UNICEF reports in a new study that children suffer in a variety of ways when women are discriminated against. Big surprise. Let's face it. All over the world, male-dominated societies tend to be thug-dominated societies, violence-dominated societies, war dominated societies. They're also religion-obsessed societies.
Last October Australia's top Muslim religious leader said women without headscarves were like uncovered meat to a cat, and men couldn't be blamed for raping them any more than cats could be blamed for eating the meat. This attitude shouldn't surprise anyone. Fundamentalism--in Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, or any other guise--has nothing to do with religion. The primary distinction between fundamentalists and all other religious groups is their attitude toward women. For the fundamentalist, women are inferior creatures who should be rigidly controlled and prevented as much as possible from exercising free will. Fundamentalists are not merely anti-choice when it comes to abortion. They are anti-choice of any kind.
There are, of course, other fundamentalist characteristics: bigotry, xenophobia, closed-mindedness, arrogance, imperviousness to reason (a friend of mine claims that 'fundamentalism' means 'thinking with your fundament'), but these are epiphenomena.
The foundation of all repressive religions and authoritarian governments the world over and throughout history has been to take away women's freedom. The essential, bedrock premise of all fundamentalist religions is that women should not be able to choose: how they look, what they wear, who they sleep with, who they marry, whether they conceive, how they spend their time, what activities or careers they pursue. All fundamentalist religions and all authoritarian societies on our planet rest on this single foundation: the control and restriction of women's freedom to make choices about their lives.
One of the tragedies of Western civilization is that most of its religious ideas came from belligerent herding tribes. These tribes, whose lives depended on the condition of their herds, were quite naturally obsessed with breeding. From breeding animals it was a natural step to think of breeding themselves. And what they were most concerned about was breeding fighters--in other words, breeding for size and strength.
For hunter-gatherers size and strength were of little importance. They needed speed, endurance, hand-eye coordination, visual acuity, and so on. There is typically little sexual dimorphism among hunter-gatherers. But once the occasional skirmishes of hunter-gatherers gives way to the standing armies of herders and agriculturalists, who capture land and take slaves, size and strength become everything. Men are bred for war, and warriors become not only more sharply differentiated from their women but also from their serfs--often averaging as much as six inches taller, for example.
The worst fear of these animal breeders was that a woman would choose her own sexual partner. The rules and customs of all such tribes ensured that a woman could never find out how pathetic a lover her husband was. Herders and agricultural tribes were terrified of free market competition in the sexual sphere, and that fear seems to be particularly intense in Muslim countries. The 1001 Nights, for example, is about virtually nothing else.
Women have to be controlled in order to protect machismo--that much-valued male trait responsible for hundreds of unnecessary wars, and millions upon millions of unnecessary deaths and mutilations. Men themselves have suffered terribly for the privilege of strutting about, boasting, and looking silly, but most men seem to be too stupid to do anything about it. And keeping women powerless and enchained by religious edicts has kept the whole absurd business going.