After hearing/seeing two different but somewhat related stories recently, I found myself as troubled by what was not said as by the troubling issues raised. One was an NPR story about the writer and human rights activist Ms. Eltahawy in Egypt. The other was a TED talk given by Mrs. Melinda Gates (yes, that Mrs. Gates). Links provided below.
My first thought was, both were brave and thoughtful women. However, I would add that the two women shared another thing in common. They both tried, in my view, to argue both sides of an issue. Mrs. Gates was simultaneously arguing for condoms and other aids prevention in Africa while admitting that she considered herself a practicing Catholic. What is the largest most powerful organization suppressing condoms and other thoughtful aids prevention in Africa? If your answer was the Catholic Church, give yourself one point. Thus the poor woman (yes, I considered the irony of that word) was reduced to arguing for something good and noble in this world (the reduction of pain and suffering) and at the same time being an apologist for the organization working hardest to counter those efforts.
Ms. Eltahawy, was laboring under the same difficulty in my opinion. She argues that there is a culture that treats women in these horrible ways and at the same time can't bring herself to lay the blame squarely at the feet of Muslim culture as it is practiced currently in the Middle East. Her dodge is the use of the terms misogynists and patriarchs. It's true that the people who employ these suppressive behaviors are displaying the attributes of misogynists and patriarchs (the latter in its worst form). But to say these are the root causes is to appear disingenuous.
These stories make my point for me. We have been frightened into submission. We no longer feel confident to make the distinction between prejudice and judgement. Prejudice is to judge first in the absence of facts. Of the two, this is the bad one. Judgement is another animal altogether. It presumes that we have amassed evidence and thought through to a conclusion. This is not only the 'good one', it is the one upon which we depend to sift though the information and make sense of the world.
Finally, let me say that I have no wish to be sharply critical and, in fact, have great empathy for these women as they attempt to find justice for women in this world. The difficulties are enormous and I'm certain they (and many others whose names we do not know) are trying their best to 'say what must be said' while giving consideration to 'what safely may be said'.
Here is the often cited criticism: This is a different culture and a different religion and you are just trying to impose your outside or western values on this region. I think any of us would have difficulty answering this more in a more eloquent or concise manner than Ms. Eltahawy, "I don't think that rights or living a dignified human life are Western. We are no different from anyone else. We want to be free and we want to live dignified lives."