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.