March 8, 2015

The Sixteenth Century Called—it Wants its Uncontested Ownership of Women Back.

women afghanistan burka

Wikipedia calls International Women’s Day “a celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women.”

What better day than this to step away from the magnifying makeup application device and instead hold up a mirror as powerful as you can find.

What better day to look at what is happening to women now.

Just this one day.

Take a look.

Honor Killing Multiple Choice:

Killing your wife or daughter for the honor of your family is okay if:

  1. She leaves the house without a man.
  2. She wears clothing that offends your honor—or lipstick.
  3. Someone rapes her. (Yep, you read that right!)

If you guessed any or all of the above, you are right. It’s open season on women in more ways than one right now. But that’s okay because it’s “their culture.”

Please. I got your culture right here. The sixteenth century called—it wants its uncontested ownership of women back.

It’s not so much women having to sit in the back of the mosque bus. It’s not even so much women not being allowed to drive, or being considered literally half a person in a court of law. It’s the government-mandated imprisonment within the home. It’s the raping. The mutilations. The forced marriages: grown men with little girls.

Who am I kidding? It’s all of these things.

Believe me, I’m trying to shut up here. But three thousand women were killed in honor killings last year in, wait for it: Iran?

Guess again. England.

Nope, I didn’t misspell that. It would be very tempting to point the finger at Islam for this. And I do. But before you break out your can of tolerance and dump it all over me, please take into account that I also blame all kinds of other religions for all kinds of ills, okay? I’m an equal-opportunity WTFer.

And I see plenty of horrors going down in the Hindu realm, too. Check out Braja Sorensen, once my editor here at Elephant. She just wrote a piece on the treatment of women in India lately. And she knows what she’s talking about, she wrote the book on India. Or try this piece in the Guardian, or maybe watch India’s Daughter, a recent  BBC documentary. This mistreatment is widespread and taking root in other countries. Let me whisper in your ear here. It’s happening in America, too.

America! In America! My America!

Fair warning department: some of this article could very well offend you. If it does, you have my apology. Please stack that offence against thousands and thousands of desperate women, whose only hope is help from outside of their culture. Aka you.

You are Obi Wan Kenobi, and this article, my bearded love monkey, is a Princess Leah hologram shining from the golden dome of R2-D2’s head. If that’s not too big a stretch.

“Being offended is not the same as being oppressed.” ~ Raquel Saraswati

Picture a plantation owner before the Civil War. How offended he would be when you mentioned that perhaps slavery wasn’t really okay. No I mean it: really picture that. Because, um, the oppression of women today is so not okay.

Bear with me for two seconds, I’m going around the block, but it’s a shortcut.

“The Invention Of Wings,” by Sue Monk Kidd, is a beautiful story. It’s based on the life of Sarah Grimke, a Southern Gentry Belle-turned-abolitionist. The book makes us see slavery, and then the bare beginnings of the turn toward freedom. You feel Sarah’s courage as she reaches down to help Handful, “her” slave. Sarah gets smacked down by her family again and again for speaking up, but she holds to her truth. At the same time, parallel chapters give you Handful’s story.

You grow to like Handful and see her as a person you understand.

She stops being an abstraction. She grows heart and lungs inside you, as you read. Please gods of mercy let the same understanding unfold in us times a hundred thousand. Let us see the grinding daily cruelty is happening to women who are actual beings: mothers, sisters, care-givers, people with intelligent points of view and humor.

Not a blur of brown-hued skin pigment, heading to the pyre by the truckload. People. Breathing, laughing, crying, shitting, struggling People.

Sarah is at the right place at the right time with the right voice, and she seriously crushes it. Armed with nothing but a desire to make a difference, she becomes a major force against that twisted institution.

There is every possibility that you, or someone you know, is at the right place at the right time today. Or will be this year.

It’s why I’m writing this piece.

I’m typing these words in case yours might be a voice that, for whatever reason, carries. In case, like Sarah, brave in the face of the institution of slavery, you might say something like “Forced Child Marriages are Wrong.” Even in the face of the institution of “Culture.” In case you might risk being intolerant. (Insert ominous music here.)

Bad shit is going down, and mediocre if not good people are turning their backs on it because “That’s their culture.”

And what would I have you say? What would I have you learn?

I’d start by having you watch a little something. Not like it’s an answer, not like it’s a solution, but watch it as if it provides essential questions. Liberating questions.

“Honor Diaries” is a recently-produced documentary. Nine contemporary women’s rights activists are filmed at a salon. The conversation aims to change the world for millions of enslaved women. It will be screened on International Women’s Day, March eighth, in several countries. Or you can buy it and show it at home.

I got a small group of friends to come to my place and watch. You can even Netflix that bad boy, but definitely see it.

The documentary claims that Islam is a deeply misogynistic institution, and backs it up with some serious weight. The nine women, and the experts they interview, speak from a very informed place. There is every possibility that in America, we are practicing tolerance to a fault. The fault in this case is turning our backs on women who need help from somewhere: anywhere.

Arguments fly from all directions, claiming that “Honor Killing” is cultural, not religious. Divisive semantics. Rather than the trap of discovering origins and casting blame, watch the film and look for solutions. Wherever this tree was planted, it’s growing some sick fruit. Decline to join the arguments: they are a quagmire. Let your attention drift instead to discover ways we can allow a young girl to get an education. To write poetry without fearing she will be killed for it. And yes, if she likes, to opt out of her religion of origin.

There are a lot of men out there heartlessly abusing women every day. Women who cannot speak for themselves. Women who keep silence, or are silenced.

There is important work to be done.

See that documentary.

We live in a place where we are granted the freedom to speak. Like Sarah, in The Invention Of Wings. We have these voices. Our worst-case scenario in speaking out is that we might get called names. “Islamaphobe.” Please. A woman in Iran can get killed for calling into question her right to not be raped by her husband’s brother. She can be killed for wanting to become, say, a Calvinist.

A baker.


It could change. Her life does not need to be so disposable. She is worth helping, even if helping might make us seem marginally less cool. (Temporarily.)

Back to the book: Sarah becomes a legit voice, packing theaters all over the East Coast together with her sister, Angelina. She makes enormous strides, and builds up a pro-women movement at the same time. Her male abolitionist leaders ask her a favor. They ask her to stop speaking out in favor of women’s rights.

They claim it divides the abolitionist message.

Sarah has a perfect retort. “Kindly take your feet off my neck.”

What would I have you say, if you were at the right place, at the right time? I would not have you talk above the divisive aspects of this conversation. I would have you look into how women can be aided. The website with the movie will give you nine good starting points.

The right place is everywhere, and the right time is whenever. I know what I would have you say.

“Excuse me, you multitudes of misogynistic men, but would you kindly take your feet off our sister’s necks?”



Dear Man on the Bus: Rape Doesn’t Play Favorites. 

10-Year-Old Divorcée Reminds Us that Female Oppression Is Here & Now.  


Author: Karl Saliter 

Editor: Renée Picard 

Image: Wiki Commons/Public Domain 

Read 13 Comments and Reply

Read 13 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Karl Saliter  |  Contribution: 11,360