natural order and endangers the stability of human society.
Would you really approach men in your lusts rather than women? Nay, you are a people (grossly) ignorant!
The Qur’anic view (which, by the way, coincides with that of the Bible, e.g. Leviticus 20:13) is that homosexuality is an abomination and that those who indulge in it are “committing excesses”. This includes both male and female homosexuals, or “gays” and “lesbians” as they are known.
Radical feminists assume that all marital relations are coercive. This undermines women and implies that they are not capable of taking care of themselves, but need a “big sister” in an ivory tower to think for them. Radical feminism gives women less credit than they deserve.
To propagate a complete ban on marriage would throw the world into disarray. Even if all individuals did not become homosexuals, we would find ourselves in a completely promiscuous society. An individual is not always attracted to a person who likes him or her, so with no moral restraints, those who are physically, economically and socially strong would fulfil their carnal desires at the expense of the weak. Incest and paedophilia would become rife. It would be a nightmarish society in which exploitation of women would be the order of the day.
Most of those who have examined the development of radical feminism are agreed that it has been seriously weakened by internal disputes, by its lack of formal structure, and by the inherent weaknesses of its theories. Its heyday was in the late 1960s, but since the 1970s it has fallen into a decline with its most committed followers retreating into communes where they could practice no more than a kind of personal redemption.
Mitchell suggested that women’s status and function are jointly determined by their role in production, reproduction and the socialisation of children and sexuality.
To determine which of these factors most oppress women, Mitchell came to the conclusion that women are making progress only in the area of sexuality. Taken to extremes, sexual liberation becomes merely another form of sexual oppression. In the past, women were condemned for being whores; now they are condemned for being virgins. Curiously, a British newspaper report on female converts to Islam asked “Why are British women funding true sexual freedom in Islam”? This sensationalist piece of rhetoric turned out to refer to the refreshing freedom from the sexual pressure which is so prevalent in Western society.
Not everyone concerned with human liberation welcomed the liberation of sexuality. Marxist philosophers argued that it was a device to distract people from more serious political and economical oppression. Other feminists said that the liberation of female sexuality brought a reinforcement of the image of creatures of a separate and powerless sphere. The Victorian stereotype of feminine purity at least had the merit of rendering women special in the eyes of men. In the pursuit of equality and freedom, even this dubious moral advantage was lost, and the way was opened for a new and less advantageous stereotype. It was no accident that the most ardent supporters of the “playboy” style of sexual liberation were men!
A woman may say that she diets, exercises and dresses for herself, but in reality, she is most likely to be shaping and adorning her body for the benefit of men. A woman has little or no say about where, when, how or by whom her body will be used, because it can be appropriated through acts that range from standing on the corner “watching all the girls go by” to the extreme of rape. In contrast, women’s progress in the area of reproduction, production and socialising of children has, according to Mitchell, ground to a halt.
Islam finds the whole idea of promoting sex for pleasure to be totally distasteful – as do many rational individuals who live in the West. Casual approaches to sex, such as “cruising” or using pornography are identified as being male-oriented since they focus on sex for physical pleasure rather than as a means of deepening emotional intimacy and affection.4 Seeking sex only for physical pleasure is dehumanising because it treats people only as sexual objects and fails to tap the potential of the act for a deeper meaning, which is an intimate knowledge of and commitment to another human being.
The feminist drive towards sexual liberation has had catastrophic consequences for women’s social status. As we have already seen in Chapter II, the push for women’s equality in the West has been accompanied by an increase among females of all the vices formerly associated with men. Alcoholism, smoking, gambling and criminal activity have all increased and are as likely to be found among females as among males. In early 1996, it was announced that the female prison population in the UK had increased by 30% in the previous year alone.
For many women, their new “freedom” has brought dismal experiences of exploitation, abandonment by men, abortions, financial hardships, single parenthood and isolation. The sexual liberation movement has resulted in increased social, financial, health and economic hardship. Overall greater sexual freedom is being acknowledged as working in favour of men rather than women.
All branches of feminism have their shortcomings, and the movement has essentially failed to address issues facing all women throughout the world. Marxist theory has ignored the issues of oppression of women via pornography, prostitution and sexual harassment. Radical feminism has only served the interests of a few women living in Western suburbia, and its theories are inherently weak, as has been shown. Sexual feminism has only served to whet male appetites and has plunged the women of the West into the worst form of oppression since the Jahiliyyah. The failure of feminist ideologies to truly liberate women should come as no surprise since these are based on theories which have been devised by humans for humans: as such they will undoubtedly contain factors that will please some, displease others, and ignore the majority. The solutions to human problems can only come from the Creator of humans. It is to Him that we must turn, and it is in His teachings alone that we will find true liberty for all human beings.
The feminists have given women laws against sexual discrimination and equal opportunities in the fields of education and work, which are undoubtedly deserved and which Islam would certainly condone. However, as feminism succeeded in freeing women from the oppression of law and domesticity, a more sinister form of oppression, in the form of the tyranny of “beauty”, took over. This phenomenon is described by Naomi Wolf as the “beauty myth”.
THE TYRANNY OF “BEAUTY”
The “Rites” of beauty are able to isolate women so well because it is not yet publicly recognised that the devotees of beauty are trapped in anything more serious than fashion and a private distortion of self-image.” The Rites took over women’s minds, in the wake of the women’s movement, because oppression, like nature, abhors a vacuum; they gave back to women what they had lost when faith in God died in the West. The swift spread of this new “religion” was ably assisted by the capitalist industries. Now, rather than being assessed on their personal, intellectual and professional merits, women are judged by their physical attributes. This abhorrent attitude is diametrically opposed to Islam, which directs people’s attention towards an individual’s character by asking them to base their respect on the level of a person’s piety.
Until recently, pornography was only for male consumption. However, the feminists have fallen into the trap that was carefully laid by those who had a vested interest in making women believe it is normal for liberated women to enjoy pornography. Pornography, which never depicts legal, intimate love between married couples, has the pernicious effect of planting notions of the acceptability of adultery, fornication and rape in idle minds. Film, TV and printed media find themselves in direct competition with pornography, which is now the biggest media category worldwide, so the images of women and beauty in those media become more extreme. Incredibly, pornography generates an estimated $7 billion a year, more than the legitimate film and music industries put together. Pornographic films outnumber other genres by three to one. Researchers report that pornography worldwide is becoming increasingly violent 4 and “snuff” movies which record the ordeal of real victims are not uncommon.
Beauty became the currency of exchange and, like money, was highly sought after by women. However, it was more elusive than pound notes or dollar bills, as men kept devaluing the “currency”. There are no universal standards: “beauty” is an imaginary idol created by the Western male, who raises and changes its standards at whim, thereby making it impossible for his mother, sister or daughter to attain it. Women’s beauty has nothing to do with women: it is all about men’s institutions and power. In the West, the man’s right to pass judgement on any woman’s appearance without himself being subjected to scrutiny is regarded as God-given.
As the white middle-class women threw away their aprons and marched out of their front doors in pursuit of liberation, they fell straight into the trap of the capitalist beauty parlour. The capitalist market has manipulated women to spend over $33 billion a year on diet products, $20 billion on cosmetics, $300 million on cosmetic surgery, and over $7 billion on pornography.
The consequent burden of oppression borne by women is immense, of which the following represent only the tip of the iceberg:
- The most obvious effect is the vast amount of time, effort and money which women are expected to devote to their appearance whilst no such demands are made of men.
- The standards that women are expected to attain are impossible because the goalposts are constantly being shifted. The media must take the lion’s share of the blame for this problem.
- At any given time, the standards of beauty are limited and rigid and exclude the majority of ordinary women. Whatever body shape is dictated to be “fashionable,” those whose natural appearance differs from it will never be able to attain it and risk subsequent low self-esteem and depression, etc.
- The fashion industry pressurises women to fight their own natural bodies by undergoing cosmetic surgery, squeezing themselves into tight dresses and skirts, crippling their feet with stiletto-heeled shoes and starving themselves into ill health in the name of dieting.
This is what feminism has achieved, instead of protesting against male demands that women should essentially be sensual and pleasing to men. The feminist movement has found its greatest support among capitalist corporate companies and “playboy” type men.
The demands of the beauty myth are destroying women, morally, psychologically and spiritually. Women need to emancipate themselves from this unjust demand made by a male-driven society. In order to achieve this it is not lobbying or government bills that are needed but a need to revert to a philosophy that frees them from the tyranny of fashion and role models, a philosophy that appreciates a woman for herself and judges her on her character, and not for her beauty or bank balance, a philosophy that will reinstate her personal identity and self-respect. This is to be found only in Islam.
The sociologist Deborah L. Sheppard states:
“Women perceive themselves and other women to be confronting constantly the dualistic experience of being feminine and businesslike at the same time while they do not perceive men experiencing the same contradiction”.
Women are encouraged by advertisers to wear clothes that express their femininity yet maintain business-like looks. By this, they mean women wear clothes that reveal their breasts, thighs and lace-lined lingerie. Women are caught between the conflicting ideals of “businesslike” and “feminine”, and suffer as a result. Over 75% of women experience harassment that they blame on themselves and their poor control over their appearance. Five studies on sexual organisation have found that “a woman’s behaviour is noticed and labelled sexual even if it is not intended as such”. Women’s friendly actions are misinterpreted as sexual.’ This is substantiated by the fact that 38% of men have been found to abuse their power in the workplace to rape women. Islam clearly teaches Muslims to avoid creating or entering such freely-mixed environments in the first place, which prevents such misery and suffering from occurring.
The fashion industry’s dependency on survival by exploiting women can be assessed by the reaction of the industry to John Molloy’s best-seller book, Women’s dress for success, advocating for women to wear a uniform at work. This minor observation made by Molloy led the New York Times Magazine, whose financial survival depends on the advertising revenue of the beauty industry, to publish an article declaring Molloy’s views as passe. Other media, who received a sizeable portion of their advertising funds from the fashion industry quickly followed suit. From all of this, one can understand why Islam, which preaches moderation and simplicity in dress and lifestyle is facing such hostility from the capitalist world.
If working women did not dress up like models, the secret pleasures enjoyed by their male colleagues may decrease. No doubt if women followed Islamic standards of dress and conduct, the incidence of sexual harassment would be negligible and women would be spared a major source of oppression. Above and beyond that women’s character would not be passed on by sexual appeal but her intellect and ability.
From the 60s onwards the fashion industry, with capital growth interest at heart, has used the media to manipulate women in thinking nudity and low weight are an expression of liberation. -Between 1968 and 1972, the number of diet-related articles rose by 70%. Articles on dieting in the popular press soared from 60 in the whole year of 1979 to 66 in the month of January 1980 alone. By 1984,300 diet books were on the shelves of bookstores. The lucrative “transfer of guilt” was achieved just in time.
The paranoia about weight in women begins to appear at a very early age and consequently claims many victims. Anorexia and Bulimia are overwhelmingly female maladies: between 90 and 95%
of sufferers are women. America, which has the greatest number of women who have “made it” in the male world, also leads the world with regard to rates of female Anorexia. The American Anorexia and Bulimia Association states that Anorexia and Bulimia strike one million US women every year. Every year, 150,000 American women die of Anorexia. Brumberg reports that between 5 to 15% of hospitalised anorexics die during treatment, giving this disease one of the highest fatality rates for mental illness.
The UK now has 3.5 million anorexics or bulimics, with 6,000 new cases yearly. Another study of adolescent British girls shows that 1% are now anorexic. According to the women’s press, at least 50% of British women suffer from eating disorders.
As the females began to integrate with the males, in all the spheres, women’s body shape and size began to play a prominent role in an oppressing way to the women. A generation ago, the average model weighed 8% less than the average American woman; today she weighs 23% less.
A 1985 survey showed that 90% of respondents thought they weighed too much. Although today’s girls have inherited the gains of the women’s movement, in terms of personal distress they are no better off. Fifty-three per cent of high school girls are reported to be unhappy with their bodies by age 13, and by age 18, over 78% are dissatisfied. The feminist movement has created the hunger cult which is striking a major blow against women’s fight for equality.
In the West, female bodies have become public property and female “fat” is the subject of intense public debate. Women feel guilty about female fat because they are made to believe that their bodies belong not to them, but to society. Thinness is not a private ascetic but a hunger, a social concession exacted by the community. A cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession with female beauty but an obsession with female subservience.
Women’s images in the media and magazines are glamorised by “retouching” or “computer imaging” so that a 50-year-old woman looks 30 and a 65-year-old looks 45. Bob Ciano, an art director at Life magazine, says that “no picture of a woman goes unretouched… Even a well-known older woman who doesn’t want to be retouched… We still persist in trying to make her look like she’s in her fifties”. The effect of this censorship according to Heyn is clear: “by now readers have no idea what a real woman’s 60-year-old face looks like in print because it’s made to look 45. Worse, 60-year-old readers look in the mirror and think they look too old, because they are comparing themselves to some retouched face smiling back at them from a magazine. Women’s culture is an adulterated, inhibited medium”. How do the values of the West, which hates censorship and believes in a free exchange of ideas, fit in here?
This issue is not trivial. It is about the most fundamental freedoms: the freedom to imagine one’s own future and to be proud of one’s life. Airbrushing age from women’s faces has the same political echo as making black people look white: it is condescending, insulting and offensive. To make women look younger, thinner and more curvaceous is to erase women’s true identity, worth, power and history. This is the most damaging type of oppression and women in the West are slowly waking up to it.3 This is one reason why young educated women in the West have found the sincere teachings of Islam to be so attractive.
Magazines and other media are under pressure to project the idea that looking at one’s age is undesirable because their survival in the capitalist society depends on their advertising revenue. In the US alone, 65 million dollars worth of advertising revenue comes from companies that would go out of business if looking at one’s age was acceptable or desirable.4 It is in the interest of companies that reap wealth from women to make them feel inferior about their bodies. Through the media, the message is hammered in daily. As women spend millions of Pounds and hours worldwide, on ‘beauty’ products and go through dangerous and painful procedures to look the way they have been indoctrinated by the media. If only women wake up to their own worth, which Allah has favoured them with, the companies via the media, will continue to exploit them and the problem is going to escalate.
Young women’s oppression is one story, but as women get older their miseries in the West simply multiply. Old women are not only poorer but they are also neglected, by the state and by their own children. Western culture is such that helpless older people are left out of sight in public nursing homes, and young children are kept out of their parents’ sight in nurseries and daycare centres. The West is rapidly moving towards a system where it is only worth living if you are able to fend for yourself in all aspects. Thus the value of individuals is only measured in terms of supplying society either with surplus labour or beauty. Hence the young who cannot provide the capitalist economy with surplus value and the old who are no longer aesthetically pleasing are excluded from mainstream society and locked away in nurseries and old peoples’ homes respectively. Old age carries such a stigma in the West that adult children may be reluctant to be seen with their ageing and ailing parents in public. The very parents who nursed us and wiped our bottoms when we had no faculty of reasoning have now become a burden. In contrast, Islam urges those who are strong and in good health to take care of the infirm, and specifically makes it a duty upon the children to take care of their ageing parents and not even to speak to them in a loud or angry voice.
Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them but address them, in terms of honour.
[Banu Israil 17: 23]
We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents: In pain did his mother bear him and in pain did she give birth.
(see also Luqman 31.14 quoted earlier and Al Ankabut 29:8, AlAhqaf 46:16, 17, 18)
The average American old woman’s income is half that of an old man’s. In Britain, old women outnumber old men by four to one, and of those twice as many old women as old men rely on income support (government assistance). Signs of ageing are viewed by Western women as a calamity, and women are constantly harangued in the media about the awfulness of wrinkles, grey hair and sagging breasts. The solution offered is beauty parlours and plastic surgery, which is so risky and painful that it may be placed on a par with slavery. Modern cosmetic surgeons have a vested financial interest in a social role for women that require them to feel ugly. The cosmetic surgery industry in the US grosses $300 million annually and is growing at a yearly rate of 10%. Between 200,000 and 1 million American women have had their breasts cut open and sacs of chemical gel implanted.
The effects of feminism have been so devastating that women would do themselves a great favour if they were to abandon it and begin enjoying the pleasures that the Creator has given them. Food is a bounty from Allah from which women may eat what is good for them and enjoy it. Women’s bodies are for themselves, not for public display: they should stop pandering to society’s pleasure and bowing to the demands of the fashion industry. Women should bear the signs of ageing with pride, as marks of seniority and wisdom.
… These are the limits ordained by Allah; so do not transgress them. If any do transgress the limits ordained by Allah, such persons wrong (themselves as well as others).