Bill Maher is a hero of mine. He is brilliant, wildly funny, politically astute, a living antidote to media-speak and partisan yammering. But last Friday night on Real Time, Bill Maher missed the Real Point. It's the misogyny, stupid.
This point was made by Tavis Smiley, in response to Maher's broad statement on the show about how women are treated in Muslim countries. The recent attack on reporter Lara Logan in Egypt was shocking and yet depressingly unsurprising. There is no question that, in many Muslim countries, women who do not wrap themselves in yards of cloth are considered fair game for sexual assault by men. Years ago, because of a flight delay, I spent a long and terrifying night alone in a hotel in Morocco -- male ( Muslim) hotel employees repeatedly tried to break into my room. It was a lesson in how bad it can get for a woman alone in a culture that undermines female independence at every turn.
Maher wanted Smiley to acknowledge a readily-acknowledgeable fact -- that women in these repressive cultures are "worse off" than in the West. Which is worse, he asked, "making eighty cents on a dollar" or "having your head cut off"?
Trick question? It is pointless to argue against the fact that women are treated appallingly, that they are abused and in some cases, murdered, in these countries. I would prefer not to have my head separated from my body but I ALSO don't want to work for substantially less money in the same job as a man. It's a ways from eighty cents to a scimitar, but it's the same sad road.
This was Tavis Smiley's argument, which fell pretty much on deaf ears. He mentioned the patriarchy of the West, its sexism and how the media is saturated with stories of maltreatment of women in our own country.
His point was that comparisons generate heat but no light: he quoted Malcolm X on degrees of oppression -- "If the knife is nine inches in my back and it's withdrawn to six inches" -- am I better off?
It's the misogyny, stupid. And it cuts across all cultures: far worse in some, somewhat tolerable in others. And the "F" word is fundamentalism -- whether it is Islamic or Christian -- the symbol of battle for control becomes the female body.
I do not want to live in a country that forces me to smother myself in veils, a country that threatens me with violence for an inch of visible wrist, a country that does not allow me to vote or drive.
For the record, I also do not feel safe in a country with a House of Representatives that is capable of canceling all funding for Planned Parenthood -- which happened in the House just a day ago. I do not feel safe knowing that in South Dakota, Republicans proposed a bill that could make it legal to murder a doctor who provides abortion care to women.
The state legislature of Georgia would like to change the legal term for victims of rape, stalking and domestic violence to "accuser" -- in effect, denying victims their right to accurate representation by description.
In Congress, Republicans have put forward a bill that would force hospitals to let a woman die rather than perform an abortion that would save her life.
Programs for low-income women and children are being slashed left and right and MoveOn reports that there is a move to eliminate all funding for the only extant federal family planning program -- though there is a bill that promotes contraception for wild horses. (For human women, they are neigh-sayers.)
Misogyny keeps this country's brutality to women -- rape, murder and domestic violence -- at staggering levels, along with the pitched battle against a woman's right to control her own body, her right to choose.
That women often do not support each other or offer sympathy for abusive treatment of other women is indeed part of the problem -- witness the reaction of some female journalists to the attack on Lara Logan.
I was terrified when I was nearly assaulted in that hotel room in North Africa long ago, but I have also been attacked by "Right to Life" crowds when entering an abortion clinic in my own country.
Tavis Smiley was right -- it is important to speak out against the suppression of women's rights and their subjugation wherever in the world this occurs. There's always a war against women going on -- it's just a matter of degree in the matter of the incoming fire.
-- Carol Muske-Dukes
P.S. Be sure to check out the article "Georgia Representative Wants To Investigate All Miscarriages".