In yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle, Cinnamon Stillwell argued that while Western feminists celebrated International Women's Day in the "same old tired" fashion, "the real radical women in the world go largely unremarked by the feminist movement." Western feminists as a whole, says Stillwell, only talk the talk -- if even that. Yet, for all the refreshing promise that Stillwell's article had of attacking mainstream feminism's frequent shortcomings as far as class, race, and international women's issues go, she ultimately lost me.
It's easy to get on board with Stillwell when she illustrates the immense task some women have taken on in fighting Islamic intolerance: "Today's true heroines are those who do battle with the gender apartheid, violence and oppression practiced against women in the Muslim world. There, women face not just phantom infringements to their civil rights and perceived slights to their sensitivities, but threats to their lives." She then goes on to say that the real feminists are the female writers, academics and journalists who fight to expose anti-female sentiments in Muslim culture, and the female members -- or in her words, "women warriors" -- of the U.S. military "who are on the front lines bringing justice to the Muslim world."
While some -- arguably many -- elements of Islamic intolerance are well worth fighting, it seems all too simplistic to pose feminism against Islam, which she calls "the next frontier for the feminist movement." Haven't these polarizing views already been taken to task? And weren't they proved ridiculously problematic? Take the Western assumption of the veil as evil and repressive. Face it -- there's no easy way to settle this one, if ever. There will always be women who find it oppressive and there will always be those who find it empowering. See also: sex work and pornography. And take an Advil while you're at it.
There's something troubling about scoring feminists -- it is especially pointless when comparing struggles that are worlds apart. Feminism's goal is to defend women's rights worldwide, including, yes, even such "phantom" threats as losing abortion rights. To point out hypocrisy in the movement is one thing, but to pit one struggle against another is something entirely different. And pointless.