Particular invisible systems of unpaid labor enable the appropriation of philosophies. I’m not referring to domestic labor or emotional labor (not quite) though these are also issues. I’m referring explicitly to the activity in which a person engages in order to research, piece together, and present an argument for their humanity, for which the payment is only basic humanization if that, despite the fact that this activity is highly profitable to not only the male academy but the philosophical legacy of colonialist oppressors.
Recently, a friend of mine expressed her frustration that a notably sexist academic program was espousing amina wadud’s translation of verse 4:34, without citing amina wadud. This was obvious because no male translators, particularly those whose translations are popularly reproduced, printed this interpretation. It was recognizably wadud’s work. The institution withheld credit from an Islamic feminist in order to uphold its reputation through the prestige of the interpretation, while benefiting from her exegesis, the same way men reproduce Islamic feminist arguments to defend verses they find uncomfortable while denying they need feminism because they have Islam. My friend related this phenomenon to a professor, and, when he prompted for an example, reminded him that Islamic feminist Riffat Hassan was the first to observe that Hawwa is not charged in the Qur’an for transgression on the forbidden tree, and the dual form is held responsible. He could thank Islamic feminists for the fact that this is now considered common sense, but for centuries male scholars had relied on the Biblical interpretation of this story to fill in the “gaps” they supposedly believe the Qur’an doesn’t have. As my friend stated, “It’s common sense to you because we had to do all of the hard work for it.”
Colonizers will often claim that their nations are the most philosophically advanced—they’ll cite the laws they’ve supposedly conceived purporting equality among sexes, among races, not cognizant of the fact that the very people they’ve oppressed are responsible for creating these understandings of humanity, equality, and justice. These abstractions are rooted in their practical applications—not the other way around. When faced with the inhumanity of systematic rape, of genocide, of slavery, naturally a group of victims develop deeply thorough, sound arguments for their humanity, which the institutions that oppress them then adopt as their own in theoretical forms. These arguments are showcased to the world—often to the countries from which the oppressed originate—as evidence of the superiority of white men. We forget that laws are more than impartial declarations of justice. They are the result of a tumultuous history. The recognition of a human right is the result of unappreciated labor.
Reconsidering what types of labor I am willing to perform has been a liberating activity. A man emailed me a while ago politely expressing disagreement with one of my posts here and asking whether we might discuss our differences in interpretation. Let me be clear of two things. First, I do prefer the extension of an invitation to the barrage of uninvited tired points men liberally impose with the expectation that I would have both the time and interest to comb through them. Second, with that said, it is highly unlikely that I will ever accept such an invitation: I am not benefiting from such a discussion. At all. Let’s face it—when his position is a traditional one, I’ve heard the talking points before. Why are men under the impression that if we disagree with a very popular interpretation, we must not be familiar with arguments in its favor? It is presumptuous for a man to believe I haven’t read the same scholars he has read. I wouldn’t benefit from a discussion like this—what’s going to happen, what’s always happened—is that the other party walks away with more to think about. And they’re thrilled about the intellectual exercise, which has never been an intellectual exercise for me but a battle for my rights. I never respond to men who email me, and that’s especially true now. I’m not performing that labor. It’s an unworthy endeavor, and if you’re looking for it, you’d best have blown my mind in the first sentence with your interpretative creativity.
I’m thinking about returning next month for a number of reasons. I won’t bore you with any of them. The posts will be infrequent. Some things… have come up. One of my friends pointed out to me that I’m the type of person to vanish, and not the type to say goodbye. It’s occurred to me how painfully true this is. When I’m done with an activity, an interest, a person, I simply vanish. I stop meeting them, stop calling, stop texting, stop emailing. I disappear. If I care enough to say goodbye, it means I’m not actually finished. But when I’m done… I’m gone. It’s radio silence.
So, I don’t want it to be this way (I promise!), but when I am done with the fatal feminist, you might not know until the months have passed. You knew I was coming back, because I said goodbye.
In the meantime I’m making changes to some old entries so they reflect up-to-date exegeses. I apologize to anyone with an RSS reader. You may want to unsubscribe temporarily. ;)