Until a few days ago I had not heard of Hasidim. Today, that religious sect has only reinforced my belief that religion is divisive, that the dogma of structured belief is oppressive and that words, without being backed by transparent actions, are little more than potentialities lost on the winds of possibility, never realising kinesis and fruition.
There are many obstacles in creating a truly equal society; issues of race, colour and creed are by far the most commonly argued in the contemporary Western world, with issues related to gender considered by some to have been largely overcome. To a large degree I accept that much of the struggle of our suffragette forbears has seen benefits for the current generations. Yet, when religion continues to marginalise and treat/view women as sexually charged individuals who can “lead a man astray” whilst fully and demurely attired, I can only see an ongoing source of division.
In editing US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Director for Counter Terrorism Andrea Tomason out of the photograph taken in the White House’s Situation Room during the killing of Osama bin Laden, not only did the Brooklyn based Hasidic newspaper Der Zeitung demonstrate a complete lack of diplomacy and sexual equality, it left open the possibility of absolving two of the central characters in the killing of Osama bin Laden from taking responsibility for their part in the USA led so called “War on Terror”. We each have our own opinion on the death of bin Laden and if you watched the horrors of people jumping from the Twin Towers to escape the hell that had engulfed them on your television in 2001, it’s hard not to allow those opinions to be tainted by emotion. Nevertheless, if the calls by various international bodies for review of the processes and decision makers in the attack in Abbotabad are to find their way into a United Nations Criminal Court, why should either woman be any less accountable than any of the men in that very same situation room? Even if those calls go unheeded – and they almost certainly will – why should Clinton and Tomason be scratched from the history pages? Be the attack and outcome good or bad in the annals of history, the women at the heart of this event should be acknowledged.
I am fortunate to have been raised by parents who taught me that I was intellectually capable of no less than my brothers, whilst being given every opportunity to pitch my body to the same ends if I so wished, realising that that the brawn of gender does not equate to the agility and persistence of a mind. I am forever grateful, even if my Roman Catholic upbringing is a coat I have chosen to shrug off. The complete inability of The Church to accept the ordination of women, to prevent the use of oral contraception, frown upon barrier contraception and to treat a child born out of Church-acknowledged wedlock as a bastard are things I refuse to accept. Life may begin at conception, but preventing conception should not be a Church crime!
I have before mentioned my interest in Buddhism, but even there I find inconsistencies. The treatment of Buddhist nuns apparently varies between specific sects, but most are expected to show deference to monks, being subject to a greater number of vows than their male counterparts. In addition, if nuns and monks are equal, it should be possible for a female to attain the highest earth-bound rank in any of the Buddhist religious traditions, without having to answer to a monk. This has, so far, been unattainable.
History is marked by the leadership of many great women, of varied cultural and racial background: Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, Amina of Zazzua, Boadicea, Joan of Arc, Hiawatha and St. Mary of the Cross are but a few. Each proved herself a leader, some in battle, others via diplomacy. Regardless of how they were viewed in their own times, they have deserved their place in history, be it for good or bad. Failure to acknowledge the significant women who have shaped our history is one of the limits in the accuracy of history and the single most limiting factor in advancing the cause of gender equality. For good or for bad, women must be acknowledged for their role in the treatment of others. We have fought so long for that right and with it must come the same rights and responsibilities and with responsibility comes transparency and accountability. It’s all or nothing.