Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Is It Possible To Be Too Angry About Sexism And Misogyny?

Here, on the Moose, we  have had several discussions about sexism. Most of these discussions have centered around the American media and its role in the recent elections.  Although the discussions could get quite heated at times, they proved to be interesting and enlightening.

The discourse, as happens frequently on the Moose, was often wide-ranging. For example, someone would raise an anthropological point about matriarchal societies and another would veer off into the role of the father in modern society. Usually, I followed these side discussions with interest, but once in awhile there would be a comment that I thought was irrelevant. Someone would throw in a comment about an atrocity that had happened in a foreign country and I would fail to see how that had anything to do with sexism in the media. A Nicholas Kristof column in today’s NY Times finally opened my eyes.

Kristof, filing his column from Islamabad, Pakistan, stated wrote, “Here in Pakistan, I’ve been investigating such acid attacks, which are commonly used to terrorize and subjugate women and girls in a swath of Asia from Afghanistan through Cambodia (men are almost never attacked with acid). Because women usually don’t matter in this part of the world, their attackers are rarely prosecuted and acid sales are usually not controlled. It’s a kind of terrorism that becomes accepted as part of the background noise in the region.”

He went on to write –  

This month in Afghanistan, men on motorcycles threw acid on a group of girls who dared to attend school. One of the girls, a 17-year-old named Shamsia, told reporters from her hospital bed: “I will go to my school even if they kill me. My message for the enemies is that if they do this 100 times, I am still going to continue my studies.”

When I met Naeema Azar, a Pakistani woman who had once been an attractive, self-confident real estate agent, she was wearing a black cloak that enveloped her head and face. Then she removed the covering, and I flinched.

Acid had burned away her left ear and most of her right ear. It had blinded her and burned away her eyelids and most of her face, leaving just bone.

Six skin grafts with flesh from her leg have helped, but she still cannot close her eyes or her mouth; she will not eat in front of others because it is too humiliating to have food slip out as she chews.

“Look at Naeema, she has lost her eyes,” sighed Shahnaz Bukhari, a Pakistani activist who founded an organization to help such women, and who was beginning to tear up. “She makes me cry every time she comes in front of me.”

Bukhari’s organization is trying to assist women like Naeema and to give them a voice. Kristof goes on to report –

Since 1994, Ms. Bukhari has documented 7,800 cases of women who were deliberately burned, scalded or subjected to acid attacks, just in the Islamabad area. In only 2 percent of those cases was anyone convicted.

It is easy to view such happenings in the abstract when you are living in a western country. Yet, only a few decades ago, it was legal for men to discipline the women in their families by beating them with straps or rods. Both of my grandmothers were born into a world where they had no right to vote. Even today, domestic violence against women is far too common, but, out of sight, out of mind to many of us.

I have never known a woman who was physically abused. My brothers and I were raised to respect women and never to raise a hand against one. The idea that someone could treat women that way has always been an abstract thought for me. I know it happens, but I always believed it was rarer than people claimed. It is one thing to know something intellectually and another entirely to feel it in your gut.

What Kristof’s column did for me today was to make me realize that distance doesn’t minimize evil. The picture that accompanied the column hit me right in the gut. Naeema Azar is shown standing beside her 12-year old son who has his arm protectively around her shoulders. Her face looks like something in a museum exhibit about mummification. Be prepared to be shocked if you visit the Times site to read the column.

Blaming this on a portion of the population, like the Islamic world, is an intellectually and morally lazy way of dealing with it. This type of atrocity isn’t limited to Islam. Men in many societies still retain full control of their wives and daughters. They are forced into unwelcome marriages, beaten when they don’t obey or just because the man had a bad day. They are denied education and basic health care for societal and religious reasons. No wonder some people react strongly when they see signs of sexism or misogyny in our country, even though the rest of us think it is about something fairly minor.

The only way to remove this stain from humanity is through education. Lawmakers must be educated. Men must come to see these acts as barbaric. Women must be shown that a different world is possible. And, most importantly, women must be empowered.

One way we in the west can help is by supporting groups like Ms. Bukhari’s.  Another way is to support Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Send her letters of support and ask her to push women’s rights world-wide. Push Barack Obama to support her in these efforts. Lobby our representatives to push the same issues.

While he was a senator, Vice-president Joseph Biden co-sponsored an International Violence Against Women Act with Senator Richard Lugar. Put your support behind this bill to get it passed. Please don’t sit back and complain about the way the world mistreats women. Step up and actually do something about it.

As I said at the beginning of this diary, my eyes have been opened. I get it, I finally get it. Now to do something about it.


  1. Jjc2008

    informative, sad, frustrating.

    I too have been lucky.  Even though I came of age in a sexist society where choices were limited, I had a father who was way ahead of his times.  He believed my sister and I were every bit as smart and capable as anyone, male or female.  He always complimented our intelligence, our talent, our abilities.

    I was stunned with the way some of my friends father’s treated them.  

    And my father was totally non violent. He did not believe in hitting….not women, not children.  I was lucky.

    I did not know much about other countries treatment of women when I was a child. I did know that outside of my home, women were not treated as equals.  My church (catholic) gave a clear message that women were inferior and thus could not have the privilege of going beyond the a certain point….only men were allowed to be that close to God.

    In the 80s I was involved with the Peace and Justice commission here.  They talked back then about what was happening to women and children after the Americans left the “freedom fighters” they had armed and trained and financed to have control in Afghanistan.  

    We had some protests here…very poorly attended.

    I remember it was then that the complexity of it all overwhelmed me.  WE, the USA, armed Osama Bin Laden, and he financed Al Quieda and they helped secure the authority of the Taliban.  

    I remember having learned about Afghanistan back when I was a kid. While visiting D.C. my dad and I were visiting the Washington Monument at the same time some visiting dignitaries from Afghanistan were there. I went home and read about it.  I was shocked later to learn that before we “helped” the Freedom Fighters, the Afghans actually has women in their government.  

    As an adult of course, I became much more aware of how many women around the world were oppressed, subject to legal physical abuse.  It was a depressing eye opener.

    Maybe that is why I was so impressed when Hillary in 1995 said the words to the Chinese government here:

    Women’s rights are human rights

    Sadly too little is done because too many are ignorant either by choice or by design.  It is a sad commentary for all of us.

  2. anna shane

    for decent men to get it, to see that there are many men who take advantage of lax laws to use women, or punish them. I’ve had these conversations with lots of good men, who don’t get it.  

    One exercise that used to be done in psych classes, was to have a man lie on the floor and a woman stand over him. Women are physically weaker then men, even a woman of the same hight and weight as a man is about thirty percent weaker, and often it’s more than that.  Women can fear strange men for no other reason than the strength advantage, but men who experience the fear of women can feel personally offended, as if we’re supposed to be able to tell the difference, and worry about not insulting a decent man over acting to keep ourselves safe. So, women may do such things as walk alone even if that isn’t the smartest thing to do, to not ‘give in’ to fears.

    Many women put themselves in potential danger because we don’t always take our own fears seriously.  And most of the time, we’d be wrong, the men would be safe. But there is truly no way of knowing.  

    So, thank you John, for getting it.  

    What we need are laws to protect women and children, and we need some healthy paranoia too.  And we need the good men to get it.   Women who haven’t experienced violence or who know no one who seemed like a nice guy and turned out to be violent, can also defend the innocence of good men, as if that’s more important than safety.  

    My grandmother, who grew up in Russia, warned me, and my mother, who was sexually assaulted by her father, who was my grandmother’s first husband, warned me too.  I used to feel uncomfortable with their questions for me, and my mother’s unwillingness to leave me even for a second with her rapist father, when I was too young to be told what kind of a man he was.  

    Western women benefit from societies where laws protect women and men are reared to behave themselves and to treat women with respect.  We don’t get sanctioned acid attacks here, in comparison we’re very safe. But, we’re not as safe as all that.  

  3. no.

    as touched on above – we westerners seem to view women’s rights as some far away problem that doesnt really affect us – it does.  

    as well – i wish that i could say that in my 34 years on the planet that i have not experienced different treatment because i was female – but i have.

    circling back – this is why the past year or so has been so troubling to me in the blogopshere.  these people – the netroots – were supposed to be progressives (liberals) yet the most vile ans sexist things were often wither cheered on, let go, or defended.  

    at first this made me wonder if these people were just trying to ignore the issue because of political expediency.  but then i realized that no – i naively thought that i lived in a different world…

    anyway indie – i like this diary and its ideas for making change in the world.  well done.

  4. spacemanspiff

    … because I have no idea half the time what constitutes sexism on blogs

    But this diary hit close to home and it’s incredibly well written.

    Couldn’t stay away from it and wanted to comment on it.

    But I felt aprehensive. So I’d like to share something that’s always on my mind during these discussions.

    I have NEVER been called sexist in real life. Why would I be?

    I’m not.

    But on blogs?


    (this all applies strictly to blogs)

    If sexism is comparable to racism in its effect.

    Why are people being accused of being sexist so easily?

    I believe that word is being overused and abused in this very important discussion.

    I love the debate this has all produced and it’s opened my eyes to a few things.

    But I, and I’m sure others feel like questions, are interpreted as attacks.

    Opposing view points are enough to define, and label someone else as sexist. Easily.

    I can have good discussion with cg on this because she knows me well enough ( I have no bad intentions

    or am a class A douchebag). But on every thread on every blog I have been accused of sexism for

    criticizing Hillary “the person” and Sarah Palin ” the person”.  So then I didn’t know what the hell to say.

    I’ve been called sexist so many times for the most harmless comments that it gets to the point where I

    feel censored to even speak of women on blogs.

    For instance, I put up some Angelina Jolie pics on an openthread and then wondered if that

    was sexist. I thought it wasn’t, but now I don’t know if it was. (is it?)

    Same thing during the primary.

    I just ragged on Penn and Co during the primaries and Gramps McCain during the G.E.

    When I did criticize Hillary or Palin it was for obvious blunders.

    Maybe I just don’t know the rules. Perhaps some people believe I am sexist.

    So. I’m not sure if any of this made sense.

    p.s. if you have example of sexist comments of mine please tell me about them. I’m serious! I open to bettering myself and learning. Thanks!

  5. GrassrootsOrganizer

    I applaud the diary for calling much needed attention to the horrors still committed against women around the world.  It can’t be brought up too often.  It continues to astound me that world leaders can be outraged by genocide and other atrocities based on race and religion, but won’t draw the same lines in the sand over persecution based on gender.

    That said, I get nervous when examination of atrocities against women in developing nations are lumped in together with the ongoing sexism in this country.  It can start to feel like “how can you complain about sexism here when this is going on over there.  This is what ‘real’ sexism looks like.”  

    For one, I have a difficult time using the label “sexism” to cover domestic violence, mutilation or violence against women of any kind.  In my mind, violence and the denial of basic human rights based on gender deserve their own frame and their own discussions.

    I may be overly sensitive to this as I’ve known a number of “liberal” men who, when confronted with accusations of sexist thinking, took to promoting the issue of grotesque violence against women around the world, almost like a shield.  Not saying the diarist is doing this, but I have seen the topic used as a way to end discussions of sexism rather than inform them.

    The reality is, sexism is still embedded in our culture, no matter how far we’ve advanced beyond the practices of our most barbaric neighbors.  It still effect American women, even in it’s most “gentle” form.  Ground has been gained, but there is still much to cover before women have true equal footing.

    One need look no further than the gender breakdowns for every leadership role in this country — in government, business, academia, the arts — and until that percentage is 50/50?  We apparently do still live in a sexist society and should be striving to change that sad fact.


  6. and I gave a really lousy definition in my last comment. I meant to say that sexism is a matter of treating someone in a negative way based on their sex. Of course the sexes react to each other differently based on the sex of those interacting. That is not sexism unless it is somehow discriminatory or negative. Normal differences in treatment are caused by sexuality. Sexism is something darker and more harmful.

    It seems much of the confusion is based on viewing sexism through western eyes. In most cases, western sexism is a matter of language. We harp on about how the media has mistreated this or that person, while ignoring domestic violence, gender bias, or even sexual servitude.

    In other parts of the world, women face grave dangers based solely on their gender. It starts before birth in some countries, like China where abortions of female embryos is far more common than male ones. In fact, most of the abortions in China are based only on the gender of the fetus. This harmful attitude continues after birth in many areas of the world.

    We are all aware of the discrimination women face in Muslim societies. However, there is as much or more gender-based discrimination in non-Muslim countries. In many countries in Africa, women receive little to no education. They are doomed to short, pain-filled lives of illiteracy and hopelessness. This is what sexism is about.

    Sexism is the underlying cause of massive discrimination. It is justified by the perpetrators based on societal, cultural, or religious teachings. It is present in every corner of the globe, from third-world countries to the most advanced.

    The same sexism that leads to honor killings or genital mutilation underlies props up the glass ceilings found in western countries. We view it as less harmful in the west, because we have made progress against it. Yet, it is still there under the surface. We ignore it at our peril.

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