Can women stop the war in Iraq?

Eleanor Smeal and other feminist activists are asking the wrong question.

Published March 9, 2006 6:24PM (EST)

Oh, if only it were so simple. Feminist stalwart Eleanor Smeal played host Wednesday night to an audience of women at New York's Union Square Barnes & Noble and asked the question, "Can women stop the war in Iraq?" The panel was convened for International Women's Day, not that there was much that was international about the talk or the audience; the room was filled mostly with white women, average age approximately 50. Smeal was joined on the panel by author and Ms. global editor Robin Morgan, United for Peace and Justice organizer Judith LeBlanc and feminist historian Blanche Wiesen Cook.

There was nothing wrong with the premise of the talk itself; the question comes from Ms.'s current issue. But unfortunately, Smeal and Co. mostly bubbled with congratulatory praise for one another and the old-school activists in the room. It was more a lovefest than any real critical engagement with the question, which made it seem rather removed from the actual war, 5,000 miles away. Cook, the one woman who actually asked if women can stop the war, was so caught up regaling the audience with everything great women have ever done that when she somehow came up with the answer "Yes," it seemed detached from reality. She, and the rest of the panel, offered no practical suggestions on how to do so.

There was one, moving moment in the evening, during the Q&A. A woman recently jailed in New York with Cindy Sheehan passed around a picture of her nephew who was killed in Iraq to "put a face on the war," and asked that we go to this Web site to find out how to get involved in stopping it.

The idea of a powerful antiwar movement spearheaded by women is inspiring, but it seems, at least to this Broadsheeter, that musing on "can women stop the war" is hopelessly naive. Medea Benjamin asked a similar question in a Nation article a few months ago that was less lofty -- "When will women demand peace?" It explored how the Iraq war is bad for women everywhere, which proved a much more enlightening discussion.

We should, of course, be turning out at demonstrations, writing our legislators and resisting Army recruiters, but with the war machine we're up against, we're dead in the water if we aren't mobilizing along with men.

By Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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