On Foreign Policy's Column Regarding Violence Toward Women in the Middle East

On April 23, Foreign Policy published “Why Do They Hate Us? The Real War on Women is in the Middle East.” In this essay, which is also FP’s cover story in this special “Sex” issue, Egyptian-American columnist Mona Eltahawy describes cultures which are based upon misogyny. She argues that the revolution for systematic change, as embodied by the potential of Arab Spring, cannot only be about a transformation in the faces and ages of government leadership. The revolution must also involve shifts in the community, that is, within the very ordinary relationships between females and males.

All heck has broken loose with Eltahawy’s essay.

I read a lot of online commentary directed against American Indians, which is one reason why I am no stranger to encountering venomous attacks. But even I find “vitriolic” an inadequate term to describe a good number of the responses from activists and well-known journalists to Eltahawy’s essay. True, some of these are the usual responses motivated by a desire to shut down conversation. Overall, however—and to simplify—it appears that criticism with her essay arises from two areas. One group of Eltahawy’s critics disagrees with her assessment that “hate” is the reason for misogyny. Others take exception to her choice to frame her argument with a short story written by the late author Alifa Rifaat.

Now I cannot address the specifics of the Egyptian conversation regarding Eltahawy’s essay. Yet I cannot help but recognize similarities among responses to her article and, say, to Ntozake Shange's “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” or to the very real problem of misogyny in certain areas of Indian country. Implicit in this anger or timidity is the historical specter of colonization and imperialism; their presence is palpable to a good number of us during these difficult but necessary dialogues to which “outsiders” are privy. But we cannot let history muzzle these discussions or handcuff solutions.

Nearly every week, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reminds us that the war against females is not localized. It is international. And as we all know, misogyny is manifested in several ways, including preventing or discouraging female access to health-care services, education, and voting. However, the most violent forms involve, as Eltahawy argues, the normalization of sexual assaults. In Indian country, considering our high rate of enlistment, concern might arise regarding the culture of rape in the U.S. military. The recent comments of U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is worried that non-Native men might be held accountable for attacking American Indian females, demonstrate the continual attempt to dehumanize us. And related along these lines elsewhere in the Americas, the Canadian government is under fire to step-up its investigation of the more than 600 hundred Indigenous women that have been disappeared and murdered. And for nearly two decades, Ciudad Juárez has been suffering with a high rate of femicide as documented by numerous human rights groups.

So it goes? No. With our collective efforts, so it does not have to go. Misogyny is international but solutions are localized and can move forward assisted by solidarity and mutual assistance. In his weekly column, Kristof chronicles individual and grass-roots responses to misogyny and the war on females. Venida Chenault’s groundbreaking book, Weaving Strength, Weaving Power: Violence and Abuse against Indigenous Women, identifies community-based solutions. These and other writers, along with our families, friends, and communities, provide ways to end this hate against females, and can guide the way to the possibility of healing and reconciliation.

Lastly, it is important to note that Eltahawy addresses her timing in publishing “Why Do They Hate Us?”: “Some may ask why I'm bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. […] what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring?” This question is so significant because it challenges the misguided mindset that only one item at a time can be the focus in a movement. Whether we are in the midst of a swiftly occurring revolution or living in the slow steady process of decolonization, if humans believe that only one task can be addressed at a time than misogyny will never receive its due. Revolutions will fail. Colonization will continue.

The human capacity for social justice is infinite. And the strategy is social justice, that is, a community that recognizes—in practice—each person’s dignity and value. This strategy only works by implementing more than one tactic. Working together, giving attention to all the tasks to make this type of community a reality, does not weaken us. It only makes our cause stronger and gives our communities its moral sustainability.

Julia Good Fox is a citizen of the Pawnee Nation (from the Kitkahahki band) and a direct descendant of Curly Chief who was born and raised in Oklahoma. She now resides in the Midwest and teaches in an Indigenous and American Indian Studies Program at a Tribal college. She is also a researcher, traveler, and writer.