Discrimination against women started as a deeply rooted problem that stemmed from long-term beliefs and teachings that women are inferior to men. For some men, the idea that men are meant to work and women are meant to stay home is one that they were taught from their childhood and that they grew up believing in. The people that were born and/or raised in times like this in history are the reason that equal rights for women movement was so difficult to start and were so hard to achieve. The discrimination and oppression of women can be executed in many different ways such as: the abuse of a wife or any woman, treatment as a subordinate to men, or unequal access to the same privileges of men. All forms are basically wrong for the same reasons; it is unfair and causes a lot of damage to women and the world by hindering growth. Contrary to popular belief for most of the human race, women are just as capable as men and can contribute just as much to the world around us as men can.
Many books and works of literature have influenced the oppression of women over the years as well, starting as far back as before Jesus with the Torah in Judaism. Religious writings such as this have been the foundation for oppression of women or unequal rights for women since the beginning of time. Most beliefs that women are inferior to men have originated from teachings that were implanted in the heads of men since birth. However, these ideas came from somewhere before then, mainly being from religious teachings. Out of all the religions that have come and gone, or stayed, over the years, unequal rights for women is one of the major things that they had in common. For example, women are especially excluded from positions of leadership in religion. Women cannot be priests or pastors in Catholicism and most other forms of Christianity. Other religions are the same as well.
There are other specific areas in religions that contribute to the inferiority of women. In the Qur’an there are many instances of this. It permits various things for men such as being allowed to hit their wife, have multiple wives, and gain twice as much inheritance. Even in Sura 2:228 the Qur’an says "Wives have the same rights as the husbands have on them in accordance with the generally known principles. Of course, men are a degree above them in status..." Firstly, it says very vaguely that men and women have equal rights according to the "generally known principles", leaving that phrase up to interpretation. Secondly, it simply and clearly states that men are ranked above women. This is later supported in other written interpretations by Mohammed where he says, "I looked at Paradise and found poor people forming the majority of its inhabitants; and I looked at Hell and saw that the majority of its inhabitants were women" 1. Clearly, this is discriminatory against the female race.
In Sura 4:11 of the Qur'an, it obviously tells us that men get twice the amount of money as a woman when it says: "The share of the male shall be twice that of a female." Basically, this quote can apply to all things given to men and women. Men can be allotted twice as much money, land, or any possessions than women. Men are even allowed to have multiple wives according the Qur'an. "And if you be apprehensive that you will not be able to do justice to the orphans, you may marry two or three or four women whom you choose. But if you apprehend that you might not be able to do justice to them, then marry only one wife, or marry those who have fallen in your possession" (Sura 4:3). In summary, as long as a man feels that he is capable to handle multiple (up to four) wives, he is allowed to do so. Later interpretations defended this reasoning and added to it, saying that it would also be understandable if men paid more attention to another wife who is younger, better looking, good-tempered, and healthy, and from there that it would not be immoral to "be rid of" a wife who wasn't. "It is not within your power to be perfectly equitable in your treatment with all your wives, even if you wish to be so; therefore, [in order to satisfy the dictates of Divine Law] do not lean towards one wife so as to leave the other in a state of suspense" (Qur'an, Sura 4:129). Lastly, the Qur'an also permits men to hit their wives if the are not acting accordingly to how they wish. "If you fear highhandedness from your wives, remind them [of the teaching of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them." (Sura 4:34).
For a religion that boasts that women are treated well and are honored 1, there certainly are a lot of contradictory passages that give way to the opposite. When interpreted strictly, they are the sole reason that Taliban in Afghanistan have had so much power over the people. Those that argue that these beliefs are part of a religion, and therefore are justified, are extremely mistaken. Regardless of origin, any idea that degrades anyone else for any reason is not appropriate. If your reasoning is based on a certain religion, there is always another religion that argues the opposite. For example, while Islam has all these things that hinder women, modern Christians believe that men and women are created equal in God’s eye.
Any level of abuse of any person should not be tolerated for any reason. Abusive relationships start for various reasons. In A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, Rasheed tortures his wives, to put it simply. Later, he becomes more and more abusive, and threatens to kills both of them multiple times. There are varying forms of spousal abuse: verbal, mental, emotional, and physical, or plain neglect. Rasheed commits all of these. “It wasn’t easy tolerating him… to bear his scorn, his ridicule, his insults, his walking past her like she was nothing but a house cat. But after four years of marriage, she saw clearly how much a woman could tolerate when she was afraid… She lived in fear of his shifting moods… he would resolve with punches, slaps, and kicks… Nothing she did could please him” (98-99). In the book, Rasheed at first was sometimes just rude and inconsiderate, a more common form of abuse. However, it escalated, as demonstrated by the above quote. This is why no varying form of abuse should ever be tolerated; it might start small, but if you tolerate it once, it just gets worse and the relationship gets harder to get out of. And in Mariam and Laila’s case, can become life threatening. In those two pages, it sums up all the damage spousal abuse can cause and how terrifying it can be.
A man (or a woman, although that is never the case) should not be allowed to have multiple wives for several reasons. It is not fair to any of the multiple wives, especially if they permit unequal treatment of any one of them. The book A Thousand Splendid Sunsgives a perfect demonstration of a dysfunctional home with one man and multiple wives. It shows the damage and impact that it can on the first wife, the next wife or wives, and the children. In A Thousand Splendid Suns, Mariam expresses her feelings about a second wife, more privately than to her husband, Rasheed. She knew that if he wished to marry again, then nothing could stop him. “Mariam understood with dread that was like a blinding whack to the side of her head that what she was witnessing was nothing less than a courtship” (213). Although Mariam and Rasheed's relationship was far from perfect, he was still her husband and everyone can imagine how much it would hurt to see your spouse courting another woman. He defends himself just as she knew he would when he says “It’s a common thing and you know it. I have friends who have two, three, or four wives…” (215). It might be okay if it didn’t cause problems in the house hold, but it clearly does. I doubt any practicing Islam’s have ever studied how emotionally and mentally damaging it really can be. For the second wife, she might feel guilty and uncomfortable for, as Mariam puts it, “stealing her husband”. This causes drama and tension in the home and would certainly not be a good place to raise children.
Unequal rights to an inheritance are wrong for the same basic reason; it is unfair to women. Giving men twice as much of an inheritance takes stabs at women in various ways. One, it implies that women deserve less than men. And for what reason, other than that they are women? No one says. Two, it implies that women are incapable of handling anything of importance, or are not educated enough to. The latter reason, that women are innately less educated than men, is another common belief and use of propaganda that has oppressed women over the years. There was never any evidence of this idea because women were never given the chance to be educated, so it was just assumed for centuries that women lacked the brain capacity that men had. The husband in A Thousand Splendid Suns, Rasheed, expresses his belief that women are not capable of being educated or understand as complicated concepts as men can when he often has conversations with himself or doesn’t speak directly to Mariam or Laila. “Mariam had the sense that he was having a conversation with himself, or with some invisible presence in the room, who, unlike her and Laila, was worthy of his opinions” (274). Although this might not seem like a terrible thing, it truly degrades Mariam and Laila, can make them feel bad about themselves, and makes them seem inhumane because they are incapable of having an in depth and educated discussion with a man.
If women lack brain capacity to be educated or handle things of importance, they are therefore less trust worthy than men and their word can not count for as much as a man's does. The Qur'an also speaks on this idea in Sura 2:282. "And let two men from among you bear witness to all such documents [contracts of loans without interest]. But if two men be not available, there should be one man and two women to bear witness so that if one of the women forgets (anything), the other may remind her." It was also later put this way: "The Prophet said, 'Isn't the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?' ... "Yes", he said, 'this is because of the deficiency of a woman's mind'" 1 . Obviously, this part of Islam really puts women down. They appear below the status of a man and therefore make them seem less like a human because they are not equal to the male race, which contributes to the mistreatment and inequality of women. Rasheed also acknowledges this custom and uses it to threaten Laila. “I could go to the Taliban one day, just walk in and say that I have my suspicions about you. That’s all it would take. Whose word do you think they would believe? What to do you think they’d do to you?” (283). In the book, this argument by Rasheed is used to show the power of the Taliban, but it also has a deeper meaning. It is another way that Rasheed claims his superiority over Laila, Mariam, or women in general when he says “that’s all it would take” and his use of a rhetorical question “Whose word do you think they would believe?” He doesn’t let her answer before raising the second question, “What do you think they’d do to you?”, and therefore answers the question himself; the Taliban would believe Rasheed’s word.
Another issue raised in A Thousand Splendid Suns is the wearing of a burqa. In some areas, like Afghanistan, wearing a burqa is required because, at least so they say, it is a religious practice and a woman’s face is meant only for her husband. Those are not the only reasons. It is used as a form of control over the people, mostly women, and to oppress their freedom. One rule like this one can cause a chain of events that lead to more and more rules that lead to even more oppression if it is obeyed from the start. Mariam, who didn’t know better, fell for Rasheed’s manipulating to wear the burqa. Although part of what he said might be true, it is clear in the author’s word choice for his expression that he didn’t believe that it was only for a religious purpose. Instead of asking Mariam nicely to wear the burqa, he includes various threats and shows frightening disgust at what he thinks of men who don’t make their wives wear them. He embarrassed by those men, men who have “lost control of their wives” (70). He claims, at the end, that he wants her to wear it because “a woman’s face is her husband’s business only”, but it doesn’t recover for the damage his words have already done. Mariam realizes that this is the first of many unfair things that he will ask of her.
The examples of oppression of women only continue as the story develops and as Rasheed’s patience gets shorter and his demeanor becomes more unbearable. It takes its turn for the worst when the Taliban take over Afghanistan; they seem to believe in all the same things that Rasheed does, making Rasheed feel more just and his feelings of self-importance increase. The Taliban issues a long list of rules for men and women, but more unfair towards women. Examples include: “women must stay inside your homes at all times. If you go outside, you must be accompanied by a male relative. You must not, under any circumstances, show your face and will wear a burqa when outside. You will not speak unless when spoken to. You will not make eye contact with men. Girls are forbidden from attending school. All schools for girls will be closed immediately. Women are forbidden from working…” (278). These are only about half of the rules listed in the book. Rasheed agrees with the Taliban rules; he supports them and even defends them. When Laila disagrees, she says that this is almost as bad as being killed by the Taliban, since they are taking all of her freedoms. Rasheed agrees in a way; he says that they tortured and killed the head of the “Secret Police” and women are only “slighty less contemptible than the Najibullah” (279).
Discrimination of women does not only occur in the house with the spouse, it also occurs with daughters in the household. Yet again, this example of discrimination is addressed in A Thousand Splendid Suns. Rasheed desperately wants a son. When Mariam first gets pregnant, he goes and buys boy clothes, boy toys, and boy decorations, even though he doesn’t know if it is going to be male or female. When Mariam tries to keep his hopes from getting to high, he shrugs it off. After Mariam’s miscarriage, he starts to treat her worse, and the abuse begins. And then, after six more miscarriages, Rasheed became seriously dangerous because Mariam couldn’t give him a son, even though it was clearly something that Mariam could not control. When Rasheed marries his second wife, Laila, she gives birth to her first child, a girl. Rasheed is less than thrilled; he hardly helps and treats his daughter like dirt and compares her to a warlord (236-239). Mariam knows it too, and tells Laila: “Your sin is worse than mine – you gave him a daughter” (250). However, when Laila gives birth to her second child, a son, Rasheed simply cannot get enough and spoils him to a point that might be considered unhealthy.
In A Thousand Splendid Suns, the husband of Mariam and Laila, Rasheed, exemplified the stereotypical ‘superior’ man. He believed that women should be covered with a burqa in public at all times, that women should not be educated or allowed to work and are there to be a servant to their spouse and to give them a son so that his family name may continue. In the book, his sole purpose was to symbolize the corruption of man and the cruelty of the oppression of women. From verbal abuse to plain torture, Rasheed has every trait a truly evil man has. He served his purpose beautifully; he raises strong emotions in any reader that has sympathy towards the history of oppression that women have endured.
Clearly, A Thousand Splendid Suns addresses the majority of ways women have been discriminated against in the past 60 years. It is one book of many. The oppression of women has been demonstrated though various means, from fiction books like Thousand Splendid Suns, to non-fiction books such as The Women of Afghanistan under the Taliban by Rosemarie Skaine, to art, poetry, and museums such as The International Museum of Women in San Francisco. Each can approach the issue in their own separate ways. One of the most common tools used to bring attention to discrimination and oppression of women is the use of appeals to one’s emotions. It can be done from stating shocking facts that might be unknown to some people, like The Women of Afghanistan under the Taliban, or touching pictures in a museum such as I.M.O.W., or heart-wrenching comparisons and metaphors made in poetry like Paper Matches by Paulette Jiles.
Female artists have also been seriously lacking, despite all the recent efforts for equality of women. When asked to name a famous artist, do any females come to mind? The most famous are all males, such as Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Warhol. Recently, more and more women have tried to make themselves known in the world of art, but as mentioned before, they have mostly failed to be recognized, especially in comparison to the male competition in the business. The reasons for lack of progress in this department have been debated. We have just as many female performers, such as actresses and singers, but no artists. Some contribute it to a rebound effect; the strong push for equal representation in art and unbiased opinions has created the opposite goal they are pushing for. People feel more and more antagonized by it and therefore don’t wish to do anything about it 2.
Fortunately, oppression and discrimination of women has declined throughout the world starting with the first idea of women suffrage that began in the early 1700s. The earliest time a woman voted that could be found was in Sweden in 1719; women were allowed to vote if they paid taxes and were working 3. However, there have been many ups and downs since then, such as the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan in recent years, and that women in some countries such as Saudi Arabia and Indonesia still cannot vote. But the movements that have occurred throughout the world, especially in America, pushing for women’s rights show that the problem is being addressed and progress is being made. We are not quite there yet, and the issue still needs to be brought to light in some countries and to some people. It is encouraging though, that in recent years, more and more women have become dominant members of society and making a difference such as Hillary Clinton and even Oprah. It is an issue that all countries in the world need to be unified in attempting to fix through any and all means necessary if we want our world to grow and still save the planet from destruction of all the damage we cause. It is the first of many things that needs to be fixed and is the basis of many other problems or forms of other corruption. We need to complete this one task before we can start down the path of solving corruption in other areas in hopes of make the world a better and less broken place to live.
1Arlandson, James. "Top Ten Rules in the Quran That Oppress Women." 13 Nov 2005. American Thinker. Web. 17 May 2010. .
2 Mahoney, Erin. "The Problem of Feminism In Female Art." Www.ic.arizona.edu. Web. 16 May 2010. .
3 "Women's suffrage." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 14 May. 2010. Web. 20 May. 2010.
Hosseini, Khaled. A Thousand Splendid Suns. New York: Riverhead, 2007. Print.