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Friday, August 25, 2006

Feminists, the oppression of women under Islam, and old allies 


Glenn Reynolds linked to a very interesting essay by a left-wing Australian feminist who wonders why so many of her sisters in the movement not only refuse to condemn Islamist extremism, but walk in solidarity with it:

In Tehran in June, several thousand people held a peaceful demonstration calling for legal changes that would give a woman's testimony in court equal value to a man's. The demonstrators, most of them women, were attacked with tear gas and beaten with batons by men and women from Iran's State Security Forces, according to Amnesty International. Iranian women may not travel without their husband's permission but they are allowed to wield a truncheon against other women.

Do you think women in Western countries marched in solidarity with the Iranian women demonstrators? Of course not. Do you think there are posters and graffiti at universities condemning the Iranian President? Of course not. You know, without needing to go there, that any graffiti at universities will be condemning George W. Bush, not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (I concede Bush is easier to spell.)

You know, before you get there, that at the Melbourne Writers Festival starting this weekend the principal hate figures are going to be Bush and John Howard. You know there will be many sympathetic references to David Hicks but probably none to Ashraf Kolhari, an Iranian mother of four who has been in jail for five years for allegedly having sex outside marriage and, until last week, who was under sentence of death by stoning.

Thank goddess, as they used to say: a few Western feminists have begun to wonder why women who once marched for women's rights are marching alongside people who would take away even the most basic of those rights.

The latest is Sarah Baxter, a former Greenham Common protester, who in Britain's The Sunday Times had this to say about a recent demonstration in London calling for a ceasefire in Lebanon: "Women pushing their children in buggies bearing the familiar symbol of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament marched alongside banners proclaiming 'We are all Hezbollah now', and Muslim extremists chanting, 'Oh Jew, the army of Mohammed will return'.

The author goes on to speculate as to the reason for the perverse willingness of feminists to support political movements that would stone women, but not men, for having sex out of wedlock:
The question is why so many Western feminists do not speak out about the cruelty that blights the lives of millions of women in Islamic countries and would do the same to women everywhere else should the Islamists succeed in their stated aim of creating a worldwide caliphate. "On the defining issue of our times, the rise of Islamic extremism, what is left of the sisterhood has almost nothing to say," Baxter writes. Says Chesler: "Women's studies programs should have been the first to sound the alarm. They did not."

The reason, as writer Fay Weldon has said, is that these days racism is a much worse sin than sexism: a consequence, perhaps, of the success of the women's movement in the West. Women who would speak out don't because of a (justified) fear that they will be branded racists. Chesler has been ostracised by many of her old friends in the women's movement. It has been said she has become paranoid or gone mad or, worse, turned right-wing.

Much as I recommend reading Pamela Bone's essay in its entirety, this explanation -- that feminists are afraid of being branded as racists -- makes no sense to me. What sort of feminists are these women that they are afraid of being called names by ignorant people? If the great feminists that founded the women's movement had been afraid of being taunted, they never would have gotten anywhere. What happened to "sticks and stones shall break my bones, but words shall never hurt me"? Do these easily-bruised feminists not teach their children this bit of useful homespun? If the charge is false, why do these feminists care?

I think that the second point -- that they will be ostracized by their "old friends" -- is closer to the mark. The truth is, the only reason that feminists are worried about being unfairly "branded" as racist is that feminism has previously made common cause -- for purely political reasons -- with other movements that have no interest in doing anything for the oppressed women in poor countries (even though reversing the social condition of those women is the most efficient and just means for making poor countries less poor). The old-style anti-imperialists, the "anti-war" movement, the civil rights activists who advance the interests of ethnic minorities, and the all-purpose anti-Americans are their pals from way back. The feminists joined up with those people when it served their purposes and all these causes seemed like variations of sticking it to the man. Indeed, I am sure that if I hung with such people I would meet "social change activists" who believe they support all these causes equally, who do not identify with one more than another, and who would brook no argument that they might be inconsistent.

Now, though, the obvious interests of women in the world are diverging from the objectives of these other movements. What if it takes some cultural or even actual imperialism to free hundreds of millions of women around the world from de facto prison in which they live their lives? Deep down, thoughtful activists who define themselves as feminists first and foremost worry that if they answer that question honestly they will have to choose between actually supporting these poor women and being called names by their erstwhile friends. Their solution, in most cases, is not to answer the question honestly. Today's feminists -- Pamela Bone and a few others excepted -- have no guts.

14 Comments:

By Blogger Wm. Tyroler, at Fri Aug 25, 10:44:00 AM:

File this under: "the personal is the political."  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 25, 01:31:00 PM:

Before 9/11 there was a growing anti-Taliban protest movement in feminist circles. I seem to remember Eve Ensler (of the Vagina Monologues) being a big force behind that. But it seemed that movement wasn't willing to go to war to free women in these cultures. Which, you know, war leading to mass death and all, is kind of understandable - although I think misguided and naive in the case of Afghanistan. One important wrinkle to keep in mind: the status of women in our alleged allies - Saudi Arabia comes to mind - is much poorer than in Lebanon, and probably even than in Saddam's Iraq.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Fri Aug 25, 06:30:00 PM:

Too complicated a theory, too widespread as well.

Ordinary BDS would seem a more direct explanation. They simply can't tolerate being on the side Bush is on any issue whatsoever  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 25, 10:41:00 PM:

The majority of feminists are also anti-war so they feel waging war on countries actually increases the extremism in Muslim countries. For example, the Taliban has made a comeback in Afghanistan. Western involvement in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel over the decades has increased religious extremism. So many feminists feel the best way to concretely help these women is to offer international aid to local groups already combatting sexism in these countries because chastizing them or telling them what to do when they don't know exactly what's going on locally has often made things worse. The article is also correct is saying that Western feminism has not been sensitive to women of color so it is easy to accuse them of racism.  

By Blogger Sirkowski, at Sat Aug 26, 01:07:00 AM:

Your whole blog post is a fallacy, so meh...  

By Anonymous Jim - PRS, at Sat Aug 26, 05:48:00 AM:

I'm with Purple Avenger on this one.  

By Blogger cakreiz, at Sat Aug 26, 09:26:00 AM:

Sign me up for the Purple Avenger as well, although I would toss in another ingredient- the irresistable leftist urge to misassociate oneself with the underdog. This often leads to contradictory and misguided conclusions.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Aug 26, 11:47:00 AM:

Why are "feminists" not marching in the street against Iran? Why are we marching against GW Bush?

Ok, I don't know about you, but I don't have the time to march against every single horrible thing that happens against women in the world. And I have seen them close-up, having lived in Lebanon, Haiti, Tunisia, Yemen, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

So, when horrible things happen against women in a medieval society controlled by Mullahs in a theocracy -- it really isn't news and it may make me sad but I am not going to take much time to do anything about it.

But, when a leader in my own country supports people who want the US to BECOME a theocracy and also wants take my OWN rights away and to take the rights away that I consider are guaranteed under the Constitution to me and my daughter -- hell to my son as well -- yes, I will march and work against that leader.

Right now, feminists are trying to stop "Abstinence Only" nonesense. We are trying to stop the campaign against "Reproductive Rights" and Condom Lies" idiocy that the GOP has brought into federal agencies. We are trying to help poor women get access to family planning -- all over the world. We are trying to help all women get leave when they have children. We are trying to get health care for mothers and children in one of the richest countries on the globe. We are trying to protect our children from unending wars for macho ideas that haven no place in the modern world. We are trying to restore checks and balances and keep the separation between church and state so we don't end up like Iran.

Your conservative president made Iran stronger with his idiotic war and made our country less safe with his ignorant foreign policy. He made things worse for US women and for women all over the world. The government in Iran can make things worse for only a few women -- compared to the number of women's lives Bush can affect with his policies and decisions.

I will work against the anti-women policies of GW Bush and leave the Iranian women to fight their battles. Hopefully, with a better president in the US, we will have good diplomacy and foreign policy and THEN we can help women in hideous countries like Iran.

I am SICK to death of creepy men like you tying to "mix-it-up" with feminists. You want "cat fights" You want to see us grab at each other and pull off our shirts and tussle on the ground with our boobs mashing together and noses flaring?

Or, is it more like a nice, cute pillow fight in our baby-doll pajamas with you? Nipples erect under silk chiffon and thongs giving you a nice view of our behinds as we bounce up and down and and flail at our "girlfriends?"

Well, we have love and sympathy for our sisters all over the world and we don't need moron men like you telling us how to fight oppression and WHO our oppressors are. Men, who find happiness in encouraging and highlighting disagreement. Well, why don't you stick to your internet porn and let women deal with their issues themselves. We don't need you and your prurient attention that is only for political self-interest.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Aug 26, 04:09:00 PM:

The last Anonymous post is the same old hooey passed around by American "feminists." They fuss and fret over sex education, but smile beatifically as they sail past a woman immured in an Islamic bag at the supermarket, smug in their cultural tolerance. This bulletproof sense of correctness makes them blissfully unaware that radical Muslims want *them* in a bag too, want *them* Koranically beaten by their husbands, and want *them* denied civil and human rights -- just as women are in those medieval Islamic theocracies she so airily dismisses. But to paraphrase Murphy Brown, "if it's not about me, it's just not important."

As their pals in CAIR have said, Islam is in the U.S. "to dominate, and not to be dominated," and their goal is to have the U.S. subject to Sharia law. Without vigilance and without outrage, those problems those "other" women suffer are going to be our problems too -- and they're going to be a hell of a lot bigger than Anonymous's treasured condom wars.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Aug 26, 07:32:00 PM:

Why are "feminists" not marching in the street against Iran? Why are we marching against GW Bush?

Ok, I don't know about you, but I don't have the time to march against every single horrible thing that happens against women in the world. And I have seen them close-up, having lived in Lebanon, Haiti, Tunisia, Yemen, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

So, when horrible things happen against women in a medieval society controlled by Mullahs in a theocracy -- it really isn't news and it may make me sad but I am not going to take much time to do anything about it.


Many feminists advocate women's issues where they live and elsewhere. One can support NOW and Amnesty International, which opposes human rights abuses against women, at the same time.

This bulletproof sense of correctness makes them blissfully unaware that radical Muslims want *them* in a bag too, want *them* Koranically beaten by their husbands, and want *them* denied civil and human rights -- just as women are in those medieval Islamic theocracies she so airily dismisses. But to paraphrase Murphy Brown, "if it's not about me, it's just not important."

Feminists are aware of concurrent oppressive forces including Christian and Islamic fundamentalism. Again, war only increases religious extremism in Muslim countries. The women in Muslim countries are worse off because of American foreign policy and have not been liberated any more than the US "liberated Iraq" and plan to "liberate Iran". Our involvement in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Afghanistan has been to control the supply of oil, nothing else. America is too lazy to find alternative energy sources and too macho to give up their low-mileage SUVs. Instead, we've decided to kill people and it's not even working.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Aug 26, 07:46:00 PM:

As their pals in CAIR have said, Islam is in the U.S. "to dominate, and not to be dominated," and their goal is to have the U.S. subject to Sharia law.

Frontpagenews.com is a right-wing source. On that page a writer also said there are six million Muslims in the US and you can guess what he was suggesting. Consider the source. Christian fundamentalism is threatening to take over the Middle East. It is not only threatening but waging war there in an effort to Westernize the East. Christian fundamentalism is much more dangerous.  

By Anonymous JohnOC, at Sat Aug 26, 09:04:00 PM:

It is quite clear that the feminists along with most other liberals are craven cowards and fear upsetting people who respond with extreme violence. They are just fake rebels/activists in the free and benign societies of the west but are easily spooked by direct violence. They're like the corner bullies who mouths off to peaceful pedestrians but cower when the violence-prone appear.  

By Blogger mrsizer, at Sun Aug 27, 01:11:00 PM:

Christian fundamentalism is threatening to take over the Middle East. It is not only threatening but waging war there in an effort to Westernize the East. Christian fundamentalism is much more dangerous.

What planet are you on?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Aug 28, 05:46:00 PM:

Christian fundamentalism is threatening to take over the Middle East. It is not only threatening but waging war there in an effort to Westernize the East. Christian fundamentalism is much more dangerous.

What planet are you on?


The Republican neo-cons that waged war on Afhanistan and Irag are Christian fundamentalists. Bush sees the mess he created as a clash of civilizations that will lead to The Rapture as described in Revelations.

What planet are you on?  

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