Why does the head of government project these male insecurities, these misogynistic tendencies? Where is the self restraint that is so critical in a leader? Why is he afraid, why are we afraid, of women’s progress?
The Albanian language has a rich variation of the word: “whore.” Let’s try a few: “kurvë,” “bushtër,” “kudër,” “lavire,” “rrospi,” “zuskë,” “prostitutë,” etc. There are probably more regional versions of the word that I am ignorant of, and some are so offensive to the point of being unprintable and untranslatable in English. We even borrow words from other neighboring languages to add to this stock and offend our women, but we don’t have generic words for things like trees although we have always been pastoral people living near mountains or forests ever since we smuggled ourselves from obscurity and into the pages of written history sometime in the 11th century. This is an indication of how rich our misogynistic vocabulary is when it comes to our women.
I use the term “we” liberally, not to describe anyone in particular, but more as a metaphor to recount a certain ancient instinct or a cultural strain that stalks Albanian men as society struggles to rise above a deeply ingrained misogynist culture. This instinct—which has proven hard to control—is on display today everywhere in the public space, private settings, and how we treat our women and deal with their empowerment and freedom. It’s not a stretch to say that we have hardly contributed to humanity in any scientific field, but no one can accuse us of a lack of linguistic creativity when it comes to inventing words to debase and demean our own wives, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, mothers, friends—who all serve as teachers, managers, doctors, advisers, mentors, journalists, and leaders in all kinds of fields. Despite coating ourselves with a veneer of modernity, we continue to harbor deep inside an instinct that here and there rises to reveal our default attitude: our culture of violence toward women.
When women are beyond the range of our fists and bullets, we resort to our repertoire of rich insults and slurs that make one cringe. We use metaphors to evoke images that try to strip women of their integrity, their gender, deplore and dehumanize them.
The default position is that we use not our brains, logic, or reason, to argue with women, but our hands, fists, cudgels, and guns to win over them or silence them. When it’s impractical to do so, or when women are beyond the range of our fists and bullets, we resort to our repertoire of rich insults and slurs that make one cringe. We use metaphors to evoke images that try to strip women of their integrity, their gender, deplore and dehumanize them. This is not just a self indulgent diatribe, but the abuse against women, both physical and verbal, is ubiquitous and starts, first and foremost, with men in power, from the head of the parliamentwho, a few months ago, hurled sexual insults (unprintable here) toward his female colleague in front of cameras, to the prime minister’s Facebook post last week, which sparked outrage and rightly so. One may analyze Mr. Isa Mustafa’s Facebook post from several angles, but it’s important to discuss the notion of the default position Albanian men fall back on when they can’t directly use physical force to express disagreements with women.
Let’s start with the metaphor the prime minister uses to describe “women who graze western funds.” You don’t have to read beyond the first three words: “women who graze…” and see vivid images of animals (he probably had cattle in mind) nibbling grass on some field or pasture. In other words, the head of Europe’s newest country, which aspires to join the European family of nations, uses language to compare his country’s women to cows. While offending every woman, he presumably targeted educated and empowered women who work with international donors for projects implemented in Kosovo. Regardless, his rant seems to suggest a congenital, a brooding rage, so typical in Kosovo’s macho culture, against those women who are gaining some degree of economic independence. The discomfort with highly educated women seems to stem from that gnawing virile instinct where men are simply not used to seeing women in charge of their own destiny. One can disregard prime minister’s rant as just a disparaging statement, but this is not a laughing matter.
The really sad question is why. Why does the head of government project these male insecurities, these misogynistic tendencies? Where is the self restraint that is so critical in a leader? Why is he afraid, why are we afraid, of women’s progress, their advancement, their rise from a dark past, from a violent history where they were enslaved since antiquity? Wouldn’t this society be more prosperous, more decent, more compassionate, more open if women were treated equally, their freedoms and rights, cherished, championed, protected? How is it even possible for a country to progress if it denies and it abuses in every possible manner half of its population?
The economic empowerment of women and their inclusion in the labor force, although low by European standards, is arguably the most important development in post-war Kosovo. Financial independence allows women to become productive members of society, to make their own choices and live as they desire with whomever and wherever they want. This progress is fundamental for the country and should be celebrated by everyone because this is probably the first time that women are having an opportunity to free themselves from abusive social positions that have so far denied their rights to choose and live freely.To have the prime minister insinuate disapprobation at this development, at women’s social progress, is an unpardonable disgrace.
The prime minister and the head of parliament are at the helm of the country, and are supposed to serve as models for young people who may aspire to enter public service someday and serve society.The basic obligation the positions of these two politicians entails is not just to engage in politicking and mudslinging with rivals, but to provide moral leadership for others, to inspire people to civic service, to appeal to a common set of values that unite people, dispel discrimination, and avoid painful references and language that dehumanize half of the population. After all, these politicians should have a basic awareness that they are public figures who, by these acts, are debasing the integrity of the institutions they lead.