Sonntag, 5. Dezember 2010

Hidden Behind Veils..

Eine Arbeitsprobe aus meinem Kurs Race, Gender and Ethnicity in Planning

Essay 09/13/2010: Gender and planning
Much of the debate on gender and planning emerged during the late 1970s, when planning scholars became increasingly concerned with equity issues. However, it was not until the 1980s that scholars began to recognize the dangers of a universalizing approach that presupposes a homogeneous group of women without distinguishing among women based on their group affiliations. Based on this week's readings, discuss such dangers as well as how the norm of the homogeneous public can be oppressive, as Young points out.

When Ada Louise Huxtable, architecture critic of the New York Times, and Jane Jacobs, writer of The Death and Life of Great American Cities entered the planning scene in the 1960s critisizing the physical planning of American cities, the white upper-middle-class men planning profession was jolt. This was not only because of what these women had to say about the condition of cities at that time, but for the fact that females had joined the former masculine city planning profession. However, they did not use the platform and attention they were given to discuss gender issues. Gender issues in planning arose with equity issues in the 1970s, the need to distinguish and detect the differences within the marginalized group of women was expressed in the 1980s.(Fainstein and Servon 2005, 1)
A still important issue today is the recognition of different ethnic groups and other group affiliations (which often intercept) and the acceptance of a heterogenous city rather than trying to force immigrants to assimilation. But this discussion should also involve issues of oppressing factors within minorities and an equally sensitive recognition of womens' rights irrespective of their group affiliation (race, ethnicity, religion, etc.)
The recent published book “Deutschland schafft sich ab – wie wir unser Land aufs Spiel setzen“(Germany abolishes itself - how we jeopardize our nation) by Thilo Sarrazin has triggered a public dispute on immigrants and integration in Germany. In stating theories on the different birth rates of immigrants and Germans Sarrazin stirs peoples fears of a Muslim parallel society in Germany that refuses to integrate and accept basic rights and values of the German nation. Despite his lurid assumptions in many cases cross the line, there is one important point he makes which I want to discuss on behalf of Young’s assumption of the oppressive norm of the homogenous public: The oppression of women in Islamic cultures.
Turks in Germany are still a growing ethnic group and as Turkish communities are quite large and visible in public, the former white nation tries to accept their culture as Germany becomes more and more a multiethnic country and young people have the notion of a European identity rather than a German one. But worse performance in school, lower income rates and a higher rate of unemployment indicate that their integration into society is lacking something; some politicians even evaluate these problems as an effect of the Turkish immigrants' refusal to integrate, but rather building their own Muslim society apart from the nations one. One major difference of the Muslim culture is the role of women. Whereas most German women are working nowadays and girls are excelling in primary, secondary and higher education even more than boys, for many conservative Turks womens’ position is the one at the kitchen stove. Furthermore many of them do not accept if their daughters want to lead a self-determined life by the western norm of self-fulfillment. An important part of that is self-determined sexuality. In Muslim culture girls' hymen still represent a high value and has to be kept as a sign of virginity until marriage. As Seyran Ates in her polemic paper “Islam Needs a Sexual Revolution“ points out, many Muslim girls are lacking sexual education from their parents. Rigid sex morals, the lack of sexuality being an issue discussed in family and the pressure of keeping the hymen as a shallow symbol of virginity in many times lead to an unnatural experiencing of sexuality by young women. To meet their parents' sex morals they can only have anal intercourse with their boyfriend, trying to save the worth between their legs. Ates also criticizes left-wing feminists who excoriate Catholic church for their sex morals but at the same time accept the headscarf as culture, not detecting it as a form of oppression and encryption of Muslim women (Beyer and Broder 2009, 143).
Sexuality as one part of individual freedom lead to the question, where to draw the line between appreciating foreign cultures in our society and giving them room to live their cultures and the need to opposing western understanding of individual liberty to totalitarian thinking (that is for example expressed in rigid sexual morals). What is the appropriate action to take if a foreign culture clashes with ideas of personal freedom? Young argues:
“The normative ideal of the homogenous public does not succeed in its stated aim of creating a harmonious nation.
[..]The relations of domination and oppression between groups that produce resentment, hostility and resistance among the oppressed. Placing a normative value on homogeneity only exacerbates division and conflict, because it gives members of the dominant groups reason to adopt a stance of self-righteous intractability.“(Young 2005, 91)
What if domination and oppression turns out to be a condition within an ethnic group? Maybe the ones oppressed do not have the power to resist (that’s why empowerment and oppression are very much related to each other), but the wish to live self-determined is hidden behind Muslim womens' veils. Does such a condition justify Sarrazins call for assimilation of immigrants? I think we have to consider the difference between an ethnic or religious group's culture that is contingent in “enlightened“ democratic society and opinions and ideas which conflict with it. As the ideal state accepts and integrates diverse minorities and guarantees them self-determination and autonomy (Young 2005, 91) these minorities coincidently have to accept self-determination and autonomy of individuals. In the same instance feminist approaches to oppressed sexuality by religion must not only address Catholic church but try to detect similar scenes in Muslim religion to push on womens' liberty when it is threatened by men-dominated conservative interpretation of religion.

Susan S. Fainstein and Lisa J. Servon, eds. Gender and Planning: A Reader. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2005.
Iris Marion Young, "Justice and the Politics of Difference" in Susan S. Fainstein and Lisa J. Servon, eds. Gender and Planning: A Reader. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2005.
Susanne Beyer and Hendryk M. Broder, „Sie verglühen vor Leidenschaft“, Der Spiegel 42 (2009): 142-145.

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