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:

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 1.41.40 PM


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:

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 1.46.24 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-08 at 1.47.54 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-08 at 1.48.22 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-08 at 1.49.08 PM


Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 1.52.44 PM


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:

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 2.05.38 PM Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 2.05.45 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-08 at 2.05.53 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-08 at 2.06.05 PM Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 2.06.24 PMScreen Shot 2013-07-08 at 2.06.32 PM


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