Leon Trotsky — you know, THE Trotsky — once said disdainfully of writer Dwight Macdonald, who’d had the temerity to actually question him about something-or-other, “everyone has the right to be stupid, but comrade Macdonald abuses the privilege.”
Now, Trotsky was sort of a shit, and probably would have been a worse dictator than Stalin, and Dwight Macdonald was awesome, but I’ve always loved this little put-down, and I’d like to update it for the internet age. So here goes:
Everyone has the right to pontificate about shit they know nothing about on the internet, but our comrades at The Spearhead abuse the privilege.
The latest example: A short piece about the Egyptian protests from Spearhead head cheese W.F. Price. Noting that footage of the protests show a lot of angry men out on the streets, Price opines:
Governments that consistently neglect or antagonize their male populations never last too long.
Yep, no matter what happens anywhere in the world at any time, on The Spearhead it’s always all about the menz. Indeed, not only has the Egyptian government been insufficiently accommodating to men, Price suggests; it’s also started flirting with feminism, having “recently taken the lead in the Arab world in empowering women.” But such a transparent ploy to win over the wimmenz will invariably backfire, he argues (or, rather, asserts), further angering the angry men in the streets:
Female support matters little; women shift allegiance at the drop of a hat, so any government that counts on them to prop them up is making a mistake.
Those fickle, fickle women!
In the comments, someone called Antz took this absurdity a step or two further, asking his fellow Spearheaders to
note the alpha males in battle gear, ready at the drop of a hat to open fire on their freedom loving brothers with machine guns.
Alpha males have always been the wielders of the burning blade of feminist anti-male hatred.
Yes, that’s right. The Egyptian security police have suddenly gone feminist on us.
This isn’t the first time Price has attempted to cast an uprising in the Arab world as a manly reaction to the doings of evil women. He titled a recent piece on the Tunisian uprising “Arrogant Woman Slaps Young Man, Brings Down Her Regime.” The “arrogant woman” in question was a corrupt local official who slapped and thereby humiliated a young Tunisian street vendor named Mohammad Bouazizi; his very public suicide — he lit himself on fire in front of a government building as a form of protest –was what set off the Tunisian uprising. (I have no idea what Price means by referring to “her regime,” as the woman in question was merely a local functionary and the regime in question was of course headed by a man.) Price wrote:
Authoritarian regimes in Muslim-majority states tend to favor women’s empowerment, seeing women as natural allies in keeping fundamentalist Islam at bay and willing participants in corrupt patronage systems. However, favoring women can only go so far, as men need a certain degree of appeasement as well, and it seems that young Tunisian men have had enough of being – quite literally in this case – slapped around.
Never mind that Tunisia’s historic adoption of women’s rights legislation — abolishing polygamy, and, horror of feminist horrors, requiring men to actually get consent from women before marrying them — happened more than half a century ago. Never mind that the repressive Ben Ali government was actually moving backwards on women’s rights. A woman slapped a man, so the uprising was therefore all about the symbolic slapping of men by an evil regime that Price has bizarrely described as a “her.”
Back to Egypt, which is even less of a feminist paradise than Tunisia. Indeed, a 2010 report from the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights concluded that the country was getting worse, not better, when it came to its already dismal record on women’s rights. As thedailynewsegypt.com reports (link is to Google’s cached copy of the story):
The report, which is based on the findings of international human rights organizations, stated that Egypt was ranked 125th out of 134 countries regarding women’s rights, and was ranked 13th among countries in the Middle East/North Africa region. …
The state council’s refusal to appoint female judges in February was considered by the ECWR as a major setback to women’s rights in 2010. … Women still suffer from inequality in the workplace … there’s been a rise in violence against women. … 71.4 percent of violent crimes in 2010 were against women. …
The ECWR also highlighted the increased use of two new alarming police practices against women: the practice of holding women hostage in order to force fugitives to surrender themselves to the police, as well as the sexual violation of women by police officers.
But that’s not the only thing that Price has gotten very, very wrong: As many observers far more knowledgeable than Price have pointed out — including, amazingly, one commenter on The Spearhead — the footage of male-dominated protests we see on TV is in many ways wildly misleading: Egyptian women have been involved in the current protests in unprecedented numbers.
As Jenna Krajeski noted on Slate’s XXFactor blog,
An unprecedented number of Egyptian women participated in Tuesday’s anti-government protests. Ghada Shahbandar, an activist with the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, estimated the crowd downtown to be 20 percent female. Other estimates were as high as 50 percent. In past protests, the female presence would rarely rise to 10 percent. Protests have a reputation for being dangerous for Egyptian women, whose common struggle as objects of sexual harassment is exacerbated in the congested, male-dominated crowd.
Max Strasser, a former associate editor at Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition in Cairo, explains the dynamic:
It is no secret that Egypt is a conservative country when it comes to gender relations. Men and women generally, though not exclusively, adhere to traditional gender roles where women stay at home. As a result, many public spaces are heavily male dominated. Moreover, sexual harassment is frustratingly common … Big crowds, like soccer rallies, are usually the least hospitable for women.
Since this uprising began, the typical gender dynamic in Egypt’s public space seems to have been thrown out with the regime. Some have said that as many as half of the protesters are women. Moreover, as I have watched Al Jazeera it seems clear that women of all walks of life, from young girls in jeans to older women wearing niqab, are taking part. All are chanting, pumping their fists and, at times, battling with the riot police.
As feminist human rights activist Nawal El Saadawi told Democracy Now!, “women and girls are beside boys in the streets.”
Do I have any idea what’s next in Egypt? Of course not. The crowds I’ve seen in the news coverage on CNN and elsewhere have been mostly men, and a lot of these men are fundamentalist fanatics. But I think the presence of women alongside the men in the protests is heartening, and gives us some reason for optimism.
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