The wizarding world of Harry Potter was touched by misogyny when Afshan Azad, a Muslim cast member who played the role of Padma Patil, was beaten severely for dating a Hindu. According to court records, Azad’s brother “left his younger sister bruised and swollen after grabbing her by the hair, throwing her across a room and punching her in the head and back as she cowered on the floor….” When Azad’s father learned of the situation, he told her brother to kill her. The brother, a good Muslim who had been drinking, then tried to strangle her.
The Manchester Evening News report of this event is harrowing reading. Ultimately, Azad (somehow) lived through three hours of hell before escaping through her bedroom window and reporting the beating to the police the next morning. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to read that Azad “wrote a letter to Judge Roger Thomas QC asking for her brother not to be locked up and saying that she had forgiven him. The court heard that Ms. Azad has never supported the prosecution despite giving police an initial statement.” One of the most nefarious aspects of religious and cultural misogyny is the way women internalize it. Azad’s plea to the judge is but one example of this phenomenon. It’s one thing to forgive her brother, but quite another to aid him in evading the just consequences of his behavior. Another example of internalized misogyny in this story is the response of Azad’s mother, who called Azad a whore and told her that “she would have to be sent to Bangladesh to marry” a Muslim man. Wow. Talk about blaming the victim! It’s obviously Azad’s fault that her brother beat her because she’d had the audacity to fall in love with a non-Muslim. That rendered her a whore who deserved either banishment from her home and family or death. I’m glad that Azad a) survived this encounter, and b) did not move to Bangladesh per her family’s dictates. Instead, she left her home in Manchester and now lives in London. This gives me hope that she’ll break the religious and cultural shackles that led to her horrific experience.
Now, before we non-Muslims get smug about our superiority, we’d better take a look at events happening right here in the USA. The great state of Kansas recently enacted abortion regulations that will effectively shut down abortion providers until they can satisfy stringent new licensing requirements. The providers were given a generous ten days notice of the changes, which include substantial physical plant modifications that will take weeks or months to complete, and which providers claim are medically unnecessary. Kansas used to have three abortion clinics. One of these was forced to close recently and the remaining two will likely be closed by the end of this week unless a temporary injunction against immediate implementation of the law is granted. This is very bad news for the people of Kansas. Especially the women.
Let’s cut out all bullshit and face an ugly fact: laws like these are designed solely to control the sexuality, reproduction and overall health of American women. They are nothing less than institutionalized misogyny – misogyny that is embedded in American culture, its dominant religion, and, when states can get away with it, its laws. The fact that many women support such measures is testament to the power of internalized oppression. Thousands, perhaps millions, of people have been really pissed off since the passage of Roe v. Wade, and they’ve made numerous attempts to overturn it, or, failing that, to sidestep it. This latest move by the state of Kansas is an example of the latter. The state has not outlawed abortion. It can’t do that. Therefore, it’s done the next best thing: it’s made abortion within its borders inaccessible. For awhile anyway.
Both Islamic and Christian cultures and religions have long, infamous histories of misogyny. In Christianity (but not Islam), women have been blamed for Original Sin. In both traditions, women have been cast as wicked temptresses of men (which is why many Muslim women are required to hide themselves under layers of cloth). In both traditions, women have been cast as inferior to men (a position that has been systematically reinforced through religious and social customs, as well as law). Misogyny is not unique to Islam; it’s just extraordinarily blatant in that milieu. Islamic misogyny is akin to the Old South’s Jim Crow laws – easy to oppose because it’s so damned obvious. Christian misogyny is more akin to the Northern racism I witnessed during the Civil Rights era – subtler than Jim Crow, and consequently more difficult to identify and destroy. Subtlety doesn’t make it any less real, and it certainly doesn’t make it any less dangerous, even deadly, than Islamic misogyny. It simply makes it harder to fight.
It’s only fair to note that many Christians and Muslims reject the misogynistic mores of their religions. And many of them have joined nontheists in opposing those who want to sustain those shameful traditions. As the accounts discussed above make clear, believers and nonbelievers alike have a long struggle ahead of us if we hope to rectify our society’s wrongs. But we will overcome.
– the chaplain