Controversial American author Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been a regular fixture on major news networks lately, discussing her most recent book, Heretic, as well as her views on various issues that include violence in Islam and the treatment of Muslim women.
An ex-Muslim, Hirsi Ali began her rise to fame with her book Infidel, which documented her hardships growing up as a Muslim woman in her native Somalia. In light of her turbulent past, Hirsi Ali has gained strong following in the West. Prominent atheist author Richard Dawkins has called her a “hero for rationalism and feminism.” Now, after the release of Heretic, some are again cheering her as a brave champion for women’s rights, especially for Muslim women.
While many in the West have been receptive to her case, Hirsi Ali’s vicious attacks on Islam and her support for the war on terror, fought mainly in Muslim countries , have left her with few friends among Muslims, including women. Hirsi Ali once famously called Islam a “nihilistic cult of death,” and she has advocated for a war with Islam.
Many examples of brave Muslim women exist in the Muslim world, yet it is not surprising that Hirsi Ali, regardless of her dangerous assertions, has stolen the limelight. As the American government continues to indulge in the war on terror, Hirsi Ali’s story makes her the perfect candidate to provide validation for the atrocities committed by the U.S., from Somalia to Pakistan.
The war on terror is largely a bipartisan issue. But media personalities, especially neoconservatives, have rushed to Hirsi Ali’s defense . Seemingly ever ready for war in the post-9/11 era, they look to Hirsi Ali’s views to help legitimize their own anti-Islam bias and imperialist ambitions.
It is no surprise, then, that she is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which has consistently tried to foster antagonistic relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world.
The liberal media, which have provided a more balanced view on Islam, also sympathize with Hirsi Ali’s detrimental views, especially in its simplistic portrayals of women in the Islamic world.
From impossible standards of beauty generated by the fashion and make-up industry to the disproportionate number of women who are elected to political office, women and girls in America face a variety of obstacles in their journey of empowerment. But what also warrants attention are some of the less noticeable consequences when gender norms are so narrowly defined across the board. For instance, if we characterize women as submissive, emotional, or alluring beings, then what does it mean to be a man? And how might damaging myths and stereotypes about masculinity produce its own host of social ills?
These questions remain central to The Representation Project’s latest documentary The Mask You Live In, a film that ambitiously seeks to re-evaluate how masculinity is defined and expressed in America. According to director Jennifer Siebel Newsom, when mainstream culture views masculinity as a rejection of everything feminine, traits like kindness, healthy emotions, and constructive resolution of conflict become undervalued if not wholly disregarded for most men. Instead, the prevailing norms that young boys receive from their homes—as well as in movies, sports, and video games—push them to equate masculinity with domination, violence, stoicism, financial success, or sexual conquest.
There is room and need for men’s stories in the narrative of ending violence against women.
In blending our separate and shared experiences we find common ground. Together they lead us to what Dr. King described as "the fierce urgency of now." Every action we take today will save others the pain and suffering that is in our collective past. We need to add male voices and stories to those of women who have been speaking out about violence for decades.
Today I work as a co-coordinator in Oregon for the We Will Speak Out campaign. Our goal is to bring faith communities into the movement to end domestic and gender-based violence. This not a women’s movement. It is a movement of all people of faith to speak up and speak out to end the use of power over women and children. It is a movement that walks with survivors in their healing journey. It is a movement that strives to live into Jesus’ commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you.”
The "Broken Silence" report commissioned by Sojourners and IMA World Health indicates that the main issue in keeping pastors from speaking out about sexual and gender-based violence is a lack of knowledge on the issue. By speaking our truth and sharing our history we provide both the common ground and urgency to take action—together and now.
Sitting in Prajwala's small conference room adjacent to a chaotic market, I asked Sunitha where the strength came from to charge ahead into danger, violence, and sometimes even rejection by the women Prajwala served. I don't remember her exact words - but the gist was that the strength came not from herself, but from faith in her own experience of God. Not a God owned by some religious denomination, but the real One. That One who never let Sunitha down when it was time to pay the staff, deal with the mob, handle corrupt police, or remain resolute in the face of failure.
I have been blessed and humbled to have met these three women and remain inspired by what they do, particularly their commitment to empowering other women and girls. Sunitha told me to not just show up and feel sorry. Send money if you are inclined, but most importantly, speak about sexual slavery and trafficking to everyone you know. Don't allow anyone to pretend it isn't going on in your own community. Only when all men are vocal about this and intolerant of any abuse of women will things improve.
I pray that I may develop a sliver of the courage Anna, Anna, and Sunitha model.
Then there’s the more recent pragmatic argument: you should want gender parity because of how it will help your own family, business, or city. In short, inequality and violence harms the women who are your partners and friends. Some suggest that it’s mighty convenient that men are ready to take a stand when we finally see how it benefits us. But one female friend advised me that men should ease up on themselves: “Just deliver gender parity, and we’ll gladly forget HOW exactly you got there. Deal?”
According to the Global Gender Gap Report released at the latest World Economic Forum, it will take 80 years to reach gender parity in pay, status, governance, etc. In the year 2095, my daughters would be approaching 100 years old, and my mother, wife, two sisters, aunts and so forth would be long dead along with me and all the women that I care about today. Why wait 80 more years? It’s time for all men to lean in and help cut that number in half (and then some).
I’ve joked before that having two older sisters is what every boy needs to make the world spin around more equitably. If not biological sisters, then let’s find older sisters for every boy. Hopefully with gender parity cut down to 20 years from 80, my 7-year-old son will need to work twice as hard to “get ahead,” since he’ll finally be competing fairly with the other half of the sky. May it be so.
Rabbi Ruth Bader Ginsburg?
Not quite, but when a Jewish nonprofit asked the Supreme Court justice to write a biblical commentary for Passover, she agreed, and added a feminist twist: It would raise up the often overlooked women of the Exodus story.
Ginsburg, one of three Jews and three women on the high court, is known as a champion of women’s rights — but not for being particularly religious.
But Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, whom Ginsburg asked to help out with the commentary, said Ginsburg had a clear vision for the piece and knew exactly which biblical women she wanted to highlight from the iconic liberation story of the Book of Exodus.
“She has a Jewish soul, there is no question,” Holtzblatt, a rabbi at Adas Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C., said of Ginsburg.
“It’s in her. It’s deeply in her.”
Paul teaches a bedrock unity in marriage. Both the Christian wife and husband are members of the Church which is Christ’s body (v30) and have further cemented this with particular devotion to union with each other (v31). Since we have this fundamental unity, a divisive gender identity in marriage or elsewhere is impossible to accept—it sets up barriers where Christ recognizes none.
As such, men inside or outside of marriage must follow Christ’s example in giving of themselves for others, particularly to those who rely and trust on them. This is why domestic violence is such a satanic perversion of masculinity: it replaces a protective, self-sacrificial love with a violent, domineering authority. A relationship which should point to Christ and the Church instead becomes controlled by power and violence.
Paul forces me to think differently about what it means to be a man. I need to reorient my actions in a way that recognizes that Christians, male and female, are all part of one body of Christ. That should push men, especially those in positions of authority, to a love that seeks to build up and to serve rather than domineer. That love, rather than a macho authority, is the true mark of a man.
Following complaints, the Vatican’s cultural office has removed an image of a naked female torso bound in ropes that was used to advertise a women’s conference.
The Pontifical Council for Culture had chosen a photograph of the 1936 “Venus Restored” sculpture, by the late American artist Man Ray, as befitting for its Feb. 4-7 conference titled “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference.”
But the choice of a sculpture bound in ropes to discuss women’s emancipation was deemed inappropriate in some quarters. The Pontifical Council’s president, Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, initially defended the choice. Ravasi was seen as a contender going into the conclave that elected Pope Francis two years ago.
“Cardinal Ravasi has chosen not to remove the image as it speaks clearly for one of the central points of the document: many women, alas, are still struggling for freedom (bound with rope), their voices and intellect often unheard (headless), their actions unappreciated (limbless),” according to a statement that appeared alongside the controversial image.
The roots of violence against women lie in gender inequality and the abuse of power, which in turn shapes our understanding of masculinity and femininity. What does it mean to be a man or woman in the 21st century? Many Christian authors argue that men should demonstrate leadership and competitiveness, often at the expense of women. Instead, we need to emphasize understandings of masculinity that recognize the diversity of men and allow space for women to also exercise leadership and fulfill their potential.
For Christians, our most important model of masculinity is that of Jesus Christ. As a leader and a compelling speaker and debater, Jesus demonstrated traditional masculine characteristics in his era. His miraculous powers put him in a unique position of authority. And yet he chose to live as a servant, to be nonviolent and to respect women, including relying on them for financial support. His life shows us that:
- all men and women are worthy of respect;
- masculinity does not need to be characterized by violence; and
- power should not be abused, but used in the service of others.
Violence against women and girls is not only a “women’s issue,” but a human rights issue that affects all of us. We are indeed “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” as Dr. King said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly.” The abundant life that Jesus offers is deeply connected to the well-being of others. (John 10:10)
For men and women to experience reconciliation and wholeness, we must prayerfully work together for gender justice. Download our free prayer calendar. It’s full of facts and prayer requests to help you put your faith into action to end violence against women.
Share it during Women’s History Month with your sisters and brothers, your sons and daughters. Pray through the calendar as part of your Lenten journey. Encourage your friends and faith community to raise their voices to make violence against women history.
Together, through prayer and action, we can imagine a new way forward for both women and men—for the flourishing of all God’s children.
Bras weren’t the only things the second-wave feminists burned in the ‘60s. But that’s all I learned about the movement in school and casual conversation (on the rare occasions when feminist movements were brought up). The documentary, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, fills in what our education system and historical imaginations leave out.
Second-wave feminists also burned oppressive patriarchy, definitions of feminine beauty, and, most poignant to me, their hard-earned diplomas. They literally set fire to bachelors degrees, masters degrees, and PhD certificates. An activist in the film explained, "We had graduated and learned nothing about women."
This documentary shows us what the textbooks didn’t and still don’t show often enough — the early, angry, undoubtedly beautiful grassroots radicals.
Of course, not all anger is beautiful. Some anger is abusive, relentless, and uncontrollable. I noticed three types of anger in the documentary — one beautiful, and two problematic.
Many thanks to our friends and supporters for rallying together to #RiseForTheRaise this Valentine's Day!
As part of One Billion Rising, we joined activists in more than 170 countries around the world to call for economic empowerment and an end to violence against women. #RiseForTheRaise supporters sent letters to Congress calling for pay equity, while others took to social media with our signs to show their love for women.
We are grateful for all of those who took the time to put their love into action this Valentine's day. Check out this Facebook gallery featuring some of our outstanding #RiseForTheRaise supporters.
Whether women can, or should, “have it all” — both work and family — has been one of the most contentious cultural debates of the modern age and one any secular or religious figure engages at his or her peril.
But Pope Francis is nothing if not intrepid, and on Feb. 7 he plunged in by arguing that the Catholic Church should help “guarantee the freedom of choice” for women to take up leading posts in the church and in public life while also maintaining their “irreplaceable role” as mothers at home.
In his remarks to the Vatican’s Council for Culture, which has been holding meetings on the role of women in modern life, Francis sought to carve out a “new paradigm” in the gender wars.
He said Western societies have left behind the old model of the “subordination” of women to men, though he said the “negative effects” of that tradition continue.
At the same time, he said, the world has moved beyond a model of “pure and simple parity, applied mechanically, of absolute equivalence” between men and women.
If, as Cornel West affirms, “justice is what love looks like in public,” then Valentine’s Day should focus on fairness and equality for all.
That’s why Sojourners is celebrating Valentine’s Day with One Billion Rising, a global day of action to end violence against women. Through the #RiseForTheRaise campaign, we’re joining the fight for pay equity to help put an end to gender-based violence.
Unfair wages and economic injustice often leave women vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. When women, who make up two-thirds of the world's poor, are unable to meet their basic needs and support themselves and their families, they become at risk for all forms of violence—sexual, physical, emotional, and psychological.
Many women in search of economic survival fall prey to human trafficking, while others without financial resources remain in abusive relationships. Economic empowerment is key to breaking the gender trap of women, violence, and poverty.
In the U.S., women continued to be devalued. When women are paid less than men for equal work, we deny women their sacred worth and contribute to a culture that perpetuates violence against women and girls. It’s time to #RiseForTheRaise!
In God’s economy, all are created equal and should be treated fairly. It’s time for people of faith to rise up and close the gender pay gap.
I am co-owner of an online boutique store that empowers survivors of trafficking with employment.
I am a social entrepreneur.
I am an abolitionist.
I am…uncomfortable with these kinds of labels.
Because at the end of the day, I’m very ordinary, and these descriptors seem to imply that I’m not.
I live an ordinary life. I wake at the crack of dawn to drive my kids to school and then return home to work, trying to get most of my business done during the hours that my children are at school. Snow days and random holidays are the bane of my work life, and the words, “Sorry, hon, I’m working right now. Give me a minute?” come out of my mouth more than I’d like. I spend the lion’s share of my days on my laptop, troubleshooting, responding to emails, thinking about future lines of clothing, and making sure that the expenses won’t be more than that month’s income. Sometimes, in the midst of the daily humdrum of life, I forget that what I’m doing really does make a difference, half a world away, in the lives of survivors of trafficking.
Mint's life has been changed since working at NightLight. Having an economic alternative is an essential part of bringing liberation to women who have been trafficked or prostituted. The exit or rescue is only the beginning of freedom. At the same time, a job alone does not restore a woman to her true identity and humanity. There is a well of pain and trauma that lies beneath the surface.
Most organizations that provide after care for survivors struggle to support the financial burden of restoration. When the rescue is over, the support often dwindles before the woman is fully restored and ready to thrive on her own. Without intentional and holistic after care, victims who are rescued often find themselves vulnerable again. Left alone, the familiarity of their slavery can begin to look like the best option for survival.
A successful business can provide the wages and benefits needed to sustain a woman while giving her the opportunity to reach full restoration. When the greater community invests in freedom products, we can help vulnerable women reach their full potential.
For Mint’s sake and other women and girls, may it be so.
Many domestic workers in the United States are hard working people who enjoy their jobs and have fair working conditions. But the private and unregulated nature of the job does make these workers vulnerable to exploitation and sometimes a destination job for trafficked women.
This is the problem that authorities grapple with: how to regulate a global industry where workers are so open to exploitation and abuse.
Enter Convention 189—a document that creates international law preventing the trafficking and exploitation of domestic workers like Erwiana. This new international law deals with much of the complexity of the problem while still allowing domestic workers to earn a fair living and bargain for their conditions.
National governments have begun to sign on to Convention 189, but the U.S. and other larger countries are lagging behind in its support for tougher global protections for domestic workers.
For many, these new global protections can’t come fast enough. We know that the more countries like the U.S. sign onto Convention 189, the more robust the law will be and the better the protection for domestic workers.
Occasionally our governments need reminding that the plight of some of the most vulnerable must become a priority. Join me in calling on the United States to support global protections for domestic workers by ratifying Convention 189.