What would you do if you lived in a world where natural disasters were your fault?
More specifically, how would you feel if you were blamed for devastating events such as earthquakes, simply because you were born with a vagina?
And what if that blame reinforced the view that you were a lower-class citizen — a scapegoat for societal ills, that were not caused by any of your actions?
For Iranian women, this is a reality. According to the Associated Press, a senior Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi made the outrageous accusation that women who dress immodestly corrupt male chastity, which (obviously) causes an increase in earthquakes.
His comments offered yet another opportunity for women to be viewed as less than worthy, as guilty simply because of their gender.
In a society where women, despite a moratorium, can be stoned to death for unfounded accusations — no, where they can be stoned to death, period — the last thing they need is for Iranian clerics to charge them with responsibility for one of the few things the men in their society haven’t yet figured out how to control.
Saying that the actions of women cause earthquakes, and not the weak will of men, assures men that they are innocent and saddles the female population with entirely unfounded and hurtful baggage.
Moreover, by choosing to blame women instead of acknowledge the major fault line and normal geologic shifts that are the actual cause of earthquakes, it brings natural disasters into the realm of events that can be exploited to marginalize the female population.
Assuming that people take the cleric seriously, it’s difficult for many of us to imagine what living in a place where natural disasters are blamed on women must feel like, the response to the cleric’s comments in the United States are worth examining.
Obviously, many people here were outraged.
We expressed that we couldn’t believe someone would say that. Don’t they understand stand how earthquakes work? I honestly think we all felt really bad for these women.
But, that’s their culture, some claimed. Shouldn’t we be more sensitive?
Frankly, calls to cultural sensitivity are vastly more shocking than religious figures exploiting women. At least, they should be.
I’m no fan of cultural imperialism, but what I’m more opposed to is ignorance of women’s rights and the grave human rights violations that could occur because of this kind of statement.
No one should bear the burden this man has maliciously dropped on the shoulders of innocent women. But since these women have been forced to, the least we can do is ignore standard operating procedures and defend those who have to take on the blame for a blameless event.
Reach Becky at firstname.lastname@example.org