Monday, 1 August 2011

default human

i've read plenty of posts around the feminist blogosphere about how the default human is male. there's plenty of evidence this is true, but i had another reminder in this weekend's paper.

gwynne dyer is a well-known columnist who is published in the fairfax papers, and i think the herald also published his pieces at some point. he certainly comes across as progressive, and i generally enjoy reading his columns. until this week's one, which includes the following:

And it's Muslims (British Muslims this time), who keep their women indoors or make them cover up when they go out, who are the main victims of this disease.

so, the default "muslim" is male. the women belong to the males, apparently, and have no individual identity or agency. according to mr dyer, it's not even a possibility that the women might choose to cover themselves, having thought about the issue and come to a decision. the possiblity that some of these women are covering themselves when the men who apparently own them would rather they didn't.

the whole construction of this sentence sickens me. that it comes from a writer that is clued up on so many issues rather than jihad watch or pamela gellar just makes it worse. it's so much harder when you have to try to convince people who, on the face of it, appear to be on your own side, that you come under the definition of human being (or muslim human being in this case). and i don't believe he's using "muslim" to mean muslim men in opposition to the arabic "muslimah" for muslim women, because he doesn't bother to use "muslimah" anywhere in the article to describe muslim women. he just sees them as appendages to the actual humans, being the men.

it all brings to mind the whole richard dawkins thing, and his use of muslim women to put down the very valid concerns of another women. this atheist wants to speak for us or about us in other forums, as if we couldn't possibly speak for themselves, as if we need this white knight to come to our rescue, as if we're just tools to be used in argument.

this all goes back to the point i was trying to make in my last post: that there is so much cr*p out there about muslim women, and it takes so much effort to get just one article giving us a voice and allowing us to talk for ourselves. sometimes it feels like an impossible task.


Psycho Milt said...

It's a nonsensical sentence, as Muslim women seem to be the subject of "And it's Muslims... who are the main victims of this disease," but are the object of the clause "who keep their women indoors or make them cover up when they go out." So either the Muslim women are keeping "their women" indoors, or Muslim men are getting rickets because they keep "their women" indoors. Neither makes any sense.

Anonymous said...

Curious.. had I not read your post prior to reading the paragraph, I would have read that sentence differently. I'd have read 'Muslims' as the name of the collective - one where women, and indeed men, belong to the collective.

As a ridiculous example: "And it's Muslims, who circumcise their males, who are the main beneficiaries of the new Aids prevention scheme" would read just as easily to me.

stargazer said...

anon, please respect our comment policy (clearly stated above the comments box) and use a consistent handle.

as to your point, even if your reading was correct, the construction still means that covering up is something that is done to women, rather than something they choose to do themselves. it denies agency. but i don't accept your reading because it doesn't seem to make sense ie that men & women collectively make women stay indoors or cover up. and it still puts women in a position of ownership ie being owned by the community. we're not property to be owned and never were.

Carlist said...

I think in cases where Muslim women are pressured to stay indoors the pressure sometimes comes from other women as well as men.

KimV said...

Carlist, that's not the point.

Suzanne said...

The way I read it, the comment denies agency for all women, not only Muslim women, because the clause "keep their women indoors" implicity juxtaposes the alternative of "let their women go outside".

@ Psycho Milt, the content does make sense because it's meaning that children including boys get rickets because their mothers don't take them outside.

Carlist said...

KimV, I was addressing this

"i don't accept your reading because it doesn't seem to make sense ie that men & women collectively make women stay indoors or cover up. "

LudditeJourno said...

I'm reminded, reading this post, of the beautiful book "All the women are white, all the blacks are men, but some of us are brave." About the collision between racism and sexism as lived in the lives of women of colour. Thank you, stargazer, for highlighting this othering. I agree with you, it's deeply problematic.