Hillary Rodham Clinton, United States Secretary of State spoke along with several internationally known politicians, business leaders and activists at the “Women in the World” Conference yesterday and in a stunning act moved beyond her role in government to address American domestic issues, something a sitting Secretary of State would and should not do. Or so it seems from some media reports. I have to admit that I did not hear her entire speech but the portions that I did hear were not just for, or about, domestic US consumption but for a world audience. Attempting to negate her message by saying that she spoke out of turn or beyond her role seems ludicrous to me. I for one, was proud to hear what she said. Not because I am an extremist or rabid feminist but because she was honest. This is the core of what she said: “Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress, they want to control how we act, they even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies.” True this last statement is directed at Republicans who are in the process of defunding women’s health clinics but it also applies to other countries.
The Secretary of State sounds spot on to me. Frankly my two primary countries of interest are the US and Israel. I will leave the Arab countries to someone like Ayan Hirsi Ali who is significantly more well versed in those states than I am. In the US there have been reports of honor killings and increased demands by religious zealots and fanatics to restrict women even on public transportation. Sounds familiar – doesn’t it?
In Israel in just the last day there are two telling events. The first is Badatz request, some would call it a demand, that the Heimishce Essen restaurant of Rechavia reduce or eliminate their waitresses. The restaurant is a very successful one and has been in business for decades with both waiters and waitresses who are modestly attired. The owner is quoted as saying that Badatz is jealous of his success and is trying to control him. Here we would call that akin to a “protection racket.” The other situation is the shutting out of all women from the Rabbinical Selection Committee that appoints Rabbis for Batay Din.
Taken as a whole these actions are, at the very least, misogynistic. The theory de rigeur as to the increasing restriction of women is that by controlling women, men will not be put to shame by their own lack of success. Women, if given the opportunity, will outpace men according to this hypothesis. That approach may in small measure be true. I see a more profound and therefore disturbing possibility. Cognitively the men who are attempting to assert this excessive, stifling control realize that they are losing the battle. The psychological reaction to this insight in people who do not understand the process is to fight even harder. They will still lose but until they allow themselves to see it they will become more and more aggressive and militant. Containing their militancy is the only way to prevent a major rendering of society. This containment may be performed with a show of force but that will likely set off a stronger reaction. After all, the zealots are best known for rationalizing, or worse, denying their own outrageous behaviors while claiming that they are the ones that are being attacked. In the case of the place of women in society the best response would come from women. There is no need to go back to the 60’s and have bra burning festivals but if women – mothers, wives, sisters, aunts told their male relatives that they will not accept their unjustified restraints the groundswell against the outrageous restrictions imposed on them can result in a major turn around.
A young woman who graduated from a religious right wing high school told me that she graduated with a degree in “numb and dumb” because she was taught that it was wrong to have emotions unless sanctioned by her father or husband and if she became too well educated she might find fault with their restrictive world. She sees it. Others do too. But, we will talk more about that another time.