A puzzling analogy between honour killings and filmstars

According to Liz Jones of the UK Daily Mail, the stardom of Emma Watson is just as shameful to “our” society as honour killings are to the societies where those happen. Read the article here.

She draws a comparison between the victims of honour killings, like the poor Turkish girl Medine Medi, who was buried alive by her father and grandfather for having been talking to boys, and women in the “West” who suffer from the obsession with youth:

But can we in the West really claim the moral high ground when it comes to condemning these ‘honour’ killings’?

I would counter that the number of women harmed psychologically and physically by the West’s obsession with extreme youth far outstrips the number of women who are murdered for adultery, or even for the ‘crime’ of being the victim of rape in Islamic countries.

Apart from the fact that, given the choice, poor Medine would probably have preferred to be in Emma’s shoes, there are some things that grate me in this article.

I get the impression that Liz jones rather reduces Emma Watson to being a mere object with the property of “extreme youth” (I would think a new born baby is extremely young, but since being newly born happens to everyone, you can hardly call it extreme, I guess?) rather than the smart and self-determined young woman she appears to me to be. Kudos to Emma, really.

And I agree that it is likely that women in “the West” suffering physically or psychologically from the obsession with youth (which I think is there) outnumber the victims of honour killings (ergo, the ones that actually ended up dead), but the comparison is skewed.

I think it is highly likely that a lot of women in societies where honour killings take place suffer psychologically from anxiety and from their lack of freedom due to the threat of getting killed if they are believed to have consorted with guys. Also, the situations where the woman doesn’t end up dead, but just physically assaulted due to such suspicion should be taken into account if you are going to make a comparison of the suffering, if such a comparison is possible at all.

Honour killings should be stopped, there is no doubt in my mind about that. And I would really like it a lot better if there wasn’t such an obsession with youth in the world (not just “the West”, by the way, whatever “the West” may be, but that’s another matter), but I cannot possibly put an appreciation for young stars like Emma Watson on a par with burying your daughter alive for shaming the family’s honour.

(Thanks to @AllenStairs for bringing the article to my attention)

9 thoughts on “A puzzling analogy between honour killings and filmstars

  1. It almost sounds like some bizarre, simplistic version of utilitarianism: if the number of women harmed by A is greater than the number of women harmed by B than A is worse than B.

  2. It is an awful argument, I completely agree. It seems morally very ill-informed.

    It actually sounds to me as though it might come from a complaint that I do know a lot of people from Middle East and elsewhere do have. That complaint in its strongest form says that the censuring of their treatment of women is thinly disguised racism/colonialism, because the violence toward, and killing of, women in the complaining Western countries is actually a lot worse – or at least as bad. Further, some say that Isalmic law has built in protections for women, etc, etc.

    I’m not saying that they are right, but when I mention this line to my friends from such countries, they are relieved that some people in the West know about it. They don’t think they can defend honor killings, but they think it’s too much to have a self-righteous pot calling the kettle black.

  3. Oh, I think the idea that it’s racism/colonialism comes from the idea that our treatment of women is so bad that we cannot seriously be criticising them for that; rather, we use a weakness for our own purposes.

  4. [four letter word] colonialism.
    The argument that things are actually less bad because others are doing worse stuff is always ending up with women at the bottom, being trampled – and buried alive, QED.

  5. How many women in the United States are killed by husbands and boyfriends a month? If we’re going to invoke comparisons to honor killings, it would seem there are more apt instances of patriarchal violence than the unfortunate attitudes towards women like Emma Watson.

    I do agree that Middle Easterners playing the comparison game is problematic in many ways, but it’s an unfortunate result of defensiveness engendered by constant colonialist contestations (another problematic phenomenon). If anything, I’ve seen colonialist-feminism (oxymoronic, but for lack of a better term) set back progress in the Middle East by provoking traditionalist backlash.

  6. Why are patriarchal systems always able to defend themselves with arguments using moral absolutism, whereas arguments to the contrary are always reduced to various forms of relativism?

  7. That’s a fantastic question, Jennifer.

    I suspect it’s because certain assumptions and dichotomies have become firmly entrenched in our culture. (`Our’ here refers, roughly, to Western Europe, and nations whose dominant culture is descended fairly directly from Western Europe, eg, the US and Canada.) For example, we have a fairly sharp dichotomy between things that are real, objective, natural, and independent of human activity on the one hand and things that are fictional, subjective, artificial, and the product of human activity on the other hand. These two categories are taken to be mutually exclusive — nothing can be in both — and jointly exhaustive — everything must be in one or the other. Hence we tend to think that there’s no gray area, no middle ground, nothing that’s both-objective-and-artificial, for example.

    With those assumptions in place, you can make some important moves. First, if you think that ethics is real and objective, then it follows that ethics is in no way the product of any sort of human activity. In particular, it can’t be constructed by a social process that might make it tied up in complicated ways with political conflict. Second, if you think that ethics is socially constructed in that way, then it follows that ethics is fictional and subjective. In short, the only two possible positions are an absolutism that lends itself to dogmatism and a social constructivism that lends itself to anything-goes relativism.

    I’d wager that the most important contributions of leftist and liberal philosophers over the last few decades has been to pull these two lists apart and show that things are much more complicated than those assumptions would have it. I especially like the work of John Rawls, Martha Nussbaum, and Alasdair MacIntyre in this respect.

    And sorry if this took us too far off topic. :-)

  8. that may be the worst most laughable analogy I have ever heard, i had to read it five times over to make sure I was reading it correct… so , she is comparing honor killings to western women feeling compelled to feed into the objectivity of their bodies through commercialism?! I mean, I’m a huge media activist and I know that this is no a small problem, but to compare this to honor killings?? as was said above, there are closer linked issues in the western world to honor killings, like spousal and partner abuse.

    Not only is it laughable, but to those where honor killings hit too close to home, it is also an insult and a prime example of “non-western” women’s confusion with western womens feminism. I dare say, its even plain ethno-centric.

  9. The difference is that Emma has herself choosen to be dressed up like that and phtographed displayed by all. But in the middle east women do not have the choice. They are beaten and killed without their consent. Emma Watson on the other hand herself chooses to put on these skimpy clothes and be photographed by all. The issue is choice. In West women have choice. In middle east women do not have choice.

Comments are closed.