Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Stanton For the Saudis

Anne Applebaum gives American feminists a spanking for not doing enough to liberate the women of Saudi Arabia. She uses the example of the "Qatif girl", the woman who was gang-raped and then given 200 lashes and six months in prison for having been together with a man not her relative when the crime took place. The Qatif girl has now been pardoned, so the time is ripe for Applebaum to tell why American feminists failed in her case and more generally, in the case of helping all those unfortunate women not living in the United States:

First, none of us has written on that topic at all. Second, we only pay attention to trivialities (such as sexual violence in the U.S. which doesn't exist, according to Applebaum). And third, we apply quite the wrong type of feminism to the topic (though I thought we avoided the topic altogether):

The reigning feminist ideology doesn't help: The philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers has written, among other things, that some American feminists, self-focused and reluctant to criticize non-Western cultures, have convinced themselves that "sexual terror" in America (a phrase from a real women's studies textbook) is more dangerous than actual terrorism. But the deeper problem is the gradual marginalization of "women's issues" in domestic politics, which has made them subordinate to security issues, or racial issues, in foreign policy as well.

American delegates to international and U.N. women's organizations are mostly identified with arguments about reproductive rights (for or against, depending on the administration), not arguments about the fundamental rights of women in Saudi Arabia or the Muslim world.

Until this changes, it will be hard to mount a campaign, in the manner of the anti-apartheid movement, to enforce sanctions or codes of conduct for people doing business there. What we need as a model, in other words, is not the 1960s feminism we all remember but a globalized version of the 19th-century feminism we've nearly forgotten. Candidates for the role of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, anyone?

Where to begin? Perhaps that bit about "sexual terror" not being as dangerous as "real" terrorism. What do you think kills more women in the United States? Or in the world?

And of course the Stanton for the Saudis would have to be a SAUDI WOMAN, NOT AN AMERICAN FEMINIST SAVING SAUDI WOMEN. Yes, I was shouting there, because Applebaum seems to be hard of hearing and not very well versed with the actual intricacies of doing international feminism. Women in many countries resent the Americans butting in, and the ideas of Western feminism have become associated with colonialism and American imperialism and things such as the most recent Iraq campaign of importing democracy through the means of violence and thereby wiping out all the improvements women's lives had enjoyed there during the last few decades. All this makes life harder for feminists in those countries, you know. It would be easier to play the Superwoman saving women everywhere if the U.S. didn't invade countries so very easily.

Some more shouting is in order: WHY THE FUCK IS THE PLIGHT OF WOMEN ONLY THE BUSINESS OF FEMINISTS? Women are the majority of this world's people. Is it perfectly ok to oppress them, to traffic in them and to treat them like cowdung or bicycles, unless enough American feminists say otherwise and show themselves willing to sacrifice their lives for that cause? Everyone else can just sit back with a cold beer and some nice popcorn to watch, and then to grade the feminist performances?

All this reminds me of that earlier post I wrote in some anger, too, about feminists being needed for a cleanup in Aisle 8 of the great supermarket of life. We are the night-time cleaning crew, expected to turn up with pails of water and brooms, but to be otherwise invisible. Oh, and we are also whom to blame when everything doesn't sparkle and shine. It's probably because we were fighting over male-only golf clubs that women die in Saudi Arabia.
Added later: Another writer criticizing the feminist charladies for not mopping up that large bloodstain in Aisle 8 is Emily Yoffe at Slate. I look forward to all the feminist work that she will now initiate on behalf of the oppressed Muslim women.