Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Other Men Do

Conservative Jonah Goldberg recently got a forum in the LA Times to tell us that feminism is over in the US and that it's time for feminists to start thinking about how Other men in Other countries are oppressing Other women. He writes:

"Feminism as a 'movement' in America is largely played out. The work here is mostly done...

The good news for those who want to continue the fight for women is that there is plenty of work left to do — abroad.

The plight of women in other countries is not only dire, it's central to global poverty and the war on terrorism. Jihadism is largely a male problem. This shouldn't be a surprise, given that jihadis commit mass murder in pursuit of a virgin bonus in the afterlife.

Islamist extremism and oppression of women go hand in hand."

First off, anyone else find it odd that he frames women's oppression overseas as "good news"? Good news for who, bub? I mean, he says this is "good news" for "those who want to continue the fight for women" sort of like we who actually do this feminism stuff do it for all of the shits and giggles, as though we wouldn't actually rather be playing Xbox or pinochle or 16-inch softball. So, I think what he meant to say is that it would be "good news" for those who find feminism annoying if we feminists took our overly-PC whiny ways elsewhere.

Accordingly, in his piece, Goldberg suggests that we export US-style feminism into Muslim societies, because gender relations in the US represent the true model of women's emancipation.

This colonialist narrative is not new.

Feminist and Muslim scholar Leila Ahmed has noted that beginning in the late 19th century, Victorian colonialists began co-opting the language of Western feminism to condemn the cultures of Other men while at the same time fighting feminism within their own culture. The Muslim treatment of women became a symbol for everything that was inferior and backwards about Muslim culture and was contrasted with the European way of theoretically putting "the fairer sex" on a pedestal.

Thus, at Shakesville, where I first read of Goldberg's piece, I speculated that we should be wary of a self-described conservative man's concern for the status of Other women while he simultanously pontificates on how Western women don't need feminism any longer. I specifically wondered the extent to which Goldberg has supported feminsim in his own backyard. After all, isn't it cheap and easy for men to point fingers at how Other men are treating Other women?

And, lest any dudes get too defensive here, my point in wondering this is about more than noting the impropriety of a man, and a privileged conservative one at that, declaring feminism's work to be "mostly done" in the US. If that gets your knickers in a bunch, focus instead on the wariness with which women might have of Western anti-feminists/non-feminists using the language of feminism with the goal of replacing an Islamic patriarchy with a Judeo-Christian one. Or, with a "liberal" Girls Gone Wild! one. Or, with one that tells us in some new way that women are weak and speshul while men are strong and dispensable. Or, basically, with any other culture that perpetuates a hierarchical gender binary rife with gender stereotyping.

Well, Goldberg has offered some clarifications about where he stands on feminism. My suspicions were not unfounded. He writes:

"Meanwhile, some readers on the right claim that little to nothing good has ever come from feminism. I am more than open to the idea that many bad things have come from feminism. I know it in my bones. I am on the same page as Kathryn, Kate O'Beirne, et al. on most of these issues. But it strikes me as lunacy to talk of feminism in the broadest sweep of things as monolithically negative if by feminism you mean the generic movement for female equality. Yes, the guild of professional feminists has done many bad things and at times have seemed at war with everything that is lovely and lovable about the fairer sex."

Given that Goldberg is "on the same page" with virulent anti-feminists like Kate O'Beirne, of Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports notoriety, don't you now really wonder what the "feminism" Goldberg wants to export looks like?

Given that he uses mansplainy dog-whistle phrases like how he just knowwwws things "in [his] bones" about the suckiness of feminism, don't you think he might actually want to export conservative anti-feminist feminism to Other cultures? And, given that he uses asinine phrases like "the guild of professional feminists" (really, that's a thing? And where's my card dammit?) and "everything that is lovely and lovable about the fairer sex," don't you start to get the impression that he might see Muslim countries as, I don't know, a fertile ground to sprout a Republic of Gilead?

So, as much as Goldberg might want feminists to jump on his Save The Other Women bandwagon, I'm not at all comfortable being a well-intentioned collaborator in exporting America's sexist, conservative-style, gender-complementarist, wannabe-feminism to Other cultures. I wonder how much of a victory Western colonialism can be for women when the feminism that gets exported lies somewhere on the continuum of "Muslims make their women stay home and veiled" to Kate O'Beirne's "[Women] want to [stay home]. Hel-lo? [Women] want to do it!"

While it's a plus that O'Beirne replaces stones with shame, let's not pretend either option gives a woman the agency to act in the public sphere without feeling like less of a woman for doing so.

See also:

Conservative anti-feminists on "American Woman"

Catherine Bennett: "Women are often the losers when the west weighs in"

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