Tuesday, January 3, 2012

“Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.”

{Post delayed a couple weeks due to excess holiday cheer ;) }

An unfortunate glimmer of the true status of the Egypt streets, and insight into its government’s ceaseless cover-ups gained great recognition in an interesting way a couple of weeks ago.  Civilians have been taking to the streets in protest against the depravity and lies of the military; in a nutshell, Egypt is trying to elect a new Parliament, but the military is allegedly blocking this and causing problems because, as soon as the Parliament takes over, the military’s power will decrease accordingly.  Despite the military’s constant assurances and even the assurance of the Prime Minister that no force is being used against protestors, Twitter and other Internet resources bearing videos of military-imposed violence are telling a much different story.  

This is really not too unusual, however, because the commoners of the Middle East have been trampelled by their lying leaders for centuries.  

So what made this particular story the subject of primetime news all around the world?  It was a particular victim of the military violence and a particular video that has now been seen around the world.  This protestor-victim was interesting because, first and foremost, she was a woman.  She was modestly wearing an abaya (long sleeved, ankle length, dark-colored, loose-fitting dress required by the Quran), which her brutalizers quickly stripped her of, revealing a BLUE bra as they proceeded to viciously kick and stomp on her now-exposed midriff.

So in this story, we have a lying government, an abusive military, a conservative Muslim woman protesting in the streets, and…a blue bra.

Do I secretly think that this story caught the media’s attention because it was a perfect opportunity for eye-catching women’s lingerie to flash on the screen—always a trick for getting viewers?  Perhaps.

But I hope that it was more than that.  I find 2 things interesting about this image:

1)                   A conservative Muslim woman was wearing a loose-fitting, modest, black abaya and even a hijab covering her hair & neck, but was wearing NOT white, NOT beige, but a BRIGHT BLUE bra.
2)                   A conservative Muslim woman was alone on the streets in protest against her government.

Both are signs of the expanding role of women in politics and women as independent, free-thinkers.  I know what you’re saying—“A blue bra= free thinking…huh?”  But think about it.  In a religion where modesty is paramount and, in my personal opinion, stifling, boldly-colored lingerie is surely a break from the norm.  In the religious circumstance where a devout woman is expected not to show her arms, her legs, and sometimes even her face or her hands, it naturally flows that this hyper-modesty to shun any sort of sensuality that can arise from the form and features of a woman’s body would also likely extend to hyper-modest, anti-sensual undergarments.  Biased as I may be, loose, white granny panties automatically come to mind.

But not for this woman.  She may be devout on the outside but underneath her stifling religious garb she carries a jewel-toned symbol of her femininity. 

And people have caught on to this.  This abused woman’s undergarment has become a symbol of the subsequent Women’s Protest.

This woman reveals a blue shirt with a bra sketched onto it and the words “Your eyes are cheap.”  I’m not exactly sure what she means by this by this statement, but my guess two-fold. 
First, it is meant as an accusation against the brutalizers of the blue bra-ed woman who, like cheap slobs, stripped her of her clothes in order to sordidly gaze upon her exposed chest.  
Or perhaps, second, it is a criticism to all of the news cameras and of all of us watching the protestors from the comfort of our own homes and not lifting even one finger to make an ounce of difference to their plight, just looking on, sighing, and somewhat amused.

[As a TOTAL side note, I was recently led by a former college buddy named Beau to a surprising article  ~~http://broadblogs.com/2011/12/07/modesty-objectifies-women-says-nude-egyptian/~~ written by a single, young Egyptian woman whose argument was that overly-restrictive modesty actually objectifies women by teaching them that they are mere sex objects that will be abused, harassed, and taken advantage of by men who can only see them as objects of their desire at the mere sight of an uncovered ankle or elbow.  When compared to this situation, the words of this seemingly radical blogger ring (at least partially) true.]

 Now, back to the Women’s Protests—which I find, in a word, AWESOME!  Women have actually been a major force in many of the recent revolutions in many Middle Eastern countries.  For example, this article entitled Bahrain Women Take Pridein Vital Protest Role women are given credit for their active role across the Middle Eastern world for their influence in the recent “Arab Spring” that has left more than a few governments either toppled, weakened, or at least shaking in their boots.

            This may not seem like such a big deal in the United States, we see images of women storming the US Capital and marching down Pennsylvania Avenue all the time, be it for Gay Rights, the Abortion debate, or any other controversial news item they feel the need to voice their opinion about.  But 1) The U.S. wasn’t always so accepting of females in the political words, and 2) Middle Eastern countries by and large are still not so accepting of women in the political world.  Rewind U.S. History a little, and you can get a sense of the import of the brave women like those in Bahrain.

            Need I remind you that even former (male!) slaves could vote before women in the United States?

            I am passionate about women in the political realm.  I even did a HUGE presentation on the subject for my Women’s Studies college course and I was so captivating that the entire class voluntarily stayed beyond the end of the class period to watch some relevant video clips I had selected!  OK, so maybe Tina Fey portraying Governor Sarah Palin was really the one who was captivating, but I digress…

            I so greatly admire the pioneering women in this country who left their comfortable housewifery to storm the streets and rally until women were given the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920—a full 42 years(!) after the first draft was submitted by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Congress.

            Like the Middle Eastern women of today, Western Women fought against their government 100 years ago and we now revere them as heroes.  They are certainly my heroes.

            These Middle Eastern, Muslim women are doing more than hosting conventions and marching, they are getting beaten and even martyred for their causes.  As the amateur videos from this incident reveal, a women in a red coat named Aza (who, incidentally, did not get her lingerie exposed and [therefore] did not make primetime news) went to help the anonymous blue bra-ed woman and ended up getting struck TWENTY TIMES by military police officers and having her skull fractured to the point of sending her into a coma.  When video footage made the attack undeniable, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who currently rule Egypt and wish to stay in power at the lost of liberty, gave their “regrets.”  It’s tragic, shameful, and even disgusting.

Warning- the video is not for the faint-hearted:

            These women suffering for their rights and breaking the mold in their culture are, like the suffragettes in my culture, also my heroes.  Rather than the Mary Poppins “soldiers in petticoats,” these brave women are soldiers in abayas and like the suffragettes of the West, their legacy will live on for generations and inspire their daughters’ daughters.  I truly admire them.