first fig

my candle burns at both ends…

Category: injustice

Weekly Anti-Woman Wacko

It’s that time again, time for me to highlight an anti-woman wacko who made news this week.


I read an op-ed in the New York Times earlier this week that was so full of chauvinism, cultural imperialism and xenophobia it made me sick to my stomach. Jean-Francois Cope is the president of a major French political party and the mayor of Meaux. During his career he was also the Minister of the Budget and the spokesperson for the French government. Cope is an influential leader in France but unfortunately he uses that influence to trample on the rights of Muslim women.

For those who don’t know, a number of European countries and cities have passed, or are in the process of passing laws that would prohibit women from wearing face veils such as the burqa or niqab in public. The justification for such a law is that “[the face covering] is a mask, a mask worn at all times, making identification or participation in economic and social life virtually impossible.”

Except that women who wear burqas do participate in economic and social life. Several months ago I took a crochet class from one of the local yarn stores. Two of my classmates were young girls, both wearing hair & face coverings. They participated like all the other members of the class, they were affable and funny young women and did not seem at all hindered by the fact that most of their face was covered. Women all over the world go to school, shop for groceries and contribute to society all while wearing veils.


Cope then goes onto say that the burqa is a safety risk:

This face covering poses a serious safety problem at a time when security cameras play an important role in the protection of public order. An armed robbery recently committed in the Paris suburbs by criminals dressed in burqas provided an unfortunate confirmation of this fact. As a mayor, I cannot guarantee the protection of the residents for whom I am responsible if masked people are allowed to run about.

The fallacy in this type of argument is astounding. Since one person wore a burqa to commit armed robbery it must follow that everyone wearing a burqa will commit armed robbery.

You’re probably saying to yourself, “c’mon, mraynes, no person in their right mind would think that Muslim women are like criminals just because they wear a face veil.” But wait for it…

The visibility of the face in the public sphere has always been a public safety requirement. It was so obvious that until now it did not need to be enshrined in law. But the increase in women wearing the niqab, like that of the ski mask favored by criminals, changes that. We must therefore adjust our law, without waiting for the phenomenon to spread.

Yep, he just made the argument that women in niqabs might be criminals. I’m also really looking forward to the new legislation the French National Assembly will propose…banning the ski mask.

And it just gets worse.
How can you establish a relationship with a person who, by hiding a smile or a glance — those universal signs of our common humanity — refuses to exist in the eyes of others?…But the niqab and burqa represent a refusal to exist as a person in the eyes of others. The person who wears one is no longer identifiable; she is a shadow among others, lacking individuality, avoiding responsibility.
I really have no words for how wrong this is. A woman in a burqa has no humanity? Because this man cannot gaze upon her face she has no individuality and so she ceases to exist? Really? And I love that instead of acknowledging his own bias against this Muslim dress, instead of acknowledging his own failure in seeing the humanity in another human being when they wear a burqa or nijab, he instead blames the woman. Yes, this covered woman makes you see her as non-human. Yes, that makes sense.

There are so many problematic things in this editorial. For example, saying that this isn’t religious discrimination. Because you know, so many non-Muslim French women are walking down the street in burqas. And then there’s the title, “Tearing Away the Veil”. I think really helps Cope in his assertion that this is a benevolent law that will uphold “the dignity of women.” As a woman, I can confirm that my dignity doesn’t at all suffer when men or laws tear pieces of my clothing off my body.

One of Cope’s more cogent arguments is that “[i]ndividual liberty is vital, but individuals, like communities, must accept compromises that are indispensable to living together, in the name of certain principles that are essential to the common good.” I agree, part of peacefully living in society is compromising with our neighbors. But it is not compromise if one party is forced to give something up without receiving anything in return. So what will Muslim women be gaining in return for giving up their religious and cultural custom?

It speaks volumes that Cope does not provide one way in which this law will benefit Muslim women. Rather, it proves that the health, happiness and rights of women were not the first priority in drafting this legislation. It is ironic that French leaders believe that the burqa ban will increase the visibility, responsibility and dignity of Muslim women. In reality, this ban will further push Muslim women to the margins of society. Yes, there will be some women who choose to take the burqa off but there will be just as many who are cloistered in their homes, unable to leave because of their religious and cultural beliefs. So what, exactly, is making these women invisible?


I have to say at this point that I hate the idea of the burqa and nijab. I think they are horrible customs based on the oppression of women. That being said, it is not my right, or anybody else’s to dictate how another woman worships her god.

The law that Jean-Francois Cope is proposing is just as repressive and misogynistic as the veil itself. Both the burqa and burqa ban are tools of patriarchal institutions, making women invisible and denying them the right to choose. We like to get up on our Western high-horse and proclaim our enlightened thinking, our commitment to equal rights for women. But oppression is oppression whether it comes in the form of clothing or laws that deny the right of women to control their own bodies.
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And We’re Off…

Ready, Set, Go.

I’m excited about getting this blog up and running again. In the next couple of days I will be introducing a new look, a clean slate to start over with. I will also be posting at least once a day for a month so that I can get back into the habit.

First Fig is going to be a little different from here on out. Yes, I will still be providing my insightful commentary on all things feminist and Mormon but I will also be including more mundane things as well. I’m hopeful that in broadening my scope this blog will be a much more enjoyable place for all of us.

So, let’s get things started.

Have you heard about Mormon May Day?

Here’s the idea:

As moderate, liberal or radical Mormons, it is time to make our voices heard WITHIN Mormonism…guided by the spirit, liberal and radical interpretations of the Gospel and scriptures are just as valid as those made by Conservatives.

This group proposes that those of us who fall in the spectrum of moderate, liberal or radical Mormons participate in May Day activities. Where I live in Denver, there was a march to demand sensible and humane immigration legislation from our elected leaders. Unfortunately we weren’t able to participate but I did drive by and honk my horn in solidarity.

mr. mraynes and I will be participating tomorrow in a fast for “for those who are working all over the world to advance the causes of the Gospel, social justice, environmental sustainability and fighting the root causes of poverty.” Perhaps this is something you would like to do as well.

Starting this blog again is a sign for my new optimism for the future. There are exciting things afoot and I’m glad you guys are along for the ride with me.

Oh, and Happy Derby Day!

A Poem for a Friend

#258

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons-
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes-
Heavenly Hurt, it gives us-
We can find no scar,
But internal difference-
Where the Meanings, are-
None may teach it – Any-
‘Tis the Seal Despair-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air-
When it comes, the Landscape listens-
Shadows – hold their breath-
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death-
~Emily Dickinson

Weekly Anti-Woman Wacko

I sometimes feel that I am not grateful enough for the gender equality that I enjoy in my country and in my religion. I am reminded of how truly blessed I am when leaders of other countries pass laws like the one Hamid Karzai just passed in Afghanistan. One provision makes it illegal for a woman to reject her husbands sexual advances, effectively legalizing marital rape. (Although, in an effort to compromise, Karzai suggested that the law should be changed to require women to have sex with their husbands every four days. I’m looking for a way to be sarcastic about this but words fail me.) Another provision would not allow girls or women to attend school or work or even leave the house without their father or husband’s permission. Women also could not refuse to wear makeup if their husband required it.

Yesterday, 300 very brave Afghan women marched in the street to protest this law and demanded that they be given equal rights…that they be treated like human beings! For this action they were called whores and had stones thrown at them.

I am weeping as I write this because it should not hurt to be a woman and I want to know why it does? Can somebody please explain to me why my Afghan sisters have to ask permission from their government not to be raped?

And in case you’re feeling a little too comfortable in the privilege of being a woman living in the United States, spousal rape was only made a punishable crime country-wide in 1993 with the passing of stricter sexual offense codes. Despite the criminalization of marital rape, there are still at least thirty-three states that grant exemptions to the perpetrators in certain cases. There is also one major university granting an honorary doctorate to a famous marital rape apologist THIS YEAR!

We should never be fooled into thinking that we have reached the pinnacle of equality. We are all connected and until our sisters in Afghanistan enjoy the same rights we do, no woman will ever be truly equal.

Weekly Anti-Woman Wacko: Hopeful Edition

I got an interesting response to my post “Hope in Feminist Sisterhood” over at the Exponent from somebody calling themselves Holder86:

Mormon feminism? Why does it have to always be about women? Why can’t there
be Masculinism? Feminism is what women use to feel superior to men. There is no
need to be superior. Accept that men and women have different roles for a
reason. Mom’s and Dad’s. Dad works and Mum looks after the children. This is the
Mormon Culture. You can’t change the culture. You don’t like the culture then be
a feminist in another religion. There are many talks by Apostles about how there
is to be no feminism in the Mormon Church. Leave political beliefs to politics
and leave religion to religion. Be a feminist in politics if you want some
action but not in a religion…especially the Mormon one.

My first reaction was, “What? Are you kidding me?” I truly think that Mr. Holder86 was just trying to stir the pot and bring to boil the feminist blood. Seriously, who thinks like this anymore? Normally I don’t respond to people like Holder because, what’s the point? But then mr. mraynes made this excellent point that bears repeating here:

I guess holder86 has highlighted the uselessness of the term feminism. It’s
not useless because of its ideals, but because of the way a few have used it at
times to push a female superiority agenda. And the word itself does smack of
such a doctrine. But that is not its true aim!

Holder86, were I to extend your logic to its conclusion, I could argue that
our church does in fact practice “Masculinism”, better known as patriarchy. Men
run this church, especially its public face. I mean, it is 2009 and TWO women
share talks at General Conference alongside dozens of men. Am I the only one who
finds this ridiculous, especially when we already have an entire session devoted
to the priesthood? Couldn’t we at least hear from one woman at each of the four
general sessions?

At its core, feminism is no different than the set of teachings we call the
Gospel of Jesus Christ. Feminism, like the Gospel, espouses the fundamental
(spiritual) equality (rather than equivalence) of all souls, both male and
female. We all have the same value in the eyes of our divine Parents and
especially our Savior. All deserve love, respect, and happiness.

This is why I have called this week’s anti-woman wacko the hopeful edition because men like mr. mraynes exist and are thinking and saying things like this.

I think these two comments present an interesting illustration as to what is going on in the church today. Holder on the one hand, takes the traditional point of view and thinks that feminism is damaging and sinful, at least in a religious context. He believes that Mormon culture is just as true as Mormon doctrine and any questioning of that culture is an affront to our way of life. Unfortunately for Holder, those who hold his opinion are dying out. His understanding of marriage and the relationship between men and women is rich in its immaturity and lacks a complex world view.

Times are changing and I would venture to say that a large part of the church cannot follow the “Dad works and Mum looks after the children” paradigm, especially now in this time of economic crisis. In fact the apostles themselves have distanced themselves from this paradigm by using the convenient word, “primarily.” The previous paradigm was stifled in immaturity; women remained dependent and men were trapped in a dogmatic system. So yes, I believe culture can change; culture is no excuse for not becoming all that we can be. We are here on this earth to become like our Heavenly Parents and any step towards equality is a step towards them. The apostles and prophets are nothing, if not pragmatic and they understand that most men and women today expect equality. The fact that they have endorsed this kind of existence says to me that our leaders now expect men to be more mature and women more assertive. Though they may not explicitly use the word feminism, the apostles have increasingly turned to the rhetoric of equal partnership and shared housekeeping/childrearing responsibilities…all of which are primary tenants of feminism.

Mr. mraynes, on the other hand, recognizes the potential danger of feminism (like any ideology, it can be taken too far) but realizes that the true ideal of the word is something that is very much backed up by our doctrine and by the leaders of our church. You can find the gospel mr. mraynes espouses in our scriptures and in the words of our prophets. There are more and more men who recognize that there are inequities in our church structure and are open to ideas on how to make it better (mr. mraynes came up with a fantastic idea!). And there are more and more men like my husband who truly do want to be equal to women…Who want to be equally present in the home and to fully share in beauty and complexity of life with their partner. The good news that I see in this illustration is that it is men like my husband, feminist men, who are going to rise up and make the changes with women by their sides.

Over the next couple of weeks I would like to explore ways in which men can join the fight for true equality between the sexes. And to Holder86 and the other anti-woman wackos like him, you might want to start swimming because there is a tidal wave coming.

A Snowflake in a Global Patriarchal Tradition

cross posted at The Exponent

As a feminist, I have been encouraged by the Church’s rhetoric on the equality of women and men, especially as it relates to marriage. I think that we can all agree that an increase in egalitarian language is a good thing and benefits both men and women. But language can only take us so far and I am truly afraid that the church’s language on equal partnership is just empty rhetoric.

Since the 1970’s, the Church has steadily become more progressive in its treatment of women…allowing women to speak in most meetings and giving them an increased presence in leadership councils. Church leaders also started promoting the idea of equal partnership in the home and then subsequently backed off draconian birth control restrictions and limits on women leaving the domestic sphere. But I have to wonder how much of this has been done out of political necessity; American women saw greater equality in mainstream society and so the church had to follow suit.

Before I go on, I want to say that I sincerely hope the church believes its own rhetoric and that it isn’t a ploy to mollify us Western women. I want to believe that our leaders have been inspired by God to reach for equality because that is the kind of God I believe in. Perhaps I am, as my brother-in-law lovingly suggests, a “fringe” Mormon but even so, I love my religion just as much as any true-blue Mormon there ever was. I have stayed a Mormon because I believe that progress is slowly being made and I want to be among the snowflakes that finally break the branch of inequality in our religion. Mostly, I want to live the religion of my heart.

But recently I have felt my heart break because I am not sure that I can continue to believe in the slow progress. Yes, we have seen an increase in the language of egalitarianism but the Church’s actions do not back it up. Until recently, most of us believed that the Church remained neutral in political matters, however Mormon activism to protect the traditional family around the world has been going on for at least a decade. Mormons have played a leading role in a global alliance of conservative Muslims and Christians who have joined together to defeat threats to their patriarchal tradition. Perhaps you have heard the now folkloric story of the BYU professor who attended a United Nations conference and gave a speech based on the Proclamation on the Family and changed the anti-traditional family course of the conference. Spurred on by this success, BYU created the World Family Policy Center, holding annual conferences for “pro-family” entities around the world. The Church also became involved with organizations such as United Families International (UTI) and the World Congress of Families (WCF). In fact, the Church is a major funder of the World Congress of Families and sent Bruce C. Hafen to speak at their conference in 2007. (As an aside, the WCF’s screed on feminism and the family is the funniest thing you’ll read all day).

It is the mission of these organizations to influence international policy in pro- traditional family and anti- gay marriage and abortion ways. I am not against protecting, supporting and promoting the family; generally I am pretty pro-family, as evidenced by my two children in three years, but families that do not guarantee an equally beneficial experience for all those involved should not be supported. These organizations have, unfortunately, targeted International treaties like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which call on signatory countries to foster equality and make progress towards eliminating sexism in both national laws and cultural practices. CEDAW is basically the international bill of rights for women. As somebody who practically ate, drank and breathed CEDAW in college, I know the immense good this particular convention did for women around the world but also how ineffectual it could be because of the conservative factions of signatory countries that refused to follow all of the guidelines.

The executive director at BYU’s World Family Policy Center told a reportert hat the United Nations conventions are an issue because they “appeared to be a pretty concerted effort to shape customary international law into, essentially, the Equal Rights Amendment.” But is anyone else wondering if an Equal Rights Amendment for countries like Saudi Arabia and India would be such a bad thing? Would it be such a bad thing for female fetuses to be guaranteed the right to life or for little girls to go to school without acid being flung in their eyes? Is being able to escape an abusive marriage really a threat to the traditional family? The answer is, of course, yes; any gains made in the rights of women are a threat to patriarchal tradition. The question is now, does our church really want to follow this tradition?

It would seem that the lack of answers is really the answer. Of course our church leaders could change things if they wanted to. The preside language is incomprehensible and could be gotten rid of tomorrow without changing the majority of Mormon marriages. Likewise, the “hearken” covenant could be done away with without fundamentally changing the endowment. And yet neither is likely to happen; they are not likely to happen because their is no desire or impetus to change. Instead we have gotten into bed with facets of religion and culture that hold equal partnership between men and women in complete disregard. I am afraid that here, actions speak louder than words.

As for those of us on the fringe, all we can do is keep hanging out on that tree branch and hope that God sends an avalanche some day soon.

I Can’t Understand This

There are a few things that fill my soul with rage, one of those is violence against women and children. I have had to de-sensitize myself a lot to this issue just because of the work I do. Every once in a while, I hear of something that makes me so angry that tears will pour down my face. The Dunbar Village rape case is one of these instances.

In 2007, a woman was gang raped by 10 men in her own home for over three hours, forced to have sex with her own 12-year-old son and survived an attempt to light both of them on fire. Four of those men have been arrested and are currently in prison without bail. This is where the story gets even more heinous. Despite conclusive DNA evidence, apparent photographic evidence that the rapists took on their cell phones during the attack and signed confessions, Al Sharpton and the NAACP have taken the defense of these four young men with the excuse that white men, accused of the same crime, are given bond. Equal justice is something that I fully support and those white men should be in prison. But just because our judicial system is racist doesn’t mean that extremely violent black offenders should be treated with leniency!

I am dumbfounded by the actions of Al Sharpton and the NAACP. It is amazing to me that instead of standing up for the rights of an African American woman and her son, they chose to support the worst of men. Al Sharpton and the NAACP should be standing up and cheering that a violent act against a woman of color is actually being taken seriously for once. The statistics on rape cases against African American women that are fully investigated and prosecuted our abysmal. Even in this case, six of the attackers are still free and there is no effort to find them!

Go an read Rev. Dr. Renita J. Weems’ call to action at her blog. Here are some things she suggest we can do:

1. Spread the word. Forward this if your conscience and concern have been raised. Send it to every concerned black citizen that you know.

2. Demand an explanation from your local NAACP chapter about this case. Cancel your membership to these organizations, and write a letter explaining that you will return when they prioritize the public safety needs of black women and children.

3. If you do not belong to these organizations, call and write them to tell them of your outrage and displeasure:

NAACP National Headquarters
4805 Mt. Hope Drive
Baltimore MD 21215

National Action Network
Rev. Al Sharpton
106 W. 145th Street
Harlem, New York

If you know an African American reporter or a black radio talk show host, forward this story to them and ask them to follow up on it.

Read the history of the Dunbar Village problem here: http://www.dunbarvillage2008.blogspot.com/