Saturday, November 29, 2008

Argumentation of Oppression

Dave, of DSmith7110Fall08 at blogspot, November 27, 2008: "Argumentum ad Hominem & Cultural relativism"

Did you study argumentation and debate in school? Then some of this might sound familiar. Regardless, you might find this short blog entry concerning reasoning skills interesting, or even helpful. This article seems to be covering some discussions in a classroom setting, where feminism and, in particular, wearing of hijab and long hair, were topics. Once again, I am not promoting nor am I putting down any personal statements here; I only present this to help those who are seeking understanding in these matters. It is often said by head covering women that "I cover my head, not my mind." Let us all be careful not to cover our minds in considering faith and obedience, especially in generalizing reasons for head coverings among large groups of people. Here is a portion of the entry:

Let's consider a case in point from class. There was a brief discussion on the Muslim Hijab which somehow morphed into long hair on women in American holiness churches. When it was suggested that possibly the women under consideration (either Muslim or Holiness) chose to wear the associated head dress, it was stated that this was clearly oppression and that only a [white] male would make such a statement. Now that, my friends, is a classic example of an ad homimen argument, meaning this: since x male made the claim and y female said it was oppressive, then ipso facto the male was in error because he was a male. The behavior as relates to women's head dress had already been deemed oppressive (whatever that means), so any argument to the contrary, especially when made by a male, is therefore invalid. But where is the evidence? Is it possible that western culture is being read into either situation to deem it "oppressive," or is it possible that only certain women consider it such. I'm really having a hard time with the connotations of oppressive. Am I being told that a scarf is oppressive to the same extent as honor killing is? Everything with which one disagrees can not be considered "oppressive" just to bolster the quantative data on female oppression. Doesn't this sort of data manipulation parallel to the girl who cried "wolf?" Now for the rest of the story.

As regards the hijab in the Mulsim world. This head dress did not derive from 7th century Muslim males (which were, by the way, not white males), but rather from the wives of Muhammad. It seems that these gals were on the par with superstars and could not leave their houses to go shopping or to the bathroom without being thronged. Therefore these women (not men) decided to go incognito, and the hijab was created. Later on some folks though that if it was good enough for the wives of the prophet, it was good enough for the common folks. Thus it was an imitation of women's customs, not male dictates. How it may have evolved in the present is another narrative. The moral of the story is to be careful with the facts and not read western culture into every situation.

In the second example, it was stated that women who wore long hair in US holiness churches were oppressed. Now that is really peculiar considering the historical context from which it derives. Neither does a hair style seem so oppressive a the self-imposed female assessories of the past such as girdle, corset, eye-liner, high-heels, chokers, etc. (but I do admit that is my own perspective and would not want to participate in gladitorial games that requires such equipment). Cultures have their symbols: iPods, blue jeans, hats, and hair. Faith communities also have symbols: crosses, menorah's, and head coverings. Jewish men wear a tallit when praying. For many years, only males did this but now it is common to see women in synagogue wearing a prayer shawl. In Christian faith communities, it has been women who wore the head coverings. Could common men wear them: not usually! From whence does this custom derive? From white male oppression or from female customs of the east? Take your best guess, and then you can proceed. In the first century Roman empire, it was common for women to have long hair, to wear veils, and to have head dresses. In the church of Corinth, St. Paul addressed this matter. Not that the women failed to veil themselves (as female custom dictated), but that some of the men were apparently copying older Greek traditions of wearing long hair like the Greek warriors in the Trojan war (Iliad). It was apparently no longer customary to do such. St. Paul asks the folks, "what are your customs." He appealed to the common life of Roman citizens in formerly Greek regions. Life was hard enough without asking for a fight. Holiness churches drew their idea of long hair on women from the same passage of scripture (1 Corinthians 11), such was common in the early 20th century, it released those women from hats and veils, and it actually states that a woman's long hair empowered her (at least in that day). Again, we have considered oppression what another culture considers empowerment, because of a failure to recognize what anthropologist call cultural relativism. Western values are not the touchstones for all peoples.
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