Administration Tribal Elders are clearly hoping to revive the archaic tradition of placing daughters on the matrimonial chopping block in the hopes of fobbing them off to the highest bidder, or in many cases, the guy who knocked them up in the first place.
The plan aims to teach young, low-income couples the "interpersonal skills" necessary for "healthy marriages." For women, whom the initiative is really aimed at, it means that a shotgun wedding sponsored by the state will provide what the administration hopes will be a strong incentive to pursue homemaking over education as a means of self-improvement. "No bride left behind," as Arianna Huffington recently put it. A woman's best chance to rise above poverty, it seems, is to marry young and raise her children on her husband's low-income salary (that is, if he even has a job in the first place).
Needless to say, the "Patriarch Act" is bound to make a few enemies, even among the men it seeks to empower by anointing them custodial spouses as it places the burden of financial hardship mostly on their shoulders. Maybe it's time the self-appointed "First Librarian" informed her less than well-read spouse that "Prince Charming" is a character out of fiction and not a core Republican constituency.
Under Bush's "Who wants to Marry a Welfare Queen" initiative, low-income women will receive minimal financial rewards for hitching their shopping cart to the first piece of deadwood willing to put on a rented tuxedo for their benefit. Actually, (gold diggers take note) there's never been much incentive for men to seek marriage partners below their income bracket in the first place. So it's hard to imagine just exactly how this fairy-tale initiative will inspire them to trade in their present vehicle for a four wheeled pumpkin. In reality, women are more likely to be impoverished by the men in their life than economically elevated by them since men, statistically at least, are more likely to indulge in costly and dangerous behavior.
The plan ignores the fundamental and the obvious: providing women with the means to upgrade their education and job skills increases their marriage prospects, not to mention their self-sufficiency, making it possible for them to raise children with or without a spouse. For the beardless Imams of the religious right, the danger in that argument lies in the low statistical probability of these women ever voting Republican.
Bush's decision to offer a billion dollar dowry to sweeten his "Moonie" marriage initiative (overseeing weddings of mass proportions to strengthen the faith) comes at a time when the budget deficit has soared to $500 billion and cutbacks in healthcare and education are, to put it mildly, reaching critical mass. Clearly, his economic advisors are looking for new and more creative ways to bankrupt the treasury than fighting perpetual and simultaneous wars against invisible enemies, including the remnants of the "New Deal."
While increased funding for girl's education has been widely credited in the developing world for boosting economic growth, lowering birth rates and improving health, ultra-conservative Bushi'ite clerics are seeking ways to reverse the trend in recognizing this simple truth as imperative to the well-being of any given society, especially his own.
It's no coincidence, either, that his "mullah" appeasing initiative comes at a time when courts in Texas and Massachusetts have handed down favorable rulings on gay marriages, which Arnold Schwarzenegger, speaking on behalf of his Republican "retrosexual" base, summed up as "between a man and a woman." Despite all his previous hemming and hawing on the subject, Bush clearly agrees, even if his English isn't up to the California Governor's enviably articulate level.
Still, if anyone has learned a painful lesson in regressive gender policies at the hands of zealous, American religious extremists, it's the newly "liberated" girls and women of Iraq who for reasons of safety, opt to stay home these days rather than risk an education. Ironically, Iraqi women who choose marriage fare no better in terms of safety under an American led government since they no longer have the protection of a secular institution to protect their rights, which under the former constitution granted them full equality under the law.
In what is obviously another mullah appeasing initiative, the American led Governing Council is apparently close to implementing "decision 137"; a measure that would change Iraq's secular Family Law to Shari'a. Iraqi women's groups fear the move will pave the way towards a repressive and politicized interpretation of Shari'a, making women especially vulnerable to such practices (illegal under the former constitution) as "Zawaj Muta'a" - temporary marriage. Interpreted by hardline clerics - "pleasure marriages" (the extremely un -Islamic 'legal' loophole giving men full marital rights over women, often for the purpose of consummating illicit relations with impoverished and underage girls). Still, it should be noted that in the US where marriage is a spectator sport, "Zawaj Muta'a" has its own high profile practitioners as former jailbait Baptist, Britney Spears recently proved.
Still, we shouldn't be too surprised if democracy in Iraq doesn't extend to women, whose interests the US have sacrificed for the greater good of getting the hell out of there before the crucial November elections. After all, Iraq's new, clean shaven Taliban leaders are merely following the proud and enduring tradition of brokering backroom deals with "tyrants" to maintain the appearance of making the world safer from them.
If Bush's message to American women can be spelled out as "shut up and get married" then the writing on the wall for Iraqi women can be translated simply as "get screwed." Under the "Patriarch Act," it amounts to basically the same thing.
Leilla Matsui is a freelance writer living in Tokyo, Japan. She can be reached at: email@example.com
Other DV Articles by Leilla Matsui