Saturday, March 26, 2005

Men and Women

Just wrote this comment over at Mindbleed, and thought its worth putting up here too, as apparently its not obvious.

There are two kind of feminists, the sane and the not so sane. The sane call for equity between men and women, and the not so sane call for equality. What's the difference?

Equality is claiming that women and men are equal, which is obviously not the case. Hence the needs and requirements of each are also not the same.

Equity is to guarantee just and fair rights (possibly different rights) based on the natural differences of each gender. No gender is better than the other, but each gender is different than the other.

UPDATE: Why is everyone making my point better than I am?!
Yasmin Mogahed explains my point clearly and without any vagueness in this article. Her conclusion:
"Given my privilege as a woman, I only degrade myself by trying to be something I’m not--and in all honesty--don’t want to be: a man. As women, we will never reach true liberation until we stop trying to mimic men, and value the beauty in our own God-given distinctiveness."


Oscar said...

I wish you could explain that to a lot of left-wing lunatics here in the US....

This is Cairo said...

Amen, Mohamed. But I disagree on the definition of 'sane' feminists. Yes they're not all the same but a feminist is by default someone (a woman or a man) who is active to progress an agenda dedicated for only ONE sex in society. Feminism is biased whether we like it or not. Some of it is justified, most of it isn't.

Mohamed said...

Cairo, I think its okay to be biased, especially when there's injustice that is sometimes done against women. So it could be fine to be biased sometimes in order to work on getting women the rights they deserve. The feminists that fight for womens' rights and interests (not simply equality) are the feminists I cheer and consider sane.

Oscar, I'm not calling the other kind of feminists lunatic for political reasons, heh, so I'll settle for "not-so-sane". But mind you Oscar, with the difference that is drawn between equality and equity, something like Affirmitive Action could be encouraged for women's equity (gotcha:). Women could actually have more rights than men in different areas. But yes, I think the left-wing and the extreme feminists take it too far sometimes.

crossfader72 said...

please list a few areas in which these women seek "equality" when they should really seek "equity."

theory is nice but do you have a concrete example we can work from?

Mohamed said...

Fader, yes ofcourse theory is easier than the real world. You can tell that to those calling for equality, who are not accepting the natural law (reality).

I'll let you think of the list yourself as an exercise.

Stacey said...

So I want to raise a question, and I don't want to be perceived as polemical, because I am actually completely serious.

The framework that you've espoused (e.g. recourse to natural law as an explanation for and reification of difference) is one that has been used for centuries to justify, at the least, policies like "seperate but equal" (or Jim Crow) in the United States, and at the most extreme, slavery.

I'm not suggesting that women would be slaves in your framework. But the intellectual edifice on which your claim rests - that some class of people (however defined) are deserving of different rights than another class - seems to be the same as that used to justify institutionalized discrimination in other contexts.

Mohamed said...

Stacey, nice to have you here.

I totally agree, that unfortunately this notion of "difference" is being misused to put down one gender versus the other, but it doesn't mean that that is the only way (or the correct way) to look at it. Because the differences are being misused, I understand why many would be reluctant to admit to the differences, but I think that's a wrong claim (not being different), which is even doing injustice to women. I'm looking at it from the non-stereotypical view, where a man being different than a woman, does not make a man better than a woman.

If we set such ground rules (where different is not a bad word), then we start looking at what rights women deserve that men don't, and vice versa.

Stacey said...

So of course I want to thank you for taking the question seriously. I am in complete agreement with you about the need to make "difference" an acceptable word, and I think it's really important at the individual level. But at the collective, it still makes me very nervous to talk about systems of rights that differ for classes of individuals, especially when "natural law" is the justification (since natural law in particular has been used to justify so many of the systems of subordination that I know you personally reject).

How can we say that it's okay to use the idea of natural law (which, of course, has differed across space and time) to distinguish between the rights of one class of people (in this case, women versus men) but not in another (say, blacks versus whites, Muslims versus non-Muslims, etc.)

This is a fundamental tension with political liberalism (I'm using this term in the philosophical sense, not the left-right sense), which posits the individual as the irreducible possessor of rights. Individual rights and groups rights are inherently in tension, it seems, so I think you would have to choose - and to choose group rights (in order to realize your vision of gender relations) might have implications for your (and everyone else's) ability to realize some individual rights.

Mohamed said...

Stacey, ofcourse I have to take you seriously. I know I try to be a clown most of the time, but sometimes I'm reasonable. Comments like yours make me think, and I like that.

No one said its easy to properly apply the difference between genders in distinguishing between the rights of people, and I'm not claiming I have a magical set of rights for each gender. But difficult as it is, I beleive that this is the balanced way to look at rights deserved by each gender.

Now, I don't think other "classes of people" like blacks and whites and Muslims and non-Muslims can be looked at the same way. Muslims and non-Muslims are not "naturally" different, either one can easily (theoretically) become the other. Blacks and whites, I think the only difference between them is the color of the skin (some claim that blacks have more physical strength, and that might explain why they may have more rights in the US as to getting into the NFL, NBA, and Baseball. I don't think we should go there though). If we look at different "classes of people", I think the main differences would be essentially cultural.

Back to men and women. I totally agree, what makes this scary is who would decide what are those "natural" differences, and then worse, who would decide what rights are due based on those differences. Scary stuff, I agree. As Muslims, we presumably have this dilemma solved, a divine natural being told us that! But human beings being what they are, we skewed God's word to our (mostly men's) own preferences, and in many cases subjugating women by misinterpreting and misusing those words. As I said, using the gender differences properly is not easy, but that shouldn't make it wrong.

For Muslims, they should fear God more really, and not skew God's words. For secularists, they make their man-made laws. If secularists set the same ground rules, of accepting the difference between genders, they need to be very careful and extra genuine and sincere in deciding what the differences are, and what different rights (as few as they may be) go to each gender.

As I said, I don't have a magical list of what rights each gender should have, and what rights should be common. If I did, I'd go write a PhD thesis right now. But here's a simple example that might provide a visualizaiton of my point. And the example is debatable too ofcourse. A man and a woman have the right to work. The woman gets pregnant, she has a right to take some months off work for maternity leave, and she has the right to come back to her job on the same position she was in before. A man doesn't have to have such a right (while some might argue that he should be able to get paternal leave, hmm, debatable as I said). So what made the woman earn that right and not the man? the natural difference between them (giving birth, breast feeding, emotional attachment of the baby to her, etc.). Some women choose to give away that right and put their babies in day care from very early on, its up to them, but others don't have that right of getting that maternity leave.

Regarding political liberalism and how it views the individual, its an interesting topic. Yes Western modernity makes the individual the center of everything, which contradicts drastically with Islam actually. That's a point I'd like to elaborate on more after/if I read the book I've been looking forward to read.

Stacey said...

So, this just doesn't fly. The "superficial" differences between blacks and whites were not always considered superficial - they were considered the "natural law" justification for discrimination.

I agree that there are lots of differences between men and women, but why forclose some opportunities (even if you're opening others) on the basis of aggregate differences? Individual women (and individual men) may not fit these aggregate realities. As I posed at Mindbleed, what about women who can't have children? Should they be "entitled" to the same rights as men?

In general, though, your discussion above seems to be conflating "rights" and "laws." For example, why does a woman have a "right" to maternity leave - she doesn't, unless there is a law granting it to her. Similarly, there could easily be a law (and is in the U.S.) guaranteeing the same privlege (there is a difference between a right and a privelege) to men.

So why not write the laws so that men and women can individual decide which rights to exercise? Why not believe in free will, just a little bit?

Mohamed said...

"So why not write the laws so that men and women can individual decide which rights to exercise? Why not believe in free will, just a little bit?"

I thought that this is what I'm saying!

Stacey said...

How so? Seriously, I don't see that at all.

Mohamed said...

Yes, seriously.

I said: "If secularists set the same ground rules, of accepting the difference between genders, they need to be very careful and extra genuine and sincere in deciding what the differences are, and what different rights (as few as they may be) go to each gender."

That is "writing the laws" (keyword = "deciding").

And in the maternity leave example I gave I said: "Some women choose to give away that right and put their babies in day care from very early on, its up to them, but others don't have that right of getting that maternity leave."

That is free will.

Stacey, we really don't have to agree, really. Or must I think your way to be pleasant? You can just think of me as just another man who's goal is to subdue women. Too bad if you think that, but you're entitled to your opinion and your own understanding of my views.