Imagine a city that has several neighborhoods; some are poorer, some are middle class, and there are a few affluent areas. Just as in any city this one has standard comforts like parks for residents, but it also has its share of problems, like crime and drug-trafficking. Now imagine there is a city council meeting where the residents have the opportunity to air their grievances.
The first lady steps up to the podium. While she lives in the more affluent part of town, she complains that the recent crime wave endangers the poor neighborhood's children. She asks the city to take action and approve funds for additional police offers to patrol the neighborhoods and curb the crime endangering the citizens.
Her request seems reasonable, yet a second lady steps up to the microphone and shouts "Wait! This crime problem has shown up fairly recently. Meanwhile, I've been writing letters for a year about the broken swing sets at our park. It's important for our children's health that they have working outdoor equipment to play on. This lady shouldn't be complaining about a neighborhood where she doesn't live. She needs to be concerned about the problems in her own backyard first."
I think anyone with an ounce of decency would be shocked at the reaction of the second lady. How can she believe the weight of something like swing sets is equal to the risk those in the poorer parts of the city are facing? Yet, in our hyper-political culture this kind of thing happens more often than not. For example, I recently linked to an article on my Facebook page defining some of the egregious abuses women in Muslim countries face because of Islamic jurisprudence. Written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is no stranger to Muslim abuse herself, she documents how a 19 year-old girl was stoned to death in Afghanistan, how Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was sentenced to death for adultery in Iran, and girl in Saudi Arabia was gang raped, but it was she who was sentenced to 200 lashes for being in a room with a man who is not a relative.1
The Reality is Worse than the HypotheticalThe article sounds an alarm about the viciousness women face in countries controlled by Sharia law and Ali even outlines how these laws become so damaging to women and their freedom and notes that Sharia is supported by a wide majority of Muslim nations and is growing worldwide. It is a call to protect women from abuse and death. You can imagine how surprised I was when I received a comment from a follower who simply wrote, "Women's rights are being eroded in America also. Make your own bed."
These twelve words are all one has to say about these poor victims? Someone is actually comparing the stoning of women in Iran to the complaint that not all businesses want to pay for a woman's birth control pills? What other kind of women's rights could she be talking about? It isn't the opportunity for an education as more women than men enroll in college,2 more graduate from college and more earn graduate degrees, like masters and PhDs.3 Women enjoy all the rights to jobs and opportunity men do. They even make the same amount of money for the same jobs, regardless of the oft-debunked myth to the contrary.4
Seeing People as Black or White HatsMy point in highlighting this comment is not to point out one individual. This is a wider trend in our polarized, reactionary culture. Any feminist or progressive should want to do something about those women who are being abused and marginalized by governments. They should be the ones carrying the flag and supporting efforts to put pressure on the governments that allow or enforce such abuse. Conservatives should care about such things deeply as erosions of liberty. There's common ground here, but it was ignored to try and make a clever political jab.
Instead of thinking about the issue, seeing my link as a way to try and leverage one's political point isn't clever. It isn't thoughtful; it's infantile. It's a childish move to say "I want mine and then I'll worry about anybody else." Yet, this is the level of political discourse to which we've sunk. I don't offer this as a critique against liberals, either. I've seen conservatives do the exact same thing. Any person on the opposite side of the political spectrum is stupid or evil so it's OK to put them down. But if we are going to actually do some good in the world, we've got to stop labeling people as the black hats and the white hats.
Debate the issues. There are real evils in the world, like the stoning of women for wishing to marry the person she loves. Certainly we should be able to agree that is a heinous thing needing to be stopped. Anyone who thinks anything women in the U.S. face comes close to that isn't being genuine or reflective. They're adding to the problem instead of helping to solve it.
2. Lopez, Mark Hugo, and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera. "Women's College Enrollment Gains Leave Men behind." Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 06 Mar. 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2015. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/03/06/womens-college-enrollment-gains-leave-men-behind/.
3. Perry, Mark J. "Staggering College Degree Gap Favoring Women, Who Have Earned 9 Million More College Degrees than Men since 1982." AEI. American Enterprise Institute, 29 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2015. https://www.aei.org/publication/staggering-college-degree-gap-favoring-women-who-have-earned-9-million-more-college-degrees-than-men-since-1982/.
4. CONSAD Research Corporation. "An Analysis of the Reasons for the Disparity in Wages Between Men and Women." U.S. Department of Labor Employment Standards Administration Report. Pittsburgh, January 12, 2009. Web. http://templatelab.com/gender-wage-gap-final-report/