Monday, December 5, 2011

The Most Feminist Muslim in Britain, Shaista Gohir

This is the post that someone made a false copyright claim against.  That is, after checking it appears that neither the author or The Times, entities with claim to copyright, made the complaint. Regardless, after I heard back from Stephanie Marsh, the author, I did not hear anything further.  I have left this as a draft for a while, but have now removed more of the excerpt, as the complaint was I used too excerpted too much of the original article.  

The Times paywall is a pain. Here is the link for subscribers. Here is an excerpt for everyone else:

By her own admission, forced marriage is not a subject that many British Muslims want Shaista Gohir to be talking about. But here she is at a conference in Birmingham where Gohir, a married mother of three with Pakistani roots and a degree in chemistry and physics, is to deliver a lecture on “taboo issues”.
Because Gohir is known to be more or less the only outspoken Muslim feminist in Britain today, the conference organisers have given her free rein — and she has decided not to pull any punches: as well as forced marriage, her chosen subjects today are homosexuality, child abuse, polygamy (“It’s on the rise in this country”), female genital mutilation and mental health — all subjects that, she reminds her audience, are not considered taboo in the wider British culture....
Friday night, the BBC News. Gohir has been asked to comment on women’s dress. She is defending their right to wear the veil. Later, she receives several e-mails. “How dare you come on national TV in full Western attire?” reads one. “Your head was not covered, you had lipstick and make-up on.”...
Later she tells me that she finds it frustrating how introverted Muslim girls can be. Yet it doesn’t surprise her: “We grow up with the idea that women can’t do this, can’t do that. The list of can’ts goes on and on. Where is the list of things women can do? As a Muslim girl you’re never told. Whatever the question, the answer is always no.”
In a way it feels odd calling Gohir a feminist. Many of the things she argues for — that women have a right to go to university, say, or that they should not be subjected to domestic violence — have long been taken for granted in mainstream British society. Not so in some Muslim communities, she says. It’s like a parallel universe....
Yet conservative extremists in liberal countries such as Britain have been advancing their agendas. “I mean,” says Gohir, “the idea that women need male chaperones — we’re moving back towards that in this country. I can’t believe it’s happening. In other countries women are fighting to take off the veil; in Britain they are fighting to put it back on again.”
I first met Gohir three years ago. Then, as now, she ran the Muslim Women’s Network, the aim of which is to educate Muslim women about their rights and supply the information they need, especially about Islamic texts, “to think for themselves”. I was fascinated by the amount of research she had undertaken and impressed by her sense of humour, passion and pragmatism (“I’ll stick my head above the parapet. If you want to make a difference you have to be prepared to take risks”).
At the time she had just returned from a Foreign Office trip to Egypt. Over coffee, she laughingly recounted an argument she’d had with a British imam: “He told me that most inhabitants of Hellfire were women. To back up this claim he quoted a Hadith (Hadiths are accounts of the words and deeds of the Prophet, categorised as strong, ie, likely to be accurate, or weak, ie, likely to have been made up). But I immediately said, ‘That’s a weak hadith. You shouldn’t quote that or you end up misleading people’.”
Gohir reminded the imam about a verse in the Koran that describes the inhabitants of Hell, “and nowhere does it say that there are more women than men”. The imam then began to list his intellectual credentials. “He was trying to make me feel unsure about my knowledge. But I was sure! So I kept pressing him, and eventually he admitted that it was a weak Hadith. ‘Well then,’ I said, ‘You shouldn’t have quoted it. It doesn’t make sense anyway — if you look at what’s happening around the world, most atrocities are carried out by men.”....
She grew up in Northampton and was the only Muslim girl she knew to go to university. Her mother worked as a seamstress in shoe and clothing factories, and Gohir knew instinctively that she wanted more for herself. By the time she met her husband-to-be (she describes him as a progressive Muslim), she was working in environmental health. But then her thoughts of a career evaporated. “When I was 30,” she laughs, “I just wanted to get married, have children and be a housewife. I didn’t have any ambitions about women’s rights.”
That changed once she had given birth to her three children. “In my mid-thirties I began to feel rather bored,” she says. “I’m a bit of a thinker.”
The was in 2003, two years before the July bombings in London and before Muslim extremism rose up the political agenda. Being at home a lot, Gohir often watched the TV news “and it would just be Muslim men commenting on Muslim issues. I kept thinking, ‘Where are the women?’ ”
She also found it frustrating that the Labour Government “engaged only with one or two prominent Muslim men, mainly from the Muslim Council of Britain.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Han Shot First: a self-serving screenwriter strikes again, Breaking Dawn

So I finally got to see Breaking Dawn and have a couple of observations, most of which only use the movie as illustration.  That is, this isn't a movie review.
My long standing annoyance with screenwriters messing with stories got a stir.

I take apart a Rosenberg interview on writing the abortion dilemma below. As mentioned, I didn't find Rosenberg's edit nearly as clear cut after watching. As a practical matter, whether Bella doesn't see a choice or makes a choice, without Bella's inner monologue from the book, the difference is not noticeable. The whole idea in the book was that Bella is in love with her husband and instantly recognizes that the baby is the product of their union and something to be desired.

Director Codon is a man. Screenwriter Rosenburg has no children. Neither recognize that in most circumstances pregnancy is a blessing. And they certainly don't understand that many women's reactions to pregnancy destroy the notion of "choice."

There is a reason, besides allegations of mass cougardom, that women my age love the book. Stephenie Meyer knows what it feels like to be a mother. We read the chapter when Bella learns she is pregnant, and completely understood it. Sometimes the transition to protective momma is that quick, and that soon. Women are often struck by how quickly they become mothers. Guys and single women think it happens when the baby is born, but often it happens the second you learn you are pregnant.

Rosenburg, in her need to serve herself rather than the story, has excised that element of Bella's character and reduced the pregnancy line to mere personal desire on Bella's part. Ironic that the leftist feminist is the one to gut Bella's strength, but of course feminists only see strength in acting for the self, being true to the self. And here is where feminism and so many other Sixties -isms fail. Strength doesn't lie in service of the self.

Rosenberg's self serving edits probably explain why the movies aren't nearly as good as the books, either. She's editing concepts that she doesn't understand. Cultivated relativists, Hollywood intelligentsia simply can't write myth. Why is Hollywood reduced to remaking comic books, cartoons, and critically slammed novels?  Because those are the last places the chattering classes have looked to spread relativism.  

Joseph Campbell was right about the abiltiy of an archtype to propel a story forward. Deviate too far from the redemed rogue or the self-sacrificing hero and the archetype looses it's power to propel. This is one of the few advantages conservatives have left in pop culture. We can still write archtypes. And that is how Mormon Stephanie Meyer and Anglican JK Rowling fired up the book presses. They wrote the stories that sprang, almost fully formed into their heads. That is why SM can say that she didn't set out to make a political statment. She set out to tell the story in her head.  Rosenburg set out to make the political statement.  

The intelligentsia fancy that that can 'improve' the simpletons and capitalize on the successes. They don't see that they eviscerate the story in the process.  And don't get me started on beautiful writing for beautiful writing's sake.

A final note, it is one thing to see Kristen Stewart mention that their honeymoon scene had to be recut because it earned the film an R rating. It is a bit creepy, however, to see interviews with Melissa Rosenburg and Bill Codon making the same point with a wait for the DVD hint. Its kinda like 'wait for the DVD for a Robsten sex tape.' It creeps me out.

From a screenwriter Rosenburg and director Codon interview, I note: [comments in red mine]

The Movie’s Alleged “Pro-Life” Message 
Rosenberg: I am rabidly pro-choice and very much a feminist, and I would not have taken this book on if it was in some way going to violate my beliefs. No amount of money would have done it. And the book is very much Stephenie’s point of view, so I had to find out how I could tell this story without violating my own beliefs, and without violating Stephenie’s. So simply translating the book to screen isn't an option for her.  She had to bend the story to her beliefs.  Fans find this annoying.  Conservatives find it par for the course.  I really struggled with it. I talked it out with my sister, who is an ACLU feminist lawyer, and she pointed out that having a child is a choice, and that’s something that gets lost very often in the debate. So that was my way in.  Pro choice is their mantra, yet the fact that carrying a pregnancy to term is a choice is often forgotten.  I've been discussing this "choice feminism" over at the Dissenting Justice blog.  Prof. Hutchinson thinks that "choice feminism" is the main feminism.  But here someone like Rosenburg had to be reminded that choice might mean a woman makes a choice that she, herself, would not.  Yes, she came around to that view, but it wasn't her instinct.  
Condon: For both Melissa and me, that’s an area of discomfort. Talking to Stephenie, it was never her intent to make a political statement there. People see it as an abstinence parable, then she has sex, and pregnancy is the punishment for having sex, The complications of the fine distinction between punishment and simple consequences: pregnancy is a common, often sought, outcome of sex, not a punishment.  Conservatives are often dismayed by the pro-choice proponents often reflexive assumption that pregnancy is bad. Sure, in some circumstances it is not desirable, but it isn't punishment.  It is natural consquences.  which I think is reading too much into it. It’s Bella’s stubborn sense throughout the films of always knowing what’s right for her that’s crucial here and not any political position. 
Rosenberg: In the book, Bella doesn’t believe she has a choice; she’s going to have this baby at the expense of her own life. In the movie, that’s not the case. She honestly believes that she is going to survive this. Since I read this interview before watching the movie, I was looking for this distinction.  It isn't really there.  At first Bella thinks she might survive, but later knows she won't likely live, to the point that she tells Edward that he will at least have part of her, the baby, with him.  In fact, book-Bella is far more optimistic about her chances than movie-Bella.  I have friends on the right who have seen it who say, “Oh, this is a very pro-life movie,” and I have friends on the left who have seen it who say, “Oh, you really altered that point of view for the movie.” Bella says aloud, “It’s not your decision. It’s not any of yours.” And Edward says, “You chose this. You decided this without me. I don’t choose this.” It’s very much debated throughout.  As mentioned, I don't think the issue was further debated in the movie than the book.  I did notice something sadly common about this "my choice, not yours" attitude.  In deviation from the book, Bella does tell everyone it is no one eles's choice but hers.  Shortly thereafter, Edward, who has been angry with Bella for choosing to leave him through certain death, apologizes to Bella for leaving her alone in this, for not being there for her.  All too often in modern relationships, men are simply supposed to accept the dictates of women.  Women on the other hand are damn well entitled to Bitch status: a lover, a child, a mother, a sinner, a saint, who does not feel afraid.  We aren't going to change.  We aren't going to do anything for you.  (Continuing with the pop music analogies, we won't even write you a love song.)  You are a pig if you don't accept us just the way we are, but you had still better be there to support us.  A bit of a raw deal, no?  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Domestic Feminism?

A few days ago, I posted on a discussion in another blog about feminist views of domestic lives.  The blogger, Dissenting Justice, contended that feminism has never devalued domesticity.  I disagreed.  My last comment is long enough to be a stand alone post.  So from Dissenting Justice's comment thread: 

One of the foundational tomes of feminism, The Feminine Mystique implied that a women doing housework was like a mindless animal. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of domestic work, and Betty Friedan spent considerable time in her later years trying to rehabilitate domestic lives which had shockingly, to her at least, been abandoned by women. (I think Jonah Goldberg said it best when describing some sixties advances. They sought to burn out undesirable elements of our culture but couldn’t manage a controlled burn and scorched the landscape instead.) 

More recently, Linda Hirshman made quite a fuss about the damage wrought by what she saw as the newly fashionable and immoral “choice feminism,” which is the feminism you describe. Hirshman and some of the older line feminists think that the women of Gen X forward are betraying the cause by wearing high heels, embracing the “lavender menace” (their term, not mine), and staying at home with children. It is immoral for PhD’s to wipe butts. You can see similar themes from rank and file feminists in the pop culture examples I mentioned, and I’ll get you a few links soon as I’m finishing up my post on the movie and will find some examples, I’m sure. 

Beyond the blunt Linda Hirshman types, the take home message of even choice feminism is that a domestic life is beneath intelligent, educated women. It condescends, as Chronicler so aptly noted. (I forgot I had another take on domestic work here.)

Look at the lives of modern women. Why do we seek advanced degrees, delay marriage, and childbearing, sometimes to the point of impossibility?  Because we are told from an early age to establish our careers, to experience life ourselves, to do our thing before becoming tied down by a child. Why are children often viewed as a burden, pregnancy as punishment? Because they keep us from doing things which are implicitly better. Why did we even coin the term 'stay at home mom'?  Because, among other things, the domestic flavor of the word ‘housewife’ was degrading. 

From childhood on, we have been told by parents, teachers, and peers that we can be anything we want to be. We were encouraged to get advanced degrees, to do something more than mere domestic or traditionally female anything. To do otherwise was a waste of our life. My dad, hardly a left leaning guy, arranged an intervention when I wanted to be a nurse because it was too domestic. It involved changing “bed pans and bedsheets.” Women who get married before 28 are pitied. Others who might desire to leave work when they have children are paralyzed by worries that they will be bored. Girlfriend interventions are often scheduled then. The idea, the “click” moment of that a domestic life is mind-numbing--its in the water supply. It informs everything modern women do.

In the feminist world, a domestic life is a second rate life, and only among young feminists is it accepted for the sole purpose of child rearing, by the way. (A quick search turned up this illustrative gem.) As the article that so annoyed you took pains to point out, she was home for her children’s nutrition and education. She focused on one of the creative tasks of domestic work, cooking. Had she mentioned anything about being home also to make sure the toilets got cleaned or that she wasn’t too tired to engage in maintenance sex, she would have become a pariah--among women.