«

»

Feb 01 2007

Niggling do-gooder critique-o-the-week

Impoverished 17-year-old Iranian girl is attacked by several rapists. She knifes one of them in the course of defending herself. Rapist dies. Girl is convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. A Canadian-Iranian “humanitarian beauty queen” takes up the cause. International protests eventuate. Wednesday, after two trials, two years in prison and a year on death row, Nazanin Fatehi is released on $40,000 bail. Rejoicing ensues.

The story has a happy ending, which is rare enough that I probably ought to just leave it at that. But of course I cannot. Two or three aspects of the case sort of nag at me, like when I am, say, engrossed by a grapefruit-sized tumor excreasing from some guy’s head at the next table, and Stingray, who has caught sight of a wiener-dog or something, jabs me annoyingly in the arm to get my attention and says “guess what!” and my only recourse — because at the moment I would rather look at a giant tumor than a wiener dog — is to say “Chicken butt.”

The aspects of the case that nag at me are these:

1. Fatehi has been ordered to pay the dead would-be rapist’s family over $35,000 in “blood money.” In other words, this guy attacks her, loses his miserable life in the process, and his impoverished victim must now either pay his family for the privilege of having been assaulted by him, or languish in prison.

2.. The driving principle behind the push to free Nazanin Fatehi is not the notion that dudes shouldn’t go around raping people, or that it is unjust to jail women for defending themselves. No, what motivates the Nazanin activists is the death penalty issue.

Iran, see, has signed an international civil rights treaty prohibiting the death penalty for minors, but this detail, according to Amnesty International, appears to have been overlooked in at least 23 cases besides Fatehi’s. Apparently Sharia law in Iran thinks nothing of executing 15 year old boys and — get this — girls as young as nine.

But wait, don’t flame me! Executions of any sort should be abolished everywhere, and I’m not saying that death penalty activism isn’t a noble cause. Neither am I suggesting that Fatehi’s freedom fighters should have attempted to secure her release by any means other than the plan that obviously worked. What I am saying is this: it’s pretty disappointing that success in igniting the critical mass of international outrage that ultimately resulted in Fatehi’s stay of execution could not hinge on the concept of rape as a humanitarian crisis. The rape factor, in fact, has been vastly downplayed in favor of the child execution factor. If I were running things, I’d say, “If assholes wouldn’t go around raping people, this kid wouldn’t be on death row in the first place!” But I’m just a do-nothing blogger.

3. The “humanitarian beauty queen” is kind of sticking in my craw, too.

01miss_world_canada_2003.jpg

There are two wads stuck in there, actually, a main wad and a sub-wad. The sub-wad is Miss World Canada 2003 herself. It’s true that in flitting around freeing impoverished adolescents from prison, Iranian-born Miss World Canada 2003 certainly seems to be putting her talents to better use than, say, Miss USA 2006 (you remember the tedious coked-up party girl who tested positive for fake lesbosity and “being promiscuous,” and is now milking her 15 minutes by groveling on national television about her life-altering month in rehab). I’m sure that Miss World Canada 2003 is a very nice girl. But conceptually she is problematic. In other words, it’s easy to imagine that Fatehi’s future would still be in the crapper if a somewhat self-promoting fembot (yup, she’s got a new album coming out, and yup, she’s dedicated it to Nazanin) hadn’t docked on the poor kid’s satellite. I mean, the woman who does the actual grunt work running the International Committee Against Execution and Stoning, Mina Ahadi, is middle-aged and kind of frumpy.

Which brings me to the main wad stuck in my craw: that nobody ever seems to do anything about anything unless it first oozes from the beautiful mouths of beautiful people, and that such things as “beauty queens” must for some reason continue to exist, and that even when these awesome creatures focus the terrible power of their royal hotness on saving innocents from the death-jaws of injustice, the ultimate incompatibility of their yay-femininity worldview with any kind of progressive humanitarian ideology makes my head explode.

[Thanks, ungoliant]

30 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. octogalore

    Those two nags are right on. Fatehi having to pay the would-be rapist’s family is particularly grating.

    The “humanitarian beauty queen” thing is annoying in that one wonders how much of the goal is humanitarian and how much is self promotion. But I don’t agree that “nobody ever seems to do anything about anything unless it first oozes from the beautiful mouths of beautiful people.” To get a platform to do anything, one has to get a damn platform, and that can be either money, power, winning a contest (beauty, sports, chess) or whatever it takes to make something happen. Mina Ahadi needed someone to help mobilize the media on this. Someone like Venus Williams, Nancy Pelosi, Ellen DeGeneres, etc., none of whom are traditional beauty queens, also could have been effective.

    The fact that a beauty contest is even AMONG the other possible ways to drive media, though, is definitely irritating. This kind of saccharine debacle masquerading as something more substantive than a fluff parade shouldn’t rank along with achieving excellence in something real. I don’t see the extension of this to an incompatibility between yay-femininity and “any kind of progressive humanitarian ideology.” Why is there any relationship between the two? It seems to me that ones stance on femininity has no bearing on ones dedication to humanitarian goals. By definition, the idea that there is one right place to be on the femininity spectrum before one can be appropriately humanitarian seems to be directly contrary to humanitarian goals themselves.

  2. Scratchy888

    They’re using the death penalty issue as it is the most obvious contravention of the Iranian government’s own accepted standards. Therefore, it is the most likely point of contention to stick.

  3. kate

    I don’t see the extension of this to an incompatibility between yay-femininity and “any kind of progressive humanitarian ideology.”

    You pretty much answered the question yourself:
    “By definition, the idea that there is one right place to be on the femininity spectrum before one can be appropriately humanitarian seems to be directly contrary to humanitarian goals themselves.”

    Beauty queens stem from the assumption that women exist to model male sexual desire and pleasure. They symbolize the women’s role as the ‘chosen’ among many who compete for the approval of men. Stamped with the Patriarchy Seal of Approval, a beauty queen’s entire power mantle rests on her continued approval by the patriarch’s, as many beauty queens in this country continuously learn. Their function as individuals means nothing, they are symbols.

    Just as woman everywhere are symbols of male success and power. Those who refuse to act in ways that celebrate the continued power of maleness over their lives, are routinely overlooked, hushed up or discounted. Beauty Queens are rewarded with attention and gigs because of their obedience to the golden rule: Do as we tell you to, not as you wish to do.

    Therefore the beauty queen certainly runs counter to her entire power base when she comes out swingin’ against the patriarchy that pays and preens her. So, its no surprise that this one token girl, among hundreds, perhaps thousands, will be saved while many more shall die, because Beauty Queen, will not and cannot call into question the entire construct of mysoginy.

  4. Scratchy888

    So, its no surprise that this one token girl, among hundreds, perhaps thousands, will be saved while many more shall die, because Beauty Queen, will not and cannot call into question the entire construct of mysoginy.

    Yes– but even the Canadian prime minister could not expect to save anyone by calling into question the punitive practices of another state. This is a longer term battle. So, in the short term, one uses what leverage one has to save individuals. Unfortunately what leverage one has if often patriarchally constructed. Otherwise rational and intellectual arguments against injustice would hold water.

  5. octogalore

    kate — all that is true about the incompatibility between the institution of beauty queens and pageants (one specific place on the femininity spectrum) and progressive humanitarian ideology (PHI). But my point dealt with the incompatibility between a femininity-adopter, or some level of what Twisty termed “yay femininity” and PHI.

    I think there’s a practical element to taking whatever opportunity one has, whether it may be arguably in sum total conflicting with the PHI goal, and using it to make some kind of difference. I think celebrities pontificating about politics seems incompatible too, but if someone who happens to be a celebrity wants to leverage that to do something philanthropic, I think the reaction should primarily be to support that, rather than to point up the reasons someone who is in an image-based industry is incompatible with PHI.

  6. stekatz

    Yeah, I’m often bugged by stuff like this too. I usually keep my mouth shut about such things as I typically get accused of being never satisfied or just plain crabby.

    It’s always those craw wads that trouble. Really it’s just your sensitive understandings of the deeper meanings and issues. It’s Twisty’s brilliant pattern recognition skills.

    That and, in spite of the fact that this girl is somewhat out of hot water for now, we all know deep down, beauty queen or no, her troubles have only just begun.

    Keep on blamin’

  7. Twisty

    It’s possible to applaud the result, if it’s a generally happy one, while simultaneously being sensible of the influences of patriarchy on that result. I’m not saying that Miss Canada should stop dedicating songs to Iranian kids on death row (although if I were her, I wouldn’t quit my day job). But just because she’s supportive of “causes” doesn’t mean she’s not a tool of the patriarchy. Enforcement of the binary sex role thing is the whole reason rapes happen in the first place.

  8. naseem

    Twisty, stumbling upon your blog today was a refreshing experience. (I mean, I usually write in all lower-case, and use lots of ellipses. The fact that I’m respecting your house rules shows you how cool I think your blog is.) Thank you for being so unapologetic and insightful about the reality that most of the world can’t muster the courage to face. I’m actually sad that I didn’t discover your blog back when I was in college in Austin — we totally should’ve hung out. :)

    And on this issue specifically, I agree with you that a victory here is of course a good thing — even if it came at a price (e.g., a couple years in prison, high bail, and knowing that a beauty queen is your most effective advocate in the world). But I was also first and foremost bothered by the fact that she was sentenced to anything at all. For me, there’s something lost here, because instead of being truly vindicated, her sentence was commuted. And even that was seen as quite the act of unnecessary clemency — which is just testament to the patriarchal lens through which a rape and self-defense case such as this one is filtered, especially in a country like Iran. As an Iranian-American woman, hearing about cases like this makes me glad I don’t live in a country that is AS unabashedly and violently patriarchal as Iran.

  9. octogalore

    Twisty — agree. But, not to sound derivative of Lorde, do you think it’s possible to defeat the patriarchy without making use of its tools? (This is assuming we can group femininity entirely into a TOOP, of which as you know I am not convinced, but for purposes of this question am willing to grant).

  10. Rainbow Girl

    Scratchy888, I agree with your previous comment. In fact, the Canadian Prime Minister (Paul Martin at the time) once did publicly chastise Musharraf for his terrible human rights record on rape and his cavalier comments trivializing rape in Pakistan (Musharraf was suggesting rape survivors were “taking advantage” of their privileged rape-victim status to immigrate to other countries, following a series of high-profile rape injustices starring women of moderate/low attractiveness).

    I believe all Paul Martin got for his efforts was a stone cold glare.

    Nazanin (Miss Canada) is not the stereotypical Dumb Beauty Queen. She is undoubtedly working within the patriarchal system to attempt change, and my guess is that at some level it annoys her as much as it annoys others. For example, I annoy myself when I dress like an elitist for a job interview, even if that job is in an anti-oppression line of work.

    Having followed the case for some time I do believe Nazanin had justice and not personal promotion in mind. Certainly it is irritatingly ironic that it takes a stunning hottie to draw attention to sexual injustice. Nevertheless, I do find it a refreshing alternative to the White Man’s Burden model of gender freedom that has been attemptedly forced upon the Islamic world ever since the invasion of Afghanistan.

    What she is not doing is using the injustice of Nazanin Fatehi’s case as pity leverage to promote military aggression towards the Middle East, as so many Western leaders have done since 2001. She is not using the “hey, all of a sudden we care about women abroad” technique of Bush and Blair to boost public support so she can expand her lucrative oil contracts in Iraq at the expense of thousands of lives. When it comes to utilizing the patriarchy for personal gain, Miss Canada has nothing on the Western leaders. In comparison to those war criminals, she is just a darned meddling kid.

  11. Galloise Blonde

    I have to leave for work and I’m in a rush…but regarding Nazanin Afshin-Jam, please read this article from The Iranian. And spread the word for Delara Darabi.

  12. The Hedonistic Pleasureseeker

    Octogalore:

    “I think there’s a practical element to taking whatever opportunity one has, whether it may be arguably in sum total conflicting with the PHI goal, and using it to make some kind of difference.”

    “Twisty — agree. But, not to sound derivative of Lorde, do you think it’s possible to defeat the patriarchy without making use of its tools?”

    As we chatted about chez moi a few months ago, I have my ideas about the differences between being a revolutionary vs. being a subversive. In my mind you are describing the essense of subversion: Using the tools of the system to dismantle it. A revolutionary, in my mind, works outside the System to dismantle it.

    One might think Twisty is a revolutionary, but really she’s a subversive: The Patriarchy is largely responsible for her survival, but here she is, every day (almost), sticking her fork in it with her prose.

    I’m not sure it’s possible to be a real revolutionary anymore. How can one fight outside of the System when there is noplace else to go?

  13. Sylvanite

    I’m curious – is anyone helping this girl pay off that loathesome blood money? I might be able to scrape up a few dollars to contribute if there’s any organized effort in that regard.

  14. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Sometimes, when the house is on fire, you gotta just grab the nearest hose that comes to hand and put that sucker out. The worthiness of the hose can be examined later.

    Of course the whole beauty-contest winner thing is problematic. It sickens me in the same way a cat or dog show does — the elite few are lavished with praise and attention while so many others languish in misery, neglect and abuse. Just for starters. But if seeing Morris the Cat on teevee encourages people to giving a few bags of food and some blankets to their local no-kill shelter, it’s still better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

  15. Clio Bluestocking

    “I’m not sure it’s possible to be a real revolutionary anymore. How can one fight outside of the System when there is noplace else to go?”

    Hedonistic Pleasureseeker, this is a very interesting statement. When do you think it was possible to be a real revolutionary? I ask that in earnest because I wonder if, in those times, there were women sitting around wondering the very same thing, they just hadn’t found their way to the revolution.

    Being revolutionary means that you have to find that place outside of the System, and that requires a lot of work and imagination. You have to imagine something different from the System, not just a New and Improved System. To be revolutionary, you have to imagine and go to that place on the map where “here be dragons.”

    This is also what is so great about Blaming the Patriarchy, or even simply recognizing that Patriarchy exists. You have to see the ways you have been socialized, systematized, and brainwashed from the moment you came out of the womb and they slapped a little pink bow on your head. It’s like having that map and knowing where the dragons are and trying to get yourself to them.

  16. Twisty

    But I worry. I worry that people will see these isolated happy endings — such as they are; this kid may be out of jail but she still owes a gazillion bucks to the attacker’s family, and she is still uneducated and dirt poor — and observe with satisfaction that it’s not a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, so it’s good enough. But it’s not good enough. I’m saying that beauty queen humanitarianism, for example, is, when you examine it closely, a wash. It cancels itself out. Oprah’s hand-picked moxie-ridden South African students are canceled out by Oprah’s status as a top minion of the megatheocorporatocracy. Komen is canceled out by its own misogyny. Sure, a few individuals are saved, and it’s great for them, really, but still.

    If Komen couldn’t save Molly Ivins, to hell with’em.

  17. Clio Bluestocking

    P.S. By “you” in the third paragraph in the last post, I was not meaning specifically “you, Hedonistic Pleasureseeker.” I had shifted to a universal “you” that really means “me,” without actually indicating it.

  18. Twisty

    Ah, thank you Galloise Blonde, for the link to the story on Miss Canada’s hijacking of the Save Nazanin movement. It is even worse than I suspected. Stupid naive me.

  19. CGG

    I’m sorting this same sort of thing out actually. The reigning Miss Connecticut’s platform is rights for victims of sexual assault. She’s open about her own experience as an assault victim, and I’m impressed by how she lobbies for Plan B distribution and the rights of victims.

    But I’m also seriously bothered that it takes a freaking Beauty Queen to get politicians to pay attention. It’s depressing. And I hate to even feel that way because again, she’s a great advocate for the cause.

  20. Hattie

    Plenty of us non-beauty queens exercise a lot of power, especially where I live. You won’t hear about our doings in the mass media, however.

  21. stekatz

    This discussion dovetails with a piefight I stupidly got myself into on another blog over PETA’s tactics. For me, it raises the old chestnut of a question: do the ends justify the means?

    I’m torn. I have no conclusion on that (other than I think PETA and all their ilk can go suck it).

    In a way I’m glad that Miss Canada and Oprah and whoever can offer their clout to help someone. It’s better than what most celebrities do with their clout. I would never say that what any of those people did was wrong. Never.

    Maybe all I’m saying is that I wish it didn’t have to be that way.

    When Hedonistic Pleasureseeker said, “I’m not sure it’s possible to be a real revolutionary anymore. How can one fight outside of the System when there is noplace else to go?” boy did I get chills. That really cuts to the chase I think. Lately I’m finding myself in a situation where I’m penned in by the patriarchy, and I really do perceive there is no place else to go. There may be no other way for an Iranian rape victim to get justice if a Canadian beauty queen doesn’t step up.

    By the way, I taped “I Shot Andy Warhol” last night. Have yet to watch it. Has anyone seen it? Is it any good?

  22. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    I’ve yet to see any evidence whatsofuckingever that Komen & Co. have ever saved *anyone*. Seriously, have their loudly touted efforts done *anything* to reduce the mortality rate of breast cancer? Raise “awareness”? Piffle. More like raise some corporations’ market share.

  23. Jess2

    At the bottom of the story sent by Galloise Blonde, there were several links to other organizations/stories about Sharia in Iran and its consequences. After reading several articles, I feel like a completely useless, lazy, pampered, wrong-headed tool.

    *sigh*

    When confronted with the horror contained in this world (not just in Iran, but here in the US and elsewhere), I am shamed by the fact that I’m not screaming indignantly from the rooftops about it every day. Maybe that’s the thing– if you let yourself comprehend and fully absorb the awful things that happen everywhere all the time, you’d either go catatonic or otherwise bat-shit insane. Even trying to comprehend a single act, say your “average” rape of an adult female that happens in this country all the time, it’s just impossible for me to wrap my brain around how one human can do that to another, how one can bring oneself to physically commit the act and even be aroused by it. When you get into systematic rape as an instrument of war, gang rape, child rape– imagining the men who do this, how it unfolds both physically and psychologocially, trying to really think about the fact that this happens with mundane regularity in our world– it’s beyond comprehension. So instead I put it out my mind, and say things like, “I really need some new brown boots– suede maybe” and “how about chicken for dinner?” while somewhere in the world children are being raped, women are being stoned, innocents are being tortured, and so on and so on.

    At moments like this, reality reaches into my crunchy-new-age illusion of life as a beautiful, wondrous journey and reminds me that life is simply fucking absurd. Makes a career as a cave-dwelling hermit seem logical and attractive. Sorry, nothing constructive to say here, just being a downer.

  24. Rozasharn

    Stekatz: Regarding the question of “Do the ends justify the means?”

    I read a book called “The Seven Laws of Money” by Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry. I highly recommend it; the principles it lays out have lots of applications.

    They said the means shape the ends. So if one wants a million dollars, and pursues this goal by running a junkyard, one becomes a millionaire who has to take lots of baths and resist attempts to gentrify the neighborhood. If one pursues the goal by dealing drugs, one becomes a millionaire drug dealer and has to employ armed guards.

    This doesn’t necessarily make it easy to distinguish the best way. But if it’s any comfort, the justice-for-all movement benefits from LOTS of approaches. For instance, a beauty queen can speak for justice and disprove the ‘only ugly hairy lesbians would say that’ stereotype. Simultaneously she helps to establish that the conventionally feminine role can include controversial activism.

    I still yearn for the day when we have no more beauty contests.

    Best wishes in finding a way out of your current penned-in situation.

  25. octogalore

    “I’m not sure it’s possible to be a real revolutionary anymore. How can one fight outside of the System when there is noplace else to go?”

    Yes, that’s what I was posing earlier – I don’t think it’s possible to fight the P without the tools of the P. Your appellation of subversive vs revolutionary fits well. When we have female presidents, captains of industry, leaders of groups determining things like health care funding, sports funding, etc. for women BEING women, then we’ll be positioned to be “revolutionary” — do whatever the hell we want on femininity and other related issues. For now, we need to get to this point, and we need to do what it takes to get there, within reason. Looking at people like Pelosi, Mary Meeker, Jill Conway – they wouldn’t have gotten where they did without TOOP, but others following them will have more flexibility.

    Clio Bluestocking says “You have to imagine something different from the System, not just a New and Improved System.” One could argue that the current political/capitalist system is patriarchal in itself, why would we want to use it as our platform? Well, without first attaining power in this existing structure, we’re not going to be able to change it, or really do anything that isn’t ad hoc. Once we’re in the power structure, we can make it as different as we want.

    Twisty – re the concern about isolated happy endings – these celebrity examples aren’t really demonstrative of women using the kind of power structures that will enable systematic humanitarianism. So they’re not the best examples of how women can use TOOP to dismantle it. Isolated celebrity stuff, vs infiltrating the real decision-making structures, only gets you ad hoc lifetime-movie stuff. A beauty queen can only be a decoy, by definition. So it’s easy to write that off as a wash. She can’t change the structure of the organization that she’s fronting. Women in politics, industry, academia to some degree, can. But they’re not going to do it in Birkenstocks.

  26. Catherine Martell

    Rozasharn: “For instance, a beauty queen can speak for justice and disprove the ‘only ugly hairy lesbians would say that’ stereotype. Simultaneously she helps to establish that the conventionally feminine role can include controversial activism.”

    I see what you’re saying, though I quibble with the idea that the promotion of justice is seen as being dominated by ugly, hairy lesbians. In fact, as we feminists frequently point out, ugly, hairy lesbians are pretty much invisible in public life.

    But, in any case, surely the activism in question is not controversial. How many of us would really see a death sentence meted out to a 17-year-old girl who had fought off a gang rape as anything other than bad? In Iran itself, the sentence was controversial. But in the west, from whence said beauty queen hails, it was universally condemned.

    Beauty queens have a long history of uncontroversial ‘activism’, associating themselves with extremely popular and patriarchy-approved causes to demonstrate how nice they are. Quite aside from the standard cliché about wishing for world peace, pageant winners have long gone in for any number of causes: save the trees, hug the orphans, educate the Africans, etc etc. Part of the Miss World contest is now called ‘Beauty With A Purpose’ and features a pretty lady going to parties all year to raise money for sugary, warm-glow organisations such as Breast Cancer Awareness.

    All of this does nowt to break down stereotypes. Quite the opposite. One of the most pernicious aspects of the patriarchy is that a woman isn’t worth listening to unless she’s pretty and charming, and she’s saying something nice. Miss World Canada 2003 (is there even any point referring to her by her real name?) will have earned approving nods and indulgent smiles from the patriarchs on the pageant board for what she has done. Nothing about Miss World Canada 2003 has upset her conventionally feminine role.

    Imagine that Miss World Canada 2003 had demanded that pornography be banned. Or insisted that the workers control the means of production. Or refused to wear a pink dress to the BCA ball. Do you really think she’d have got away with any genuinely controversial activism?

    I’m happy that Miss World Canada 2003 has succeeded in her campaign. I just wish that, for all women, being pretty wasn’t the thing most likely to get people to pay attention to you.

  27. goblinbee

    On the Nazanin MySpace spread, there is a link to an article about bear bile farming in China. It might be the most heartbreaking thing I have ever read:

    http://www.stopbearfarming.com/

    “…for in this world they have no voice,
    they have no choice.”

    –g

  28. TrespassersW

    I applaud her efforts, even if it was patriarchy that lent her the podium from which to speak.

    However, we can all add our voices to the call for the protection of human rights. Amnesty International doesn’t care whether you’ve got a pretty face. They just need you to be able to write a one-line letter.
    http://web.amnesty.org/

  29. goblinbee

    “Enforcement of the binary sex role thing is the whole reason rapes happen in the first place.”

    Twisty or others, could you explain more about this, or point me where to read up on it (on this blog or elsewhere)?

    Thanks, g

  30. teffie-phd

    Thankfully, Canada did away with the big televised Beauty Pageants a long time ago (ie along the lines of the Miss America thing) and Miss World Canada is some corporate, non-televised private company that saw fit to ensure that patriarchy continued in the guise of beauty contests.

    I mean how can you open a supermarket without a pretty girl?

    It drives me nuts that the media keeps talking about it though–maybe if we stop it will go. away.

    What bugs me about this is that beauty contestants keep getting media attention because they care about the same thing many women care about–rape, executions, patriarchy etc. Except that we get almost no recognition for our work because we don’t have some other credentials (like being patriarchally pretty).

Comments have been disabled.