Australian senator Pauline Hanson spent 30 minutes this week explaining how her country is “in danger of being swamped by Muslims.”
During the speech, a group of MPs pointedly left the parliament debating chamber in protest, but Ms Hanson managed to finish. The One Nation MP says Islam has a “hyper-masculine and misogynist culture” and suggested that Muslim migrants failing to assimilate into Australia should “go back from where you came from.”
Coming from a female, the frustration about Islam’s treatment of women is more believable. But over in France, while they prepare for civil war against Muslims, the present debate about female beach attire follows along with Ms Hanson's claims. I won’t be the first or the last person to point out how removing the agency from women to choose what to wear is a profoundly sexist thing to do. Although, as I'll point out, it's not actually about the women. It's about the men.
“I feel sorry for these women who have been forced to wear [the burqa]. I reckon many Muslim women would love to break out of it… If our law states you cannot have full face coverings, no one — including Muslim women — should be able to cover their face. Wearing such garments is not the Australian way of life.” Ms Hanson says.
No, it certainly isn’t the Australian way of life. The key in Australia is to depict women with impossibly high standards of physical beauty and sexuality in the media first, then convince mothers to obsess over their daughter’s physical appearance until they figure out they can eat whatever they want as long as they throw it back up. Only then, with their self-esteem and body image completely shattered, can they be shamed into having a baby.
And if daughters are often told about the dangers of sex so they stay at home until they get married, it's much easier for mothers and grandmothers to pester them constantly about how they need to find a husband because "they aren't getting any younger." Or to monitor their diet "so they don't lose their figure" and can "still attract a man." Mothers have to ensure above all else their immaculate and virginal daughters are not exposed to the sinful influence of [insert despised political faction, ethnicity, religion, art form here].
You know, sometimes it's like politicians don't know anything about oppressing half our species.
I will say this, though: Ms Hanson clearly has no idea how men think about women on the fundamental psychological level.
Every part of sexism discussions – sexual shame, oppression, objectification, etc – are the civilised manifestations of what goes on inside men’s minds. Those are the mechanisms men put in place for the purpose of containing men, not women. Obviously, burqas oppress women, I'm not arguing with that. But oppressing women is not their primary purpose.
When thinking about the Islamic world, it’s crucial to assume one is looking back into the deep history of human society. This culture hasn’t changed much in a long time, and it prides itself on that. Whereas Christianity moved north out of the Middle East, through Greece and Rome, picking up law and rationality along the way, Islam travelled south and deeper into basic humanity.
In the Islamic world, the third world and in rural Europe until the Second World War, women covered up. Some places more and some places less, but they covered up. The reason they are required to do so is simple, and still offered by Islamic authorities mandating the practice today: it is to protect women from being raped. That isn't a joke or a rationalisation.
Unless overwhelming social control, laws and cultural mores are brought to bear, men will pursue women for sex. In places lacking such mores, the men are largely uneducated if not totally illiterate, and there is little in the way of police authority. They are aggressive and incredibly hormonal. If a woman walked down the street in little clothing, she'd be assaulted because the men there have no impulse control.
The men in charge understand how other men have no impulse control, despite the fact Islam mandates it. Those men in charge also lack the resources for an obvious police presence. But they do have the power to require women to cover up. From their perspective, the danger isn’t that a women’s sexuality is so powerful it must be contained, a burqa is an acknowledgement that men at their basest can be incredibly impulsive and violent, so it helps prevent arousing those impulses.
The number one searched-for term on the internet in Pakistan is sex. Apparently, there's an unspoken but widespread homosexual underground in the Arab world too – “women are for babies, men are for pleasure.” This is surprising considering how often and harshly the religion and wider Islamic culture seem to oppress gays. But try as you might, you can't suppress biology.
A lack of impulse control doesn’t just occur in pre-civilised cultures either. Recall the "wilding" incidents in New York. Also, many women have stories of ex-boyfriends becoming stalkers or acting creepily shortly after a break-up.
The womb-envy argument doesn't explain this either because it requires over-intellectualising a base instinct.
Most men are glad not to have to go through childbirth, or experience the menstrual cycle. Having womb envy would require thinking about babies as creation and magical, which is unnatural. Other animals don’t seem to have womb envy. And, as should be clear to everyone, humans are little more than animals when culture is stripped away. We are a species of primate, after all.
Don’t worry, unlike Ms Hanson, I’m not singling out Muslims. Yet it is the largest culture currently maintaining the practice of covering women, while also offering an explanation for doing so.
The concern over male behaviour is innate to males everywhere. How else can Western expressions like "dressing modestly" be explained? Or even “dressing provocatively?” Older women still wear headscarves in rural Greece and Italy. In the summer. When it's hot. Younger women pretty much never wear them anymore, but they did prior to the war.
And where did the defence of rape cases until only recently that "she was asking for it" come from? It accepts the implied but universally understood the notion that without external forces or training, most men can't control their sexual impulses.
True, sex shaming often is leveraged against the woman rather than the man. That’s because the common perception is that women can control sexuality by covering up. It is also assumed men can't control the impulses, so how could someone be blamed for something which cannot be controlled? Of course, this is unfair, and feminists are correct to fight it, but we are talking about a power mechanism invented in ancient cultures without a strong central authority. It's understandable there will be some residue even today.
If, as a male, you are right now controlling your sexual instincts, understand it is because you are educated. You live in a country of particular rules where the law is quickly felt at the round edge of a police baton. Furthermore, you were raised in an environment where the culture, mores and religion have all taught you to control sexual impulses from early on.
Even in enlightened New Zealand, sex still sells, right? Is there a single product which hasn't been sold with an attractive woman next to it? They sell cars, boats and even airline seats with bikini models.
Companies do this because although men are trained not to objectify women, their natural instinctive impulse is to look at the woman. We are biologically wired to do this.
Don't believe me? It's Friday night. Go to any busy city street and watch the eyes of any man on the street when an attractive woman passes by. I'm not suggesting those men are thinking of raping the woman. I actually suspect they aren’t thinking of sex. But they all watch because they can’t help it. Even when they’re talking on the phone, they don’t even pause. Their eyes still move.
Maybe I overstated things when I said "most" men. But here's the thing. If there are a hundred men on a street in Kabul and a bikini-clad woman walks by, it only takes one man to lack impulse control to make the entire city unsafe for the woman.
So I'll revise my argument, slightly. Absent cultural programming and the apprehension of the imminent blunt-force application of the law in the minds of men, the number who might lack sexual impulse control exceeds the threshold beyond which it is safe for any woman to dress provocatively in that environment.
If that’s too convoluted, try some mathematics. When X% of any male population misbehaves, then it isn't safe for any woman on any street because there is a high likelihood one of those X% would be on any given street at any given time. My contention here is that X is probably a single digit number.
I'm not saying this is good, or acceptable, or that women should be forced to cover up. Neither am I rationalising Islamic or other laws or justifying this power. I am simply suggesting the mechanism these rules evolved from over time was based on some practical necessity to maintain social order absent a central authority.
Yet it doesn’t answer why women are educated less in Islamic cultures. If walking around in a burqa solves the problem of male biology, why is it that women have fewer career opportunities?
This is a good point, and I have to admit I didn't think this all the way through (hey, I never studied anthropology, so I'm at a disadvantage to those who've thought about this). My guess though is related to agrarian societies requiring offspring to do work. In this context, women become a valuable asset because they can produce boys as labourers, or women who can be married off.
Non-agricultural primitive cultures (which still exist) appear not to have these sexual hang-ups or widespread female oppression. There are hunter-gatherer cultures of the tropics where women routinely wear less clothing than Venice Beach. I suspect the appearance of agriculture in human history has something to do with the reduction of women to property, which led eventually to general objectification.
In 2016, it is completely abhorrent for any culture anywhere on earth to continue to operate like this. In the 15th century, the situation was different. And no amount of hand-waving or pseudo-science will change the fact that many Arab and Asian cultures still operate today like it's the 15th century.
If those cultures interact with western society, evidence suggests the reflex to cover women for their protection will dissipate. But 200 years ago they had no choice. Misogyny still exists in Australia, but female immigrants eventually figure out they don’t have to be oppressed like this anymore.
At that point, they might think of fighting for a new kind of existential power with feminism.
But this article is already long enough.