I've just discovered my newest pet peeve: misogynistic women. That is, those women who believe in and perpetuate gender-related stereotypes… the most common one being that of women's inferiority, and men's superiority (in more than the Islamic sense/ understanding). Misogyny is something that is quickly and oft-identified within men, but recognized much less within women – after all, how is it that there are women who look down on themselves, who see themselves as less than their male counterparts? It does, however, exist; and is surprisingly (and scarily) quite widespread.
I am hesitant to blame misogynistic attitudes amongst women on immigrants, but in my experience that's how it is. Like so many other examples of gender injustice, it seems to be based on culture; specifically, cultural notions about women, their status in society, and their overall capabilities. It never fails to astound me how in some cultures, they'll be eager to send their daughters off to university and get their degrees – only to expect them to come home, get married, and pop out babies for the rest of her life without ever actually using her God-given intelligence! And if she does dare to take a stance on issues, to have an opinion, to be active in some way outside the home (and I mean in a halaal way, not a haraam way), she'll be told to “behave like a proper woman” (i.e. keep her mouth shut, smile, and nod) and looked down upon and criticized.
The worst thing is when they make misogynistic comments in an Islamic context – for example, using the (grossly mistranslated!) Hadith about women being “deficient” in religion and intelligence. This happened to me the other day when some common incident took place wherein I didn't recall making a certain commitment and another woman did - and that woman then said, “You see, that's why the Shari'ah requires the testimony of two women, because your memory is so weak!”
Aside from the irony – she being only one woman, not two, who claimed to have heard me make the commitment, and so technically her testimony wouldn't count either – it was the commonality of such an attitude that infuriated me. I said nothing due to her age and her position over me, but in my head I was outraged!
Then there's the other thing that's constantly held against women: their hormones! I find it absolutely ridiculous that whenever a girl gets angry or upset over something, she is so often dismissed by others (women even more so than men!) by being told, “Stop spazzing; just because it's your time of the month you don't need to take it out on the rest of us!” (Or something to that effect.) Why is it immediately assumed that for a female to be angry, it's because of her hormones? Why is it that men can get angry and outraged about the silliest of things, and still be taken seriously; but that a woman is dismissed the majority of the time because she experiences a short period of time during which she can be a little, well, unreasonable? And what about women who don't suffer PMS at all? Are their concerns also to be blamed on hormonal irrationality?
“Oh no, not another feminist rant!” is probably what you're thinking… well, yes and no. I don't at all deny the differences – both physical and psychological – between men and women, nor do I deny anything in the Shari'ah (two female witnesses, etc.). What I do take issue with is, as I listed above, how people will take something from the Shari'ah and use it as a general excuse to use against women in anything and everything – even though it's totally out of context!
Okay, so what does this have to do with Muslim matters, you ask? In my opinion, it has a lot to do with Muslim matters: such attitudes severely restrict what Muslim women are capable of. Attitudes like that are what's stopping our daughters, our sisters, our wives, from following in the footsteps of the great Muslim women of the past: Aisha bint Abi Bakr, Hafsa bint Umar, Umm Habiba bint Abi Sufyan, and many more (radhi'Allahu anhuma ajma'een). They were all extremely intelligent, and what's more, they were outspoken! They didn't just learn by rote; they learnt by observing, questioning, and implementing.
When we read some of the ahadith of these noble women, we are sometimes be shocked by their behaviour – such as when they would argue with the Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) himself! Not to say that it's a free license for us to argue about everything and anything with anyone and everyone, but it's a sign that the women around the Messenger (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) were certainly not mindless robots who only cooked, cleaned, and popped out babies.
So when we're told that “good Muslim girls” don't ask questions or think too much, then let's remember those women whom the Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) loved and taught and did not rebuke for their intelligence, and most certainly did not degrade.
To paint women as fragile, emotional, hormone-controlled vessels liable to have a psychological breakdown at any moment belittles us and insults the intelligence that Allāh has blessed us with. Furthermore, it crushes the potential our girls have to be amazing assets to this Ummah, as teachers and as leaders within our communities.
Women are indeed the driving force of any society. They are the ones who raise the children, the ones from whose lips and laps babies learn the behaviour and attitudes of the family, which in turn affect the society as a whole. We learn what our role as women in society is from our mothers - and so it's imperative that our mothers break away from these negative attitudes towards femininity; and that we, when we become mothers, can pass onto the daughters of this Ummah the message that as women we are NOT inferior or deficient but rather the full twins of men and equal in the Sight of Allāh.
It is important to note that sometimes the male head of the household can have very open ideas about women's roles, can encourage his daughters to pursue more in life than the traditional ideal… yet if the matriarch believes otherwise, then it's almost guaranteed she'll pass on her attitude to the younger females. In that is an example of the powerful role women play in society: they can “make or break” attitudes and traditions, and it is this power which needs to be tapped into when trying to create and implement a solution to this problem.
All right, so now that we've identified the problem, what is the solution?
The idealist in me has it all figured out: more from the minbar speaking out against this and emphasizing a need to take the great Muslim women of the past as role models; Islamic lessons, courses, and workshops on the same subject, empowering women, as it were; and implementation/ reinforcing the lesson by creating and providing opportunities for Muslim women to take on a greater role in our Ummah, by taking part in community activism.
We talk so much about the beautiful rights that Islam has given women, yet in our own homes and in our masājid we rarely allow our women to practice those rights. We also talk of wanting our communities to be like the community that existed during the time of our beloved Messenger Muḥammad (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam). Here's one way of accomplishing that: by letting our womenfolk take on roles that were practiced by the womenfolk of the first Muslims. Not just wives and mothers, but students and teachers, professionals and activists.
The reluctantly realistic part of me, however, recognizes that this won't necessarily cause a 180-degree change in attitude. The struggle to change the way Muslims – men and women – believe about the status of women as individuals and their roles in society will be long, and I doubt it will ever be 100% successful.
As with all worthy struggles, though, inshā'Allāh I won't give up on it - and neither should you! Māshā'Allāh, I know wonderful people (men and women alike) who are trying their best to address this issue (amongst the many others our community needs to be dealth with) from the Islamic point of view, educating themselves and others about what Islam REALLY says about the rights and responsibilities of each gender. In my opinion, the best thing they've done is to provide opportunities for sisters to realize their potential within the Muslim community: by encouraging them to start studying Islam more deeply, to get involved in community projects, to strengthen their identity and just feel good about themselves as Muslimaat!
May Allāh grant us all knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of the Deen, and aid us in implementing it for the benefit of our souls (which will need all the ajr it can get on its side for the Day of Judgement) and for the benefit of our Ummah, āmīn!