We have (worldwide) man problems:
We love the old trope of the poor oppressed veiled woman and the evil Muslim men who oppress them. Think Sally Field circa 91’ in Not Without My Daughter. It should come as no surprise that by in large the Muslim American response to the Harvey Weinstein saga is one of disgust, outrage and good old WTF, but of course people will be all, oh wait, but you’re Muslim. Isn’t this just normal everyday life for you? Reeling from our own shocking exposé of a copuple widely respected American Muslim super star guru guys, it feels like something is in the air. Harvey Weinstein is an archetype. He is a symptom of a sick system. It isn’t just Hollywood. It’s our churches, temples, masjids. It’s our schools and academia. It’s our sports. It’s everywhere. Let’s stop focusing on Weinstein as if this is an isolated situation and start talking about the system which continues to allow men in positions of authority to abuse their power while violating and being violent towards women, children and yes, in some cases, men.
This is about justice and the abolition of systems which create oppression. This is about the safety to move through the world without fear of harassment or violence. This is about a global epidemic which we’ve become so accustomed to that we just live with it. Tarana Burke started #MeToo ten years ago, this is not a newfound recognition of the symptoms of this sickness. Patriarchy is built into the systems in which we operate and the nature of our society. We cannot begin to effectively address violence against women until we question the system which allows it to exist uninvestigated. Patriarchy, like white supremacy, undergirds all our systems like democracy, capitalism etc.
We become complicit agents in that system of oppression when we perpetuate the invisibility of the stories of women. We say things like “boys will be boys” and when we say that it has something to do with biology or evolution it absolves predators of any culpability or responsibility. Patriarchy is the institutionalized, culturally accepted, standardized structure which places men and women into a hierarchy whereby women are worth less and therefore deserve less. A social system that dictates that cis white men are entitled to power and domination. Here we could get into traditional gender roles and how damaging they are for a truly just society, but instead I want to focus on something very simple: Justice. Patriarchy equals an unjust society.
I recently released my second single and music video. The song deals with the issue of men in positions of religious authority using their power to prey on young people. I received incredible amounts of hate mail, mainly from men. Women seemed to know that these stories were real and true. Most knew someone who had been in a situation where they had been assaulted or abused. Before releasing my song, I compiled a list of stories about religious leaders across religions, denominations and geographies. It certainly wasn’t exhaustive, but I wanted to make it clear that this isn’t a Muslim problem. This is global human problem.
Last month a story emerged about a well known religious figure in the American Muslim community which all but broke the Muslim internet. Shirtless selfies and screenshots of texts back and forth between him and his students came and still people wanted to talk about “it takes two to tango.” That neglects the power dynamics at play. He was a world famous leader with millions upon millions of followers that spanned the entire globe. People are so in denial about the fact that this man could be capable of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, prowling his audiences and classrooms for future girlfriends. The community still wants to put blame on the women involved. Why did they allow themselves to get into that sort of predicament? Blaming women for falling in love with a charismatic famous superstar when it was he was was in fact violating all ethics. But with the patriarchy as it is, we will continue to blame the women, because that is what it is built to do.
When #MeToo broke, another story emerged about an international intellectual and scholar. So many in the community are quick to write off women as unstable and/or attention hungry. Such is the structure of the system.
People will continue to say, but that’s just how men are, they are engineered by biology through evolution, by the chemical rushing through their bodies, by their very DNA to pursue women aggressively. They will say that we are animals and we just have to get over it. It doesn’t take more than a minimal google search to show how bunk this argument actually is and how detrimental it is when we allow it to persist. We remove any ethical framework, which binds non cis men very tightly to its laws when we say “oh, that’s just how men are!” We play into that power structure and even more frightening than that, we absolve predators, criminals, rapists of their crimes. We see people like Brock Turner be made into some type of victim of biology and circumstance, when he is simply, a white male rapist, all those identifiers playing into the system constructed to make it possible for him to walk away from rape with little to no consequences. The system is operating exactly how it’s supposed to operate. The intersection of white supremacy and patriarchy gave someone like Brock Turner with “his whole life ahead of him” a pass because he is a white man. Because we live in an unrestricted patriarchy where white cis men are likely to get away with assaulting women more often than not, even when the allegations are heinous like in case of the rape of an unconscious woman.
In response to Weinstein and #MeToo, Mayim Bialik wrote “I still make choices every day as a 41-year-old actress that I think of as self-protecting and wise. I have decided that my sexual self is best reserved for private situations with those I am most intimate with. I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.” A resounding NO rang through my heart and mind when I read that. #MeToo is not about how we dress or act, It’s about justice and doing away with a system which is unjust. We cannot offer band-aids like self policing; they will not make us safe from global patriarchy. Our response cannot be avoidance. Practices like female genital mutilation don’t go away because we dress modestly or reserve our sexuality to private situations. Workplace harassment and sexual assault don’t go away when we self-protect or are wise. They don’t even protect us.
This week I was catcalled on the street leaving the deli where I got my lunch. “Hey! Hey! “look at those shoes. oh ya. wearing that suit. I see you. You can’t hide all that.”
A week ago, a construction worked whistled at me at 9am while he works on Jewish Theological Seminary as I walked to my class..
A month ago, I left a party celebrating an Emmy nomination for The Secret Life of Muslims, I was getting into an Uber to pick up my 6 month old baby from the babysitter whena guy walking opposite me, stops in front of me, standing in my way and says, “Beautiful” and lingers there without moving.. I didn’t make eye contact. I wasn’t flattered. I was afraid. I know enough stories that started this way and ended horrifically. .
Every single instance I was dressed modestly, none of my body exposed except my face and hands. These are all recent, not a year, not 5, 10 or 20 years ago. 2017, where the man leading our country said, You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them….I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” That’s the uninvestigated patriarchy- the patriarchy internalized by us all which makes us believe that if we behave better or dress better, we will not be the next victim.
People will ask, can’t I take it as a compliment instead of getting mad? How can I, when it increases my heart rate and puts me into defensive mode, making sure there are other people around- finding them, reaching into my pocket for anything that might work as a means of self defense. Why do women have to choose to learn self defence? Why do I have to make the choice on nights whether I’m willing to risk the harassment and take the subway? Why do I have to foot the bill, which I typically cannot afford, because I don’t feel safe? Why do I have to worry about whether or not my Lyft driver is going too “friendly”? These are things that cross my mind, not because I am a paranoid or anxious person. These are things that cross my mind because they are fully in the realm of possibility.
Patriarchy is tricky. It tries to make us believe that it belongs to a certain religion, race, class or geography when it actuality it’s a worldwide phenomenon. Once we agree that patriarchy and white supremacy are the two major contributors to all of our human folly, we will do a much better job of uniting and doing away with them. It’s old. It’s tired. Can we just pull the plug now?
I’ve seen posts on social media from men who are taking light of all this. I’ve also seen posts from men who claim they don’t know any men who behave in this way, that it’s all so shocking. This is similar to how shocked liberal white folks were when an open racist and misogynist could be elected when people of color, muslims, immigrants were not so shocked.
People saying we should be patient with people(males) who aren’t ready to deal with these #metoo things because it’s difficult. No. Patience ceases to be a virtue when it perpetuates cycles of violence. I will not be patient. I will instead be in gratitude for the rising courage of those who are sharing and being vulnerable in the face of shaming and slander.
It isn’t about policing women, or sharing stories to commiserate or for pity, it’s about tipping the scales so that we don’t have to deal with this anymore. Violence against women, how they try to make it into a Muslim problem when in reality, it’s a world wide human issue of the violence of patriarchy.