Late last week, two women in India were arrested for the honor killings of their daughters. According to India Express.com, “We killed them because they had brought shame to our community. How could they elope with Hindus? They deserved to die. We have no remorse,” Khatun and Subrato said Friday.
These mothers’ indignant righteousness is a powerful testament to the strength and saturation of misogynistic ideologies in every aspect of women’s lives and relationships. Mothers killing their own daughters in devotion to a religiously sanctioned master plan that demands complete reproductive ownership of women. From cradle to grave, women are the sexual pawns and property of men.
This is not a uniquely Muslim problem, however. Every major religion in the world is dependent on the cooperation and unearned loyalty of women to sustain male authority. Male supremacy is a strong theme shared by the doctrines of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Why don’t they just merge into the Temple of Misogyny? Ha! That would be too truthful.
Women are alternately painted as virgin madonna and whore, martyr and medusa; dichotomous roles exemplified in the honor killings of Zahida and Husna. All four women’s lives were destroyed in the all-consuming pursuit of religious honor. The daughters’ defiant refusal to submit to reproductive servitude with “their own kind,” by choosing their own husbands, was a death sentence. Mothers Khatun and Subrato’s sense of vicarious entitlement to their daughters’ bodies and lives was more powerful than death itself. The beneficiary of these female sacrifices is men.
There is no female role in any traditional religious social structure–institutional or family– that is not born of and defined by female loyalty to a male(s). What does it mean to be an “honorable woman” under any major religion’s ethical paradigm? It means compulsory heterosexuality. Mother, daughter, wife, sister: these sex-based social roles are personal/private, therefore exempt from public and political criticism, and depend on male sponsorship for their creation.
Hetero-sexual social organization necessarily reduces females’ value to their SEX and exploits female sexual/reproductive usefulness in order to maintain male authority. Women are universally expected to gestate and nourish children, while maintaining a comfortable nest for her male sponsor(s) and his seed. Any deviance from the highly scripted play is a failure, a female failure. Disinterested husband? Female failure. Misbehaving/derelict child? Female failure. Dirty bathroom? Female failure. Family’s reputation damaged? Female failure. Someone– anyone– was sexually assaulted by a male? Female failure. Women are literally set up to fail in social organizational systems that offer no path to female “success” or importance beyond reproductive usefulness. There is no way out but death. Where divine purpose legitimizes a sex-based social structures, women are to continue compulsory sexual service to men. Only through feminist advocacy in late twentieth century, was the act of “spousal rape” given a name and women legal protection therefrom. Spousal rape is not a religiously prohibited act, indeed, it is specifically sanctioned by many religious texts.
Seeking parity between the sexes in such a contexts i futile. Re-purposing and/or re-framing existing relationships is not sufficient. There can be no “equality” between males and females under religious, political, or economic regimes that depend on women’s sex-based labor for their status quo. We must critically interrogate the fundamental purpose of social models that chain males and females together in life-long “bonds” centered around reproductive goals. The products of these divinely legitimized bonds, children, are similarly treated as property and pawns of the master plan.