Monthly Archives: January 2011

New Republican Congress and “forcible” rape

The first act of the new Republican leadership in Congress was to try and repeal the Obama health care act. Their second act is to propose a bill called, “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion.” A key component of the bill is to allow funding for abortion only in the case of “forcible” rape instead of rape. Since all rape is forcible, you can only wonder at the intent of this bill. How would “forcible” be defined and why are they instituting this change?

Here is a link to the full story:

Holly Mathews

In the Beginning: The Origins of Patriarchy

Margaret Huffman

HIST 5005

In the Beginning: The Origins of Patriarchy

            When asked, most American students would say that Islam has had a negative effect on women.  Islam did not create patriarchy in the Middle East.  Monotheism in general, and Islam in particular, have had a significant impact on the roles of women and their rights, but it is not the root cause of male domination.  The beginnings of patriarchy trace back to ancient civilization, but there is not consensus on the most important factors leading to reduced rights for women.

            The traditionalist argument is founded upon the assumption that biology constitutes the impetus for differing gender roles for men and women.  Because women are mothers, a sexual division of labor emerged and women’s sphere became the household.[1]  The feminists counter that patriarchy is a historical phenomenon; its creation has a beginning and therefore can have an ending.  Gerda Lerner states “Patriarchy as a system is historical…it can be ended by historical process.”[2]  Yet the search for matriarchal societies as evidence against the universal nature of patriarchy is mostly fruitless.  Patriarchy seems deeply embedded in societies across the globe, especially in many developing countries. 

            Prior to Islam there were several observable movements that enforced the escalation of patriarchy.  For example, the roles of mother-goddesses and other female deities were gradually revised to reflect patriarchal cultures.  Monotheism also contributed this erosion of women’s influence in religion.  Before Islam, seclusion was already in effect, but escalated in the centuries following Mohammed’s life.  The veil, previously used to signify the chastity or class of a woman and identify prostitutes, came to have a slightly altered meaning.  The Bible similarly reinforced women’s subservient role to men.  Women were no longer priestesses and female deities ceased to exist. 

            Thus, patriarchy was clearly established prior to Islam and other monotheistic religions, but how and why?  It is crucial to remember that there is not a single answer.  The establishment of patriarchy was multi-causal and gradual.  As Lerner suggests, patriarchy grew out of biological and social conditions to become the cultural norm.[3]  The most important misconception that needs correction is that Islam created patriarchy in the region, although perhaps it explains certain circumstances in the Middle East today.

[1] Guity Nashat and Judith Tucker, Women In the Middle East and North Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 17. 

[2]  Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 6.

[3] Lerner, 42.


The Tunisian people demonstrated that they would not complacently allow their government to continue its authoritarian and predatory policies unchallenged as it had for decades.  In its wake, the whole Middle East is on the brink of revolution, with riots, demonstrations, and immolations despite efforts of governments to cut prices on bread and other staples.  As seen in this clip, men might form a majority of the protestors, but women are active participants, with differing perspectives on what changes might be needed or how change should take place.  In other words, the Middle Eastern woman in general, or the Egyptian woman in particular, cannot be painted with a single brush stroke.!

Italian Women Speak Out

The U.S. broadcast news networks widely covered the story yesterday that Italian President Silvio Berlusconi and three associates were being investigated for paying for sex with a 17-year old Moroccan girl and using the President’s office to cover it up. The US correspondents discussed the “antics” of Berlusconi, particularly the accusation that he hired prostitutes to participate in orgies and that he furnished them with luxury apartments. They also noted that Berlusconi’s popularity inside Italy has gone up since the scandal probe began. Each of the correspondents interviewed Italian men and women on the street, all of whom made comments to the effect that “he’s just an Italian man,” “I’d take the money if he’d pay me for sex,” etc. What the media did not report is that over 2000 Italian women, including labor leaders, feminists, working women, housewives and mothers have signed an online petition entitled, “Basta” or “Enough,” about their disgust with the President’s actions and calling for his resignation! It is time for more balanced reporting. Obviously, the US news wants to play up the sensational and scandalous details but in doing so reinforces the underlying sexist assumption that Berlusconi’s actions aren’t serious and that “boys will be boys.” Matt Lauer’s smirking smile after the Today show foreign correspondent finished his report further confirmed that this is how many in the news view this issue. But ask yourselves this: if they were reporting on a 74-year old Italian man paying for sex with a 17 year-old Cambodian girl held in an Italian brothel, would the story be cast in the same light? For the sake of all the women in Italy, I hope we see more responsible reporting in the future. –Holly Mathews

A Third Welcome

I too welcome students from my classes, WOST 6100 and ANTH 5202, Women’s Global Health and Human Rights. I encourage all of my students to post reviews of books/articles and comments with links and for students in all of our classes to engage one another in debate. Thanks. Holly Mathews

Second Welcome

Students should feel free to add both review length (reaction paper) op-ed pieces as posts, with links to relevant articles (or citations); or they may comment on the work of others using the comment function.  I second Dr. Pearce’s welcome.  Engage, react, and debate!

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