Flat White

Afghanistan, women and safety

18 August 2021

6:45 PM

18 August 2021

6:45 PM

We have all seen the pictures of another Afghanistan, of beautiful women in short skirts carrying books at Kabul University. When America began its occupation of Afghanistan on the justification that they were taking up residence in the enemy’s training ground, we were shown these images as a possible future for women in Afghanistan.   

I remember 9/11 as vividly as most people my age. I have a story. It involves being awakened in the middle of the night by my husband talking about buildings and planes. It was only four months after giving birth to my youngest daughter. We sat together to watch the towers fall. Stunned. When George Bush responded with his message that “you are either with us or against us”, I knew the world was changing.  

Even twenty years ago westerners were not keen on anything that smelled like imperialism. When I was a commie at university, we used to think capitalism was the conduit for cultural imperialism. That Americans were luring us into fascism with hamburgers and Levis — but to be honest, we were as ignorant as kids usually are. When I first read the Bible in my early 20s, I was surprised to find there was a tribe with the same name as my 501s. It was only when I became a Christian, that I stepped out of my narrow left-wing mindset and started to ask questions about things like the Jews. Mostly who were they, why did people want to kill them, who were these patriarchs, and why do feminists keep talking about them? Honestly, when feminists talked about patriarchy from that point on, I was thinking about Abraham in robes.  

As I watch the footage of men in traditional Afghani clothing chase a US cargo plane, I know for certain what they wanted from America was not their hamburgers and Levis. Afghanis have better food and more comfortable clothing. What they wanted is the exact same thing that women want, and so often fail to get from patriarchy, safety.   

The patriarchy I am talking about is the societal system of the rule of fathers and male kinship ties that most women throughout the world still live under. I don’t know why I need to say it, but women have the same needs in every society, because women are composed of the same structure everywhere. Contrary to popular opinion, woman is not a cultural construct, she is a sex of human. In a society without other forms of protection, women need to seek out kinship protection from strong familial males to shield their weaker bodies from violence and forced impregnation.   

It is not that patriarchy is not effective, it is just that it relies on benevolence and strength. If males in their kinship group are not benevolent or strong, then women rely on the broader benevolence and strength of society to shield their vulnerabilities. Women require safety first, if they are safe then they look towards other goals.  

Western women have been able to build societal structures to shield the weakness of patriarchy and strive toward a society that does not rely on a patriarchal order. The western cultural systems that allowed women to gain the freedom they have, were without question based in classic liberalism and Judeo-Christian ideology. We have slowly used the beliefs of equality and decency within these cultural beliefs to transform them to include the needs of women. 

We don’t need to be giving liberal or intersectional feminism credit for this though. Liberal feminism is an elite form of feminism that concentrates entirely on culture (gender), as it was developed in universities after grassroots feminists had gained many sexual protections. The gender focus of western liberal feminism makes it largely sex blind, and of little use to societies of different cultures where women do not have sexual equality or protections. We could also ask why women, who have suffered the worst indignities known to womankind, would take an ideology from the people who are bombing them, and who don’t know what women are?   

It would be unfair to say that westerners don’t genuinely care about the women in Afghanistan, even though the rhetorical games of who is more devastated for the women of Afghanistan is getting a little tiresome. Protecting Afghani women with western “benevolence” and strength was the key argument used to overcome popular distaste toward the sacrifice of western lives in Afghanistan. Although the loss of lives of Afghanis, and the quality of their lives has rated even less of a mention than the shocking toll of suicide on returning service people from the region.  

A great deal of money has been poured into gender equality in Afghanistan, according to Tucker Carlson nearly a billion dollars. Yes, Tucker Carlson is the only person I have heard on mainstream media calling out the failure of American cultural imperialism in Afghanistan. He said, “for decades left-wing academics in the US have used the developing world as a laboratory to test their theories about how societies ought to be ordered but aren’t”. I suspect the US gender studies money will not go to waste.  My guess is that the Taliban will use a modified version of western gender theory to shield the sexual exploitation and abuses of women, in the same way that western leaders do.  

The images of people chasing planes and rushing to leave Afghanistan seem to be disproportionately men. Where are the women, people are saying? Well, they are hiding probably. They will no doubt be organising themselves, back into the kinship structures they would have been fools to release themselves from. Working out which men are going to be keeping their heads, who has the strength to protect them, who is tied to the incoming power structure, where they can be shielded with benevolence, and in the absence of benevolence, with strength. This is after all exactly what the liberal feminists do in their own cultures.   

Edie Wyatt has a BA Hons from the Institute of Cultural Policy Studies and writes on culture, politics and feminism. She tweets at @MsEdieWyatt and blogs at ediewyatt.com.

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