The Middle East and Feminism clash over equality: why tradition and change can coexist
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sparked controversial at the beginning of the week when he declared, “You cannot put women and men on an equal footing….” Where the traditional views of Muslims and Christians on the role of women in society often conflict with Western feminist ideals, most Westerners interpret both extremes in such a way that they can accept and adhere to both perspectives.
Where Asia is growing more “American” in the way it views women, in spite of an entrenched cultural history that objectified women, the roles of women in Islam are very well-defined while the overall Middle East has not culturally progressed as quickly as the rest of the world. What troubles feminists about comments by individual like President Erdogan is that he seems to thoroughly reject the notion that women deserve the same rights, freedoms, and legal protections that men enjoy in their democratic nation.
Looking at a place like Afghanistan, women are certainly not treated as the most revered members of society in accordance with Muslim beliefs. Instead, religion is used to justify the abuse, neglect, and thorough victimizing of women by the Taliban and other hardliner traditionalists. Clearly, government treating women in the same way as men creates a situation where women would also be entitled to equal treatment in areas such as economic opportunity to the dismay of traditionalists, but equal rights does not mean women must play the same exact role as men.
What it means is that women are given the power to ensure they are not victimized by people who abuse traditions. It also means women are empowered to ensure their needs, and wants, can be met. In terms of relationships, men and women can develop healthier, deeper relationships when one is not dominated by the other. If man has the same influence over his wife as his children, she can only be seen as a child, instead of a wife, while a man is not going to respect his wife in accordance with Islam when she is seen a child in his eyes.
Because it often helps to look back on history for answers, it might be beneficial to understand how the role of men and women evolved throughout history. Looking at a barebones version of the changing economic, i.e. pursuit of one’s interests, dynamic between men and women as society developed, uncivilized men benefited from having women around for sexual pleasure. Because men helped protect women from predators and other dangers while offering them greater access to animal protein, it was beneficial for women to sexually subjugate themselves to men.
As there is safety in numbers, women even had an inceptive in allowing men to have multiple mates. While this helped ensure the human population could survive and reproduce, cooperation on behalf of women benefited men as well. After all, women offered men supplemental food sources through their food gathering and other “domestic” activities as well as added security. In return, men also protected their offspring in order ensure the cooperation of women.
Moving beyond what behavior can still be seen in social animals, family units eventually evolved into civilizations. Throughout a period of millennia, the roles of men and women began to further evolve. In essence, what happened is that men socially inherited various responsibilities to protect and take care of women, i.e. the role of men evolved to be the “bread winner.” For women, the development of more secure and prosperous societies meant an increased ability to demand more rights, responsibly and freedom.
Western women saw the rise of marriage eventually lead to the end of polygamy, though a double standard on extramarital affairs that favored men continued until somewhere around the Twentieth Century, to 1950’s man dominated family model to the current Western view where men and women are treated as equal partners in a relationship. Because feminism exists for the empowerment of women, the socialization process, which has slowly empowered women for millennia, can be considered a feminization progress. Consequently, Western thinking on women is to due to socialization/feminization process.
For the Middle East, the same social evolution has occurred throughout the history of the Muslim. At point one in history, the Muslim world split from the West in regards to practices like polygamy, yet the process is the same. Although Muslim feminists may well embrace some form of polygamy in adherence to their cultural identity, i.e. Islam, and how the Muslim world develops will differ, women in the Middle East will continue to move toward equality in terms of rights, freedoms, security, and influence as the Muslim world grows more secure, stable, and prosperous.
Efforts to fight the socialization process will only result in less security, increased instability, and ruin. That said, the rich traditions and cultures of the Muslim world are not necessarily under threat. Although a feminizing Middle East means a loss of dominance by men will make them feel disempowered, equality can exist even when men and women do not share the same roles in a society. The attitudes of people like Turkish President Erdogan are, however, impediments to the natural progression of every civilization as they seek to suppress women for their own interests instead of balancing cultural roles with individual interests.
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