Iranian Women Chess players and Subtle Misogyny

Iranian Women Chess players

A subtle version of misogyny is on display in news stories about Iranian Women chess players. I’ve written about the subtleties of racism previously and today I take on a similar topic. Just because something is misogynistic doesn’t mean it’s obvious or even an intentional act.

Let’s examine stories making the rounds about Iranian women chess players. Basically, Iranian women are required to wear a hijab. Recent protests in that country brought attention to the practice and a pair of Iranian women, Sara Khadem and Atousa Pourkashiyan are playing the World Rapid and Blitz championship not wearing hijabs.

What’s the subtle misogyny in that? Let me explain.

What is Misogyny

I think the first thing to understand is the idea of misogyny. The dictionary defines it as dislike of, contempt, or ingrained prejudice against women. When we see a definition like this we think of open misogyny. Someone going around telling people that women are not deserving of human rights, they are weak, stupid, worthless.

The reality is that misogyny comes in many flavors and is not always obvious. That’s where such things are insidious. We look at behavior that, at first glance, appears perfectly normal, and accept it as such. Even when it’s actually not quite so harmless.

The Case of the Iranian Women Chess Players

If you look at the picture I’ve included at the top of this article, you’ll see of the players in question. Khadem on the left and Pourkashiyan on the right. Can you guess what image the articles in question are displaying? Both women? Khadem? Pourkashiyan? I don’t even really need to ask. You know the answer already. That’s my point.

In fact, when I first read about this story, the only name I saw was Khadem. They didn’t even bother to include the fact that Pourkashiyan also chose not to wear a hijab. It was only today I realized there were two women involved in the protest, if that word can be used.

Attractive Women are more Valuable

What’s the subtle message from the fact that Khadem’s picture is plastered all over the articles and Pourkashiyan’s is not? Prettier is better. A woman’s worth is in her beauty.

It’s a little more complicated than that. The picture of an attractive woman brings more clicks to the story. The agencies publishing such articles want clicks, therefore they choose to put up the picture of Khadem.

That being said, if we boil it down to its essence, the misogyny is there. It’s subtle, it’s not easy to see. Not virulent. Not overly damaging. A shrug of the shoulders type of misogyny, still, it’s there.

If you were the brother of Pourkashiyan, what would you say?


Little things add up in the mind of those prone to thinking this way. The path to misogyny, and most prejudices and hatreds, is not always obvious.

It’s not always easy to be a better person and sometimes we don’t even realize what we’re doing is wrong. In this case, it’s wrong not to include pictures of both women. It is misogyny, ever so subtle.

Tom Liberman

The Problem with Mission Accomplished

Mission Accomplished

The phrase Mission Accomplished is irrevocably tied to President George W. Bush in association with his victory speech in May of 2003 in regards to combat operations in Iraq but I think it can easily be applied to the recent assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. The idea being because the shooting war with Iran didn’t escalate, the worst is over.

I see people of the two main political sides of the fence sighing with relief or declaring mission accomplished. Neither reaction is warranted. I was opposed to the War in Iraq from the beginning. I stand firmly behind the idea the United States would be safer, the world would be better, and our political divide would be less if Saddam Hussein were still alive and in power. I know that I have the benefit of hindsight but I said it then and I’ll repeat it now.

The problem is that this assassination will have consequences down the road. Upon hearing the news, I immediately imagined that Iraq might demand we remove our military presence in their country. My mind does not distinguish between a car bomb blowing up a U.S. dignitary and a missile doing the same to an Iranian. We have just legitimized any such action as being reasonable. Other countries that house U.S. troops are certainly pondering the idea that we might launch assassination from those bases, they might be considering expelling our presence.

Certainly, our reaction to Iran firing missiles at our bases in Iraq, or lack thereof, was partially predicated on the idea that the nations where we have military assets might have refused to allow us to strike back from those location.

Just as after mission accomplished in Iraq, I imagined a prolonged occupation of the country along with geopolitical turmoil, I imagine long term negative consequences to these actions. The faces I see lauding this mission accomplished are familiar to me, they were the same ones cheering before. The voices are the same as before. Perhaps they lack the imagination to understand this was no solution and almost certainly created more problems than it solved. Perhaps they have the ability but enjoy the warm-fuzzy feeling they get by ignoring it as compared to the horrible sinking pit that I feel in my stomach.

Way back in 1953 we overthrew the duly elected government of Iran and installed a brutal dictator in its place. I’m sure people were cheering the wisdom of President Eisenhower then. Today we favor Saudi Arabia and vilify Iran as people cheer on and on, but the long-term reality of those actions has yet to fully play out.

Despite all my imagination I did not envision an Arabic Caliphate in the form of ISIS or the terror it continues to perpetuate. What horrors will this latest action unleash? I don’t know. I am quite certain it isn’t mission accomplished; it never is.

Avoid foreign entanglements.

Tom Liberman

Egyptian Elections

Egyptian ElectionThere are some interesting happenings in Egypt with the latest elections and I think it’s critically important to the United States and the world how we interpret and react to events.

I’ll take a quick look historical events so as to provide perspective but it would be a good idea to look at a few wiki articles including Arab Spring, the Shah of Iran, and Muslim Brotherhood.

The incredibly important dividing line is the emergence of Arab nations seeking freedom. Some people think that nations such as Egypt are turning the corner from oppressive, authoritarian rule towards representative republics. Others think they are simply swapping totalitarian regimes for theocracy of an even more oppressive nature and ones more likely to act with terror tactics towards the western world.

I think it’s a vitally important issue because the last time something like this happened the results were catastrophic for the Arab world and unpleasant for the western, democratic world. The last opportunity of this nature came during the Iranian Revolution of 1979. In that uprising students ousted the Shah of Iran and established a theocratic government in its place. They took U.S. citizens at the embassy hostage and an antagonistic relationship between Iran and the United States continues to this day. Much of the ill-will that Arabs feel towards the western world stems from this relationship although unquestionably the Israel-Palestine situation is a major factor as well.

Since then hundreds of thousands of Arabs have died in terrible violence, oppressive regimes have become worse, children have grown up in an environment where terrorizing your foe was the objective, and Americans and westerners have learned to view Muslims as terrorists and with good reason.

This is not a winning environment for anyone.

I think that refusing to recognize the Muslim Brotherhood’s election leads us down the same path we’ve already traveled. I agree that the Muslim Brotherhood holds dangerous religious tenants and that theocracy are a very bad form of government. That being said if we had supported Mubarak until the end, if we refuse to deal with Egypt, if we continue to fight then the situation can only escalate into worse violence. More people will die. Americans will be killed by terrorists, Arabs will be killed by Arabs and Westerners. Children in Arab countries will grow up dreaming not of owning a house but of strapping bombs to themselves so they can kill other people they don’t even know.

We must embrace any popular revolution that overthrows a dictator even if the ensuing government isn’t to our liking. Could it possibly have turned out worse if after the Iranian Revolution President Carter had said, “Well done. You were right. We should never have supported a brutal dictator because he was secular and allowed us access to his oil. We’re sorry. Welcome to the world of nations. We hope you choose freedom, religious freedom, representative government, but it’s your choice. If you need any help just let us know. We’re here.”

I don’t like the Muslim Brotherhood. I’m Jewish by heritage if Atheist by religion. I don’t like Sharia law. I think one of the absolutely most vital things for the world to realize its potential is for women to enjoy all the freedom that men do. I don’t like a lot about the Muslim Brotherhood but I do like that they stood up and threw out a totalitarian regime. Fewer regimes such is this are a good thing.

Let’s not make the same mistake again. Let’s at least make a different one and maybe it will turn out to be not a mistake at all. At least I hope so, for all our sakes.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
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