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Pickle Me This

March 7, 2006

Feminism just won't die

Leah McLaren ought to take a card from Margaret Wente if she really wants to start provoking debate. Today, Wente’s article How the feminists betrayed feminism appears, and though it’s bound to please those who hate women and Muslims, and to annoy the likes of me, I think it’s a very important piece. She writes that Western women have it better than they ever have, and they are avoiding speaking out for women who truly need liberation- those oppressed by “head scarves, face veils, the chador, arranged marriages, polygamy, forced pregnancies, or female genital mutilation”. In a sense, she is absolutely right. Inevitably though, however…

First, look at the news- the latest woman murdered by her estranged husband or the abortion ban in South Dakota. All is not terribly well at home, so let’s not hang up our guns just yet.

Second, she is wrong to say that no one is watching out for women oppressed internationally. What about (off the top of my head) Sally Armstrong or Mavis Leno, both of whom have been speaking out about Afghan women since 1997- when the rest of the world was saying nothing about the brutal Taliban regime? Wente writes “Western values and institutions aren’t the problem. They’re the answer. We should be doing our best to spread them. Capitalism and globalization have done more to empower oppressed women of the world than all the NGOs on Earth. ” She is right, but it’s really easy to put these words in a column. Putting them into action is a different story. The US adventure is Iraq has proven that people don’t take too well to having values and institutions foisted upon them. Women don’t like being told that they are stupid, that their culture, rituals and traditions are archaic. Since reading Wente’s article, I’ve been thinking about “Snow” by Orhan Pamuk, “Sweetness in the Belly” by Camilla Gibb and “Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi. I think problems in this world would be more easily solved if people read more fiction. Fiction teaches empathy, understanding, context. From these books, I’ve learned that nothing is simple. Shock and awe doesn’t work. Bringing about positive change takes a long time, it’s about small steps. It comes through education. Though it’s hardly immediately satisfying, this the only route that really yields results. And it’s going on all the time.

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