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Monday, April 30, 2007

Feminism? Does it work?

Several days ago, someone posted an article in one mailing list I join. The article was written by a female Muslim who did not believe that feminist movement would succeed in its struggle to better women’s position in this patriarchal society. Instead, she suggested that Indonesian people use the teachings of Islam kaffah (perhaps I can translate this word into “the original and true”) to be applied in all aspects of life. She reasoned that since the feminist movement was brought into Indonesia in the middle of 1990s, we haven’t seen the fruit of it, although it was welcome warmly and many women have applied it in their life. She also mentioned that since feminist movement came from the West with its capitalist lifestyle, it is not really appropriate for Indonesia to “adopt” it. She opined that during Prophet Muhammad’s era, women never underwent oppression and injustice. They even got their ultimate happiness, their rights were “protected”—without any clear explanation what she meant with “protected rights” here.

In the article I entitled “God’s Law for Women?” I posted several days ago, I wrote that indeed the women movement started to get its solid struggle in the middle of the nineteenth century by having the first women convention in Seneca Falls New York. But then, is it fully true to say that this movement is merely from the West? Because only women in the West underwent oppression and violence? And women in the East in general and in Indonesia in particular did not undergo the same oppression and violence?

If I am not mistaken there were one or two people from Arabic countries that started to struggle for women’s betterment, especially struggle for women to get education. Qasim Amin is one example of this struggle.

I am of opinion that if women in the East have never undergone oppression and violence, they wouldn’t just “adopt” women movement that later on could be called as feminist movement. (the word ‘feminism’ itself was coiled in the last decade of the nineteenth century). At the very beginning, this feminist movement was indeed for white women coming from the middle and upper social class. Later on, since the movement could not answer the problems and challenge of life of other women (who were not white not coming from the middle and upper social class), the feminist movement developed with many other categories, such as multicultural feminism, eco-feminism, etc.

How many centuries have this world been dominated by male?

When we count feminist movement has been carried out for about two centuries (from the middle of the nineteenth century till now, the beginning of the twenty first century). Two hundred years means very short if it is compared to many thousands years of male-domination in the world. It is too quick to say that feminist movement has failed in its struggle for women’s betterment. Of course it is not as easy as turning down our palms with so many people—including women—trying to be loyal to the status quo of patriarchal culture.

A simple example. In my workplace, I am the only one who view the discrimination done to women as unfair while many other workmates of mine see it as something created by God instead of socially constructed. Therefore they consider me weird.

To say that feminist movement means to encourage women to forget their “proper” place as regulated by God’s law (which God’s law? That women were created as domestic creature? As weaker than men? As not rational as men?) is absolutely something very wrong. I do agree with the writer of that article’s statement that men and women were created by God to live side by side, to help each other, to be company of the other one. That is why when making a decision, making policy, women’s voice must be heard, women’s voice that really represent women’s point of view, and not women whose brain is full of patriarchal ideas. (the writer of the article is one proof that a woman can be patriarchal too, she used men’s perspective in viewing problems).

How can women have their own way of thinking, and not just adopt from men? Give them chances to get high education, give them chances to take part in public affair, give them chances to have their own experience, that then will be analysed using their own way of thinking.

Going back to the teachings of kaffah Islam?

Which teachings did she mean? I doubt if in this era there are people or a community where the people really practice the teachings of Islam the same way people in Prophet Muhammad’s era. We know that Khadija—the first wife of Prophet Muhammad—was a successful merchant that made her go to neighboring cities or countries. It shows that women in that era could have access to public life. Now in Arabic countries can women join public life? They are imprisoned at home, and then they are labelled as “to be protected”. Protection from whom? Men who always view them as seductive creatures?

Several centuries after Prophet Muhammad passed away, appeared classical fiqh (the result of Alquran interpretation, that then were referred to as Islamic Law) which was written by gender-biased ulema. They easily forgot the history that women also could join public affair, and even could become ruler (in Alquran we know the story of Belquees the Queen of Sheba). They also forgot that women could be the source of economic power. They forgot or ignore that fact so that they produced gender-biased interpretation of Alquran to imprison women and then they gave excuse “to protect women”.

If religion is “created” to humanize human being, can we say that the teachings of Islam found in those classical fiqh—that were misogynist—humanize women?

To end this article, I want to quote what Rosemary Ruether stated in her book entitled NEW WOMAN NEW EARTH: “The exclusion of women from education meant that each time a skill was professionalized, women were prevented from entering the educational institutions required for it, forbidden to exercise it on the basis of practical experience … Restricted to a sheltered sphere, kept from education and enlarging experiences, women can scarcely sense in themselves the diminishment of their true potential.” (1995:10)

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