I’m not married. I have no idea if I ever will get married. But if I do, it won’t be to anyone who’s read this book:
Malaysian officials have banned a controversial book that offers sex tips to Muslim women, reports say. The book, entitled Islamic Sex, is believed to have been read by a few hundred people. It was published by a group known as the Obedient Wives’ Club, which has been widely criticised for promoting polygamy and denigrating women.
The Obedient Wives’ Club told journalists last month that the book was intended as a spiritual guide to be read only by club members to help them comprehend sex. The club has previously said women should act like “first-class prostitutes” to prevent their husbands from having affairs or resorting to violence.
Funnily enough, there’s no advice to the husbands on how to make sex a life- and relationship-affirming experience for their wives. It’s almost as if the publishers of this book think that sex is a woman’s duty, and that the husband’s role is to simply enjoy it. Almost as if, despite constant propaganda from Muslim apologists (and other theists, to be sure), following the Qur’an doesn’t establish women and men as equals, but rather as a dominant and submissive relationship (but not the good kind).
And in case it escaped anyone’s notice, the title of this blog post comes from another religious tradition grounded in misogynistic ideas about women. I know that if this blog had more Christians in the comment section, I would be admonished to look at the next line which says “husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them”, as though that was a balance. It does not say “wives, love and honour your husbands, and reward their labour with kindness”, or something that would at least be fitting for a balanced relationship. Instead, it says be subject… there’s no parsing that to mean anything other than man first, woman second.
Oh, and there’s stuff about slaves obeying their masters in there too… you can probably guess how much I look to Colossians for good advice.
Malaysia is, to its credit, outraged by this kind of misogynist claptrap. Any country that wishes to establish a society based on mutual respect and rights for all its citizens must obviously reject these kinds of antiquated notions. Malaysia seems to go back and forth when it comes to human rights and secularism, but the fact that progressive forces are at work there is an encouraging sign. What is less encouraging is that they think banning the book is a good idea. Those readers who are new to this site may not know my stance on book bans, but the TL/DR version is that no matter how offensive the content, books should be allowed to be published.
Allow me to explain: men who read the Obedient Wives’ Club book and think “gee, there sure are some nifty ideas in here” aren’t going to stop oppressing their wives simply because they lack the literature. Women who read the book and say “finally, a how-to guide for ME!” won’t be any less self-oppressing or held down by the patriarchal ideas Malaysia is currently swimming in. Banning the book prevents it from being discussed and refuted. What would be a much more classy move from the government of Malaysia would be to mandate an insert with social services numbers, or anti-abuse networks (assuming those exist in Malaysia, which they very well might not). Even better would be a full-bore campaign saying “this book exists, and is repulsive. Any man with this book brings great shame upon his family, and any woman reading it should know that she deserves a better marriage.”
As we discussed previously, this kind of “complementary” philosophy between the sexes might sound nice, but once taken beyond the individual level it becomes patronizing and abusive. A person who is very down-to-Earth might, for example, benefit from being in a relationship with someone who is more broad-thinking. A person who is very artistic and creative might be well-balanced by someone who is pragmatic. A person who is emotional and nurturing may do well with someone who is rational and providing. That being said, telling women that they ought to behave along certain lines and not others will only result in them achieving secondary status – or at least that has been the pattern thus far.
The Obedient Wives’ Club’s “be a wanton sex-fiend so your husband won’t beat you up” manual is abhorrent, to be sure. It is symptomatic of an underlying culture run rife with anti-woman sentiment, with many troubling parallels for my own culture. Banning the book doesn’t solve the problem, nor does it approach a solution. It should be recognized as what it is – a troubling dead canary in a coal mine of misogyny. Burying the canary’s carcass doesn’t make life any better for the miners – it just covers up some disturbing truths.
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