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Monday, August 5, 2013

Women and the Abrahamic tradition


by Jamie Lutton
My editor wanted me to write about the women question in the Middle East. She suggested I compare how women are treated, say, in Iran where "they have equal rights" to Saudi Arabia, "where they can't even drive."

I have not made a serious study of the fate of women in Middle Eastern cultures, in Muslim cultures specifically. I read in the newspaper's that, for example, a girl was shot in Afghanistan for trying to go to school.

I do know that the problem goes back to the Old Testament, our shared Holy Book. Christians, Jews and Muslims alike hold the first five books of this document as holy, and tell the story of the origins of all humanity.

I have not read the Koran, but as this books is held sacred by these three faiths, I do not have to look further than Genesis to see the first cause of the woes of womanhood.

All women everywhere then bear the burden of being 'the bad ones' in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, because they are the daughters of Eve. In Gensis, at the very beginning of the Bible - and as far as most people read, if they are not religious - is the story of Adam and Eve. Eve gets herself and Adam thrown out of paradise (Eden) by being seduced by a talking snake, Satan, and eating the fruit of knowledge, and persuading Adam to do likewise.  Adam and Eve are then driven out of Eden by an angel with a flaming sword, and have to eat their bread in the sweat of their brow, etc, etc.

This story then lays the blame on all human woes at the feet of all women everywhere.
Even though we in the West live in a post-Darwin, post-Freud, post-Einstein world, we still know these stories, live by these stories, and most importantly have national laws that are shaped by these stories, just as the laws and customs in the Middle East are shaped by this story and others just as primitive.

Even now, in the 21st century, no president of the United States can be elected who did not loudly profess to be a Christian, and attends a Christian church regularly with his family.

I am enchanted by the Bible, in particular the King James Translation, as the Elizabethan scholars who translated it worked hard to make it beautiful, capturing the essence of the Hebrew and Aramaic words. If you know where to look, it as moving, transformative to read as the best of Shakespeare, a contemporary of those translators.

But I am not blind to the pernicious, poisonous influence of this book insofar as how women are treated by custom and under the law.

This is complicated by the events in the early 19th century, when the Industrial Revolution ripped apart the traditional family, and sent men, women, and children into the factory to work for money. For tens of thousands of years, the family unit used to be the 'factory'. This changed when the first weaving mills, then steel mills, etc were built, and the runaway Industrial revolution was born.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the nuclear family of a husband, wife and kids living alone was rare. In a patriarchal household in the West 250 years ago, whether you were in Michigan or France or Iran, you would have the father's parents, the husband and wife, unmarried sisters of the husband, and maybe an unmarried younger brother, and the kids. The man's house might be near the wife's house, and her extended family, and you would have neighbors with similar households.

Single people did not usually live on their own. It took a group of people to hew wood, weave and sew cloth, farm and do the other duties of the per-Industrial world.

The unmarried sisters would help take care of the girls, teaching them to be women with their work like weaving and making all the clothing, the unmarried younger brothers would help teach the boys the family trade, be it farming or carpentry or stone masonry. The point being, the husband and wife would not have only themselves to rely on raising the next generation, and potential for abuse would be muted because - well - everyone watched everyone else . There was little or no privacy.

When families were broken up to work in factories in the early 19th century, instead of working out of their homes, weaving or farming or whatever, men and women and children left early and stayed late in factory jobs for money.

Society went from being a subsistence culture to a money culture. And the family was pulled apart to suit the new economy.

Five or six generations later, we have the nuclear family, with all its ills. The grandparents are in their own houses, parents in their own homes, single relatives - perhaps the gay and lesbian relatives, - live alone too, and NO one is watching the kids full time, except perhaps the State in the public school system..

A curious thing happened. When men were called away from their homes, some dying in the frequent wars, women were called from the home to work in the factories, as the Industrial machine demanded more 'brains' to grow and thrive. And as laws were reluctantly passed that got children out of the factories, even more women marched in to take their place.

And so women in the last 200 years invented? rediscovered? feminism, or the rights of being fully human. This evolution has been messy and complicated. Feminism in this country got help in the push from Northern churches in the push to grant African- Americans rights by destroying the great struggle of the 19th century.

The ever-present, unspoken promise of our nation's excellent Constitution helped pave the way.

There was steady pressure from the State demanding that everyone should work, to make money, to survive in the age of the Machine. Kids are in school in the 20th and 21st century to learn how to make money when they are adults. Childhood is extended so that children can learn more to fit into the machine age. Instead of childhood being over at age 14 or so, with teens working as stonemasons or farmers or weavers, etc., 10 years is tacked on to cover more education, out of the home, of course.

This has helped created the messy situation we have today. Women are struggling become under the law full rights, and the State colludes with them - in part -, as they are needed to help run the big machine of the modern world.

But by law and by tradition, women are still 'property' in one form or another as well.

We in the West think we are more advanced than in the Middle East, and that we treat our women better. Yet - that women still have to fight to have legal, safe abortion shows that The State still views women's bodies as their property. This is promoted by taking the Bible literary, and the story of Eve literally, in our assumptions about women.

By taking that decision away from the woman involved and her doctor, on religious grounds, states that a child that might be born has more rights than the woman involved. So, a woman in America can have a drivers license, can vote, can move about without her husband's or father's permission--but the State owns her body, using sin of Eve as the excuse.

Women being treated as property of the state by being denied abortion rights IS like 'being a little pregnant'. The right to safe legal abortion is akin to the great question of slavery in the 19th century. The same organizations  who would deny women legal abortions also wish to restrict contraception, all in the futile attempt to reign in the women's attempts to free themselves from the state of chattel to the State.

So, we should reach out to the women in the Middle East, just as we should, by the way, boycott the 2014 Olympics in Russia for their State recently declaring their Gay citizens as criminals.
Fans of 20th century history take careful note: the decision of Putin to declare Homosexuals criminals is very like the decision Hitler and his henchmen made to declare Jews criminals.

We must all boycott the 2014 winter Olympics and act now to voice our strong displeasure to Russia. This could be America's and the West's finest hour; we must lead a fight in the United Nations to condemn Russia for doing this. And at home, we must continue our path of giving our Gay citizens full rights. To keep abortion safe, legal and rare, by making sure young people are educated about birth control.

Either women own ourselves - - or we don't

This is still a revolutionary idea. We must renounce the shackles the Old Testament puts on us. Women are not 'the daughters' of Eve, women as a class are not to blame for all the world's ills.

That is the great struggle now.

When you speak of women's rights, you speak of human rights - women, children and they men they grow up to be. And we can't point fingers. As we struggle for women's rights in Afghanistan and gay rights in Russia, we must protect human rights at home.

Next, I will speak of children' rights.

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