Monday, January 28, 2008

About That Open Letter, Katha...

Fausta's Blog weighs in on the criticism by online conservatives of public feminists, who they accuse of ignoring Muslim oppression of women. The reply by the feminist notables makes some good points, but is quite troubling.

An Open Letter from American Feminists

VFA asks members and friends to join Katha Pollit in responding to accusations that American feminists are ignoring atrocities against women in other countries, especially the Muslim world.

If you'd like to sign, just E-mail KATHA POLLITT and send her your name and ID (professional and/or feminist affiliation) at kpollitt@...

Full text, including signatories, here. Click through and read, then we'll talk.

Let's start by giving some credit. They make specific criticisms of practices in Muslim countries which oppress women. And as criticism seems to be what they think they should be doing, we can be glad that they get those points right. Unfortunately, they throw in every other sermon in their quiver as well. This is irritating when anyone does it, as it suggests an inability to contain one's thoughts and emotions. The need to bring up all their other favorite soapboxes just spills over, rather like the Ron Paul supporters.

"We reject the use of women's rights language to justify invading foreign countries...peaceful means..." Oh yawn. Are you a candy mint or a breath mint? So now it's women's rights, but rights that are obtained militarily don't count. "United States...share its unprecedented wealth..." Okay, Women's Rights and peaceful means and socialism. Plus President Bush vetoes the UN Population Fund funding every year. And abortions, don't forget abortions have to be bundled in to all contraception information - otherwise, we'd just as soon contraception information doesn't go out at all. And sign a women's rights document. So this short letter is about Women's rights and peaceful means and don't have oppressive allies and fund abortions and be socialist and say the right things to the world. Anything else we can work in there before we sign off?

We've looked at what the document does say. It says a lot about saying. Let's go a little deconstructionist here and notice what is not said. There's not a lot of doing mentioned here. Is this about doing anything for women, or just saying the right things? Exception: Global Fund For Women actually does things. Those other feminist organizations, not so much. They do a lot of networking, talking, deploring, condemning. I know advocates find talking and pressuring governments and issuing statements and giving speeches and photo ops with impoverished women to be just like real work, but I don't. Open a clinic. Dig a well. Set up a microlending bank. Dammit.

There is also nothing here about objective oppression, only relative. Women being badly treated, along with everyone else - no problem. Women being treated relatively worse than men - problem. Why would that be, exactly? Tick back up to that "invading foreign countries" thing. When whole nations are liberated - Afghanistan for instance... Or eastern Europe - women's lives improve. Which was supposed to be the original point, I thought. When a country gets schools, roads, hospitals, medicine, jobs - all those luxuries - there isn't any mention how women's lives are better than they were. To do that would mean acknowledging where all the schools, roads, hospitals, etc come from: the industrialized (especially Anglospheric) nations, in support of free markets. Aieee! Can't have that! We can't measure success in reducing the oppression of women by looking at whether their lives are better!

Much better to measure only relative oppression within a society, and to measure the rhetoric of official statements by the US government for correctness. The public feminists, the ones who find themselves important spokeswomen for the downtrodden, want the appearances of to be right. Thus, Bill Clinton, serial oppressor of women who said the right things and feels your pain gets a pass. George Bush, who sent millions of Middle-eastern women to school, gets deplored.

Talking and feeling and appearances. I thought those were the female stereotypes that feminists were trying to overthrow.

Look, no one made you word the letter as you did. I'm just reading it off the page.

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