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  • Asian women, trying not to sell out


    by Sunny
    19th September, 2007 at 9:08 am    

    I have on occasion remarked on the point that Asian women are frequently caught between multiple identities - their sex, race (culture) and religion, with each demanding some degree of loyalty. One of the biggest criticisms of government sponsored ‘multiculturalism’ has been that women almost always lose out, stuck between and spoken for by middle-aged ‘community leaders’ who are men.

    If you want to read the best article explaining all this, Zohra Moosa has just written one for Catalyst magazine.

    In the case of ethnic minority women, ‘race loyalty’ is often privileged over sisterhood. Research from the US shows that many black American women, for instance, do not report or testify against abusive male black partners for two reasons. On the one hand, they recognise that the criminal justice system is likely to over-penalise black men, locking up key allies who can be relied on for support in dealing with any racism they may face. On the other, they fear that their disclosure of abuse will be read as a ‘cultural’ pathology, feeding stereotypes and ultimately fuelling racism against their ethnic group.

    The recent ‘veil debate’ provided a good example of this: the Muslim Council of Britain urged Muslims to refrain from engaging in the debate altogether in order to present a united front against perceived religious discrimination, regardless of individual opinions about the validity of the veil or its effect on the status of Muslim women.

    The whole article is very worth reading. But I have an issue with it. When advocating solutions at the end, Zohra’s answer is that women should get organised, share their experiences and mobilise to push through their own concerns. Women/feminists usually see their first step towards empowerment as overcoming division within women and organising themselves. Agreed.

    The problem is that Zohra, and others, usually ignore the part men can play in this. I consider myself as a feminist in that I would like equality for women. This is even more important within ethnic minority communities where sexism/domestic abuse is much worse because we come from highly patriarchal cultures (let’s not pretend otherwise please!). In their struggle for equality, most feminists in modern times don’t seem to bother making alliances with liberal men (from my experience). This is a shame. The anti-racist movement for example could never have been successful without the part played by liberal whites. Similarly, for brown women, making alliances with men should be paramount to challenge sexism within the communities, whether that be on the basis of race or religion.


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    Filed in: Race politics,Religion,Sex equality






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    1. hcdarcpb

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    1. sonia — on 19th September, 2007 at 11:45 am  

      will read it - thanks for the link.

      perhaps they too think one can’t teach old dogs new tricks.. ? (alright maybe that was a bit below the belt..;-)

      yes of course one needs to work in partnership with who’s around, and that applies in not just this context but racism,religion-ism etc. etc. any other kind of human rights issue.

      now mind you, there is probably something to be said about women - in certainly say traditional contexts - realising that they do have the right to stand up for themselves, and for some people, their ‘men’ are directly dissuading them from thinking this, so I can see contexts where you would need support from other people, probably other women ( if that is more appropriate, say if hubby will have a fit if you have a bunch of blokes come round) to rally around. so depending on the context, it might make sense. still, i think you can have that, and reach out to the ‘other’ ( heh) as well. and no reason why a bunch of people who happen to be women can’t get together to talk, if they so choose.

      as a sidenote, this business of seeing men as the enemy is partly why traditional feminisim went all awry.

      and also - the kind of thinking that there are going to be no ‘divisions’ among women - is highly idealistic and not very realistic. i’ve always refused to conform to some idea of reverse gender discrimination - ‘the sister’ nonsense - frankly - (that’s why i don’t term myself a ‘feminist’ )its about the person, and regardless of gender. i don’t like gender-based roles, because i think of myself as a person first, female second.

      (i recently went to what was promoted as a launch party for a feminist magazine - and it was ‘what is enlightenment for privileged women in the west’ type thing ( my first brush with the andrew cohen crew..or cult as some like to call them ) and it was interesting, but there was a bit at the end which was talk about women going off into rooms (no men) to ‘talk’ and get together. and then come back and involve the men, but..( if i’d been a man, i would’ve been well pissed off and demanded MY rights, but just as well men are so docile, eh? do what their wives tell ‘em. )and what was the reasoning behind it? something about ‘well if the men are still in the room, there might be too much sexual tension distracting us from our mission of bonding’. that’s the kind of stuff that makes me want to puke. if you think of women as silly giggly girls with nothing but men in their heads - unless the men are taken away and hidden (aka what the mullahs would have me think) then you’ve no business talking about getting away from prejudices and stereotypes. pah)

    2. Sofia — on 19th September, 2007 at 12:18 pm  

      I was really uneasy when i read this article. Firstly the title “How not to sell out” who is this aimed at? ordinary “ethnic women”…by aligning themselves with their racial group they are selling out on “sisterhood”, a feminist concept well past it’s political sell by date.

    3. Sofia — on 19th September, 2007 at 12:22 pm  

      This was one of the best quotes..the phrase no shit sherlock comes to mind. So this is only an ethnic phenomena is it??
      “A woman with a child, for example, may well be more reluctant to report domestic violence if she cannot afford to provide for her family on her salary alone”

      Obviously white women who choose to stay with abusive partners do so to protect the image of the white man.

      Zohra also puts domestic violence and division of labour as two examples of what she calls “denial” that sexism exists…what happened to degrees of sexism? What may be sexist to one person may not be sexist to another, and women of whatever race/religion face this on almost a daily basis when they walk out the door and if they work then those situations are sometimes multiplied.

    4. Derius — on 19th September, 2007 at 1:35 pm  

      “What may be sexist to one person may not be sexist to another”

      Sofia,

      Surely if I deliberately made a sexist comment at you, that comment would still be sexist, regardless of whether you perceived it to be or not?

      And what happened if I didn’t actually make a sexist comment at you, but you misunderstood something I said to be sexist? Would I then be guilty of sexism?

      It is my opinon that the judgement of whether or not a comment is sexist should be based on the words spoken and the intent, as opposed to how it was received. That then avoids the two scenarios I have just given!

    5. Sofia — on 19th September, 2007 at 1:44 pm  

      Derius, I do understand your point but still think there are many cases where sexism can be perceived by a person even if the intent is not there. There are also cultural considerations. If I cook clean and run after my husband out of choice, then am I in denial of sexist behaviour? according to Zohra I am…because I function within the culture of a dominant ethnic group which espouses this.

    6. TheFriendlyInfidel — on 19th September, 2007 at 1:58 pm  

      Derius, it is very similar to an insult. You might try and being insulting to me, but if I fail to interpret your words as insulting the insult has failed.

      While different people have different ideas of what is sexist or not there is no independent 3rd person way to interpret it therefore your solution is insolvable.

      For instance I might say in the 70′s “you have a nice bottom” and think that I’m being flattering and bit flirty, but by 21st century standards not so. But still sometimes I tell my female friends today, and they are genuinely flattered.

      It is up the receiver whether or not to decide if I’m being sexist, and up to me to decide if they misinterpreted me, misjudged me or they are being to sensitive.

      If feminism means anything in this context, it is allowing the woman to decide if she is insulted or patronized and for us to respectfully watch our mouths.

      TFI

    7. Kismet Hardy — on 19th September, 2007 at 2:31 pm  

      When a woman doesn’t like the way the man in her life she either chucks him, reaches a compromise or puts up with it. When she puts up with abuse she does so because he has successfully managed to knock her self-esteem so low she no longer believes anyone else will want her or is afraid he will kill her if she tries to leave.

      It’s got bugger all to do with race. Abused women are terrified into loyalty and bullied into submission by abusive men the world over

      To suggest white women find it easier to dob their men because community doesn’t mean that much to them while ethnic women put up with shit because of cultural pathology is at best, ridiculous, at worst, insulting

    8. sonia — on 19th September, 2007 at 2:50 pm  

      “When a woman doesn’t like the way the man in her life she either chucks him, reaches a compromise or puts up with it. When she puts up with abuse she does so because he has successfully managed to knock her self-esteem so low she no longer believes anyone else will want her or is afraid he will kill her if she tries to leave.”

      spot on kismet, i would also add.., her self-esteem has been so knocked, she doesn’t think its worth fighting for her own happiness, because she doesn’t deserve it.

      at that stage it’s probably not very easy to ‘accept help when you don’t believe you deserve help. that’s why its such a difficult situation to get out of, and not one that happens overnight. i think though if you have family or other people telling you ARE the one responsible for keeping your man happy, and you’re shit if you can’t, it makes it that much worse. mind you, i don’t think that’s restricted to ‘asian’, macho culture generally across the world seems to uphold that.

    9. sonia — on 19th September, 2007 at 2:56 pm  

      but i think overall zohra makes many good points. why i think PP is a good place to see many of them in action.

      “for many ethnic minority women, race trumps sex”

      and if it doesn’t already do so, there is certainly pressure around to remain true to your ‘brownness’ and not be a ‘traitor’ ..and be part of the ‘group.

    10. Kismet Hardy — on 19th September, 2007 at 2:58 pm  

      True say. Asian women do have that extra ‘my family won’t want me and the community will judge me if I leave my man’ factor. But the bit about cultural pathology, feeding stereotypes and fuelling racism is bollocks

    11. sonia — on 19th September, 2007 at 3:13 pm  

      this bit for example -

      “Sometimes, this denial is more nuanced: sexism is acknowledged, but is positioned as less important to the group’s overall wellbeing, compared with challenging wider racism or religious discrimination.”

      yep.

    12. sonia — on 19th September, 2007 at 3:22 pm  

      but let’s be real: asian women have got an extra factor to consider which is that there is a big emphasis on remaining sexually modest, and outside of marriage, one is expected to be celibate. so for divorcees, or women who are separated, your family and co. might just about tolerate you, but will expect you to remain single, or celibate. Basically, one of the reasons its so damn difficult is that if you get divorced, and you come from a family that is trying to keep itself ‘traditional’, you may as well forget life as you know it, and ‘respectability’. the fact that izzat is so central to the traditional psyche, and hence fed as a core part of ‘self-respect’ to many asian women, is A BIG barrier to overcome - anytime, and particularly when you’re down and out. and when you have to make a huge change, and you can’t see who you can turn to for a bit of support, and your family’s making noises, and aunties are clucking, it makes it triply hard.

    13. Kismet Hardy — on 19th September, 2007 at 3:26 pm  

      Totally. I’m just taking issue on one little point in the article that irritated me. It’s about pandering to how the community sees itself, not to protect how its viewed by others.

    14. sonia — on 19th September, 2007 at 3:30 pm  

      and this is the best bit i think in the article - i’m glad someone is making this point :

      “It is also accomplished by propagating the myth that feminism, or the struggle for equality between women and men, is the purview of ‘western’ or white women, and that non-white ethnic minority women have a non-existent, sceptical or antagonistic relationship with the idea of women’s rights.

      too much of this stuff is all over the place, i’m so fed up when i’m faced with this myself.

    15. sonia — on 19th September, 2007 at 3:36 pm  

      i quite enjoyed the @Statement on the Veil” - the demand for Muslim unity.

      gosh, what a read.

    16. Jai — on 19th September, 2007 at 4:04 pm  

      It’s about pandering to how the community sees itself, not to protect how its viewed by others.

      Basically it’s because many of the women concerned are afraid that they’ll get hassle from members of “the community” (especially immediate family members) for making “the community” allegedly look bad in the eyes of the wider population, not because they’re necessarily worried about making “the community” look bad themselves.

    17. Jai — on 19th September, 2007 at 4:11 pm  

      making “the community” allegedly look bad in the eyes of the wider population,

      And more commonly, due to concerns about admonitions/retribution/fallout from immediate family members and their close social circle due to the latter being angry that the woman’s actions reflect badly on all of them in the eyes of the rest of “the community”.

      Basically it’s all very Victorian, like that movie “The Age of Innocence” over the weekend starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Same sort of gossipy, sweep-everthing-under-the-carpet, oooh what a scandal, “what will people say ?” bukwaas.

    18. sonia — on 19th September, 2007 at 5:00 pm  

      yep, good points Jai

    19. Gibs — on 19th September, 2007 at 7:58 pm  

      #10 - ” But the bit about cultural pathology, feeding stereotypes and fuelling racism is bollocks”.

      No it isn’t. So many (young) Asians are quite willing to admit amongst themselves that forced marriages are a huge problem in the UK - but if a white person mentions the issue, they seem to go into “automatic denial” mode - and try to pretend that it’s a “one in a million” thing.

      Suddenly “not wishing to re-inforce stereotypes” becomes much more important than the truth (that the abuse of women’s rights is a huge problem amongst the British South Asian population).

    20. Derius — on 19th September, 2007 at 9:25 pm  

      “Derius, I do understand your point but still think there are many cases where sexism can be perceived by a person even if the intent is not there.”

      Sofia,

      Agreed. However, as the intent was not there, I do not believe that they can be accused of sexism. It should be explained to them though of how their words can be interpreted, so they can avoid future mis-haps if they so choose!

      “If I cook clean and run after my husband out of choice, then am I in denial of sexist behaviour? according to Zohra I am…because I function within the culture of a dominant ethnic group which espouses this.”

      I also agree that Zohra has slightly skewed the issues at hand with that argument. Certainly not all women would be in denial of sexism who are in that situation. Many would simply not have questioned the cultural norms that they live under.

    21. Derius — on 19th September, 2007 at 9:32 pm  

      TFI

      In a purely social environment, I agree with you. However, I was thinking of matters from a legal perspective. If for example, somebody was taken to an employment tribunal for an alleged sexist comment, then there would have to be some sort of criteria to decide whether the comment was sexist or not. If you only go on the opinion of the person who the comment was aimed at, then you could end up with the undesirable situations I described in my first post. Therefore, you will find in such situations, the approach will often be similar to what I advocated.

      Perfect? Probably not, but better than the alternatives that spring to my mind!

    22. Cath — on 19th September, 2007 at 11:54 pm  

      Derius - “However, I was thinking of matters from a legal perspective. If for example, somebody was taken to an employment tribunal for an alleged sexist comment, then there would have to be some sort of criteria to decide whether the comment was sexist or not.”

      No there wouldn’t. The intent behind the comment or action is irrelevant, it’s the impact on the person on the receiving end that counts:

      “the conduct must be done with the purpose of, or have the effect of, violating your dignity, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you”
      http://www.eoc.org.uk/default.aspx?page=15306

      Interesting article Sunny. Of course men have a part to play in fighting for women’s equality, but without wanting to sound sexist, men always seem to want to take over, that’s why a lot of feminists are reluctant to allow them into the ranks……

    23. Sofia — on 20th September, 2007 at 10:38 am  

      Womens rights will always be pidgeon holed if we persist in always segregating ourselves from mainstream human rights. For this to happen,we will need to have a more holistic approach which will involve all sections of society..and yes..shock horror, men…there are times when women want to organise themselves around other women, but what of the times when men want to help and not take over.

      I still have huge problems with this article from title (which already turned me off) onwards, and I also find it quite dated. Sticking all “ethnic” women together, not providing any geographical, sociological, class analysis is also a problem. We can no longer look at these issues and use blanket ethnicity as a reason.

    24. Derius — on 20th September, 2007 at 5:52 pm  

      Cath,

      Thanks for the link.

      “the conduct must be done with the purpose of, or have the effect of, violating your dignity”

      You say that the intent is irrelevant, but surely by reading the above quote, it appears that if the intent is there, OR if the words are actually taken as offensive, then a complaint can be submitted.

      I was not aware that the second scenario could automatically be applied, and thank you for bringing this to my attention.

    25. Sofia — on 26th September, 2007 at 10:18 am  

      I prefer this story:
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2177214,00.html

    26. sonia — on 26th September, 2007 at 12:32 pm  

      23. sofia - good points.

    27. sonia — on 26th September, 2007 at 12:34 pm  

      if people try telling me i should be a ‘brown’ feminist ( and write things slagging off ‘white feminists’) ill tell them to shove off. :-)

    28. ad — on 26th September, 2007 at 8:41 pm  

      The concept of multiple identities within the equality sector is demanding in part because it is about competing agendas.

      This kind of thing always reminds me of a blog post I once came across from an African-American woman.

      It involved a black man accused of rape and she was trying to decide whom to support.

      The question was whether loyalty to ones sex should overcome loyalty to ones race.

      Not whether the accused was actually guilty.

      If your goal is genuinely justice, there is only one agenda.

      (As an aside, I am not surprised that loyalty to ones race is greater than loyalty to ones sex. The chances are that half your close relatives are of the opposite sex, and less than half are of a different race.)

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