STRAW WOMEN. I see via Matt Yglesias that Christina Hoff Sommers has written a piece for The Weekly Standard on "The Subjection of Islamic Women And the fecklessness of American feminism." Sommers writes:
If you go to the websites of major women's groups, such as the National Organization for Women, the Ms. Foundation for Women, and the National Council for Research on Women, or to women's centers 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.
Talk about your straw men (or women). The Ms. Foundation for Women is an explicitly domestic policy group that sponsors such feel-good feminism events as "Take Your Daughter to Work Day." It is hardly the only shop in town. If you go to the other, more famous Ms. -- the one Standard readers might erroneously think they were reading about -- you'll find a very different situation. On the website of Ms. Magazine this morning you'll find that the top three articles featured are:
The Talibanization of Iraq International reporter Bay Fang reveals how U.S. promises to liberate Iraq's women have not just fallen short, but how the war has virtually erased the rights Iraqi women fought for and won decades ago.
Ms. Magazine Forum on Afghanistan Video now available of Dr. Sima Samar, the highest ranking woman in the Afghan government; U.S. women's leaders, including Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority; and others speaking at the Ms. Forum on Afghanistan on March 28, 2007.
Are We Losing the Fight for Afghan Women and Girls? During a recent visit to the U.S., Dr. Sima Samar sat down with Ms. executive editor Katherine Spillar to discuss the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, particularly the escalation of violence, its repressive effect on women and girls, and what the U.S. Congress should do.
Sommers' contention is about as valid as complaining that the Children's Defense Fund is too focused on American children, or that the AFL-CIO is obsessed the labor standards. She name-checks a couple of famous feminist authors (nota bene: writers are not social policy groups), and cites articles as old as 1999 to bolster her case. I think she needs to get out more, and look at what's actually going on on the ground rather than in the rarified air academics breathe (and I agree that academic feminism is often so out-of-touch that it probably repells more women than it attracts).
Sommers could also go over to Women's E-News, for example, which maintains an entire Arabic-language newsservice on women's issues, and regularly covers issues of the status of women in Islamic communities in its English-language version. She could check out the way this video became a sensation in the feminist blogosphere. And Matt points to the Feminist Majority Foundation, which has conducted initiatives to Stand With Our Sisters in Iran. It also maintains a whole news channel devoted to its Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls. Their first demand? An expansion of peace-keeping forces -- i.e. the military presence -- in Afghanistan, because "Without security, women in Afghanistan will never be able to obtain their rights and the country will never have sustained peace and democracy." There are plenty of other examples, too. But to find them, you have to look beyond the explicitly domestic policy groups and the cultural theorists, and enter the world of women's foreign policy groups, not all of whom use the word "feminist" in their titles, even though that's what their approach is.