I want to talk about a verse that has appeared on this site without previous examination because it is so clear in its meaning, and extract from it a deeper understanding of the Quranic approach to sex and gender and these supposed strict “gender roles” that patriarchs insist are dictated in the Qur’an.
Who created you from a single Self
Created, of similar nature,
its mate and from them twain
scattered like seeds
countless men and women;–
through Whom ye demand
your mutual rights. (Qur’an 4:1)
This is the opening verse to the fourth chapter, titled specifically Women. The first time 4:1 appeared on this site, the word Self was replaced by the word Person. The Arabic word is Nafs, which can be translated as either. Intriguingly, Nafs is feminine. As mentioned before, the Quran does not give us any information as to whether Adam was created before Eve or vice versa. An overwhelming majority of the time, Adam only means humankind (literally ‘of the soil’) in the Qur’an, and could just as easily be referring to a female form, or to both.
The Self, Nafs, is a single reality that incorporates all contrary attributes. Men sometimes would translate Nafs as ‘soul’ in order to utilize an early Greek perspective that the male consists of the body soul and spirit (Self) and the female, a lesser form, only occupied the soul. Thus, these douchecanoes could conveniently apply sexism even to a verse as strikingly egalitarian as 4:1.
So the verse states that the sexes originated from a single Self, and then asserts that it is because of this intrinsic equality from which mutual rights are extracted. Anyone, scholar or otherwise, who insists that the Qur’an assigns gender roles, is completely overriding this verse and depending entirely on the verse that hold men responsible financially, which means nothing they think it means and in fact holds wealthy women just as accountable.
This act of incorrectly collapsing sex (biology) with gender (social role) and lifting interpreted “maleness” to a superior state to “femaleness” on a scale that holds men as the ideal is the core of inequality and essentially against the Qur’an.
The most aggravating misconception about equality is the faulty assertion that treating a man and a woman the same (as in, treat both like a man because that is the supposed standard) is to treat them equally. Usually critics of feminism, who insist that a feminist would not give up her seat for a pregnant woman because then she would not be treating the pregnant woman equally, champion this perspective. (Regardless of how often I insist that I would give up my seat for a pregnant woman as enthusiastically as I would give it up for a pregnant man.) Have you heard this before? You’ve met Strawfeminist. Strawfeminist exists in the imagination of dudes who think they know feminist theory better than you, an Actual Feminist who actively constructs it. Because she has been created by men to serve their own patriarchal purposes of discrediting feminism, Strawfeminist incidentally believes that men are the standard to that women should aspire, which in the figment of male imagination is how Strawfeminist argues that women should not receive maternity leave (instead of arguing that men should receive a period of time as well so that they can help out with the kid, which is much truer to an Actual Feminist argument) because women should be exactly like men.
Yes, men believe that even feminists revolve around them. In their imaginations, feminists want mothers to not take maternity leave (because that is manly and of course we want to be manly) instead of wanting men to take care of their damn kids (because that is womanly and so ew); they cannot fathom that there is a sphere of possibility in which men and male experience are not the standard.
This is why MRAs say ridiculous things, like “Every time a woman says she wants to be treated equally and I treat her like a man, she can’t handle it.”
Ugh, what a dumbass. (Hilariously, he’ll smugly think he’s a fucking genius.) In reality of course, not only is he confusing being treated equally with being treated like a man and thereby assigning male as the aspired standard and hugely misunderstanding feminist theory, but he probably wasn’t actually treating her like a man. The misogynist buffoon was undoubtedly applying an overly exaggerated, dishonest, and hostile version of masculine behavior for which his idea of a “real” man may or may not have punched him in the face.
And so male and female (sex) are collapsed into the masculine gender.
Individuality compromised in generalizations is the root of this inaccuracy that treating men and women the same is to treat them equally. The truth is that treating people the same is not to treat them equally. Individuals are different, with different needs, biology, preferences, abilities and disabilities, schemas, etc. Sex is nothing but another insignificant factor. To make things equal—just—we construct a society in which each individual can function to xir best potential and contribute fully to civilization. The source of sexual inequality is the incorrect view that biology, or sex, is in any way related to “function” and social identity, or gender, and that the individual is subordinate to the natural. The source of sexual inequality is the incorrect view that differences that are socially shaped are biologically dictated.
The word female was not originally related to the word male, but is a derivative of femina; the spelling was changed over time to parallel the spelling of male, a reflection no doubt of the process of patriarchal thought: the word female is incorrectly believed to mean not male. Setting the male as the standard to which women should aspire delineates a very incorrect, very old, very sexist type of understanding of the relationship between the sexes. This incorrect understanding views male and female as opposites, as Male and Not Male, instead of Male and Female (Femina).
The first model has been used to oppress women by placing us as the Other compared to Male and creating a binary contradiction in that biological differences must also mean differences in ability, mind, soul, and very other aspect. But sex is contrary, not contradictory. Women have needs, not “special needs” or “different needs.” Women are a sex in our own right, and must speak for ourselves and our legitimate needs, rather than men speaking for us just as they had in the past based on a false idea of absolute sameness or a spectrum in which male is superior and what works biologically for men must work for women. These are also not halves that form a whole, as that would be a dualistic mode of thinking which 4:1 obviously does not state. Rather, each part is a form of a single reality. The relationship is based on ontology, not sociology, and on equality and not hierarchy.
Despite popular belief, there is no evidence in the Qur’an that woman was created from man or even after. And in fact, verse 4:1 differs greatly with these perspectives.
Both models (Male and Not Male, Male and Female) are phallocentric. The former is phallocentric in theory and application. The latter is phallocentric in application when Male is viewed as entirely different in every aspect and superior to Female, and, as illustrated, neither model is endorsed by the Qur’an. The Qur’an does not hold that female is ‘not male’ nor does it insist that male and female are exclusive entities and male is superior. Scholars who derive an endorsement of inequality from the Qur’an are dishonest and projecting their own agenda–and the fact that even 4:1 has historically been misconstrued to advocate inequality is only proof of these malicious intentions.