I was tempted to write a riposte to Pamela Bone’s schtick about the alleged betrayal of Islamic women by Western feminists the other day, but in the end I was pretty busy with work and I also decided that I didn’t want to give her the time of (International Women’s) day. It’s probably significant that when a lot could be said about the declining position of women in the workforce here in Australia, the increasing difficulty of finding childcare, and a whole lot of other issues (many of which were covered in tigtog’s Blog against sexism post and the comments thread) that the only thing the Australian found worth publishing on IWD was a left-bashing rant. Shaun took Bone on in a post linking to tigtog’s previous refutation of similar claims by number one feminist of convenience Janet Albrechtsen. But the whole thing was niggling at me. There are two obvious counters to claims (which I think are in fundamentally bad faith, but more on that later) by people like Bone that:
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.
The first is that “big protests” tend to be directed at domestic issues. The Iraq War is not an exception – what was at issue was Australian participation. This canard is identical in logic to the slur made by other RWDB columnists – that anti-war Australians didn’t march to protest about Saddam’s human rights abuses. Aside from the fact that neither did any of those columnists or all of the chicken hawks in the blogosphere who like to shriek loudly about this, the claim that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are fought for human rights reasons is just risible. And of course, for those who want to make that claim (and the feminist of convenience argument is rarely made these days about Iraq where women’s rights are under sustained attack), there’s an obligation to reflect on the degree to which military and civil violence against civilians (including many women) advances human rights. As I’m suggesting, women in Australia have a lot on our plate here at home. But I also suspected that the claim that women in the West gave no support to Islamic feminism was a complete furphy. My guess was that about ten minutes’ worth of research in the blogosphere would refute that (op/edders are apparently exempt from the requirement to test their ops against facts). And so it proved to be. Over the fold.
One of the points made by Bone was that the momentum of events like Beijing in 1995 had sometimes been lost (and of course, this is all the fault of feminists. Not mentioned by Bone is the contradiction between this criticism and her claim, cited above, that feminism in the West has apparently been a “victim” – significant choice of words from Bone – of “its success”). Have a listen to Jessica Valenti from Feministing pointing out that much of the inaction on the Beijing agenda has been the responsibility of governments, and that much effort has been put into pushing it by women internationally.
Jessica also mentioned the imprisonment last week by the Iranian government of women activists in an attempt to deter IWD protests and events. Now, this is obviously an issue going to the sorts of concerns Bone claims that Western feminists are blind to. But that’s clearly not the case. It was reported and condemned on Jessica’s blog, Feministing, in several posts. I didn’t see any mention of it from Bone, or for that matter, from any of the other pontificators who would usually be quick to condemn anything going on in Iran. Also on Feministing was a post drawing attention to an international report from feminist NGO MADRE condemning the shift of Iraq towards a theocracy and its horrendous consequences for women.
Now, I found all those links, which suggest that the claim Bone made that Western feminists are unwilling to support Islamic women, and that we don’t do so because “Islam” is the “enemy of our enemy”, just by going to one blog that I regularly read. Check out a technorati search for iranian women feminism and you can find 131 posts. There’s an interesting mixture of posts from Iranian women themselves, who as Andrew Bartlett observed, are keen bloggers, from Western women pointing to the issue and practical action that could be taken in its support, and Bone’s ideological fellow travellers either claiming that “feminists don’t care” or that “this shows Islam is evil”.
Now, Bone is supposed to be a journalist, I think. Elementary fact-checking is obviously not something she’s keen to do. Nor does she acknowledge either the real concern among Western feminists over these issues, or the fact that feminists have often (and appropriately) believed that women in particular situations and contexts are the best judges of the sorts of action and response to be taken, and that we should be reluctant to speak authoritatively and definitively on their behalf and occlude their voices.
But it’s clear, from the most cursory of net research, that Western feminists are in fact giving more than rhetorical support to Islamic women in their struggles.
I’ll close the case by noting that none of the more structural issues about the position of women in countries like Iran and Iraq ever get a hearing from the “feminists of convenience”. Rather, they go for the ideological jugular and cite practices they can conveniently condemn as “barbaric” to roll in their Islamophobia with their partisan political agendas. Because that’s what all this is about. It has bugger all to do with any real concern with women in Islamic societies and everything to do with scoring culture wars points here in Australia. I’d happily join a march to protest against Albrechtsen and Bone, or for that matter Joe Hockey’s casual dismissal of two reports into work and family issues, which the feminists of convenience are also conveniently silent on.