I’ve run into some cool photos on my travels through cyberspace the last few days. Pulled from different sources, together they show a trajectory of development in the contemporary Muslim world regarding the role of women. I’ve mapped these photos to the “Altitudes of Development” that make up the core of integral theory. Like most of real life they each span more than one altitude.

Keep in mind that the development of women’s rights is not a story of  “what men did to women,” but the evolution of social/cultural arrangements made and enforced with the full cooperation of both sexes. As we’ve seen many times, it can be the mother of a family who most fiercely enforces honor codes (including, horrifically, the killings of raped girls) that maintain the family’s status in a pre-modern world. Likewise, both women and men are involved in bringing forth the next stages of the evolving culture.

 #1  Tribal / Traditional (red and amber altitudes)

“VEIL IS SECURITY” Billboard in Iran

This first photo represents the most regressive view of the proper woman’s role. In the pre-modern culture women are not hated (as misguided modernists often think) but rather are  idealized as being so precious, pure and sexually potent that they must be protected from any man but their husbands. On the other hand, men are idealized as being fierce and agressive, both protectors and predators. At best men are glorified as spirited stallions, at worst they are seen as flies drawn to candy. In either case they cannot be expected to contain themselves at the sight of a luscious uncovered woman. To do so would be unmanly. So women must be kept out of sight and when in public be covered and escorted by a male family member.

#2 Traditional / Modern (amber and orange altitudes)


This photo represents an awakening into the inevitable downside of a system where women are subject to the power of men: abuse. In the world of photo #1, women are routinely physically dominated. I recently watched a video of a conservative Islamic TV talk show where two imams discussed when, why and how to beat your wife. They taught, for instance, that the stick you hit her with should never be thicker than your thumb. They saw themselves as good men, promoting the welfare of women and families.

As that culture matures and stabilizes a new consciousness arises: the realization that women are people too. That they have rights to selfhood. That every human being is endowed with the dignity of freedom from physical domination. This is a quintessentially modern idea, yet in every culture into which it has evolved it has been embraced first for men and then for women. The patriarchy (again, supported by both sexes) doesn’t give way easily.

#3 Modern / Post-Modern (orange and green)

“MUSLIMS SAY YES TO WOMEN’S RIGHTS”. Demonstration of American Muslim students

Here we have contemporary American Muslim students demonstrating for women’s rights and against domestic violence. They are embracing the post-modern view that advancing feminism is not just the purview of women, but that men must actively fight for equality as well.  It is the role of the more powerful to help those who have been marginalized by previous stages of development. This is the view of the most progressive Muslims worldwide.

#4 Post-Modern / Integral (green and teal)

“BEING A WOMAN IS NOT A WAY FOR HUMILIATION OR PUNISHMENT”. From Kurd Men for Equality Facebook campaign

This is a photo of a Kurdish man protesting the punishment of a convicted prisoner by parading him through the streets in women’s clothing as a means of humiliation.  It is part of a Facebook campaign where over 150 men have dressed in women’s clothing to point out the sexist and homophobic nature of the sentence. This is quite a striking photo, beautifully integrating a number of messages. My interpretation: the fallen headscarf represents the blindness of a culture that supports this kind of “justice;” the peace sign is a gesture of hope and commitment;  and the curtsy of the dress adds a distinctly post-modern irony that turns the ridicule back on the ridiculers. Well done Sir!

See the whole portfolio here.