Monday, November 16, 2015

On prostitution and obscenity

With this month's cover article of Time I planned to write a post on gender politics and its enduring relevance, challenging the closing of various gender studies programmes at universities in this country as in others.

In fact I find upon closer inspection that these closings in recent years have, most recently, say in the last year or two, begun to reopen, with many 'women's studies' programmes that have for decades been ghettoised and poorly attended, drawing almost exclusively female students, being recast as 'gender studies' programmes. Although this is likely only a change in name - 'women's studies' has always been the study of gender - this is a potential sign of progress, though the subject remains ghettoised rather than integrated into the undergraduate course lists of all sociology, history and politics programmes.

So, for example, my former department, the Political Studies department of the University of Auckland, for 2016 will provide only one gender-related (not exclusively gender politics) undergraduate course, but three on the politics of China, two on the Middle East and two on the countries of the European Union. Surely gender politics is at least as large a subject as the the politics of one of these foreign countries and regions?

If this Time cover and article is anything to go by, the future of Iran, a key player in the middle east, might be measured by its evolving attitude to women's freedom of dress and movement - currently very strict, requiring a full hijab covering everything but face and hands. Indeed how free women are in any society by law and custom is a fairly close reflection of how arrogant and threatening a country's male-dominated domestic and international political practice will be.

Still, all countries (even NZ, even Sweden), remain male dominated politically speaking, if not altogether, and this enduring bias feeds into the most extreme political movements - such as ISIS - which are, in turn, the most male-dominated and macho political forces. This is no coincidence. The values of ISIS are the values of extreme masculinity embracing the notion of male superiority before they are of anything else. All religions are patriarchal and all condemn 'prostitution and obscenity' (sex and seduction beyond marriage and the home), one of the reasons given by ISIS for its attack on Paris.

In my opinion, if these killers knew the seduction and love of a good woman (or man) within a relationship that is equal, namely with equal respect between the partners and no hierarchy of status, then they would not resent prostitutes and their customers as they do, nor would they be so ready to kill and lose their lives to honour some puritanical prophet who lived thousands of years ago.

While instead men - everywhere - are taught to believe they are better than women and to serve an all-knowing male god, they cannot know what true love and respect is. And without that prospect, much hope of happiness is lost and homicide and suicide become that much more imaginable.

Look at all killers beyond organised war, but not beyond the home, and you will find men, every last one of them, who resent, disrespect and hate women. They were not born this way and nothing could be less natural than the hatred of the opposite sex. We teach men to think thus. Universities, where we are formerly taught how to think critically of the world we live in, should be the place where we unlearn this dangerous and destructive prejudice. Instead, all to often, these male-dominated institutions reinforce this prejudice directly and indirectly by focusing on macho subjects, like war and economics, and now terrorism, without studying the problematic masculinity that is at the basis of much of the conflict within and between nations.

What could be more obscene than a machine-gun turned on innocent people?  

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