After the recent Muslim slut-shaming in Manchester, England I thought that maybe there is a kinder, gentler way to promote modesty among young women of the West, besides blowing them up. In the Huffington Post Gabby Aossey’ explained the limits of American Feminism’s focus on the body and sexuality and concludes that Islam offers another way:
As American women, many of us have an idea of what feminists are; freelancing women with all the sexual freedom in the world. But this is exactly the problem with American feminism; it is all about sex and the liberation of our bodies. Certainly, things like abortion and contraception is a part of that freedom, but in today’s society the fight has taken on a much different tone…. When we think of modern feminists we should stray away from the new American trends and start looking to what we have always thought as a contradiction; Muslim feminists.
Erich Fromm wrote Escape from Freedom in 1941, trying to understand how the ongoing triumph of liberalism since the French Revolution and the Enlightenment had run headlong to embrace totalitarian ideologies of Communism, Fascism, and Nazism. Fromm states:
“It is the thesis of this book that man freed, freed from the bonds of pre-individualistic society, which simultaneously gave him security and limited him, has not gained freedom in the positive sense of the realization of his individual self… Freedom, though it has brought him independence and rationality, has made him isolated and, thereby, anxious and powerless. This isolation is unbearable and the alternatives he is confronted with are either to escape from the burden of his freedom into new dependencies and submission, or to advance the full realization of positive freedom which is based upon the uniqueness and individuality of man.”*
Feminism has indeed liberated, but has it fulfilled? Aossey seems to think not. But is the answer for Western women to submit to the hijab and harems because their liberation has left them isolated and anxious? Shepard Fairey captured the intersection of “fetishizing the exotic other” and feminism with his new poster, We the People.
But there is no need to seek out submission in the exoticism of Islam to find a culture that respects the female body and encourages modesty and prudence. The West has a coherent moral code of individual and sexual dignity and respect, it just hasn’t been used in a while.
Pope Paul VI, at the advent of the Sexual Revolution, warned in Humanae Vitae that one of the results of contraception will be that:
"the man" will lose respect for "the woman" and "no longer (care) for her physical and psychological equilibrium" and will come to "the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion."*
Janet Smith of the University of Dallas explains further the Catholic idea that sexual morality is deeply related to the complementarity of the sexes and protects human dignity:
The Pope realized that the Church's teaching on contraception is designed to protect the good of conjugal love. When spouses violate this good, they do not act in accord with their innate dignity and thus they endanger their own happiness. Treating their bodies as mechanical instruments to be manipulated for their own purposes, they risk treating each other as objects of pleasure*
Or as Henry Kissinger reportedly said, “No one will win the battle of the sexes because there is too much fraternizing with the enemy.”
Feminism and the Sexual Revolution did not grow up in a vacuum, they were revolts against the Western moral order, no doubt an order that had deep fissures and hypocrisies which were all the more exacerbated by the technological onslaught of modernity and two world wars.
Aossey may not be aware, for example, that one of the first, modern Feminist protests was the Easter Parade in New York in 1929. The American Tobacco Company wanted to eliminate taboos against women smoking in public so that they could double their market size. They hired Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud and a government propagandist in WWI, (he relabeled propaganda as “Public Relations” after the war), who hired attractive socialites to smoke their “Torches of Freedom” in public in the parade.
“When I came back to the United States, I decided that if you could use propaganda for war, you could certainly use it for peace. And "propaganda" got to be a bad word because of the Germans using it, so what I did was to try and find some other words so we found the words "public relations". -Edward Bernays*
Betty Freidan in The Feminine Mystique, described a “depressed suburban housewife who dropped out of college at the age of 19 to get married and raise four children. She spoke of her own 'terror' at being alone, wrote that she had never once in her life seen a positive female role-model who worked outside the home and also kept a family, and cited numerous cases of housewives who felt similarly trapped.”
But the suburbs were a social engineering project themselves that grew out of WWII, isolating families from larger communities of work and neighborhood. Sociologist Robert Nisbet notes that is was von Clausewitz who, “laid down the vital principle that modern war demands a large-scale reconstruction of the society that participates in it.” Nisbet continues, “War is by nature revolutionary in its impact upon a people. How could it be otherwise? Its values… are antithetical in the extreme to the values of kinship-based society with its consecration of tradition, conventionality, and age or seniority.”
Gloria Steinem worked for the CIA, the mid-century maestros of coercion and social engineering. Feminism was used to sell more cigarettes and when the family was severed from larger ethnic and kinship communities by the social engineering of suburbia, the next wave of feminism began to shatter that isolated family.
Fromm continues in Escape from Freedom:
“Modern man lives under the illusion that he knows 'what he wants, while he actually wants what he is supposed to want. In order to accept this it is necessary to realize that to know what one really wants is not comparatively easy, as most people think, but one of the most difficult problems any human being has to solve. It is a task we frantically try to avoid by accepting ready-made goals as though they were our own.”
Western feminists do not need to submit to an exotic patriarchy, they can use ours. It’s artisanal, locally grown and organic, and it’s ready to be used again.