Tags: pamela bone

26 Mar 2007, Comments Off on Keep yourself Decent

Keep yourself Decent

Author: Helen

When a dear reader™ asked me to write something about the journalist Pamela Bone, I procrastinated like you wouldn’t believe. It was in relation to International Womens’ Day, when she published an article about the reprehensible refusal of modern feminists to do things her way:

Was it before or after September 11 that thinkers of the Left – for feminism was a movement of the Left – decided that racism was a far more serious crime than sexism? When did cultural sensitivity trump women’s rights? Was it about the time that Australian feminist Germaine Greer defended the practice of female genital mutilation because, as she pointed out, Western women put studs through their nipples and labia?
…I don’t hold much hope on this International Women’s Day of seeing big protests in Australian cities against female genital mutilation; or against honour killings, stonings, child marriages, forced seclusion or any of the other persecutions to which women are still subjected. The fire of Western feminism has quietly died away, first as a victim of its success, lately as a victim of cultural relativism, of anti-Americanism and reluctance to be seen to be condemning the enemies of the enemy.

For one thing, Kim at LP had already done a very good followup to that. And at first I was inclined to just let Bone’s article sail through to the keeper. Like Kim said, “I didn’t want to give her the time of (International Womens’) day”. And just because I loved Pamela Bone’s work on feminism and the work-and-family balance problem, why should I expect her views to correlate with mine on everything? Australia needed its Christopher Hitchens, apparently, and somebody had to do it. I guess it was a shame it had to be Boney.

I admit I did have a “WTF?” moment in 2004. The message has continued fairly consistently up to the present day: Teh Left should be supporting the war in Iraq, particularly in order to liberate their Muslim sisters, but they’re all namby-pamby multicultis who are afraid to say boo to a Mufti, and soft on Saddam.

I thought she was wrong then, and I thought she was wrong now. I also thought she had a perfect right to say it (in the sense that I disagree with what you are saying but I will defend to the death your right to say it); but when I did a bit of revision in an effort to get this post going, I googled “Decent Left” – a concept I hadn’t, to be honest, bothered much about. Now I’m bothered. Annoyed would be a better word. It’s hubristic enough to claim that Teh Left are all failures, except for yourself and others like you. To adopt a name like “the Decent Left” is to imply that the rest of us are… what? The completely shambolic, can’t take ’em anywhere, throw up on your shoes Left? The sell their grandmother for a deal of dope Left? Sheesh. How offensive.

Boney’s assertions about the need to wage war and bomb Iraq to kingdom come in order to install democracy and freedom for women is based on a few questionable assumptions. Here’s a few.

Western feminism has abandoned its Muslim sisters in favour of keeping quiet about the social injustices they suffer, because they’re too corrupted with social relativism and think anything any ethnic group does must automatically be allowed (Pee Cee!)

This one has already been answered quite comprehensively by Kim at Larvatus Prodeo and commenters. See the comment by “Jo” for an impressive collection of links to feminist activism related to Islam. Also, self-identified feminists might choose to support or join groups like Amnesty International and MSF – but because you don’t wave a placard identifying yourself as such means you don’t make it into Bone’s purely anecdotal study “sample”, I guess. Which brings us to

If feminists cared about Muslim women, they w0uld have been out demonstrating in the streets about Saddam Hussein, or about Muslim cultural practices, rather than the Coalition of the Willing.

There’s a whole nested set of assumptions in there. For one, “demonstrating in the streets” is the only legitimate avenue of protest. Now I’m not averse to the occasional riot, but — awwww, how quaint and old-lefty that is. For another thing, street protests tend to be about things your government, or your country’s corporations (or corporations in your country, for that matter), et cetera, have done or are proposing to do. Street demonstrations about another country’s government are rare in that they are accurately perceived to be pretty useless and unlikely to send any message, however diluted, to a country with a fairly rudimentary media.

Again, the feminist who donates to MSF is probably on the money as far as any individual is trying to actually contribute to a better outcome for women and all people in Iraq, but then, she doesn’t send a loud message to the Decent Left that she is actually doing something. There’s also a feeling here on the indecent Left that much as we would like our Middle Eastern sisters to throw their burkas off immediately, telling people in other countries what to do has been the plague of Western society in past centuries, and the track record hasn’t been good. And saying it with bombs is not Decent.

Western society = feminism = individual freedom whereas any Middle eastern society = Islam = repression of females. Therefore, any military invasion of a Middle Eastern country must, ipso facto, increase the wellbeing and freedom of women.

Events since 2003 have not convinced me of this point. Prior to the invasion, Iraq was a pretty ordinary place for a woman to live. Post-invasion, it has become a hellhole where not only has the impact of Muslim fundamentalism increased exponentially, so that most of the secular gains of the last decade have been rolled back, but even a “traditional” woman who doesn’t care if she has to take a male relative every single time she walks outside her house can’t assume she can give birth to children and have them attend school and kindergarten safely. You can’t even live in Baghdad, let alone advance the conditions of your gender. So tell me again, what was the great feminist advantage in invading Iraq?

War is the answer.
This is the point Bone keeps coming back to. If you really care, you’ll invade. Nothing says caring like bombing the crap out of people.

I can’t agree. And we can’t invade everyone. If reducing Iraq to a smoking rubble with intermittent electricity, intermittent water, a broken education and hospital system and a professional class which has largely fled and left the place to increasingly militant and uneducated (can’t think why!) young men is a good way to advance women’s rights, and far be it from me to argue with a senior member of the MSM, but then we should do it in Zimbabwe too, and in Burma, and … and… well, you can see the problem.

I also think that if you’re all for the war, you should think about how it feels for women whose sons and daughters are going over to fight. Bone’s not young or healthy enough to go herself, otherwise we know she’d be first in line, but would she be willing to give up a son or daughter? We know Howard and Janette aren’t.

But above all, I think people who want to go on crusades need to keep in mind that old saying, which apparently is not part of the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. Saddam was a bastard of the deepest dye – but the Coalition has made things even worse.

Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings, fortunately, has produced a beautifully written post on why taking military action is not the answer to everything. (Thanks to Patrick at Making Light for that link.) And, you know, I think Hilzoy and other bloggers who opposed the Iraq war are decent. And the senior military officers who opposed the war are decent. If you want to corner the market on decency, go right ahead, but people will make up their own minds. Is this decent? Is this? Maybe this?

Yeah, the Decent Left has me confused all right.

Crossposted at Road to Surfdom