One of my heroes and role-models died this week. Pamela Bone, multi-culturalist and feminist who, in the last years of her life, began to question whether multi-culturalism was excusing violence and repression against women.
Which, I can only pray, one day to be a fraction as affecting and effective as I believe she was, and still is, because she lives on, in print.
She died with the same grace, courage and strength with which she lived. Happily, she died with those she loved around her. She was a fighter, as I aspire to be, for women, and for women’s rights, and she was a writer, as I also aspire to be, and her focus was on women, and injustice and the pursuit of justice and peace.
In Canada, the Government of Ontario has been deciding whether to allow some Muslim leaders to set up sharia courts to settle family law matters, and Alberta is considering whether to follow Ontario’s lead. Most opposition to these proposals is coming not from Canadian-born feminists and liberals (Canada, after all, invented multiculturalism), but from Muslim women who have knowledge of sharia law, a code based on the Koran. Iranian-born activist Homa Arjomand said women are not treated equally under the laws, and that many Canadian Muslim women have been forced into marriage at 14 or into “polygamous arrangements”.
The great silence by left-leaning Western feminists, and other large parts of the left, to human rights abuses carried out in the name of Islam is, to see it as its kindest, caused by an overdeveloped sense of tolerance or cultural relativism. But it is also part of the new anti-Americanism. Look at American Christian fundamentalism, they say.
Dislike of George Bush’s foreign policy has led to an automatic support of those perceived to be his enemies. Paradoxically, this leaves the left defending people who hold beliefs that condone what the left has long fought against: misogyny, homophobia, capital punishment, suppression of freedom of speech. The recent reaffirmation by Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie has been met by virtual silence; as has the torture and murder in Iraq of a man who would be presumed to be one of the left’s own – Hadi Salih, the international officer of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions. The hard left these days is soft on fascism, or at least Islamofascism.
The religious right in America would, if it could, wind back access to abortion and some other women’s rights. But as far as I am aware, no Christian fundamentalist in the US has suggested banning women from driving cars, or travelling without their husbands’ permission, or forcing them to cover their faces. Contrary to popular opinion, one is not the same as the other.
For those of you who don’t know, docweaselblog is a group blog. We made a decision (or the people who were posting at the beginning did, I was not here then, but I concurred when I joined) to all blog under one screen name, to avoid the “star blogger” syndrome that goes on at a lot of group blogs, or the “owner syndrome” like there was a Polipundit or New England Republican a year or more ago where bloggers were falling out with the “blog owner” and having wars within. We decided to blog as one entity, and let the contradictions fall where they may. You can hardly argue internally with yourself, right?
And, further, not all of us are male. I’m a female, and I noted with interest the post the other day regarding the example of vapidity and fatuity the Feministe blog exhibited in their righteous indignation over a Vogue magazine cover. Having solved all the other problems facing women and African-Americans, of course, it only makes sense to turn to Vogue covers.
How easy do women in this country have it when they can kvetch over the imagined slights and symbols they hallucinate as threatening on fashion magazines, which are, of course, aimed at selling them things, not offending them?
Seriously, it struck me, and coincidentally also the death of Pamela Bone, who made the same point, it struck me that feminism in this country is not only lost its way, its become a pathetic punchline and a mean-spirited bunch of one-party one-issue political hacks and spoiled whiners who have lost perspective on what does and what does not constitute being “oppressed”.
I’m not speaking from the outside. I first started my advocacy as a volunteer at my church. I’m Roman Catholic, I have been since birth, my family on both sides has been, going back to the old countries, since those countries became Christian, I’d guess.
I and my sisters all went to Catholic school our entire school lives, K-12 then 2 of use to Catholic college. We all attend church regularly, as do our aunts and many (not near most) of our friends and relatives.
I volunteered on the phone banks for both the suicide help line, women’s and children’s aid, women at risk helpline and the pregnancy counseling and help line. We would, of course, offer alternatives and help for those seeking it, to abortion, especially if the mother wanted the baby but felt “forced” by circumstance to abort it. We could offer safe houses to those at odds with their family, financial aid, adoption services, etc.
In doing this work, you invariably come into contact with abuse of women. And, you realize the dearth of legal aid for women, the dearth of alternatives to staying in an abusive home, the lack of alternatives to seeing your kids abused, mentally and physically, and the way laws and lawyer bills and the legal system and the police are not structured nor intended to help these helpless people.
So, I wanted to act politically to help change that. And, being young (college age), idealistic, naive, fired up and a little ignorant of the world, I wanted to join what I considered some real women’s groups and get some things done, not bag up canned goods and used clothing in the church basement -even though that, and the other services they are offer are an absolute good and indispensable, I wanted something more compelling, I guess.
My politics are right of center, but I believe we, as Americans, have the responsibility to push for democracy and liberty throughout the world, and that includes women’s liberty. Women surely are persecuted throughout the world, there is no bloody doubt about that. But our meetings would become bogged down in talking up the next protest or petition or blog post about the evils of the evil Bush administration and how President Bush was oppressing women and the terrible repression and evil and hate that American women had to face, oh, its bloody awful, innit?
Not being a moon-bat liberal, I wasn’t focussed 24/7 on the iniquities of the Republicans, and I happen to support the war in Iraq, not least because I believe it is, in the long run, good for Iraqi women, and I believe, from what I’ve read, they agree. Lefties love to chide religious people about support for war.
“Would Jesus drop bombs on people? That’s not very Christian, going over and taking over a country that never did a thing to us and killing millions of innocent people!”
Well, yes, I was taught that Christ told us, do not harm others. But at the same time, it is not Christian to stand by and see harm done to others. It is our Christian duty to fight injustice, cruelty, killing and enforced misery and poverty. And in the case of Iraq, it was also in the interest of our country and the surrounding countries to do so, to stop Saddam’s privations and killing. And we are working toward that, and war is regrettable and horrible and people are killed, but sometimes its necessary to save worse. And Jesus himself was not against nor above a righteous fury and even violence in the name of the greater peace.
When there is – rightly – condemnation of America’s many mistakes in Iraq but no condemnation of the terrorist outrages carried out by Islamic extremists; when there is – justified – criticism of Israel but no equal criticism of those whose stated aim is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth; when letters to the editor pour out compassion for one Australian held too long in custody, but there is nary a mention of the victims of a genocide that is going on right now in the Darfur region of Sudan, one suspects at best selective compassion, at worst, bad faith. One suspects that indignation over human rights abuses depends less on the extent of the abuse and more on who is doing the abusing.
War can be the worst thing there is, but sometimes the only way to stop it is to fight those who would keep war a perpetual state until they subjugate us all or destroy the world. And Jesus never taught we should stand by and allow that. There’s plenty to fight for, and liberty is just one of the righteous reasons.
And so, I wanted to “go to war” for women. I wanted to focus on pressuring the State Dept. to pressure Arab countries who are under our influence to free women condemned to death for breaking Islamic law, to try and get the U.N. to sanction countries who look the other way at honor killings, forced marriages, bride killings over dowries, neo-natal murder of female babies, general lack of women’s rights to vote their own consciences, to own property, to teach school, to drive a car, to appear in public, to have a life.
And I was given tripe about “well, there’s nothing we can do about it anyway so why try” – it certainly doesn’t stop anyone from protesting wars, both foreign and domestic, and what effect has that had?
And conversely, protesting outside of South Africa did have an influence on that foreign country, so my argument is consistent, and why not try?
You know why? Because they are cowards, for one thing. They are afraid of backlash or even violence done upon them because violence is done, and very very often in this world, against those who would protest against certain groups. And so they pretend to speak truth to power, when every nancy in Hollywood trips over themselves to criticize the President, knowing there is no risk.
And secondly, because in attacking Islamists, or Africans, or any culture outside of America (and many in America) goes against some leftist trope that now says you cannot hold your culture above any other, no matter how barbaric nor murderous, and criticizing any other culture for any practice that can be deemed “culturally based”, like say mutilating the sexual organs of a toddler is judgmental and elitist
Ms. Bone, writing in The Australian, last month, about a year before her death:
Was it before or after September 11 that thinkers of the Left – for feminism was a movement of the Left – decided that racism was a far more serious crime than sexism? When did cultural sensitivity trump women’s rights? Was it about the time that Australian feminist Germaine Greer defended the practice of female genital mutilation because, as she pointed out, Western women put studs through their nipples and labia?
Consider this: a struggling, screaming little girl is held down by several people (usually women) while another woman cuts through her clitoris and inner labia, with the intention of ensuring this girl will never experience sexual pleasure; and the world’s most famous feminist, to whom much is owed, I don’t deny, can compare this practice to adult women choosing, for whatever silly reason, to decorate their sexual parts with metal. The UN estimates that three million girls are mutilated every year. It has lately been warning against the medicalisation of the practice: as societies develop, it is being carried out by health professionals, which doesn’t make it less of an abuse.
Secondly, because to attack Muslims or any other group that is currently at odds with America on other fronts would be too much like supporting George W. Bush, I suppose. Ms. Bone, again:
I don’t hold much hope on this International Women’s Day of seeing big protests in Australian cities against female genital mutilation; or against honour killings, stonings, child marriages, forced seclusion or any of the other persecutions to which women are still subjected. The fire of Western feminism has quietly died away, first as a victim of its success, lately as a victim of cultural relativism, of anti-Americanism and reluctance to be seen to be condemning the enemies of the enemy.
I gave up on those groups because they no longer exist to fight for women’s rights. I am too young to know for sure, but I suspect things changed when they had to co-opt their principles to excuse Bill Clinton.
Since then, they seem to exist for 2 things, at least these were the only ones I ever heard discussed: to protect unfettered abortion through the 9th month, and to attack Republicans on all levels.
There were also some tangential issues like gender differences in pay, universal health care or family or pregnancy job rights, mentioned but always from a far-left perspective, and in truth, there was not much real action discussed even about these issues in the very rare instances I heard them at all.
The women with whom I dealt did not seem especially exercised about any political or health issue other than abortion, although AIDS did get some play, but more as a “gay rights” issue than a health issue, bizarrely, I thought. There seemed to be some impression AIDS was not being addressed adequately because of prejudice against gays. This was a way of looking at things that I admit I’d never considered, especially since its my understanding that, on a per case and per death basis, AIDS research receives much more research money than either cancer or heart disease.
The occasions I brought up abuse sanctuary, help for women who wanted to have their child, mandated legal aid for poor or indigent women, prenatal health care, job training and education to help make women more independent and free, I was mostly ignored, sometimes ridiculed, sometimes sneeringly told I “had my priorities all fucked up”. There are women and children dying right now in Iraq, where is your concern for them?”
That has been my experience in 4 different “feminist” activist groups to which I attended meetings (I didn’t formally join all of them, but I did attend meetings for weeks to months at all of these. I checked out several more but did not come back after the first meeting.
I was also somewhat put off because a couple of them were run by cliques of militant lesbians who constantly preached hate at men, and being the daughter of one and the sister of two others who didn’t fit their description of serial rapists and sexist thugs, I took issue and had the temerity to disagree, upon which I was threatened with violence once and thrown out of the association twice.
The third I quit in disgust when we never seemed to do anything but sit around and bitch- well, we are women, I’m sure you wags will say, go for your strengths!
Let me not forget to mention their disdain and loud disgust and ridicule of all Christian religion, their assumption that all Catholics are homophobes and bigots, (we are not, and I’m sure I’m going to take some grief over homosexual priests, easy shots there guys, take them as you will) and that we don’t believe in evolution (we do, in fact the Catholic religion is very realist and liberal on matters of science, Da Vinci and Galileo notwithstanding) and I took constant abuse, nasty cracks and outright insults over being a “Christer” and constant stupid and insulting questions meant to offend me or catch me up in a contradiction or what they would consider a stupid, laughable point of catechism, as well as vulgar and blasphemous remarks childishly meant to bait me.
There was little ‘sisterhood’ going on while I was there, and not one woman, even those who might have sympathized with me as being unfairly called out when I came there to help, ever spoke up or said one word in defense. I admit to being flustered and red-faced on occasion, but I never lost my temper and never gave back hate for hate “a kind word turn away wrath” and you can disarm people by refusing to get angry back, but the bullshit never stopped as long as I continued to go to gatherings, either big ones at hotel convention rooms nor small ones held at members’ houses. It was ugly and mean spirited, and I learned a lot about what the feminist and lesbian left thinks of religious people, and its not good.
I had quickly learned not to mention I had voted for George Bush in ’04 or that I supported the war, so I was spared personal attacks over that, but I wear a cross and I don’t make it a practice to deny my religion, ala St. Peter, in a weak moment. I also made the stupid choice to ask a woman not to keep repeating “Jesus fucking Christ” and “for Christ’s fucking sake” and “Jesus titty-fucking Christ” while giving us a pep talk on issues. Let’s draw a curtain of charity over that incident, it was not one of my finer moments in sisterhood nor forbearance, nor equality, as I left the meeting, crying like a girl! Oh, the shame still burns my cheeks!
But, I persevered, because I thought it was a righteous cause and worth taking some hits over, and I tried not to be such a whiny baby and not take things personally, this wasn’t about me, and you know, I could have taken the rudeness and ignorance and mean-spirited crap if we ever actually did anything worthwhile, but we did not. We did not even make a move toward doing anything worthwhile. In fact, not in the 2 years and dozens of meetings and conventions and dues paid and programs and itineraries typed and printed up and all the talk did we do anything at all that I would consider working to improve the plight of women in this country or anywhere in the world. We did a little work to help elect a Democrat alderman who was right on abortion, but not much else I could see to do with women, and there was plenty of noise against the War for Iraqi Freedom, in solidarity with other leftist groups, but not even that from the perspective of improving the lot of women, anywhere, unless they happened to work for an organization hostile to George Bush and drew a paycheck from such.
So, I’m still willing. Any activist women who would like a motivated, dedicated, college-educated slightly jaded 20-something female activist who can type, kindly direct me to an association that does address real injustice, and I will happily join, blog, canvass, petition, vote, or just sit down in the mud and sulk, whatever helps. I’m still ready to be a soldier in the good fight.