Category Archives: Gender

Noha Radwan on being assaulted by pro-Mubarak thugs

Dr. Noha Radwan, a professor of comparative literature at U.C. Davis, was in Cairo during the height of the counter-revolution unleashed by the pro-Mubarak forces on February 2. She got caught by the pro-Mubarak, baltagiyeh thugs as she tried to cross the “front line” that divided them from her friends in “liberated” Tahrir Square.
Here’s her account of what happened next:

    From behind me I heard someone cry, “She is with them. Get her. Get her!” Before I realized what was happening, my arms were seized by two musclemen who walked me away from the square. All I could hear as the mob closed in on me was: “She is with them… with them… the agents…the Americans… Baradei’s dirty supporter.” Many thugs pulled my hair while others volunteered slaps and slurs. In a matter of seconds my shirt was ripped open and my mouth was full of blood. We passed an army tank and I saw the officer on top. “Help!” I screamed. The soldiers were waiting for his orders. Bystanders called on him. “They are going to kill her,” someone said. All my energies were focused on staying conscious, putting my head up for air and down to avoid further hits. I wrapped my jacket around my body and my shoulder bag, which had my ID and my camera, and cried for the officer’s help again. Finally he ordered the soldiers to jump into the crowd and pull me up. They led me into the inside of the tank where I joined a few other soldiers. They pointed out that my head was bleeding. I had not yet registered my head injury, which must have been caused by a rock projectile. I also had not registered that my phone was stolen out of my back pocket and that a gold chain had been yanked off my neck. One of the soldiers offered me a big kerchief to staunch the bleeding and another held out his water bottle. I could hear the crowds raging outside. Two other young men, one of them a journalist, were brought into the tank a little later. Both were badly injured. It was not until darkness fell, about two hours later, that the officer felt that it was safe enough for him to call an ambulance to take us to a nearby hospital. My injuries were less serious than those suffered by the two other protestors and as I learned later, there were others who suffered much more serious and even fatal injuries. Men and women were brutalized. A young woman, Sally Zahran, died of brain hemorrhage after an attack not far from Tahrir. Mubarak’s thugs unleashed their ugliest face and to top it off, they resorted to their familiar technique of sexually abusing female protesters.

If you read the whole of the wonderful, moving article in which Radwan recounts this testimony, you will read how common the use of sexual violence against anti-regime protesters (and random sexual assaults on women in general) had been for several years, in Mubarak’s Egypt. You will also read how wonderful Radwan found the solidarity and respect that she and other female protesters experienced during the long, joyful hours they were able to spend inside Tahrir Square.
This is a really useful antidote to all the Islamophobia that’s been unleashed around the reports of the recent sexual assault on CBS correspondent Lara Logan by a mob of unknown affiliation in Cairo last week. For an excellent counter to all the Islamophobes’ argument, read this piece by Maya Mikdashi, also on Jadaliya.

Robinson and Brahimi: Wrong on Hamas and women

Mary Robinson and Lakhdar Brahimi have a piece in HuffPo today in which they argue, probably correctly, that it is Gaza’s women and children who are paying the highest price for Israel’s now years-long siege of Gaza.
They write:

    Women in this conservative society find their domestic responsibilities made all the more difficult and time-consuming by the blockade — and they bear the brunt of society’s frustration and anger in such trying times.

But they immediately go on to add this:

    Equally disturbing are the creeping restrictions on women’s freedom imposed by Hamas activists.

Equally disturbing??? That is, they are claiming that Hamas is just as culpable as the Israel of the crime of oppression of women??
Their evidence?
They cite allegedly Hamas-led “initiatives” to harrass schoolgirls not wearing headscarves (and leave the impression that this applies to even the youngest schoolgirls.) They write,

    Women are punished if they smoke in public, while their male compatriots are allowed to do so. And at the beach, Gaza’s main source of fun and entertainment, women and men are strictly segregated.

And then, this amazing untruth:

    The erosion of women’s freedoms is compounded by their lack of participation in politics.

And then they refer to an alleged “absence of women from politics.”
This last claim is simply untrue. Hamas has at least four women MPs on its roster, at least two of whom live in Gaza. One of them is the smart and dedicated Jamila Shanty, whom I interviewed in 2006.
Why do Robinson and Brahimi ignore these and the many other signs there are that Hamas supports the participation of women in public life?
It is true that there are many Islamist activists in Gaza who pursue campaigns to persuade people to live pious lives. Some of them are Hamas members; many others belong to much more fundamentalist Islamist movements. But I would love it if Ms. Robinson and Mr. Brahimi could cite one Hamas party document in which the party claims ownership of the kinds of campaigns of harrassment they describe.
I also really hate the faux “feminist” tenor of their closing line, which strongly implies that Gaza’s women somehow “yearn to be free” even more than their menfolk. What kind of nonsense is that?
… I am disappointed to see these two generally respected members of the generally wise “Elders” group engaging in this imperialistic kind of faux “feminism”… that is, the articulation by people strongly connected with the west (and that now certainly includes my old friend Lakhdar Brahimi) of a “particular” concern for the plight of the women living in non-western societies, based on the divisive argument that their own menfolk (based on their alleged backwardness, etc) repress them just as badly as their western colonial occupiers do.
Certainly the French used to adduce just exactly this same argument to help support the conceit that they were pursuing a mission civilisatrice in Brahimi’s own native Algeria, back in the day. It is really disappointing to see him dragging it out of the attic now, 50 years later.

Registan, Bloggingheads (redux), etc

I’ve gotten into a little argument with Joshua Foust over at Registan, over the chronic problem of the gross under-representation of women at ‘Bloggingheads TV’.
This is not a new problem.
First of all, I understand that that under-representation is not Foust’s fault. But all the guys who participate in those forums without also raising their concern about gender issues are, imho, compounding the problem. Women and other under-represented groups need allies.
Foust claimed that there are “lots” of women at BHTV. I just went, randomly, to the ‘M’ page on their list of contributors and counted six women out of 36 names. That is definitely under-representation!
… Anyway, I feel a bit bad about singling Foust out on this… for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t know him personally at all– unlike some of the other guys who do things there, who is who I should really persist in talking to.
Secondly, and most importantly, the substance of the work that Foust does on Registan is truly first-class. Today he has two other excellent posts up– this one, about the “Meta-war in Georgia one year on,” and this one that asks the really important question about why anyone thinks this week’s election in Afghanistan is important.

Afghan women call for end of war

I just watched the 11-minute video clip “Women of Afghanistan”, from Rethinkafghanistan.com.
It is very compelling.
At about 6:40 minutes, there’s a great short interview with Wall Street Journal correspondent Anand Gopal who explains very clearly that, while Afghan women were “imprisoned inside their houses” both under the Taliban and today, today many of them are also, in addition, living in the middle of a war zone in which women and children are disproportionately casualties.
He says (paraphrased),

    I have heard some women say that their life was better under the Taliban because, though they were also imprisoned then, at least there was not this big pervasive war.

The film then has segments of interviews with a number of leading Afghan women activists, many of them far from ideologically “extreme”, who expand on this same point.
One of them notes the devastating effect on Afghan women of the war deaths of husbands and other family members, noting that even war widows find it impossible to go our and earn a living, so they watch their families fall into deep impoverishment.
Another notes the bad effects of the US military presence, which is still increasing.
A woman from RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, says explicitly, “If they really want to help women in Afghanistan, they should end this war.”
Another interviewee says, “I don’t expect anyone from outside to come and ‘liberate’ us. Afghan women will liberate ourselves.”
For any American who still thinks that in some way the US invasion of Afghanistan probably “helped” Afghan women, this video is very important to see.
Siun at FireDogLake also has a good supplementary commentary. (HT: HuffPo.)

Women in the war zone: Gaza

Kudos to the BBC for publishing an agonizing (and agonized) short interview with Tihani Abed Rabbu, described as “bereaved mother’ in Gaza. Scroll down here to find it.
(But can anyone at the BBC tell me on what basis they placed her interview last and lowest on the page beneath two that seemed far less interesting to me– but that were conducted with, you guessed it, men… And guess what, the first of the men theyfeatured was an outspoken critic of Hamas. I wonder why that placed that one at the top??)
Anyway, scroll on down and read about the anguish of a mother from, obviously, the Abed Rabbu family, whose compound was afflicted so harshly by the Israeli war of last December/January.
Imagine the anguish of this woman, seeing not only the effects the Israeli assault has had but also the effects within her own family of the continuing Hamas-Fateh split– one that has been so assiduously cultuvated by Israel and its western backers.
Here is some of what she says:

    “I’m afraid that after I have lost Mostafa, that I will lose somebody else as well. When my children go to sleep, and I look at them, I start to think ‘who is next – is it Ahmad’s turn, or his brother?’
    “What worries me is the safety of my family, my sons and my husband. My husband is going through a difficult time, a crazy time. He wants to affiliate with Hamas, he wants to get revenge after what they [Israel, I think] have done to us.
    “How do you expect us to be peaceful after they have killed my son and turned my family into angry people – as they refer to us, “terrorists”. I cannot calm my family down.
    “One of my sons is affiliated to [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas, every day he fights with his brothers and his father.
    “If Fatah and Hamas don’t reconcile after this war, I feel like all those people who died, died for nothing, and that the people from both factions have nothing to do with the Palestinian cause – that they are not paying respect to those who died.
    “They should wake up and put an end to this division. Unless they do that, I won’t feel that my son died as a martyr for the Palestinian cause.”

I have reflected for many years now on the importance of the experiences that women residents of war-zones have to go through when the war comes into the heart of their communities and frequently, including in this case, right into their families.
These reflections arose from the experience I myself had, trying to work as a journalist and run a household and co-raise my young children in the heart of the war-zone that Beirut was back in those days. In my husband’s family– as in Ms. Abed-Rabbu’s– there were supporters of both the different sides in the internal Lebanese war. I can deeply relate to her desire that those rifts be healed.
Too frequently decisionmakers in the MSM simply marginalize women’s experiences. But women’s work in holding families together in very tough times lies at the heart of the social resiliency that can either save or break a community that’s in conflict. So it is not only a compelling ‘human interest’ story– it is also at the heart of the big ‘political’ story regarding whether, for example, the people of Gaza or South Lebanon end up bowing to Israel’s very lethally pursued political demands, or not.
Maybe the BBC could, at the very least, elevate Ms. Abed-Rabbu’s story to the top of that page?

On bank governance: A modest proposal

I couldn’t help but be struck by the photo at the top of this article in today’s NYT, showing the CEO’s of the US’s 19 major banks lined up to await the results of Geithner’s ‘stress test’.
They are all men. Nearly all “white” men, though with a couple of ethnic South Asians there as well. Some preening, some looking slightly worried, all in white shirts and oozing opulence. (No surprise there.)
My proposal: Sack the lot of them. Sack all the male senior managers at each of these banks until you get to the highest-ranking women working there, and then make them into the CEOs, CFOs, COOs, etc.
There is more than enough evidence now out that shows that guys are just over-confident when it comes to assessing financial risk, and get more caught up than most women in risky behaviors that have a competitive edge. Just do a Google Scholar search on “gender risk finance”, and you’ll see the wealth of material that’s now available.
The article whose title I like best is “Boys Will be Boys: Gender, Overconfidence, and Common Stock Investment” (PDF here).
So why do the boards of these banks still consistently hire people with a Y chromosome into the top ranks of their management? Gosh, I’m still trying to figure that one out.
The results, though, have been clear: an excess of competitive risk-taking and an almost total disregard for the common good.

Gender and casino capitalism

I hate to get into reductionist pop psychology but it is very evident that the vast heaving masses of traders one sees in all the photos of trading exchanges, and the leading lights of economic (mis-)governance in the west overwhelmingly come from one race and one gender.
What is it about so many (white) guys and their addiction to risky behavior that encourages them to shrug aside regulation of their betting games (that is, our financial markets) whenever they can?*
It is interesting, therefore, to read this story about Brooksley Born, a now-retired woman in her late 60s, who as head of the US’s Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) back in 1998 sought to regulate private derivatives contracts, warning that left unregulated they could “pose grave dangers to our economy.”
Well, she lost that round to Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin, who argued that the CFTC didn’t have jurisdiction and refused to let the institutions they headed (the Fed and the Treasury Department) do anything to help with the task.
The Bloomberg piece linked to above notes that Born had been one of the first women admitted to Stanford Law School back in the 1960s. The article’s two (male) writers also say:

    While described as smart, charming and analytical by friends and colleagues, Born was seen by some as stubborn and lacking political savvy.

Hey, why didn’t these anonymous sources just seek to additionally demean her by describing her as “shrill” or “witch-like” while they were about it?
More recently, of course, the white guys who are sitting atop of all these roiling and deeply toxic markets have come to the conclusion that, gee, yes certainly the derivatives markets need to be regulated if capitalism is to be saved…
And that includes Greenspan , who now acknowledges he was “partially” wrong to oppose such regulation back in the 1990s.
The authors include this quote from Joseph Dial, who served as a CFTC commissioner from 1991 to 1997:

    “Brooksley was a voice crying in the wilderness…There’s no question in my mind, the current financial debacle had its genesis some 10 years ago.”

Of the US’s top economic regulators/officials right now, FDIC head Sheila Baer is the only female. And of the 17 members of Obama’s Transition Economic Advisory Board, only four are female.
… On a related note, Willem Buiter wrote this interesting analysis of the members of Obama’s TEAB. His conclusions?

    * They’re old!
    * Too few serious economists!
    * Far too many lawyers!
    * They are protectionist!
    * They are the unalluring faces of past failures!

I think all these are valid criticisms, except for the one about protectionism. The comments Buiter makes under the last of those rubrics are particularly to-the-point. I tend to agree with his judgment that Paul Volcker may the best of this admittedly lack-luster bunch.
But I wish he had also noted the gender and ethnic/racial imbalances on the board.
And besides, one of those on the board is Larry Summers… who has still not performed anything like an adequate mea culpa for the demeaning comments he made about women’s intellectual capacities back when he was at Harvard.
Fwiw, my bottom line on the issue is that females have just the same amount of intellectual potential as males, but that women tend to have different life experiences and social environments which encourage many or most of us to look at issues in social life in ways different from (and in general, more holistic than) the often rigidly linear thinking style used by most men.
An understanding of human psychology is, of course, central to any understanding of economics, and especially the psychology of markets. If economic actors really were all rationally optimizing, strictly self-serving versions of “homo economicus”, as traditional western economists considered them to be, they would still be capable also of looking beyond their immediate, narrow self-interest and take into consideration the health of “the market”, or “the economy” in general.
Instead of which, far too many of the “pioneers” and other players within the largely unregulated casino capitalism that has arisen in the past 15 years have been looking only at their own position relative to that of claimed peers or competitors… “If Trader X down the hall just bought his third Lamborghini, why, I have to get one too”… And what they haven’t taken into account are the interests of society as a whole, or low-income or other non-“trader” people within it, or the health of the supporting economy as a whole. Most women, I would say, would think more holistically about these matters and these social responsibilities; and be far more wary about engaging in very risky trading behavior.
(I’m just reading Kindleberger and Aliber’s classic book “Manias, Panics, and Crashes.” It has some great material about the dysfunctionality of the psychology of many participants in the financial markets.)
* One final note here. Of course J.M. Keynes, J.K. Galbraith and many other humanistic and “holistic” analysts of economics were also white men. But it is the heaving masses of participants in commodities and derivatives markets I’m criticizing here, along with the older white guys who run the firms they work for, and the people–overwhelmingly white and male– who run the relevant government departments, congressional committees, etc that in the 1990s were, in effect, “bought off” not to regulate, or to actively deregulate, those markets.

Annals of gender exclusion, Part XXXVI: Bloggingheads

It’s been nearly four years since I counted the proportion of women published on the op-ed pages of the WaPo over the course of a month and found it to be a measly 10 percent. I haven’t counted recently– has anyone else? My impression is it may have gone up a little, but probably not much above 20%.
Still completely outrageous.
And now, we have the “new” media… And once again the male professional elevator and those effortlessly sharp elbows wielded by the boys guys have still been keeping us females largely excluded.
Today’s exhibit: “Bloggingheads TV”, which I guess presents itself as some form of an “edgy”, low-tech public discussion forum– and gets handsomely free-advertised on the NYT’s op-ed page as a way, I suppose, for the Grey Lady to make herself appear a little more edgy and modern… (But it is also, really, really good for BHTV, too. I call this kind of reciprocal image-enhancement the “Rolex watch-ads phenomenon.”)
On the front page of BHTV, when I checked there just now, I found: the names of 20 featured contributors, all of whom are male!
C’meon, guys, what kind of a world do you think you are representing, modeling, or building???
One in which men’s voices and opinions are valued quite disproportionately over those of women, it seems…
I still have to write the longer analysis I have been thinking about for a while, of how the male professional elevator actually works in practice in modern American society. There are elements of lateral cronyism; elements of mentor-protege relationships; and elements of broader social attitudes in which these guys simply assume that the women in their lives can do necessary things like the shopping, childrearing, elder-care, etc, and thus they themselves have the free time left over to engage in cutting-edge things like BHTV.
I have frequently thought it would be nice if I, like so many of my male colleagues, had a wife at home to do those things. But as it happens, I’m very happy with the mutually supportive relationship I have with my spouse.
But for now, let’s just all look at this BHTV example and figure out what we can learn from the rampant gender exclusion (sexism) on open display there…
Note: when I talk about ‘gender exclusion’, in general I don’t mean the total exclusion of females from any particular forum of public discussion. Generally, I mean only their rampant under-representation. It has been amazing, sickening, and disappointing to me in recent years to see how the gains that we made through the 1980s and 1990s in achieving a higher degree of gender inclusion in the public discourse on foreign-policy issues have in the present decade been so effortlessly rolled back. (I have some explanations for that, too.)
But this BHTV example of total female exclusion was just too blatant to ignore.