Read Lauryn Oates

Do be sure to read Lauryn Oates’s new article at ur-B&W.

Here’s how it begins:

Foreign Policy has a superb series out now called The Sex Issue. In their own words, here is what it’s about:

When U.S. magazines devote special issues to sex, they are usually of the celebratory variety (see: Esquire, April 2012 edition; Cosmopolitan, every month). Suffice it to say that is not what we had in mind with Foreign Policy’s first-ever Sex Issue, which is dedicated instead to the consideration of how and why sex — in all the various meanings of the word — matters in shaping the world’s politics. Why? In Foreign Policy, the magazine and the subject, sex is too often the missing part of the equation — the part that the policymakers and journalists talk about with each other, but not with their audiences. And what’s the result? Women missing from peace talks and parliaments, sexual abuse and exploitation institutionalized and legalized in too many places on the planet, and a U.S. policy that, whether intentionally or not, all too frequently works to shore up the abusers and perpetuate the marginalization of half of humanity. Women’s bodies are the world’s battleground, the contested terrain on which politics is played out. We can keep ignoring it. For this one issue, we decided not to.

The articles’ criticisms are aimed squarely on the worst offenders in the oppression of women, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as commenting on discriminatory practices elsewhere such as sex-selective abortion in India.

An article by Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy called “Why Do They Hate Us” co-opts the question so often said to be asked by Americans, and asks it as a woman. Eltahawy is particularly forceful in her indictment of the misogyny so prevalent in the Middle East:

Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse.

Eltahawy says not a word of a lie. She tells it like it is, merely describing practices and actions on the part of men towards women that are violent and depraved. When you read such descriptions, free of the sugarcoating so often slathered on by those who squirm at the very idea of criticizing other cultures, you realize just how rare it is to hear the devastating truth.

Read on.


  1. 'Tis Himself says

    Misogyny is widespread throughout the world. It’s rampant here in the First World and gets worse as a country’s or region’s economic conditions worsen.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    I have never read an article in Foreign Policy* about a subject I knew little of without feeling I was learning something valuable; nor have I ever read one about a subject I knew something of without feeling lied to by selective omission.

    The piece that made me given up on them was a cover story back in the Dubious administration, purportedly addressing the question of religious influence in Bush-Cheney policy. The conclusion was there no such effect – but the issues of birth control, abortion, etc, were thoroughly ignored in favor of “serious” concerns.

    It will take a lot more than one issue for FP to correct its years of calculated neglect.

    *Actually Foreign Affairs – see below. [Ed.]

  3. Boomer says

    The article is spot-on, but nothing will be done to improve the lot of women in the Arab world.

    YOu’ll get as far as the FGM-should-be-given-careful-consideration stage, wich is nowhere, really, and then the subject will be dropped.

    There are just too many careers and reputations that depend on this type of reaction.

    The whole debate just degenerates into purile whataboutery.

    Example: Misogyny is widespread throughout the world. It’s rampant here in the First World and gets worse as a country’s or region’s economic conditions worsen.

    So islam, religion etc have nothing at all to do with the impoverished status of women all across the Arabo/Muslim world. Its everywhere, it’s all due to economics, and it’s all relative

    Well, were that the case, then why aren’t Hatien women, Haiti being perhaps the poorest country on the planet, subjected to the greatest amount of misogyny?

    Hatien women, despite the country’s dire economic state, are still far more free than women in Saudi Arabia.

    They can drive cars. They’re too poor to won one, but if they did, they’d be allowed to take the wheel.

    In Saudi Arabia, perhaps the worlds wealthiest country in terms of per capita incomce, women aren’t allowed to drive cars.

    So they’re not allowed to drive because they’re dirt-poor, but rather because religious “clerics”, all of them men, say that they can’t.

    Economics, here, counts for squat.

  4. Arty Morty says

    I don’t understand Max Fisher’s article.

    Something like, Arab-world misogyny is as real and severe as Eltahawy argues, but her column is bad because it dosn’t talk about post-colonialism enough?

    Because you’re not allowed to be angry about misogyny in the Arab world unless you make it expressly clear that the blame ultimately falls back upon the West?

    Has everybody gone post-colonialism crazy?! Why the hell can’t we talk about the horrible crimes against women in the Middle East without delicately framing it in “the greater post-colonial context”? Isn’t the context of what’s actually going on in the Middle East right now enough?

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    me @ # 1 – Oops, I take it all back: my gripe concerns Foreign Affairs, not Foreign Policy.

  6. Lyanna says

    Yes, I saw that article too (and linked it on the other thread).

    The thing that’s clear to me is that the women don’t matter at all in Max Fisher’s analysis. What matters is whether Arab men look bad, in comparison to white men.

  7. says

    Well, were that the case, then why aren’t Hatien women, Haiti being perhaps the poorest country on the planet, subjected to the greatest amount of misogyny?

    Hey, Boomer, why don’t you educate your ignorant, condescending ass, instead of mansplaining about misogyny to the rest of us?

    Then again, if you actually made an effort to learn about misogyny in the part of the world you live in, you’d have to reconsider your self-image as someone who knows what the fuck he’s talking about.

    (BTW, I really loved your comment the other day conflating freedom for women with wholesale rejection of men. I guess you’ve never heard of egalitarian hetero relationships, which is unsurprising.)

  8. Michael De Dora says

    Ophelia: thanks for the link to Mona Eltahawy’s article. She and I are both speaking (along with many others) at the Unite Women rally in New York City. I’m very excited to meet her!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *