Women Versus Men; Women Versus Women

No nation, culture, or community has found a truly peaceful resolution to the battle of the sexes. For the most part, it is a cold war that is fought on many fronts. We’re talking about urban, rural, and suburban warfare because for the most part the battles take place in the home. But the battle ground can be more public, like in political debates broadcast in every home in America or think pieces published in esteemed press. In some cultures men have always had the upper hand, so women must use indirect tactics in assymetric warfare. In other societies women are gaining more ground and they are able to make gains in in the workforce, political office, and even demand that their husbands–shudder–help with the laundry. The strategies vary as much as the millions of individuals who deploy tactics to undermine, overpower, or demand recognition of their grievances from their adversary.

It is my opinion that nowhere on Earth is the battle of the sexes fought with as much ferocity as in the Black American community. We’re talking family, children, and lives have been ruined in the collateral damage. At worst, the violence of these battles have led to tragedies and human loss. At minimum, the warring parties and innocent bystanders, have been traumatized by psychological warfare. I have first hand experiences in the trenches of what I’d like to call asymmetric warfare.

The sad thing is, that the most vulnerable (in my opinion this would be women) are often left with few allies. You’d think that in what seems to be an all out war, that there’d be some sort of solidarity. My first hand knowledge comes from the female front, so I can tell you little about what happens from the male perspective. But what I can tell you is that in the Black American Muslim community, there is little female solidarity. Basically, women have fragile bonds meaning that there is a lack of sisterhood. Instead, we seem to be tearing each other apart, all the while finding the weak spots of our adversaries of the opposite gender. I’m not saying that BAM women want to defeat their male counterparts. But basically, they want to have their grievances heard and have their rights recognized. Above all, they want BAM and the Muslim community as a whole to help rectify the problems that have led to some serious social problems and instability.

One of the major problems I have seen is gendered racism in the BAM community. This had led to some serious demographic problems, such as the shortage of viable BAM. BAM women are finding it increasingly difficult to find suitable life partners. For the most part, people have written thoughtful posts on issues surrounding gender relations. However some of the opinions espoused by bloggers and commentators have been downright reprehensible. I, myself, felt alienated by some of the views held by some American Muslims during a lengthy discussion about the growing trend for BAM men marrying overseas. One that especially got under my skin was the tendency to criticize educated Black Muslim women for being nothing else than educated Black Muslim women. I am sure that many of responsible, hardworking, conscientious, and ethical Black men have felt alienated by some of the critiques BAM women have had of BAM men. For example there is the constant mantra, “There are no good Black Muslim men!” “Black men are trifling!” etc…

This constant mantra is something that I wanted to address. I wanted to talk about the woe is me attitude, the victimhood, that many of us women carry like its our cross to burden. We are martyrs right? Especially us Black Muslim women, the world has dealt us a terrible hand? I wanted to move beyond victimhood and to talk about how WE, as women, contribute to our own predicament. I want to talk about how our lack of sisterhood and self respect causes us to damage ourselves, and sometimes other people. I wanted to move beyond the two front war, to talk about what do we women do that damages other women. One of the primary causes of instability in the Black American Muslim family is polygamy or some type of infidelity. I wanted to talk about how Muslim women contribute to failed marriages and thereby undermine the struggle of our fellow sisters.

I’m not trying to criticize people who happily go into this situation. I, for one, don’t understand how can a woman be truly happy about such a situation. She has somehow been convinced that she deserves less, not a full partner in life. She must have been convinced that she is just happy to a man in her life, at least some of the time. Muslim Hedonist writes about how insulted one woman felt when she was approached as a second wife. I suggest her thoughts on the matter. When I read many of the writings of women who are in polygynous situations or were formally, I noticed a lot of pain. Forever loyal wrote a blog about second wives and how she doesn’t feel sorry when she reads their sob stories on the internet. Normally we blame men for these situations. But I think there are many women who are contributing the situation by promoting certain ideas that undermine women’s sense of self worth, or by women acting out of self interest when making moves on other women’s husbands.

One of the first ways that we Muslim women undermine our sisters is by promoting ridiculous, sexist views. Jamerican Muslimah wrote a great post on how Muslim women promote sexist views. Basically, as a woman, YOU are to blame if he finds another wife. This has left a lot of women paranoid and hating other women. She wrote:

It is clear who this idea stands to benefit. What I don’t get is why so many women readily accept it. I mean, it has double-standard written all over it! As Muslims, it is not our example anyway.

These views make it very difficult for BAM women to have a real grievance without the threat of bringing in another woman. When Muslim women seek counsel or help to resolve a major dispute, they are often face unsympathetic women who make them feel insecure and nervous. These women tell their sisters that they are nags, that they are ingrates. Basically, the find that good ole hadith about hell being full of women who complained about their husbands. Meanwhile, the sister who has had six kids, home schooled all of them, cooked three meals from scratch each day, washed and ironed everyone’s clothes, and ran a business out their garage, but couldn’t manage to look like a video ho in the bedroom at the end of the day still has to worry about another woman fulfilling her husbands, “needs”. This is the message you’ll many women get.

While we can take the brothers to task for creeping and trying to get wifey number two or three or four, who takes the women to task for trying to be the second act? I’m not saying that we should vilify second wives. I remember the first time I met a woman who was a second wife. If I remember right, it was at a protest against sanctions against Iraq in the early 90s. She was from another community, had worked with a Muslim guy before becoming Muslim and they “Fell in love.” While most Muslim scholars do not see polygamy as infidelity, I would say that developing an emotionally intimate relationship outside of marriage without the knowledge of your spouse’s knowledge is emotional infidelity. On one hand, you have Muslim scholars saying it is bad to free mix and love comes after marriage. On the other hand, they will accept this type of “love” arrangement. It bothered me to know that a man could legitimate his emotional affair with a co-worker and bring her into the picture with such ease. However, I chalked it up to her own lack of experience in the Deen. It didn’t seem like she was some femme fatale and all covered up in hijab and long sleeve shirts she didn’t seem like a hoochie either. She just seemed like a naïve new Muslimah who felt saved by the married guy who introduced her to the religion and his own complicated family situation. Despite all her justifications, it was clear that the situation was painful for her. A few years later I actually ran into her, still married, while in the women’s section of a mosque in an East Coast city. But more than a decade has passed and I’m not sure how the situation has panned out.

The above story was one of the more innocent situations. I have heard of more devious and destructive types of machinations on the part of single Muslim women who want to snag that eligible un-bachelor (Note: Umm Adam’s blog is pretty mild compare to some of the sordid stories I’ve witnessed and heard). Some women are so wrapped up in their personal loneliness and desire to have a man, any man, in their life, that they will move in on happily married men. Often tied into their sales package is a claim “There are no good Black Muslim men!” They have that Ana miskeenah attitude and somehow every upstanding married man is responsible to save the heaving hordes of unmarried damsels. Some women will forgo a real marriage and take the status of being a mistress in a misyar marriage. Other times that second wife ploy was a way to dethrone the first wife, the ultimate victory in the competition between BAM women. My basic challenge to this approach is that if this upstanding and ethical man goes hooks up with the next damsel in distress without his wife knowing, can he still qualify as upstanding and ethical? What happens when that situation becomes messy? Polygamous marriages are some of the most unstable marriages. Period. And with two broken families and potentially a dozen kids, can he still be there for everyone? Many of us are left shaking our head when we here about the aftermath of a disastrous polygamous situation.

I have been troubled by some of the stories I’ve read in blogosphere and some of the stories I’ve witnessed my own self. I think it is time that we as women begin to take a look at ourselves. We should respect ourselves enough to not hurt our sisters. And importantly, if we are constantly blaming men for the sad state of affairs in our community, we need to question if and how we enable their destructive behaviors. In a conversation I had a while back in Kuwait, my friend pointed out that much of the immature, boyish, asinine behavior has its roots in the ways we as women coddle our sons, brothers, and husbands. We have not held them to high standards. Instead, we have rewarded narcissism and promiscuity. We women have chased the dogs and made them feel like superstars. And even the good guys, some women have worked hard to bring that dog out of them.

I have, by no means, been thorough in my exploration of this issue. But I wanted to begin a dialogue amongst sisters. One brother mentioned noticed that there was a lack of sisterhood, citing polygamy as a major cause. I wanted to begin to talk about ways in which we can make better choices. I wanted to find a way in which we women can help each other to find a peaceful resolution to this damaging multi-front war of men versus women and women versus other women in the BAM community.