There are very few people as liberal as I am. Having made that declaration, I am aware that I could have been better at diagnosing a problem and working at a solution. As a history professor, I can’t think of one thing that conservatives have ever changed in society to improve the human condition. Every social/political issue or situation has occurred because some liberal rang a clarion call to change. In all social situations about which I have read, the call was made by liberal spokespersons or a group of liberals.
How can we make our society more liberal? Getting as much formal and informal educational is imperative. Whether this takes place in classes, independent reading, watching or listening to TV and Internet, all these experiences will add to a person’s understanding and knowledge. However, traveling outside your own country, your comfort zone, is also essential to acquire a better understanding of the world in which we live. I tell my students to travel overseas. I travel a great deal and know firsthand the educational value of seeing different people and places that will broaden one’s knowledge level and general understanding. Books have many benefits. However, true learning goes far beyond reading a textbook.
In my most recent trip to Greece and Turkey, l learned a lot more than I could imagine. I want to share with you some of what I learned. But first, I want to talk to about something seemingly unrelated—slavery. Humans have had some form of slavery for much of our history, which is about 200,000 years. During that time varying groups have been subjugated. It was not until recent times, the last several centuries that slavery has become primarily color-based. Prior to the past four or five hundred years, slavery was based largely upon poverty, nationality, ethnic background, and war.
In the US, slavery was race-based. During this time, many blacks and some liberal whites have called for the repeal of slavery. Prior to the Civil War, there were blatant racists who killed and tortured blacks. These racists would fight to the death to perpetuate slavery. There were other moderate racists who didn’t want to change slavery in the South but questioned broadening slavery to the new territories and states. There were also liberal racists who saw the problem with racism but wanted a more gradual social change. Their justification was that a radical change would cause problems for our society and economy.
Even after the Civil War, white racists of all degrees were reluctant to change. Because of this enormous reluctance, slavery was replaced by segregation in both the South and the North. A century after the beginning of the Civil War, blacks and some liberal whites fought for civil rights and the elimination of segregation.
Now, in the beginning of the 21st century, we look back and what do we see? We see the struggle for economic control and control over others. Whites were reluctant to change due to the impact upon them and society, and racists fought equality at a variety of levels. Blacks wanted both economic freedom and the elimination of control over their lives by whites.
The elimination of segregation did cost our society economically and cost our society control over other people. It was a change in the way we lived. However, had we not paid the price for change, America would have become a nation that would have lost its place in the world community and become nothing more than South Africa under apartheid. It did cost the white society. Nevertheless, the removal of segregation would have been, over time, an unbearable expense to whites and to the American dream of freedom for all.
However, we spend our time talking about the economic and control costs of change. Nonetheless, what did slavery/segregation cost the victims? They endured centuries of suffering, beating, killing, rape, poverty, degradation, and abuse.
Millions upon millions of blacks have suffered both during slavery, segregation, and the present day. Does anyone, other than the blacks, see the ethical hypocrisy of white society talking about their costs to white society? Which was more costly to people...the loss of economic control and control over people or the near total loss of freedom? My guess is that if you were black, you would understand who suffered the most.
Oppression of a group of people so that other people can benefit is absurd and unethical. And in the long run the oppressor will lose. Steve Biko in his struggle to free black South Africans said, "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. “The obvious but often overlooked situation. If one enslaves a person’s mind, it is far more enslaving than merely physically enslaving a person in chains.
Now, back to the learnings in Turkey. I knew that Turkey was a liberal nation. They separate church from state. They are open to all groups and sexes. My wife, Ann and I spent a lot of time walking around the streets of Istanbul looking at the places and people. It is amazing what you see...even when you have traveled the world as much as we have. One of the things that I noticed were the varying dress codes of the Turkish population which is overwhelming Muslim—about 99.8%. There are many younger Turks who dress very much as Europeans or Americans dress. If they were transported to any town in America, they would blend into the populace and go absolutely unnoticed by the locals.
Another group is those that dress in much the same way as the above mentioned group except for the females. The women in this more moderate group wear scarves or a veil along with what we call regular clothing. It seems an interesting mix of the 21st century with the past.
The third group wears long trench-coat like outer garments and veils. These coats are usually white or off white and are long enough almost to reach their ankles. We saw them walking with their husbands in 90 degree weather while their husbands wore tee shirts and jeans—precisely what was wearing in hot Istanbul.
Finally, the last group is the most conservative in wearing apparel. They wear coats like the long trench-coat group but are dressed completely in black clothing including the veil. Again, when walking with their husbands in the hot August weather, their husbands are wearing tee shirts and jeans. Sometimes you see a mother and daughter walking together with the mother wearing the conservative apparel and the daughter wearing what we see as normal for a hot summer day.
To compound the dress code problem, often these couples would be walking with their young children. The little boys and girls were all dressed just like their contemporaries in the States. The little girls wore fancy little pink outfits with cartoon characters like Hello Kitty embossed on their tops. These cute little outfits will continue to be worn until the girl is in her early teens. For some of these little girls, they will follow their mother’s dress-code when they get to their early teens.
Prior to my last trip to Turkey, I was aware of what seemed like blatant sexism, but it was their belief system. In addition, who was I even to question it as an outsider to their religion, culture, and society?
In Christianity, some similar situations arise. Ultraconservative Christian women often dress in drab colored dresses and long hair is often tied up into a bun. While this dress code is again determined by men, who was I to question what some women, either within Islam or Christianity, were wearing? It was just their belief system and while having questions about the appropriateness of the dress code was in question, it wasn’t really a big deal.
However, while walking along the streets of Istanbul, I woke up to a reality that really hadn’t dawned upon me. I was in Turkey probably the most liberal Muslim country in the world. Only Indonesia could compete with Turkey for that prized distinction. I travel around the world in part to better understand things that I thought that I knew. Traveling is a wondrous learning experience.
I tell my students that textbooks provide length and width to knowledge, but traveling overseas provides the missing third dimension, the depth of understanding and knowledge. The issue of women’s veils, scarves, burqas, etc. is talked about in sterile terms in textbooks. The books talk about the customs and do a good job at two levels...the length and width, but they never seem to get into the depth of the issue.
Yes, there is a division within much of Islam (and in some areas of Christianity) on this dress code issue. It goes from a liberal to an ultraconservative dress code style. However, the textbooks don’t go much beyond the issue of dress codes, although some have ventured into why the headdress is important to Islam. There are two reasons they use any type of scarf. It is either that the scarf was designed to cover women and protect them from unwanted advances by men, or it was to protect men for the allure of women. Either reason had to do with sexism of men or women.
However, what I learned is something that really never dawned upon me...and I have been teaching world religions at the college level for over a dozen years. The dress code at one level is rather superficial and really unimportant in the broader scheme of things. The dress code does several important things from my point of view. Slightly below the surface, the dress code for Islam and many other religions including Christianity are essentially a means of control. It is placing people based upon their sex into a form of slavery. Recall that race-based slavery is new in the history of human beings. Slavery was for much of human history based upon other things than skin color. I contend that sexism in any form is a control over a person...or slavery. As with slavery that we know about and understand, slavery boils down to who is in control in a society.
The first basis of slavery in our human history surely was sexism. At what point in that history of approximately 200,000 years have women been put under the thumb of males, no one knows.
Nevertheless, what we do know is that man has from the earliest times until this very day been in control of women. Never has there been an age or even a moment in human history where women have controlled men. In fact, there has never been even a brief period of time when women have had an equalitarian relationship with men.
In the US all men were created equal. Black males got the right to vote after the Civil War in all the States. Women didn’t get to vote in a national election until 1920—over a half century after the Civil War was over.
Religions have merely enshrined this notion of sexism. Men are so sexist that they had to create God in man’s image. In all three monotheist religions that developed out of the Middle East portray God as a male and refers to God as he/him. Not only do Judaism, Christianity, and Islam refer to God as a male, but a very small minority of all three religions ordains females. There are extremely few female imams within Islam, but they can only minister to other females. The vast majority of clergy within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are men. In addition, I can’t think of any of these faiths that have women in the authority positions, even if there are some females that might be ordained.
Therefore, this issue of the dress code is far, far deeper than what some women might wear—whether they are within some conservative branches of Islam or Christianity. The issue is equality...allowing women the same status and position as men in religion and in society as a whole. Even as I was writing this, I started to write, "This issue of equality of giving women..." The word giving reinforces the notion the males are in control—in control to give women equality since men enslaved the opposite sex.
If women ever get to parity with men, it will not be by men yielding power over to them. Women have never had any power or control over men and still don’t. Saudi Arabia is an excellent example of slavery. Women must be escorted by their husbands or male family members when walking in public. An Afghan woman’s nose and ear were cut off by the Taliban, because she ran away from her abusive husband.
It may not be politically correct to ask and wonder what the lives are like for the women who are married to either ultraconservative Muslim or Christian males. What is the chance that woman, who can’t dress in regular clothes like her husband does, lives in any sort of freedom within their homes?
What chance does she have living in any semblance of being treated as a person in a family where she must do what she is told? Does anyone really think that back at home, she is enjoying life as a person?
Steve Biko wrote about South Africa’s version of slavery called apartheid. He wasn’t as concerned with apartheid per se. What he wanted changed was the mind of the oppressed. He made two different statements that women need to hear as it applies to sexism. The first statement was "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed."
Anthropologists have all sorts of notions for the slavery of females 200,000 years ago. One that intrigues me is based upon the notion of male enslavement of women relates not to male superiority but to male inferiority. These anthropologists believe that back in the earliest times, males couldn’t be god-like. Males can’t create life. However, women are god-like in that they can create life much like a god creating things in their world. That inferiority motivates males to dominate these god-like humans...women. They do so lest they get dominated by these god-like humans, because they are god-like.
I don’t want to get into an anthropological discussion or debate about the various theories dating back many of millennia. My concern is for many women in the world who are enslaved by men, religions, and societies. I am aware of the many women worldwide that I didn’t see who are living in societal slavery, which is draped by the religious abuse whether emotional or physical or both.
Women of the world unite...or live as slaves.