Women Between the Extremes
In this installment of my series exposing the Left–Islam unholy alliance, I move into even stranger, meaning more ironic, territory: the relationship between Radical Feminism and Islam. I timed this post with the parashah (weekly Torah portion) Vayeshev, which has some startling things to say about the matter.
The prefix “Radical” here is, unlike in the case of Islam, well-deserved: Radical Feminism departs from the preceding feminism in that it aims not merely for the worthy goal of ending discrimination of women, but for the transformation of society by uprooting that idea which for Radical Feminists is the embodiment of evil, namely patriarchy. The earlier forms of feminism, those which fought for women’s suffrage and other rights that had been confined to men, would never support Islam, which endorses all the evils they contended with; Radical Feminism, on the other hand, is possessed of particular thought-patterns that enable it to strike an alliance with Islam without any feeling of cognitive dissonance. That feminist voices against Islam today are so rare can only be attributed to a takeover, in concensus if not in actuality, of Radical Feminism over the entire Western feminist scene of today.
On the Radical Feminist side, there is that catch-all term, “Patriarchy”. It could be summed up in the thought, “Men are sex fiends and strive to dominate women both in bed and outside it”. By extension, there are male archetypes and female archetypes: there are the industrialists (male archetype, even if some of them happen to be women) who want to “rape the Earth”; there is the Colonialist West, which wishes to dominate the Indigenous Peoples and culturally impregnate them (the Israel/“Palestine” conflict fits here); and war is the manifestation of male evil, while peace comes from female good (this one dates all the way back to Lysistrata). At the heart of this dualistic, nay, Manichean split between “patriarchy” and “matriarchy” is the belief that men are inherently incapable of restraining themselves from their sex-driven dominance-urge.
How can Radical Feminism possibly meet Islam, a religion of quite, quite “male” dominance over the whole world? The equation of Muslims (foremostly the “Palestinians”) with Indigenous Peoples (female archetype) suffering under the oppression of the Colonialist West (male archetype) is definitely a contributor, but not the only thing, and I would say not even the main factor. I think the main factor is that, though coming to it from different angles, Islam and Radical Feminism share the view that men cannot be trusted to restrain themselves. And more: many bra-burning feminists come to the Islamic view from precisely that perception.
Let me do another historical backtrack: in the West in the 19th century, the setting of the first form of feminism in the West, women wore a bit more clothing than they do today. As the decades progressed, the idea took root that all those clothes were a tool for the men to keep their mastery over the women. Women’s clothing became more and more, um, scant, until the situation from the second half of the 20th century onward, in which a woman can almost be considered to be a walking lump of flesh. But that was the Radical Feminist choice.
All things come with a price. For women, the price of being “liberated from the constraints of male-imposed clothing” was being valued according to their looks rather than character. The more a woman bares herself, the more standards she has to meet: in the past a pretty face would have been enough, but now she is queried for a full chest, for a proportionate waistline and for shapely legs (and that is an abbreviation of the list of requirements). She is also subject to the whims of body fashion, in which a lone model like Twiggy could suddenly dictate that she had better work on an anorexic look. Having to keep up with clothing fashion is bad enough, but at least the risk to health is minimal; from Twiggy to Jennifer Lopez, many women have succumbed, even with their lives, to the temptation toward self-imposed malnutrition. Currently the “skin and bones” look is out of fashion, but we all know how fashions change.
So, having overcome “patriarchy” by cutting on the number and length of their clothes, women have come back to the confrontation with “patriarchy” in the form of dealing with being valued for their looks alone, by men who now see all their looks, with almost no mystery kept, because of that “radical” idea that they could gain their freedom by taking off as many garments as possible. The Radical Feminist who came of age in the 1960’s may have memories of the “oppressive clothing”, but the Radical Feminist of today has nothing but the oppression (and a true one it is) of being valued for nothing but her looks. It is from this point of view that she often comes to Islam, if not in the form of actual conversion then at least in the form of striking an alliance with it.
Muslim apologists for Islamic clothing, which at best leaves only the face and hands of a woman uncovered, know how to play on those strings: they claim that the state of meager clothing—which, like racism, they consider to be a basic feature of Western culture, although it is a recent phenomenon—is oppressive toward women because it makes her nothing more than a lump of flesh in men’s eyes. I agree with that. But then they tout Islamic clothing as the antidote: cover yourselves up, they say to women, entirely or nearly so, and then men will value you for your personalities and not for your looks. And many Radical Feminists of today are receptive to that invitation.
The question to be asked now is: Is the Muslim claim not right? Does Islamic clothing not remedy the ill of women being considered according to nothing but their appearance? My answer is, “Yes, but…” My answer is, yes, women who cover themselves up according to Islamic law are not walking lumps of flesh anymore, but they are walking strips of cloth instead. It’s called throwing the baby out with the bathwater, or going from one extreme to the other. More importantly, it is born of the same misguided view that men are inherently incapable of restraining themselves except by applying extreme measures. Most importantly, as a result of that misconception, Islamic clothing does not provide a cure for societal ills any more than the Radical Feminist ideology of casual disrobing does.
Parshat Vayeshev tells us of the story of Judah and his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Genesis 38:13–18 describes how she tricked him into impregnating her (I have emphasized two specially relevant parts):
And it was told Tamar, saying: ‘Behold, thy father-in-law goeth up to Timnah to shear his sheep.’ And she put off from her the garments of her widowhood, and covered herself with her veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the entrance of Enaim, which is by the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she was not given unto him to wife. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot; for she had covered her face. And he turned unto her by the way, and said: ‘Come, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee’; for he knew not that she was his daughter-in-law. And she said: ‘What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me?’ And he said: ‘I will send thee a kid of the goats from the flock.’ And she said: ‘Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it?’ And he said: ‘What pledge shall I give thee?’ And she said: ‘Thy signet and thy cord, and thy staff that is in thy hand.’ And he gave them to her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him.
“…Covered herself with her veil, and wrapped herself”—both her face was covered with a veil, and the rest of her body wrapped with clothing. I would hazard a guess she looked like the three ladies in this photo:
One might be quick to point out examples from the Bible of chaste women veiling themselves, such as Rebecca when she was brought to see Isaac for the first time. However, this would not be relevant: the quoted passage about Tamar does not prove that the veil was viewed as a whore’s attire in her place and time, yet it does show that the Torah does not view the near-entire covering of a woman’s body, with the veil and all, as a guarantor of her chastity—in sharp contrast to the Islamic view.
Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (HaRamban) has the following commentary on the quoted passage:
(On “He thought her to be a harlot”) because she was sitting at the crossroads; because she covered her face and he could not see her.
Because Tamar was sitting at the crossroads, the custom for whores of that day, Judah thought she was a whore; as for her coverings, not only did they not make her a chaste woman in his eyes, in fact they aided her in her subterfuge, for they hid her identity from him. Had her face been uncovered, Judah would not have sought her for sexual relations.
For the way of the whore is to sit in the view of the eyes, wrapped with a scarf, covering part of the hair and part of the face, soliciting with the eyes and lips, revealing the throat and the neck; for [the purpose that] she should be bold and say to him and hold him and kiss him, she covers part of her face. And more, the harlots who sit on the road to prostitute themselves cover their faces from their relatives too.
The picture painted here is of women revealing a little more than those of the above photo. Obviously, a woman with the intention of prostituting herself must attract the man by flashing her bits. However, what is evident from the commentary is how the body coverings, even when the whore lifts them slightly, serve the purpose of hiding the woman’s identity from everyone, including her relatives, thereby enabling her sin. The Muslims argue that the near-full coverings guard a woman’s chastity, but cases of adultery committed under the cover of the niqab or burka can be found reported if one looks hard enough, as well as examples of the failure of the coverings to restrain men (the Cairo Eid Incident is an instructive example).
G-d, in His Torah, teaches us here what many insist on learning the hard way: both the near-nudity of the 1960’s Radical Feminists and the near-total covering of Muslim women are extremes. As far as men are concerned, the former makes the woman a snare because too much of her is laid out before their eyes, while the latter does the same because it gives them the discretion they need for carrying out their urges. The hijab, which leaves the face revealed, does not suffer from the problem of serving a cover for sinful activity, yet in many Islamic societies it is applied to young girls, girls not even in their teens, meaning that any man who succumbs to his urge could easily take it out on a small child. If all females are covered, whether they are children or adults, children will inevitably have the same chances of being victims of rape as adults. Any way you look at it, the Islamic dress-code for women not only fails to prevent sexual transgressions, but further compounds them.
All that is the result of the belief that men are incapable of controlling themselves. The Jewish view takes the middle road: men are not only able, but also expected, to control themselves, and women are not required to become walking strips of cloth in order to aid them in that. Men should not endure the sight of women as walking lumps of flesh; although they are expected to control themselves even when they see that, those sights cause them great strain, so that women are required to avoid immodesty. They cover their arms, legs and torso, they cover their hair upon marriage, they do not cover their face, neck or hands, and they are required to wear dresses.
Of those requirements, the requirement of the dress is noteworthy: pants would be enough for preserving their modesty (indeed many Muslim women with the hijab wear pants), but Judaism prohibits them because of the law that the clothing of men and women should be distinct (Deuteronomy 22:5). Here is something more than modesty: protecting men and women from sexual transgression is only part of a whole system in which the sexual creation of G-d is raised to prominence and celebrated. Men and women are different, contrary to what the taboo-breaking Sixties Radicals have been trying to push for decades. This is another point worth laboring on.
Early feminism had its goal on giving women the opportunity to work instead of staying at home all the time. The situation upon having achieved that goal is that a woman who wanted to work could work and a woman who wanted to stay at home could stay at home. But Radical Feminism is all about breaking the existing world-order: the very concept that a woman could stay at home is part of the “patriarchy” in their eyes, therefore should be eradicated. Under the regime of Radical Feminism, a woman must work; a woman who wants to stay at home is a traitor to the cause. Early feminism was about liberating women; Radical Feminism is about replacing an old oppressive regime (whether real or imagined) with a new one. Under the maligned ancien régime, a woman would cook and raise the kids and her husband would provide the money. Early feminism had the goal of letting there be more opportunities, such as one in which the woman could work and her husband stay at home, or perhaps both could work and take turns in staying at home, or whatever worked best. Radical Feminism is about forcing (through group pressure) every woman to do both work and raising the kids. The burden that once was split between the husband and wife now falls entirely upon the woman: an ideologically-imposed, often voluntary, flight from freedom to oppression. The similarities to Islam are uncanny.
Being itself a form of women’s oppression, Radical Feminism is not capable of standing up to Islam even if its adherents had the will to do so. The arguments of Muslim apologists as to “Islam’s liberation of women” are too sweet-sounding to their ears, ears which are so very receptive to any idea that can serve as a platform for bashing the hated Western Civilization. The Radical Feminists are fond of donning Islamic clothes as part of their “radical chic”, that trendy opposition to the West that prompts so many to be photographed wearing the keffiyeh. In all cases, this self-loathing is symptomatic of the auto-immune disease gripping the West, shutting down its defenses.
But it does not have to be so.
There is a way for women to be free, to be equal in opportunities but complimentarily different from men, and to be valued for both looks and personality just as men are, and, on the other hand, for men to be regarded as capable of being masters of their urges, not as wild animals that need to be tied up lest they go berserk. Instead of having women portrayed with the sexual imagery of ancient goddesses, yet so often “welcome” their unexpected pregnancy with horror and the wish to have an abortion, they can keep their mysteries locked until that special moment after the wedding, and welcome the building of a family, helped by their partner for life of the opposite sex. That vision, both progressive and traditional at the same time, could not leave women a void which they would seek to fill with either of the two extremes.