Internalization and Self-Sacrifice

Tragically, as many Muslim women both wordlessly comply and actively contribute to systems of oppression established by men i.e. choosing to stand behind barriers and believing that staying in an abusive relationship is a duty, the feminist is faced with what appears to be a conflict: because patriarchy dictates that one woman must represent all women, in order to free herself she must free her sex–but how can she, someone who claims to believe in the agency of women and choice–free women who do not wish to be liberated? She cannot suggest that they “don’t know any better” and are deluded because she is then patronizing–and, essentially–treating them like children, just as their oppressors had. She cannot suggest that they know but choose their oppression through their agency, because that is incorrect, outrageous, horrendous, victim-blaming, and the antithesis of feminism. No one, ever, chooses to be abused. She cannot suggest that they have been indoctrinated by their oppressors, because then she is denying that they have agency and the power of choice, and–worse still–she is proclaiming that she can “enlighten” them, which is only reinstating kyriarchal injustices were she coming from a place of privilege (white, upper class, or of the developed world, etc) through a condescending colonial mentality.

This position in which women are placed, where we are expected to perform as monolithic class of people instead of as individuals who do not speak for our sex but for ourselves, limits the feminist movement to consensus–if only on the superficial level of the perception of privileged oppressors. But as we all know, what the oppressor perceives is the functioning reality. We cannot proclaim that we want the barriers down, because there will be a sexist man who, with the intent of trapping us with our own feminism, will point out that some women prefer the barrier. Were women not forced to represent their sex, one could practice her right to pray behind a wall if she so chooses without acting as a patriarchal agent rather than an individual voicing her preference. Instead she finds herself not only misconstrued, but realizes that due to the constructions of patriarchy she must violently assert that ALL women MUST pray behind the barrier and consequently infringes on the rights of her sisters in order to secure her own result because she (1) is a representation and (2) has adopted and internalized the reaction of insecurity from oppressors who panic at their loss of privilege.

But that is an example of the right to our own privacy, and to a degree bodily autonomy, being made into a device of oppression, much like a woman’s choice to wear high heels or watch wedding shows. However, what a woman does to another woman, say, to her baby if we use the example of genital mutilation often championed by the mothers themselves, is then infringing on the right of another person without any threat to her own freedoms. Rather, this may be a result of both misinformation (though unlikely since it is clearly evident that so many children die) and of enjoying the social and often financial benefits of following patriarchal traditions and communal acceptance that are extensions of benefits from dressing according to patriarchal definitions of gender conformity.

What is borne of this is an attitude of righteousness. Those who are oppressed and side with their oppressors have a sense of nobility and self-sacrifice. They believe that their suffering is necessary and for the greater good, that they must endure this so that a “fair” society will function, and that those who are in the same position of suffering but speak out are doing so selfishly and out of greed. Having been familiar with this mentality from a very young age thanks to being a victim of it, nothing was at all surprising to me about the reactionary “we are the 53%” movement in response to Occupy Wall Street. These are people who have been convinced that their poverty is noble, much like Muslim women are convinced that their indefatigable patience in the face of abuse is noble. That somehow this suffering will deliver them. Because there are benefits to siding with the oppressor, because we want assure those who unjustly demonize us that we are nothing like they think we are, because no one wants to think of themselves as a victim, because it is easier to believe that you are living the American Dream and you will get there–someday, someday, and because it is–strangely–an arrogance that is produced from humility.

To examine this is partially, tentatively, my proposed pathway. After all, modesty–which should be an important part of Islam for both men and women–has long been used as a device to police women. Pointing out the very real fact that this “holier than thou” attitude directed at those who suffer is only arrogance may be a somewhat effective approach. “We are not asking you to give up your ground, we are asking you to get off ours.” Because that, after all, is what we want. That those who are underprivileged are the ones taking responsibility for these injustices is a planned outcome implanted by oppressors, a tactic used even–and especially–in the era in which slavery was at its worst in the United States, against the slaves themselves, whom plantation owners attempted to convince through enraging and heartbreaking tactics that slavery was the will of God and slaves were taken care of. And that, again, theirs is a necessary suffering endured for the greater good.

It is this sense of self-sacrifice that we buy into and internalize, believing this will allow society to continue to function. I myself view female child molesters as far crueller than male child molesters, even though I know this is wrong and that there should not be a difference, because I’m driven to expect women to take on the responsibility of morality and protection since men through the ramifications of patriarchy have escaped these expectations. Likewise, when women don’t get along it especially distresses me because I view it as reinstating patriarchal stereotypes, even though I know they don’t owe it to anyone to get along or to disprove the slanders of their oppressors.

7 thoughts on “Internalization and Self-Sacrifice

  1. almostclever

    Head nodding the entire way through. This could be published Nahida. I love when people can be poetic in their wordplay, it is always the best reading. I do hope you choose something like this topic as a scholarly pursuit. Just a personal want of mine.. Heheheee :)

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  2. almostclever

    Also, from your first paragraphs – I see this happening a lot through all feminist atmospheres, including mine. Some issues become an all or nothing game, when reality is we are not one being. I am noticing this in pro sex work and anti sex work discussions. We either have to be ALL for or ALL against, and the answer always ends up being somewhere in-between. This whole topic of “choice” has been an interesting one for me, especially surrounding the research I am doing in regards to the sex industry.

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  3. Totally brilliant! I think this is one of the biggest problems I have with feminism as a movement, particularly as a political movement (at least as far as I’ve been exposed to it), is the tendency to buy into this belief that we all need to agree. Women are half of the planet – if we all agreed on everything, it would be creepy and bizarre. I also wonder how much this belief is influenced by the misogynist belief that women all think the same – the ‘what do women want’ thing that there’s some secret girl-language that can never be deduced.

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  4. Pingback: Human Rights Abuses and Prison Rape | No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz?

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