Monday, April 09, 2007

Aunt Thomasina

Or Kathleen Parker, a conservative columnist, whose columns remind me of those Aunts in Margaret Atwood's dystopic novel the Handmaid's Tale. In the novel the Aunts are employees of the patriarchy whose role is to brainwash and inculcate the young captured women to their proper roles as servants in some future fundamentalist and misogynistic Gilead (picture a Christian version of Taliban). One Aunt tells the protagonist of the novel how the new theocracy differs from the old society (one like ours) in its treatment of women:

There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don't underrate it.

Somehow I think that Parker would appreciate this advice, as she seems bent to offer women (or perhaps just other women) "freedom from". She has recently written on the topic of sexual harassment and rape in the U.S. military in Iraq. Her recipe for its removal is to remove women from the military or at least to sex-segregate them from the men.

Freedom from, achieved with a few swift strokes. That this sounds a lot like the fundamentalist Islamic scenarios for women's proper roles may be funny to only someone with my particular sense of humor, but I couldn't help laughing when I read this quote by Ms. Parker:

This is not to say that men at war are expected to behave badly, but there are possible explanations for some of these questionable liaisons that bear closer scrutiny.

Clearly, some of what is considered sexual harassment falls into the category of harmless sport -- the usual towel-snapping that is, in fact, a way to neutralize sex.

But more overt sexual aggression may be the product of something few will acknowledge, at least on the record: resentment.

Off the record, in dozens of interviews over a period of years, male soldiers and officers have confided that many men resent women because they've been forced to pretend that women are equals, and men know they're not.

The lie breeds contempt, which leads to a simmering rage that sometimes finds expression in aggression toward those deemed responsible.

Mmm. I'm sure Parker and bin Laden would get along just fine.

Last Saturday Parker was given the megaphone at the Washington Post where she pontificated on the general dangers of women in the military in the form of Acting Leading Seaman Faye Turney, the sole woman among the British sailors and marines detained by Iran in the recent debacle. Once again, Parker finds common ground with Islamic fundamentalist thinking:

On any given day, one isn't likely to find common cause with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He's a dangerous, lying, Holocaust- denying, Jew-hating cutthroat thug -- not to put too fine a point on it.

But he was dead-on when he wondered why a once-great power such as Britain sends mothers of toddlers to fight its battles.


Not only does the Iranian president get to look magnanimous in releasing the hostages, but he gets to look wise. And we in the West get to look humiliated, foolish and weak.

Just because we may not "feel" humiliated doesn't mean we're not. In the eyes of Iran and other Muslim nations, we're wimps. While the West puts mothers in boats with rough men, Muslim men "rescue" women and drape them in floral hijabs.

Can you really be humiliated if you don't feel it? Never mind. But notice how Parker keeps offering women "freedom from", not "freedom to". After all, Faye Turney volunteered for the British military. Nobody forced her to enlist, but Ms. Parker believes that she should be forced not to enlist, both for her own good and for the good of her children. Mothers are too valuable to be sacrificed for the war-machine in her world, although fathers in the military apparently have lives not worth enough for her to worry about.

Sigh. The conservative lineup for the Friends of bin Laden's Values just keeps on growing.