Monday, October 29, 2007

Equal Opportunity Stupidity

I read an online article recently, by the Associated Press, about a Bedouin man who was the father of 67 children and was seeking a ninth wife. Yes, you read that right: NINTH WIFE. The guy's name is Abu Arrar. He's 58 and part of the "impoverished Israeli Bedouin Arab community" that flouts the Israeli ban on polygamy by marrying and divorcing wives in succession-- though it is understood in the community that the women remain his wives. According to the Israeli Interior Ministry, Abu has 53 children registered as Israeli citizens. He has 14 other children born to Palestinian wives in the West bank and who are not eligible for Israeli citizenship. (That's him in the photo, with a few of his offspring.)

And here is the kicker: "It's unclear how Abu Arrar supports his massive family." When he was visited by an AP reporter, "camels, goats and a cow were grazing on his property." But he wouldn't talk to the AP reporter. Government records show that he receives the equivalent of $1,700.00 in government aid each month.


He claims to remember the names of all of his 67 children (what a guy) and says he splits time among his wives. "My first wife is my age," he says, "and today I hardly spend any time with her. Her children are big, and I leave her alone. I have younger wives to spend time with. Every night I decide which wife to be with."

When I read this my blood boiled. This guy's been a sperm donor for 67 children, and his claim to fame in the community is that he can actually remember most of their names!!! Male arrogance and stupidity to the "nth" power. Patriarchy run amok. This is the reason I have concluded that some cultural traditions (middle-eastern male hegemony especially) just have to die in order for humanity to survive. If a culture can't do better than lionizing a penniless man for fathering 67 children he can't support-- it deserves to be crushed under Progress's heel. And the men who perpetuate such an outrage deserve a good hard kick in the dangly bits.

After my blood pressure fell and I started to think rationally again, I began to wonder. . . just who are these women who are so desperate or ignorant or stupid that they'll accept being "taken" by an arthritic old geezer who can't or won't support his offspring and will abandon them as soon as they get a few miles and a few stretch marks on them? Yes, in that culture (as in any other) a woman may be taken against her will. But the article didn't paint old Abu as a serial rapist, only a serial monogamist. Which meant there had to be some level of cooperation from the females involved. ACK!

The end of the article read: "Activists said Abu Arrar's story shows the urgency of raising literacy and education among women in the impoverished Bedouin community. Many are pressured into marriage or feel they have no other options beside raising children, said Khadra al-Sani, director of Sidra, a Bedouin women's rights group."

Societal pressure can indeed be brutal, but it cannot be brought to bear on a woman without the consent and assistance of other women. Look at the "honor killings" in that part of the world in which family members (including mothers!) actually murder their daughters for daring to marry outside the family's wishes or even for being raped! Such things cannot be carried out without the complicity of the women of the culture. . . who at the very least must think their men have the right to do it. And how did they get that idea? They were taught it. . . by their mothers and aunts and cousins and sisters and neighbors. To get rid of that idea, they have to be taught and SHOWN that it's wrong and stupid with a capital S. They have to be shown the power of thinking their own thoughts and deciding for themselves. . . and seize that power to make their lives and culture better.

Can you imagine for a moment living in a world where men have the right to kill you at will to protect THEIR honor? Where there is still lively debate on whether or not you have a soul?

Okay, all I'm saying is, men don't have a lock on stupidity. It's an equal opportunity condition. For every man that's full of ignorant, absurd ideas and vicious ambitions, there's probably a woman somewhere full of ignorance and laziness and the desire for comfort and status she hasn't earned. And if the world's a mess and we're all in trouble because of men's greed, savagery, and aggression. . . then it's partly because we women haven't put a foot down and demanded a halt to war and hatred and "righteous vengeance."

I can recall, as a child, having the idea that it was only right that men be paid more than women because they had families to feed. Now, my mother was educated and hard working, a teacher and a pillar of the community. . . I'm pretty sure I didn't get that from her. But I somehow got it, just the same. . . from TV, school milieu, church, watching the families around mine, even from my own extended family. A subtle and potent set of expectations seeped into me, despite the strong example of my mother. It was years later, in college, that I began to understand how the double standard and the prejudices built into the academic world limited my opportunities. As a young woman growing up in "the land of the free," I still needed to have my consciousness awakened and raised.

Right now, I'm thinking about Abu's current eighth wife, and wondering how old she is and how desperate and uneducated she is. . . wondering if any amount of consciousness raising could reach her. And I'm wondering what I could do to help those little girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Arabia, and Iran. . . and in the slums of Detroit and southside Chicago. . .

What about you? When and where was your "consciousness" raised? Have you ever been the victim of gender bias? Do you think the inequity between the sexes is more a problem of men's behavior or of women's? Is "stupidity" is an equal opportunity characteristic?


flchen1 said...

Betina, you just about blew my head off with that post--AACK! I'm going to have to come back and post when I can be a bit more thoughtful about this--what absolutely horrible situations still exist for women (and children) all over the world!! And I do think stupidity isn't limited to one gender, but sometimes societal/physical assumptions do make it easier for male stupidity to be more prevalent. Yuck!! Blech! (Sorry--as I said, I'll have to come back when more coherent...)

Dara Edmondson said...

It's totally mind boggling that this jerk would father all thoe kids in a society that poor.
I don't remember the exact event that got me thinking more globally, but I know I was in college when I started paying attention to news and the incredible travesties that existed, particularly for women. It's only gotten worse since then it seems.

Keri Ford said...

That guy has fathered more kids than I graduated high school with! It is sad that unequalities like this still exist and not only do they exist, but it's going on right here in our own country. There was a woman on Good Morning America (coulda been the Today show) yesterday who packed up her nine kids and escaped a similar situation in the middle of the night. I can't recall the guy's name, but she was in the same society as the man that just went to jail for marrying that underage girl off to that older man.

It was sad to hear the woman talk about having to throw away her ELEMENTARY level school books because he said so.

In all honesty, if I were than man's first wife, I'd be glad he left me alone. Last thing I want is to end up pregnant again.

Betina Krahn said...

Flchen, I'm with you girl. I was so mad when I read this that I nearly saw stars! Then I sat down to think about it.

Dara, I think it says something about a culture that cares more about headcount than producing young people who want to contribute and make their world better. If life is this cheap, no wonder they send their young people out with explosives strapped to their young bodies!

Keri, you're so right. There are so many places here in the Land of the Free where people are still kept in chains of one sort or another. And throwing away her Elementary school books-- can there be any more vivid a demonstration of the threat education is to such slime bags? Educate women and children and watch this particular form of male stupidity disappear!

Helen Brenna said...

These types of inequities against women situations are one of my hot buttons!

I'm gonna go out on a limb here with my opinnion, though. I think these issues are more men's doing than women's.

Yes, stupidity may be an equal opportunity characteristic, but I think the force to follow through/carry out these inequities comes from men.

True, women and their mother's have to let this stuff happen, but in societies where women just don't get the chance for a better life from very early ages, what are their options?

I know I don't really get how bad life can be for women in other countries.

These are a lot of cultures where men make the rules and women who buck the system are killed, mamed, raped, beaten, you name it.

So women let it happen. Because they're scared for themselves and their children. Because they don't see any realistic options.

I'm going to shut up now, take a deep breath, and get back to work.

Michele Hauf said...

I agree, but if it's still rampant in the US, how can we expect it to change elsewhere?

I saw the woman Keri mentioned on Oprah. Yep, there are still societies in the good Old U S of A that treat women as mere slaves. That marry children as young as 14 off too dirty old men.
Those values are instilled in their children, and their children, and so on. It's a vicious cycle.

But there are some women who would jump right into the fray if asked. So yes, I believe stupidity is an equal opportunity behavior, but only in so much that it in ingrained from a very early age.

Christie Ridgway said...

Betina: Well, I know what I'd like to do to those parts of that guy that fathered 67 children. Cripes.

Helen's comment makes me think of those...what are they called?...micro loans, I think, that are given to men and women to start their own businesses. They've proved to be immensely successful and when women get the opportunity to earn, they don't have to settle for some old goat who wants a 9th wife.

Keri Ford said...

Michele, on the interview I saw, one of the woman's kids ran back to the society. Mother said no matter what she tried, she could not get her daughter to snap out of their brainwashing and realize that, that type of life was wrong.

lois greiman said...

Wow Betina, you got my blood going.

There are so many problems lately that get me crazy, and I sit there and think....people just don't care. They don't care.

I worry, in fact that even in the US 'we' won't vote for a female president. That people just don't give women enuf respect and credit. Honestly, I don't know if my mother would...just because of gender. And that scares me to death. But things are changing. Some times even for the better. :)

Kathleen Eagle said...

Does anyone remember the Greek play "Lysistra" by Aristophanes (about 400 BC)? I went to a women's college back in the Vietnam war era, and the theater group did the play long about my jr year--all female cast, of course. Lysistrata barricades a gov't building (ancient precursor of 60's tactics on campus) in protest of the Peloponnesian Wars and gets Greek women from a bunch of city states to withhold sex from their husbands until they make peace. The highlight of the play was a bunch of warriors (played by women) walking around with hard-ons in the form of long balloons.

So the idea that Women Can! isn't a new one. But we're talking culture clash here, and it's no surprise that we're more in tune with the politics of Greek classics than we are with middle eastern countries. BUT we've also destroyed some very egalitarian cultures because the Chriatian Church is fundamentally paternalistic. Yep, I'm talking American Indian again.

And don't get me started on the fundamentalist group that spawned the sect you're talking about that practices polygamy. Having lived on a Reservation and experienced the onslaught of the missionaries, I know a bit more about what's behind all that than you want me to get into here. Suffice it to say, it behooves American women to pay close attention to the underpinnings and the layers of dogma.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Oops. That's Lysistrata.

Debra Dixon said...

I just go bug nuts at any sort of attitude that women are chattel, slaves or less-than.

One of my great moments as a mom was when I heard my son reply to something one of his friends said by saying, "Then obviously you don't know the women in this family." LOL!

Women have to raise sons and daughters who value human beings, not gender. Even in America we still have some bias that having a son is "important" for carrying on the family name. I have one client who only believes what "men" tell her. She'll pay me. Then pay me again to go with her to an attorney's office or the CPA so she can pay him to tell us both what I already told her. She's 70ish, so some of it is cultural South where the fat white good ol' boys are supposed to know what's best for us little women folk.

My son and I frequently had long conversations while he was growing up about how you treat women, how they should behave toward him and that if if he ever spoke to me the way some of his friends spoke to their fathers' trophy-wives, that the world as he knew it would come to an end.

Keri Ford said...

Kathleen, Lysistrata is one of my favorite greek stories! It was so much fun to read about those women. I need to read it again because it's been several years since I picked it up.

Candace said...

This discussion reminds me of a piece I read a while back about the practice of female circumcision -- another subject to get the blood boiling!

In that article, the reporter asked the mothers - who not only permitted but celebrated their daughters' multilation as a rite of passage - how they could allow such a horrible thing to happen.

They agreed that it was horrible but their reasons for insisting on it were telling. They said if a girl is not circumcizied she will have no future. No man will have her as a wife because she will be promiscious and become a prostitute. They truly believe that!

In a society where women have no education and no political clout and the only "professions" open to them are wife and mother, or prostitute, it becomes an awful, self-fulfilling prophecy. A girl who has not had her genitals mutilated will surely NOT get a husband, and if she doesn't get a husband, she will only have one other way to make a living. Thus "proving" the truth that an uncircumcized woman is destined to become a whore.

I believe the key is education. A woman who has even a little education can see the possibility of another way; she can pass that education and that hope on to her daughters; she can buck the system and make a better life for herself and her children.

I read somewhere (Oprah magazine, I think) that some study had shown that if you teach a boy to read, to have taught a boy to read. If you teach a girl to read, you have taught her children and her children's children to read. The same article also talked about those micro loans Christie mentioned. Women get some tiny amount like $50 and buy a goat, sell the milk, sell the babies, sell the goat hair, buy another goat, etc, which gives them enough income not only to feed themselves and their children but send their kids to school.

There's an organization called the Heifer Project which does much the same thing by providing women with a pair of goats or a cow, etc., which gives her the income she needs to become independent. Everyone on my Christmas list is getting a donation made in their name to the Heifer Project this year.

Betina Krahn said...

Well, I guess I kicked off a firestorm. But there are times we need to remember that the rest of the world doesn't necessarily have the education, attitudes, or opportunities that we have and that we have some responsibility for our world.

I guess education is really the key, but sometimes just getting food into the children is all a woman can do.

For years, The Heifer Project has been one of my favorite charities. They send animals to WOMEN in underdeveloped countries to help them feed their children and improve their status. Once a woman has milk to feed her children and a cow or goat to give her some property and some standing, all kinds of things begin to change. Thanks for the reminder, Candace!

I also wan to recommend the book called Three Cups of Tea, bu Greg Mortensen. . . the story of a guy who started on his own to build schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanastan. Wonderful, uplifting book!

Cindy Gerard said...

Well, I'm probably really going to blow things out of the water here by sticking MY neck out and saying that while 'women as chattel' incidents in the US are appalling, they are minority incidents (thank God), not the norm where as in the Middle East and Lord knows where else it's the standard.
As a democratic nation we embrace the idea of equality - even though it took a few years to come out of the dark ages and give women the right to vote. Our democracy is young, however, and look where U.S. women are today. Yes, there's always room for improvement and it will happen, I have no doubt. On the other hand, the culture that breeds such deplorable attitudes and conditions for women is thousands of years old. It hasn't changed for any number of reasons but the primary cause is that there is no true democratic process.
Women in those cultures aren't stupid. They are survivors. They are environmentally and generationally trapped in their situations. When the consequence of standing up for your rights is met with the very real threat of beatings or death, what incentive is there to rebel?
The only way these women will ever have a chance at a life of liberty is democracy. And democratic nations, such as our own USA who attempt to encourage or initiate equal rights - or God forbid even human rights - are seen as capitalist aggressors whose agenda is self serving.
Afghanistan may be emerging as one of those new democracies. I've read numerous articles about the positive changes in the lives of the women there since the Taliban was ousted. Is it perfect? Not by a long shot. Like any new democracy, there will be struggles. But I do see a promise there in the long run - a toehold, so to speak because our nation, at a tragic and horrible cost, stepped up to the plate.
Whew! Thanks, Betina, for the thought provoking post. I didn't realize I had such strong thought about it.

Betina Krahn said...

Cindy, thanks for contributing a sobering perspective. . . that women who DO try to go against the cultural norm meet with a lot more than dirty looks or gossip-- they can meet with violence and death. And not just their own deaths. . . in some of the more repressive cultures, the sins of the mothers are indeed held against the children and the rest of the family.

You know, the women who struggled to get the right to vote for us in the US are scarcely mentioned in our history textbooks. Education remains at the heart of it, but the vote is probably the most important tool women have in poor countries. I can't help remembering the women who smiled and held up their ink-stained fingers as proof that they voted in the Iraqi elections. Progress never comes cheap.

Anonymous said...

Betina, thanks for the post. As educated women, and writers, we have the power to make these atrocities known--pull back the curtain--- and insist that something be done.

I agree with Candice, education is the answer. Pick up an almanac--the countries w/ the highest levels of education for women have the lowest infant mortality rates & the lowest birth rates!

That said, there needs to be an emphasis on making contraception available and affordable worldwide, along with education. When women can control their bodies and their minds, the world will change--for the better.

Betina Krahn said...

Yep, Anonymous, I'm with you. And family planning and abortion are NOT synonymous. . . you can do one without resorting to the other! We need to help women (and men!) everywhere have some control over their reproductive lives.

Have a feelin' I'm preachin' to the choir, here.


Kathleen Eagle said...

Education is certainly a biggie for solving the problem of the subjugation of women. But because organized religion has done its part over time in all corners of the world, it seems to me that it's time to revive the Enlightenment. Don't get me wrong--I'm on good terms with God--but I think that keeping Church and State separate goes a long way in protecting the rights of women.

Michele Hauf said...

Oh, I love! I also like Women For Women. It's a charitible organization where you can 'adopt' a woman for a mere $27 a month and she can get an education and really get a new start on life. I've had half a dozen 'sisters' through the years with this great organization.

Betina Krahn said...

Hey, thanks, Michelle for mentioning Women for Women. I'm looking into it. It sounds wonderful!

And thanks to everybody for thinking and responding to this post. Lots of good noodling going on in the ragtop!

Anonymous said...

What a great blog! I have worked with women in several countries through credit unions. Unfortunately, the unthinkable actions mentioned throughout this post are alive and well. I've found through my work that women need to work together for many reasons. We seemed to be wired (not a tech term) for collaboration. The World Council of Credit Unions ran a program called CUES (Credit Union Empowering & Strengthening). They worked with Freedom From Hunger and went into very poor villages in the Philippines. Very poor women formed solidarity groups that met weekly to learn about health issues (leading cause of infant death is dehydration) and how to start a business.

The women began to save money collectively and joined a local credit union a group. The credit union would then lend the group money. All of the women were responsible for repaying this loan and they determined how to distribute it to the members. If a woman didn’t pay, the group would decide how to handle the collection of the money. Money was used for starting a business such as growing mangos, a roadside food stand, a small grocery market, sewing machine, boat, etc.

I attended a weekly meeting of a group that had been working together for two years or so. I asked the ladies, “What did your husbands think of this solidarity group when it began”? An older woman spoke up and said her husband was very suspicious. He would stand some distance away behind a tree to listen to what was being discussed. “And, now,” I asked. She stated her husband is very supportive and much nicer! We all got a laugh out of that but the truth is that her husband viewed her in a very different light. She was raising the family’s standard of living by making enough money to send her children to school (there are no public schools in the Philippines).

I, then, asked the program director had they tried this model with men. They explained that in other countries it had been tried with other organizations and it just didn’t work. Men didn’t work as well in these types of groups.

One organization that is fairly new is the Fabric of Life Foundation,, that works with girls in Africa to teach them a trade and how to run a successful business. Within 18 months, these girls go from beggars or prostitutes to businesswomen.

Women need to come together and take a stand to help each other. Just as one of the previous posts said … we need to teach our children, both boys and girls, how to treat each other and to value all.

Betina Krahn said...

Wow, Anonymous! Welcome to the blog and thanks millions for all your terrific input! How exciting to be part of a group working to better women's (and thus families') lives across the globe!

Thanks for telling us about the Fabric of Life Foundation. . . I'll check it out!