Friday Ephemera
Persepolis, Animated

Vagina Warriors Avert Their Eyes

I thought I’d highlight a piece from Friday’s ephemera by Christina Hoff Sommers, on what she calls the “fecklessness of American feminism.” Sommers notes the silence of so many “vagina warriors” on matters of gender oppression in Islamic societies

“If you go to the websites of major women's groups… or to women's centres at our major colleges and universities, you'll find them caught up with entirely other issues, seldom mentioning women in Islam. During the 1980s, there were massive demonstrations on American campuses against racial apartheid in South Africa. There is no remotely comparable movement on today's campuses against the gender apartheid prevalent in large parts of the world…

Many feminists are tied up in knots by multiculturalism and find it very hard to pass judgment on non-Western cultures. They are far more comfortable finding fault with American society for minor inequities (the exclusion of women from the Augusta National Golf Club, the ‘under-representation’ of women on faculties of engineering) than criticizing heinous practices beyond our shores. The occasional feminist scholar who takes the women's movement to task for neglecting the plight of foreigners is ignored or ruled out of order.”

As, for instance, when the “post-colonial theorist” Gayatri Spivak denounced Martha Nussbaum’s critique of postmodern feminism and her reference to Islamic misogyny as mere “flag waving” and advancing some (no doubt wicked and rightwing) “civilizing mission.” Sommers also casts an eye over the intellectual contortions of those who equate cosmetic surgery and a tolerance of pornography with acts of jihadist terrorism - an equation that renders those who mouth it trivial, pretentious and morally absurd.

Sommers concludes:

“The women who constitute the American feminist establishment today are destined to play little role in the battle for Muslim women's rights. Preoccupied with their own imagined oppression, they can be of little help to others… The vagina warriors and university gender theorists… cannot distinguish between free and unfree societies… Their moral obtuseness leads many of them to regard helping Muslim women as ‘colonialist’ or as part of a ‘hegemonic’ ‘civilizing mission.’ It disqualifies them as participants in this moral fight.

In reality, of course, it is the Islamic feminists themselves who are on a civilizing mission - one that is vital to their own welfare and to the welfare of an anxious world. A reviewer of Irshad Manji's manifesto celebrating Islamic feminism aptly remarked, ‘This could be Osama bin Laden's worst nightmare.’ Ipso facto, it should be our fondest dream.”

Take a few minutes to read it all. Related: this. Update: More from Jeff at Protein Wisdom.

Comments

Jeffersonian

The paradox is that, by making Western feminism so extreme and alien, Western feminists effectively abandon the women who are among the most oppressed on the face of the planet.

David

A great many academic feminists have little apparent interest in real sexual oppression. They are, however, very keen to be seen fighting theoretical battles that concern only their immediate peers. It’s the postmodern way.

The Barefoot Bum

I think Sommers misses the mark. One can usually infer that the main topic of an article is what the author considers the most important. It's telling that Sommers considers the supposed failings of all of Western feminismhastily generalized from the writing of a fewto be considerably more important than the actual oppression of women in Islam.

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