Victim-blaming: Was she “asking for it”?

Who gets the blame when a woman is sexually harassed or assaulted?”

 

Qur-an 33.59:

“O Prophet, say to your wives and your daughters, and the women of the believers to draw part of their outer garments over themselves.  It is likelier that they will be recognized and not molested.”

 

 

“Hasn’t he been informed of what is in the scrolls of Moses

And of Abraham, the one who fulfilled (his covenant)?:

That no bearer of a burden shall bear the burden of another…”

Qur-an 53.36-38

 

No one can bear the blame for someone else’s actions.  That’s clear.  If someone does wrong, he or she alone is to blame.  It should be pointed out that Muslims believe this concept to also be in the lost books of Moses and Abraham, so we don’t believe that Allah has ever allowed a person to be blamed for another’s actions.

 

Qur-an 24.30

“Say to the believing men to lower their gazes and to guard their private parts…”

Islaam has a practical approach to sexual harassment and assault.

 

The same directive is addressed to the believing women, followed by instructions about modest dress.  In the explanation given by scholars, this refers to lowering their gaze from women, other people’s private parts (i.e. those which are supposed to be covered) and at obscene objects.  The term “lower the gaze” is explained in narrations reported from the Prophet as not following the first (unintentional) look with a second (intentional) look or stares.

So regardless of how a woman is dressed (and she is allowed to dress in a way considered “immodest” in Islamic values) a man is not supposed to look at her.  If he’s not supposed to be ‘ogling’ her, or ‘checking her out’, then of course he is not allowed to go further than that.

 

 

“And do not approach zinaa…”  Qur-an 17.32

 

The word zinaa means sexual intercourse with someone to whom you are not legally married.  So it includes fornication (sex outside of wedlock) and adultery (sex with someone married to someone else), among others.

Now, look carefully at the wording.  In the original Arabic, the wording is not “wa laa taznuu”, which would mean ‘and do not commit fornication, etc.’.  It is “wa laa taqrabu az-zinaa”, which means “and do not APPROACH fornication, etc.”  So, regarding your question, regardless of how a man feels about a woman (or about how she is “making” him feel) he is already not supposed to be looking at her, as discussed above.  Further, he is not to, in any way, do anything that brings him close to sex with her.  No catcalls.  No advances.  No smiles.  No come-ons.  No touching.  No introductions.  NOTHING.  If he does any of these things, never mind surpassing all of them to grope or sexually assault her, he is clearly in the wrong.

 

 

“The believers have surely succeeded…

those who turn away from laghw,…”

Qur-an 23.1,3

 

I think this relates more to the issue of sexual harassment than sexual assault.  Laghw is translated as, among other things “futile and/or indecent speech”, depending on the translator and context.  So the kinds of things that men harass women with are forbidden, regardless of the context.  In fact, there is no context in which futile, indecent speech is allowed.  Therefore, considering that such speech is wrong, and considering that, as above, no one can be blamed for what another person does, if a man harasses a woman, it is his fault, not hers.

That’s a brief review of what I think the Qur-an contains on the subject.  Now, turning to the secondary source of Islamic law and morals, the guided lifestyle of the Prophet, these are things that the Prophet either:

(1)   did,

(2)   said,

(3)   commanded, or

(4)   allowed (by staying silent about in its presence)

This, the sunna, is not in the Qur-an, but has been compiled in books of narrations or ahadeeth (singular:  hadeeth).  Every hadeeth goes through a scientific process of scrutiny where the reputation of every individual narrator is graded, and the entire chain of narration is also graded for authenticity.

 

Here is an example:

Narrated Wa’il ibn Hujr:

When a woman went out in the time of the Prophet for prayer, a man attacked her and overpowered [raped] her.

She shouted and he went off, and when a man came by, she said: “That [man] did such and such to me”. And when a company of the Emigrants came by, she said: “That man did such and such to me”. They went and seized the man whom they thought had had intercourse with her and brought him to her.

She said: “Yes, this is he”.

Then they brought him to the Apostle of Allah.

When he [the Prophet] was about to pass sentence, the man who [actually] had assaulted her stood up and said: “Apostle of Allah, I am the man who did it to her”.

He [the Prophet] said to her: “Go away, for Allah has forgiven you”.

But he told the man some good words [Abu Dawud said: “meaning the man who was seized”],

and of the man who had had intercourse with her, he said: “Stone him to death.”

Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 38, #4366

So it is clear that the victim was not to blame.

Now, do people always judge by the book of Allah and the example of His Prophet?  No.  Of course, the majority of the people in the world are not Muslim, so they are unaware.  As for the Muslims, not all of them are knowledgeable, and not all of them are sincere.  If a person is insincere, his or her knowledge does not benefit, and much less their ignorance.  If a person is ignorant, her or his sincerity does not benefit them, and much less so their insincerity.  Somewhere in the fray, among other things, women may not get their rights.  If that is so, it is not Islam, but those individual Muslims- or hypocrites posing as Muslims- who are to blame.

Now, in what way can a woman be to blame?  If she dresses immodestly, she is wrong for doing so, but the matter is between her and Allah.  To my knowledge there is no legal penalty for immodest dress, so it is not a matter between her and the authorities.  (A general goal of the sharee’ah is to stop the spread of indecency, so I imagine there are measures that can be taken in extreme cases, though.)  In any case, as we have shown, it does not in any way excuse sexual harassment or assault.  We must recognize, though, that while it cannot be said that she has encouraged harassment or assault, neither can it be said that she has discouraged it.  This is one of the benefits and purposes of modesty, to discourage the men who are not fearful of Allah.  It is a pre-cautionary measure mandated by Allah long ago, whose relevancy is still being proven today (see here).

(Everything I’ve written here is subject to the limits of my knowledge and understanding.  The truth of it is from Allah, and any inaccuracies are only from my self.)

Hijab Success Stories

Contrary to popular images, the hijab is not a hurdle to the Muslim woman’s progress.  In fact, it probably helps.  Don’t believe me?  Well what would you say to a 15-year-old Harvard freshman, a Division 1 basketball star, a fencing champion, an Olympic sprinter, a newsanchor, a sportswear designer, and successful active women all over the world who choose to wear the Islamic veil?  These are their stories…

Saheela Ibrahim

Saheela Ibraheem, 15-year-old Harvard Freshman

https://qahiri.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/hijab-harvard/

Bilqiis abdul-Qaadir

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, Division 1 Basketball Star

https://qahiri.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/hijab-basketball/

Ruqayya al-Ghasara

Ruqaya al-Ghasara, Olympic Sprinter

https://qahiri.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/hijab-olympics/

‘Ulaa al-Barqi

Ola al-Barqi, Awtan TV Newsanchor

https://qahiri.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/hijab-anchor/

ahiida swimwear

Aheda Zanetti, Owner and designer of ahiida Islamic sportswear

https://qahiri.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/hijab-swimsuit/

Anonymous Robot Designer

HijabisDoingThings.tumblr.com- a site showcasing successful, active and happy hijabis

https://qahiri.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/hijab-worldwide/

Ibtihaj Muhammad

Ibtihaj Muhammad, Fencing Champion

https://qahiri.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/hijab-fencing/

Kulsoom Abdullah, Weightlifter

https://qahiri.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/hijab-success-stories-weightlifter/

Hijab Success Story: Fencing Champion

Fencer With Headscarf Is a Cut Above the Rest

By AIMEE BERG

When Ibtihaj Muhammad fastens her headscarf, or hijab, around her chin, one of its purposes is to deflect unwanted attention.

[FENCER_cov]Associated PressOlympic hopeful Ibtihaj Muhammad will compete this weekend.

But when she wears a hijab in a sporting arena, it often has the opposite effect.

The New Jersey native is currently ranked 11th in the world in women’s sabre, a discipline of fencing. Only one American ranks higher: Mariel Zagunis, the two-time Olympic and world champion.

Both women will compete this weekend at a World Cup fencing event at the New York Athletic Club to earn points toward qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee do not track athletes’ religion, but if Muhammad makes the Olympic team, she would likely be the first practicing Muslim woman to represent the U.S. at the Games.

When she competes, photographers often zoom in on the name Muhammad on the back of her fencing jacket. Her mother, Denise, recently saw such a photo and said, “I realized: my God, she’s representing all of us.

NYC World Cup

Friday, June 24 ? Sunday, June 26
New York Athletic Club, 180 Central Park South
Night sessions/ medal bouts $15 and up All-day tickets $2

“You feel the pride. Muslim women are struggling around the world. She’s not on the front lines but when she stands up there, she’s making her mark for them, for freedom, to have their voices heard.”

To make the ultra-selective squad?a maximum of two women per country will compete in sabre in London?Muhammad has been training 30 hours per week at the Fencers Club on West 28th Street in Manhattan and another three to four hours a week with a conditioning coach near her home In Maplewood, N.J.

“I’m one of these people with tunnel vision,” said Muhammad, 25. “I’m convinced that I can do anything with enough practice and enough work.”

SPRTS_FEATURE2

Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street JournalShe is the 11th ranked female sabre fencer in the world and the second ranked American. She is trying to earn a spot on the Olympic team that will go to the 2012 Games in London.

Playing sports was a given for the third of five children growing up in an athletic household, but Muhammad always wore long clothing under her volleyball and softball uniforms to conform with Islam’s emphasis on modesty.

When Ibtijhaj was 13, her mother drove past the local high school and saw fencers in the cafeteria who were covered from head to toe. Her mother turned to her and said, “I don’t know what that is, but when you get to high school, you’re doing it.”

Then, one day at practice, “Out of this mild young lady came a roar,” said her Columbia High School fencing coach, Frank Mustilli. “She got hit, got mad, and under that calm facade was a very aggressive individual.”

At 16, she dropped epee for the lightning-quick sabre discipline, which targets everything above the waist (except hands) and allows scoring with the edge of the blade as well as the tip.

As team captain, Muhammad helped her high school win two New Jersey state team titles. Later, her youngest sister, Faizah, became a two-time state individual champion in sabre. (Faizah, 19, will also compete at the New York World Cup.)

At Duke University, Muhammad was a three-time All-America and graduated in 2007 with a double major in international relations and African-American studies (and a minor in Arabic).

Two years later, she began to work with the 2000 U.S. Olympian Akhi Spencer-El in Manhattan.

“It completely changed my fencing,” she said. “This is the first time I’ve ever been taught to fence tactically.”

In 2009, Muhammad won the U.S. national title. A year later, she made her first quarterfinal at a World Cup event (losing to Zagunis, 15-8, in Brooklyn, N.Y.). And in November 2010, Muhammad finished 14th in her world championship debut in Paris. All the while, observing her Muslim faith.

SPRTS_FEATURE1

Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street JournalIbtihaj Muhammad practices her thrusts at the New Jersey Fencing Alliance on Thursday.

Every day, Muhammad prays five times. The fourth prayer, Maghrib, usually coincides with training so she will say it at home later, or pray in a utility room.

Last year, during the holy month of Ramadan when eating and drinking are prohibited from sun-up to sundown, Muhammad woke up at 90-minute intervals in the middle of the night to hydrate during a high-altitude training camp in Colorado Springs. (In 2012, the entire London Olympics will occur within Ramadan.)

But what bothers Muhammad’s mother most is the fencing etiquette that entails shaking hands with male referees and seeing her daughter travel without a male guardian.

At airports, fencers are always scrutinized because they carry on bulbous facemasks, metallic jackets and electrical wires. A hijab adds to the questioning. In Belgium this month, Muhammad was told to leave the airport if she did not remove her headscarf.

Her father Eugene, a retired cop, taught her, “The more you [protest], the more you have to take off.” Diplomacy eventually prevailed. Usually, Muhammad speaks her mind. She used to be an emotional fencer. Now she is more controlled, but retains her trademark feistiness.

“On the strip, she’ll fight for every single touch and not budge,” Zagunis said.

But ultimately the referee decides who scored the first touch and, early on, Muhammad sometimes wondered if her minority status affected the outcome of her matches. If so, she figured it had more to do with being African-American than Muslim.

“I have a hard time imagining someone would treat me different based on my faith,” she said. “So when I come across anyone being rude to me or anything of that nature, I attribute it to race. I guess that’s my first instinct.”

Six-time Olympian Peter Westbrook told her, “You cannot allow ‘because I’m Muslim’ or ‘because I’m black’ into play in fencing. The minute you put those in, you’ve lost.”

“I have to remember my purpose,” she said.

Very few Muslim women have earned Olympic medals since Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco ran to victory in the 400-meter hurdles in 1984 wearing shorts and a tank top. Muhammad hopes to add to that in hijab.

“I’d love for other minority women and religious minorities [in the U.S.] to believe they can excel in something outside the norm?not just sports, anything where they’re breaking the barrier,” she said, “and not be deterred by what the image is just because they fall outside that box.”

Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304569504576404011992467534.html

Hijab Success Story: Worldwide…

http://hijabisdoingthings.tumblr.com/

Hijabis Doing Things!

So here’s the deal. The past decade hasn’t exactly shed the best light on Islam. Muslim women are portrayed as oppressed, helpless, voiceless, and faceless in the mainstream media. The truth is, we’re everything but. And here is the proof. Here is our collection of pictures of women that wear hijab (the traditional Islamic dress covering the head) doing all kinds of things.[This blog is run by three hijabi sisters, living in London, Ontario]
Ahiida Swimwear (my wife has one!)

Hijab Success Stories: Islamic Sportsgear

 

National Geographic News: NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.COM/NEWS

Muslim Athletic Wear Covers Skin Without Cramping Style

Jennifer Cutraro
for National Geographic News
April 27, 2006
The design of most modern sportswear puts many Muslim women athletes in
a curious bind: adhere to their faith and have their motions hampered or
compromise their beliefs in the name of athletic performance?

The Koran requires women to cover everything except their faces, hands, and feet, says Tayyibah Taylor, editor-in-chief of Azizah Magazine, a publication geared toward Muslim-American women.

“The idea is that your modesty in dress and behavior is a passport to public space,” Taylor said. “It makes the statement that a Muslim woman’s body is not a part of the public conversation.”

Recently Muslim women living in a Somali refugee camp in Kenya (see map) were given unique new volleyball uniforms.

Designed through a partnership between Nike and the United Nations, the uniforms permit the women athletes to dig, spike, and set while covering their bodies and heads in a way that remains true to their faith.

But don’t look for such specialized gear at your local mall or sporting-goods store just yet.

Nike spokesperson Alan Marks says the Beaverton, Oregon, company currently has no plans to commercialize the product. And most other major sportswear manufacturers have no lines specifically targeting Muslim women.

Today a scattering of small companies is the only commercial source of sportswear for the modest-minded.

Modest Yet Fashionable

Finding appropriate exercise wear is something that Muslim women have struggled with for years, says Laila Al-Marayati, spokesperson for the Los Angeles, California-based Muslim Women’s League.

She says some women and girls choose to work out in long-sleeved shirts and sweatpants, but that is only a partial solution.

“Muslim women sometimes will prefer to go to all-female gyms or work out at home, so they can exercise comfortably and not be overwhelmed with heat exhaustion,” Al-Marayati said.

An additional challenge is the need to keep the head covered with a hijab, a head scarf girls begin to wear in early adolescence (related photo: young Iraqi girl trying on a hijab).

“As an active Muslim girl, I found it difficult to participate in most sports, because of all the excess clothes we were wearing. And the veil—very unpractical when playing sports,” Aheda Zanetti wrote in an email to National Geographic News.

Zanetti is the owner of Ahiida, an Australian company that designs women’s sportswear.

“All of that excess fabric had to go, and that’s when I introduced the Hijood—a hijab shaped like a hood,” Zanetti wrote.

The Hijood is a close-fitting head covering made of a lightweight fabric.

A Danish company called Capsters produces a similar product. Designer Cindy van den Bremen says her goal was to develop a sportier hijab for girls to wear in school gym classes.

Zanetti also developed a line of swimwear for Muslim women, which incorporates a long-sleeved top, close-fitting hood, and long pants, all made of a stretchy, lightweight fabric.

Turkish clothing manufacturer Hasema likewise produces modest yet fashionable swimwear for women, men, and girls.

That’s welcome news to girls like Zarina Jalal, a high school student who lives just outside of Albany, New York.

“If there was a way that I could do swimming without baring myself as much as I’m required to, then I’d definitely take up swimming more often,” she said.

Jalal gave up soccer in middle school because of the requirement to wear shorts as part of the team uniform. She says clothing requirements can be a barrier for Muslim girls who want to play sports.

“The stereotypical clothing when you’re doing anything athletic competitively is a very big turnoff for Muslim girls, in my opinion,” she said.

To Market?

Taylor, of Azizah Magazine, sees great market potential for sportswear more appropriate for Muslim women.

“In another 15 years there’s going to be a sizeable Muslim consumer market and lots of demand,” she said. “I think we’re where the Hispanic market was 20 years ago, and today the Hispanic market is a big consumer market.”

Arun Jain, a marketing professor at the University of Buffalo in New York State, agrees.

He says, given the growth potential of the Muslim community in the United States, major sportswear manufacturers could be missing out on an opportunity to break into an emerging market.

“I believe it’s a strategic blunder on their part,” Jain said. “My feeling is that they don’t think there’s that much buying power, but I am certain that they’re mistaken.

“If customers are given what they are looking for, they will be willing to pay, even at a higher price,” he said.

That “strategic blunder” might pay off for the specialty shops that cater specifically to the needs of Muslim women in sports, he says.

Yuka Nakamura, a doctoral candidate in physical education and health at the University of Toronto in Canada, has studied Muslim women’s participation in sports.

She says there’s definitely a need for modest sportswear, even beyond Muslim communities.

She cites a program at a pool in Calgary, Canada, that tried to encourage more Muslim women to take up swimming by allowing them to wear T-shirts in the pool.

“It wasn’t just Muslim women who wanted this,” she said. “An increasing number of women felt more comfortable being covered up and even larger men who felt uncomfortable in a bathing suit and preferred to be in a T-shirt.”

Azizah’s Taylor agrees. “It’s not only Muslim women who are making attempts to be modest when they go out,” she said.

“There’s also a contingency of Christian women and Jewish women and others who just don’t feel that they need to show their bodies. Other women are striving to be modest as well.”

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Bikini vs. Burqa: from my Facebook wall

Bikinis Make Men See Women as Objects, Scans Confirm

Sexy women in bikinis really do inspire some men to see them as objects, according to a new study of male behavior.

Brain scans revealed that when men are shown pictures of scantily clad women, the region of the brain associated with tool use lights up.

Men were also more likely to associate images of sexualized women with first-person action verbs such as “I push, I grasp, I handle,” said lead researcher Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University.

And in a “shocking” finding, Fiske noted, some of the men studied showed no activity in the part of the brain that usually responds when a person ponders another’s intentions.  (Read more here.)

bikini vs. burka
COLUMBIA ROOMMATE  The text is true but the picture is misguided. Women are nor forced to where bikinis in the US, whereas women are forced to cover their skin in certain Arabic countries. It’s a choice / human rights question.
FELLOW HIGH SCHOOL ALUM  And bikinis are awesome.
ACTIVIST  Women who wish to cover their faces are forced not to in certain ‘western’ countries. That’s an equally unfair restriction on personal freedom. The picture says everybody’s an idiot, which is pretty fair.
COLUMBIA ROOMMATE  Yeah, not in the US. I somehow doubt that al-Qãhırıï is making an anti-France point here.
ACTIVIST  That’s true, but he didn’t actually name the US so I’m looking at things in a more global sense since most of the world isn’t America. The point remains the same though – personal freedom does include the choice to be modest, and there are more countries than France restricting that now. It’s all childish anyway – how another human being dresses doesn’t change my life.
COLUMBIA ROOMMATE  I’m all for absolute freedom in how people dress. Including going naked.
ACTIVIST I’d like to limit being naked, mostly because a great majority of people are not people I’d want to see naked 🙂
RED CROSS  i feel sorry about you activist.
al-Qãhırıï  ‎@COLUMBIA ROOMMATE it’s complicated:  Sociology of Gender:  the Hijab
COLUMBIA ROOMMATE  Thanks for posting that paper, al-Qãhırıï. I agree that a snap judgment that women wear a hijab due to patriarchal oppression is not the most educated view. In fact, let’s say it is 100% incorrect and damaging.
If we agree on that point, I think it boils down to one’s view on the role of religion in a political state. If one believes that religion and state are inseparable, then the mandate to wear a hijab is practically consistent and appropriate – a law that encourages alignment with the religious text on which the government’s policies are based. Makes sense.
If one, on the other hand, believes that religion and state should be separated, then it is wrong to force a woman to wear a hijab.
Of course, things are never this simple. There are gray areas and questions much more difficult to answer, depending on one’s beliefs. For example, if one believes in a human being’s intrinsic right to free expression, then even a government based on religion, despite its innate drive to align law and faith, is alienating a right. It’s very structure, its very essence, alienates that right.
And then there are some purely theoretical angles to this question. For example, imagine Culture X which only allows its people to wear green hats. The people of Culture X only grow up wearing green hats and the idea of wearing any hat but a green one seems ridiculous, even alien. Now imagine Culture Y, which allows its people to wear any color hat. Certain colors may be more popular, but people grow up to pick the color they like best on their own. While a member of Culture X may not understand why anyone would want to wear a non-green hat, that same member may have potentially chosen a different color had he been born into Culture Y. This opens up another can of worms – whether the “purpose” of the individual should be the flexing of his individualism or the attempt to maintain harmony of the group.
I am not saying I believe or do not believe in any of these views. Just laying the groundwork for any kind of discussion that is to be had on this topic.
al-Qãhırıï  ‎@COLUMBIA ROOMMATE that’s an amazing comment!
Now here’s a pickle: I don’t believe that Islam and law are separable, meaning that Islam is the basis for what’s right, permissible, inadvisable and wrong in a Muslim’s life.
This is different than “church & state” in that there does not need to be an Islamic state for a Muslim to choose the Islamic legal framework.
NOW, whether or not there is a state, there is no legal basis for forcing a woman to cover herself. The wording of the Qur-an, as I showed in the paper you read, lists two reasons for covering: to be recognized and to not be molested. That’s usually said to mean to be recognized as a believer and to discourage unwanted advances.
There is no legal punishment for a woman to reveal her body in the shari’ah. There are numerous recorded instances when Muhammad saw a woman without her head or face covered and did not force her to cover them. These narrations are also a source of Islamic law. Since there is no legal precedent for punishing/enforcing the Islamic dress code, in my eyes this leaves the situation at the verse “There is no compulsion in the religion” (Qur-an 2.256). So if a woman is not a believer or doesn’t want to be recognized as one, and/or does not fear/mind advances, she is free.
So IF and, since we know, WHEN a government forces a woman to adopt the Islamic dress code, they have stepped beyond the bounds of their authority and onto her right of choice. You may as well know that the only government I know of which enforces the head-covering is Iran. I am in Saudi Arabia and I can see women with their heads and faces uncovered every day outside. There is a requirement to wear a cloak (abaya). I think this goes to your very relevant point about grey areas, in this instance the grey area between cultural norms and religious requirements. In Oman, for example, where the laws are much more lax, no one tells a woman what to wear, but she knows she would stick out like a sore thumb without long, loose clothing. It is a sort of peer pressure, and I believe this is the only valid way to expect people to change: by presenting so many examples that they either agree with or start to respect the point. No one should be forced to do what they don’t believe in, or prevented from doing what they believe, unless there is an established harm in it.
COLUMBIA ROOMMATE Awesome post. Thanks for writing it. I think we see eye to eye on this.
al-Qãhırıï  we been seein’ eye-to-eye a lot lately…
—–
Related Posts

Sociology of Deviance: not shaking Hands with Women

My final college class was a summer school course at the University of Texas-Austin.  It was a Sociology class about deviance.  One of our assignments was to observe deviant behavior and write a report.  I chose to focus on the fact that I do not shake hands with women and record their reactions to it, and analyze the meaning of it all.  I’ve edited this from the draft I turned in for typographical errors as well as to say things which the maximum word count did not let me explain.

—–

Daniel Nehemiah Oliver

Sociology 366- Deviance

Professor Mark Stafford

I don’t shake hands with women.  It’s awkward to refuse an outstretched arm and open hand, but I’m a Muslim, so I say “I’m a Muslim.  I can’t shake hands with you but I have respect.”  I openly admit that this is my interpretation of Islam, but I also insist that it is backed by evidence.  To refuse to shake hands is deviant behavior.  Everybody does it.  To openly discriminate against women and act like it’s alright goes beyond deviance:  it offends the basic notions of our modern society.

To get observations of reactions to deviant behavior (and to test my own personal resolve),  I made arrangements to be hired by one of Austin’s IRS offices.  Throughout the hiring process, orientation and work, I declined to shake hands with any woman I encountered, with the same line.  I recorded my observations surreptitiously, mostly by memorizing them until I could transcribe them after the end of the workday.  Here is my summary of their reactions:

  1.  Indifference- 50%

Example:  After arriving for an interview at the IRS, I met the liaison who was paging me.  She reached out to shake hands, I delivered my line and she said “Fine that’s OK”.

  1.  Annoyed acceptance- 20%

Example:  I soon met the senior supervisor.  When she reached out to shake hands and I explained, she drew her face, looking visibly upset, then withdrew her hand.

  1. Active Rejection- 10%

Example:  A co-worker smiled in approval of my explanation, but then proceeded to step forward, reach out and grab my hand.  I let her do it because I did not want the experiment to proceed into physical aggression.

  1. Passive Rejection- 10%

Example:  I explained myself as above and the woman asked if we could do it “just once”.  It was as if the norm could not be broken in her mind;  no way a man can refuse to touch a woman, just because she’s a woman.   I used a lot of smiles but didn’t make any moves forward, so the subject was more or less dropped.

  1. Debate- 10%

Example:  One co-worker opened up a discussion with questions like:

“If you or I had gloves on, then could we shake hands?”

“What about hugs?”

“What if a woman is your relative?  You can’t shake hands with your own mother?”

The last reaction type, “Debate”, was the most revealing to me.  I already knew what not shaking hands with females meant to me, and that it was a deviant behavior.  But it was important to know what it meant to them.  Why was it deviant?  How did they feel that deviant behavior should be dealt with.

From the debates I learned that the main issue was equality.  To borrow from Goffman, equality is an identity norm, i.e.

Sociology figure Erving Goffman

everybody thinks everyone has to be equal.  But does everybody define equality equally?  Deep down, and not very deep, everyone knows that we are not equal*.  The problem is all the connotations that inequality has:  powerful/powerless, superiority/inferiority, deserving/undeserving, etc.  Shaking hands is something that everybody does with everybody else.  Regardless of age, health status, gender, sexuality, income level or any other factor, we all shake hands.  It doesn’t really mean that we are equal, it is more like our agreement to refuse to acknowledge our inequalities.  By shaking hands with you, I am ignoring all the things I notice about you, and you are ignoring all the things you notice about me.  That’s what makes it a norm.  We are not being equal, we are equalizing ourselves.

When someone breaks from that, when someone makes explicit the unspeakable, by acknowledging that there are differences, this is a deviance.  This is a violation of a socio-psycho-emotional atmosphere that we’ve all been trained to maintain at all costs.  It is an offense, a mockery, a crime.  To deviate, knowing what deviance is, is a further outrage, because it is not a mistake.  It is a calculated refutation of reality, a presentation of evidence that some realities are only thought to be real.  Some truths are only relative.  It says that everybody does not know that, you only think you do.  True deviance, as opposed to crime or vulgarity, is a check and balance on pre-conceived notions.  It regulates the level of institutionalization in a society, by making people think again about things that have been taken for granted for so long by so many that they haven’t been pondered over.  That, I finally understand, is why we bother to study deviance.  It is the reminder, however unwelcome, that there can be change, the insistence that there should be, and the example of how there could be.

After I’d collected enough observations, I quit.

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Equals? Can they be? NEED they be?

*And is this really so wrong, to know and say that we are unequal?  Take the benign example of green and red.  Who will say that they are equal?  Green is not red.  Red is not green.  They are both colors, but they are not equal.  They are not identical, but does that stop them from being identified with each other?  If we said that they were equal, that would only mean that we are not identifying them properly.  Can the same not go with people?

Green is as different from red as red is different from green.  They are equal in their inequality, or difference, to each other.  They are equal, it seems to be implied, in their right to be different from each other.  Green is somehow a defiance, a refutation, of red.  It does not have to be red.  Red does not need to be green.

But this does not mean some sort of superiority or privilege for one of the colors.  Nor do differences and inequalities have to for people.  These associations are unnecessary, arbitrary, slanderous politicizations with no inherent presence.  Green can be better than red, if you’re painting a picture with grass.  Red can be better than green, if you know that it will make a car stop when you need it to.  And people are much the same.  We are different.  We are not equal.  This makes us useful to each other and to the world we share.  I don’t want who I am to be ignored.  I don’t want to be thought of as you, even though I love you.  Needs and circumstances make certain people better than others.  They become more useful, more effective, more necessary.  It is not treating all people the same that gives them their rights.  A person more completely receives her or his right when his or her strengths are encouraged and weaknesses are covered.