Meredith's Challenge 2.0

52 books, one year. Stay tuned for more details.

Friday, June 10, 2005

#16 Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks

I had this book leftover from an anthropology class about gender. The class was disappointingly boring but books were interesting. I was so unenamoured with the class that I just skipped this one. I am usually such a good little student but some things will not be tolerated, a whole class taught entirely by PowerPoint for example.

A few days ago, I was browsing my bulging bookcases (yes, plural) and I came upon Nine Parts. I forgot that I even had it and that I never finished it. I went through it pretty quickly, it's an easy read. I felt like it was a little dated because it was written before 2001 and there was clearly no discussion about recent events in the Middle East. I would find that discussion fascinating.

Maybe because I'm an optimistic bleeding heart liberal, I hoped that Brooks would find something that I had previously not known about women in Islam, that maybe from an unknowing outsider's view it seems horrible but it's not really that bad. That perhaps there is a more balanced version of what goes on in Islamic countries that we don't get to see. Nope, not according to Brooks. It looked to me that she tried to be an unbiased journalist (which is impossible, really) but that she couldn't after seeing how many women's lives were so negatively affected by their countries' policies and are unable to escape them.

I really like her argument that if the genders were reversed, there would be international outrage "if some 90 million little boys were having their penises amputated." You know it's true and yet, because it's women who are having their clitorises removed and their labia sewn together, few people have even noticed and even less have cared. Clitoridectomy is not a tradition held by all Muslims, it was a cultural ritual, not a religious one. Brooks talks about how Islam absorbed some customs, such as "veils and seclusion in Persia," "genital mutilations in Egypt," and "when it found societies in which women had never had a voice in public affairs, its own traditions of lively women's participation withered." Why is this? Why is the submission (Islam means submission in Arabic) only being done by women? Why has Islam embraced so many anti-woman policies? Islam doesn't have to be a hateful religion, it could be loving and peaceful. However, the misogyny present in so many "Islamic" counties is staggering. Right now, Islam is anything but beautiful.


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