I'm a slow learner, but I've learned this much: I've learned not to draw from that itchy, uncomfortable, this-feels-wrong feeling the automatic conclusion that the stimulus must be wrong. I've learned to consider that it might be me who is wrong.
So, this post at La Chola: I didn't know what to do with it besides share it in the Google Reader, because I hoped to come back to it. I think I will just take you through what I thought at first to what I think now, and if we're lucky, what I think now will evolve into what I think later, and it will improve with more time and more thought. Why not? Most things do. Okay? Okay:
Why the particular emphasis on “Muslim countries”? Does Ms. Pollitt think that “Muslim countries” are particularly hostile to women’s rights for some reason?
At first, I thought, well, hell, BFP: Don't you know how many right-wingers like to attack American feminism on that basis?--That "American feminists" don't care, don't do enough for, don't mobilize as quickly in response to, the problems of women in "Muslim countries?" Don't you know how often we hear that? Hell, I started receiving hits on an old post at Pandagon just this weekend over that. The post from which my work was linked was titled, "Iran Oppresses Women--American Feminists Silent." So American feminists get this all the time. What are we supposed to do, ignore it? Let that meme propagate unchallenged?
That was my first thought.
My second thought was, "Of course BFP knows this happens. She never said it didn't happen. Why are you responding to that? Why aren't you addressing what she said?"
My third thought was, "Wait, what'd she say again?" Because ADD.
I had to read that post several times and then let it bake in the rusty, unevenly heated oven of my mind. And finally it occurred to me: "If feminism is FOR WOMEN--not just American women, not just white women--then women in Muslim countries are right there in women's conversations; not being talked about, not being lectured at, but being talked with and listened to. They're THERE, if feminism is working right--and thus there is no need for American feminists to write letters showing how much we care about them. They can write their own letters if they want to. Or they can be smart like American white feminists ought to have been and realize that you don't ever win anything playing purely on your opponent's terms."
The opponent's terms here are:
1. Women in Muslim countries need American feminists to do things for them.
2. Women in Muslim countries are unable to do things for themselves.
3. Women in Muslim countries lack their own feminisms and need American feminists to show them how it's done.
And, of course, the real idea behind this particular wingnut criticism:
4. This would all work out just grand if we enlightened Americans went into Muslim countries and showed them how it's done. Forcibly.
If I could pick only one thing I ought to have recalled back when I was thinking "we'll just FORCE Western democracy on folks across the globe" was, God forgive me, a good idea--if I could pick only one thing to have remembered, here's what that one thing would have been: I would have recalled that most of the Western democratic benefits I personally enjoy did not come from Republicans or conservatives.
Wasn't Republicans who ensured my reproductive rights.
Wasn't Republicans who founded the ACLU.
Wasn't Republicans who came up with Miranda rights.
Wasn't Republicans fighting police brutality.
Wasn't Republicans securing my right to vote.
None of the things conservatives and/or Republicans (they are not necessarily identical) want to export to these poor picked-on (by whom again?) "Muslim countries" are things they themselves had shit to do with--and in fact, they're things conservatives have traditionally opposed. Women don't need reproductive rights because it's God's will if you have a baby. People don't need civil liberties because you should trust the state to look out for you. People don't need Miranda rights because only hardcore criminals benefit from them. Police don't need the hassle of investigation because their jobs are very hard, you don't understand. And women don't need to vote because look at all the stupid ways they vote OH HEY LOOK, IT'S ALL ABOUT ME AGAIN.
There's no need to go sending a damn letter with a billion women's signatures on it to prove American feminists care about all the bad things going on in those crazy mysterious "Muslim countries." Repeat! There's NO NEED. What we "American feminists" NEED to do is stop playing defense. We need to stop accepting the dishonest terms being bandied about by utter jackasses with selective recollections of basic ninth-grade history.
We need to go on the offense and ask, "What have American conservatives done for the women of their own country?" We can win that one and easy, because guess what the answer is?--"Jack shit" on a good day, and "the high hard one without so much as a reach-around" on a bad day--and lately, we've had more bad days than good.
Finally, we, American feminists, for lack of a better term, need to quit thinking of other women on the globe as Far Away and Over There, as women to be talked about but never to. Yeah yeah, I repeat that a lot, but I run out of clever ways to write it, and it's true.
If Muslim women had been properly acknowledged and listened to from the start, we wouldn't be hearing this criticism because our critics wouldn't know where "American feminists" left off and "Muslim women" began. There would be no "American feminist" label with all the assumptions wingnuts tack onto it. An American feminist in the conservative view is white, heterosexual, cisgendered, unattached, middle- to upper-class, college-educated, abortion-obsessed, insular, grasping, selfish, and shallow.
And if there were such a label, it would be so obviously crafted by wingnuts and it would so obviously fit no actual people that--just as we do with swamp creatures, dragons, and wicked witches--we could, as grown women with some sense, ignore the whole damn thing.
Instead, we're ignoring each other. Perhaps this should end.
UPDATE: Magniloquence kindly emailed to say I would really like this post at Tiny Cat Pants, and as usual, Magniloquence was right. Oh, now, don't fall over dead and make me send the paramedics! I like this particularly:
. . . isn’t this the way we do it? We refuse to pay attention to what folks are telling us about their experiences, convinced as we are that we treat everyone the same, completely willfully unaware of how assinine that is.
People don’t want the right to be like me (or you, rather, because, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s good fun to be like me). They want the right to be respected on their own terms for being themselves.
Yes! Is that so crazy? I don't think that's so crazy.
Magniloquence also tells me that there are many d00ds crying butthurt in the comments to that post, something about how the marginalized are obligated to make sure they phrase everything Just Right. Yes, yes, I know: That AGAIN.
Anyway, I throw that out there for those of you who have been wondering when I was going to get back to my usual shtick of picking on the d00ds, but I am busy today. Perhaps you could gently assist the be-penised over at Tiny Cat Pants yourself? Or if you're not feeling that generous, I hear you. Me neither, at least not today. If you prefer to just point and laugh and groan and eyeroll, please consider this safe space in which to do that.