Joyce Carol Oates Is In Trouble For Blaming Egypt’s Sexual Harassment And Assault Problems On Islam

Joyce Carol Oats

Despite various detractors who thought it would spell the death of long-form thought, Twitter has proven a useful tool in many circumstances. It’s a great way to track world events from multiple P.O.V.s as they unfold, it helps us bloggers figure out what our readers are discussing, and it’s a great place to practice your snappy one-liners. Perhaps one thing Twitter is not good for is discussing the complex religious and cultural factors that go into perpetuating rape culture around the world.

In a tweet that has since been quoted and criticized to infinity, celebrated author Joyce Carol Oates suggested that there may be a connection between Egypt’s predominant religion (Islam) and the high rates of sexual harassment and assault there:

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Not surprisingly, the Twitterverse responded with a whole lot of backlash, much of which implied or stated outright that Joyce Carol Oates is a racist:

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Joyce Carol Oates (I feel like you always have to say her full name, or something bad will happen) responded by attempting to tease out the complexities of what she was trying to say, also via Twitter:

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It’s a little bit painful to watch this unfold, because of all the topics that need to be examined in pieces of writing longer and more premeditated than a tweet, the relationship of patriarchal religions to rape culture—which, unlike some, I do not think JCO is totally imagining—is a major one.

On a larger scale, I think this controversy speaks to a bigger problem within liberal discourse, which is this: on the one hand, liberal thinkers want to apply universalist concepts of human rights to all (spoiler alert!) humans. On the other, they do not want to be accused of cultural relativism. But if you are going to factor patriarchal religions into your assessment of rape culture at all (and I think it’s willfully naiive not to), you are going to run into the patriarchal religions of non-western cultures. If it’s okay to criticize Rick Perry for depriving women of their reproductive freedom based on medieval fairy tales, it’s okay to criticize Islamist leaders for doing the same thing. I think the only time this gets truly racist is when you pretend America and the west at large are immune from criticism on these topics.

In my opinion, which seems to be shared by many, the fact that JCO’s initial tweet seemed to imply that rape culture is uniquely Egyptian or Islamic is what pushed these tweets into not-okay territory. That said, the connection between religion and rape culture is one we need to talk about, and I do not believe the religions of Egypt are exempt from this conversation just because they are practiced primarily by people of non-European descent.

(Via The Guardian)

Photo: WENN

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    • I’m so confused

      Why do people assume that criticizing Islam is racist? People of all races are Islamic, so isn’t actually racist to make that assumption as well?

    • Scarlettmer

      She’s just pissed no one in Egypt is committing suicide in protest.

    • Adi

      Duh. I can’t believe this had to be pointed out.

    • anna

      Ugh, I’m such a big joyce carol oates fan, this makes me sad. Race does not equal religion! I was in paris visiting a (black) friend recently, and waiters all over informed her it was Ramadan and she isn’t supposed to be eating. Because no POC in paris can be non-religious, I guess.

    • What are you saying?

      I believe she was criticizing the religion, not the race. You literally cannot, on any grounds, deny the rampant misogyny in orthodox Islam (see Qu’ran 4:34 for starters). People who adapt aspects of Islam may not be misogynistic, but the religion, at its core, is very much so.

      We can pick out just about any religion and make the same claims, but to say that Islam has not had a palpable effect on the treatment of women is like saying that Christianity has no effect on gay rights.