In a recent article in the Times of London, "The New Feminists: Lipstick and Pageants," the free feminist fighting forces of Great Britain and the United States declared victory. They announced that they will be wearing high-heels and lipstick, joining beauty contests, perhaps also picketing beauty contests, becoming and perhaps organizing models into unions, having babies, (in lipstick and high heels if they so choose), and also holding down demanding jobs in formerly all-male professions.
I wish the younger sisters well. Like them, I was once also boy-crazy, girl-crazy, crazy for torch songs, jazz, and opera even more; like them, I wore lipstick, (still do), as did so many others of my feminist generation. I wore high heels when I was younger and, like Germaine Greer, (who is being told to "stand down" or "step aside" in the article), I’ve also been known to strike the occasionally glamorous pose.
But such details are minor. How we look when we free the prisoner or feed the hungry does not matter that much.
In my time, it might have been slightly revolutionary to refuse to wear bras, girdles, lipstick, and high heels–but today, does wearing (or not wearing) lipstick a feminist make? What do such narcissistic, personal body-concerns have to do with the fate of women or of the world today?
I wonder whether these no-doubt well-meaning younger sisters actually live in the same world I do.
Indulge me for a moment.
On December 18, 2008, in Kirkuk, gunmen broke into the home of Kurdish women’s rights activist Nahla Hussain. They shot her and then they beheaded her.
For a long time, Iraqi women have been beheaded for refusing to veil themselves. This is true in 2008 and it was true under Saddam Hussein.
Since Khomeini came to power, Iranian women have been veiled against their will, then imprisoned, tortured, and publicly hung for daring to allege rape or for having joined peaceful marches for womens’ and human rights.
Atrocities against girls and women in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Darfur are well known, and I will not go into these examples of Muslim-on-Muslim violence. But permit me one story that illustrates how Islamic gender apartheid has increasingly been penetrating the West. It concerns something that happened this year to a woman physician in Great Britain.
Thirty two year-old Dr. Humayra Abedin ‘s own family drugged, bound, and gagged her, then forced her into a marriage in Bangladesh. Amazingly, the British police rescued her, (she was held captive for nearly five months), a Bangladeshi court freed her, and, on December 19, 2008, a British judge issued an order telling her parents not "to pester, harass or intimidate" her.
Given that things like this happen every single day all over Europe–not to mention what happens in the Islamic world–I cannot understand how younger feminists do not factor this into their definition of feminism.
I understand: such terrifying realities can be overwhelming, one also wants to escape from this if one can, one wants far more than a room of one’s own, one wants a life of one’s own, joy, some happiness, love, pleasure, foolishness. We lucky few…
Well, are we our sister’s keepers or not? Are we only concerned with how we look and feel, let the wide world be damned? Isn’t a better balance of selfishness and selflessness possible?
I admit it: I’m embarrassed by younger women who define themselves as feminists but who are completely concerned with their own bodies, beauty, financial security and prosperity, their right to lesbian, transgender, and bi-sexual pleasure, and with an obsessive focus on abortion, which I support, and on gay marriage, which I certainly don’t oppose but c’mon: they are stoning women to death in Muslim countries, face-veiling them against their will, trafficking children and women into brothels all over the world. Are we lucky few going to spend our time on earth gazing at our own navels until the knaves come for us too?
On December 10, 2008 an historic bill was passed unanimously in the United States Congress. It is called the William Wilberforce Trafficking in Persons Act, named in honor of the 18th-19th century British parliamentarian who spent 18 years lobbying for a bill against slavery. He finally succeeded. The left-right American coalition behind this bill spent 10 years working for it. It concerns not only sexual slavery and trafficking, but also domestic slavery and, believe it or not, the rights of children not to be kidnapped to serve as child soldiers all around the world.
Will younger feminists in the West work on such legislation in their lifetime? I don’t care who they sleep with, (as long as the other person or persons are not underage), what they wear, or how they look. I care about the work they will do. The books, poems, equations, and symphonies they will write, the acts of generosity they will perform. Will they ultimately be isolationists or will they take up womens’ (and human) rights as a universal cause? Will they stand with Muslim and ex-Muslim feminists and dissidents and against fundamentalist terrorists? Will they argue for the rights of African women not to be raped by their husbands who are increasingly infecting them with AIDS? Will they challenge arranged child marriages, polygamy, forced face veiling, and in short, deal with the other features of gender Apartheid?
Most Western feminists have refrained from "judging" barbarous misogyny lest they be accused of "racism." Well, how about sexism? Are we willing to abandon the most vulnerable children and women on earth in order to retain our politically correct credentials–as so many Second Wave feminists have done?
Phoebe Frangoul, the editor of Pamflet, declares that it is time for Germaine Greer (and I suppose the rest of us) to "step aside. We’re grateful for what you did but it’s time for you to hand over."
Not to worry, Phoebe, time takes care of that very well. So many Second Wave feminists have died or are ill and no longer able to "carry on." So, it’s important that someone mind the store.