Time for feminist soul-searching
Institutional anti-Semitism in the Women’s March, the most celebrated political movement of Trump era so far, has been in the news lately, with many opinion-makers calling for the boycott of the upcoming January 19 nationwide protest.
Many of us knew that the national co-chairs were fans of Louis Farrakhan; many noted the curious absence of condemnation of anti-Semitism in the intersectional organization’s Unity Principles.
It wasn’t, however, until actress-turned activist Alyssa Milano spoke out against anti-Semitism in the March’s leadership that the mainstream news organizations started paying attention. And it wasn’t until the expose in Tablet magazine that the extent to which Jew-hatred permeates the leadership of the dysfunctional movement was revealed.
Even I was shocked to read that the in-your-face anti-Semitism of Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, and Carmen Perez was a feature of the Women’s March meetings from day one, and that it was allowed to promulgate because of organizational failings. Bob Bland, one of the co-founders who quickly wrestled control of the movement, was all too happy to run interference on behalf of her bigoted comrades. Others kept quiet for years.
Pretty much the only one who emerges in a positive light in Tablet’s account, the one who consistently voiced her concerns about the treatment of her Jewish co-workers and the extremist language of the primadonna national co-chairs, is the former president of the DC Chapter Mercy Morgenfield.
I’m glad we are finally talking about anti-Semitism in all of its forms. (Anti-Semitism on the right captured attention in the past two years, but it’s not the only place where it lives.) However, I am interested in the Women’s March not only as a Jew, but also as what my long distance friend Leslie Loftis calls a “rogue feminist.” And as a rogue feminist, I hang on to the hope that the current scandal would inspire serious introspection among American—and Western—women’s leaders.
How does a supposedly healthy moral movement gets mired in hardcore bigotry so quickly? What is it about women’s movement today that converted so easily to hate? I have yet to see this sort of soul-searching.
But I have an idea. Although Fourth Wave intersectional feminists may insist otherwise, feminism was never intended to be a movement for white women. A brainchild of the Enlightenment, the women’s movement embraced the idea that Reason, not religion or tradition, is the best way to structure society. In the mind of the feminist trailblazer Mary Wollstonecraft, women have the same capacity for Reason as men, and, therefore, the same natural rights. She wrote of Western European men and women, but believed her ideas to be universal. It might just be that today we, non-Western women are most interested in her ideas.
My American-born classmates were shrugging their shoulders, but when I was reading Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication on the Rights of Women in my Western Civ class years ago, I was moved. Coming from a country (the Soviet Union, in my case) that has never experienced a significant grass roots feminist movement, I thought Wollstonecraft expressed something that needs to be said. I felt that there was, at the time, a tension between the physical reality of Russian women, and the dominant ideological trends in the country. Not that the Russian women didn’t hold their own, but they themselves often felt that their micro-level leadership was forced on them by their eternally clocked-out husbands and the totalitarian regime. Wollstonecraft gave a framework within which to ask for respect for ourselves.
Somali-born feminist, and a hero of mine, Aayan Hirsi Ali also found inspiration in Wollstonecraft. Her youth, marred by Islamist revival, was way more traumatic than anything I have gone through, but because she amplified some of my immigrant experiences, I find her infinitely relatable. Quite a few of us, coming from outside of the Western world, are attracted to the basic Enlightenment principles that too many Americans take for granted, if not reject outright.
Growing up Jewish in the Soviet Union, I felt a longing for more Reason in society; the thinking in our Soviet Jewish circles was within the Russian Enlightenment-friendly Westernizing tradition. Plus, I felt, as I still do, that anti-Semitism can be countered with Reason. I can tease out similar Reason-inspired themes in Hirsi Ali’s writing. She contrasts, for instance, the endless beatings she and her siblings have endured in childhood with parenting strategies of her Dutch girlfriend who, when she ran into a problem, consulted a book. Hirsi Ali absolutely admired the orderly flow of life in her adoptive country.
Since feminist thought has grown in many directions since 1792, I think it’s essential to always refer back with the ideas that sparked it. How is mainstream feminism doing today?
Trump, ever a gentlemen, provided American women, on both the right and on the left with plenty of excuses to organize against him. Yet the Women’s March was structured as an organization for and by progressive women and their recruits. Pro-life Never Trump groups and left wing Zionists were excluded. Moreover, the movement’s figureheads are fawning over Louis Farrakhan, a man far more misogynist than Trump. That’s not exactly a feminist alternative.
Sarsour once said on national television that she’d like to take away the lady parts of her political opponents genital mutilation survivor Hirsi Ali and Brigitte Gabriel. That statement is not just worse than anything Donald Trump had said, it’s completely psychotic. In general, that woman gives out psycho vibes, spewing one fanatical statement after another, apparently, without giving it much thought. Not exactly a role model for girls that we can believe in.
That the victims of sexual assault and harassment feel empowered to speak up after the Harvey Weinstein scandal is probably the greatest achievement of Trump-era feminism. The demand to #BelieveWomen is anything but grounded in Reason. Yet we keep hearing it again and again, like during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. I didn’t believe his accuser Christine Blasey Ford. I suppose didn’t believe Kavanaugh either, although one of them must be telling the truth. I guess I’m just not a believer. Yet because the accuser failed to provide any corroborating evidence, I was asked to put my blind faith in the woman’s story. I cannot; it is not a feminist thing to do and should not be promoted as such.
The Women’s March created momentum for women into Democratic electoral politics. Women, especially Democratic women of various ethnic and religious backgrounds running for the House and the Senate in 2018, have caught the attention of national media. Among the new stars of the Democratic party are the hardcore anti-Semites Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, both cheered on as representative of the diverse female future of America. Their Jew-hatred went unmentioned in glowing media profiles. Both initially denied their support for BDS, but started talking about it as soon as it was safe. The anti-Israel agenda they have carried to the U.S. Congress is increasingly accepted by the Democratic party. How is that, that feminism became a vehicle for anti-Semitism in progressive politics?
Because feminism today is no longer grounded in Reason, it’s grounded in power. Intersectionality that informs the movement today is an ideology of power, of ordering hierarchies of oppression. Feminists ally themselves with other certified oppressed groups, like gays and racial minorities. Political capital comes with the oppressed status, and through alliances formed with other groups against the common domestic nemesis.
Although women don’t rate very high on intersectional totem poll, left wing feminists managed to get an impressive amount of crumbs, like the CEO quota now mandated in California, or paternity leaves for husbands that are becoming increasingly popular in deep blue states. In the eyes of mainstream women’s rights advocates, the latter a brilliant invention because it promises more equal distribution of the burden of domestic work, while, in theory at least, penalizing men for having children. None of it solves the problem of the double shift. Or rids women of the very real desire to stay home with the baby.
A healthy discussion about a smart policy, a better way to order society, is not how we do feminism today. Intersectionality dictates that mainstream feminists form alliances with, and unquestionably back other left wing groups to oppose white patriarchy. Which is kind of silly on the lived experience level: as a Russian of sorts, I can assure you that an American husband is a good catch. I’m sure if you ask Hirsi Ali about her British husband, she’d concur.
In any event, the Women’s March picked wrong women to be intersectional with. It’s admirable that they are noticing black and brown sisters, but I don’t think they actually listen to what racial minority feminists have to say. Sarsour, Mallory, and Perez were chosen because they are ethnic women. But they are not promoting female liberation in their communities; they are representing the interests of their extremist ethnic political factions, like CAIR and Farrakhan. It is no surprise that they brought their prejudices into the feminist movement. That trio are not the ones making waves and challenging patriarchy within their own communities. To oppose Trump from the left, Bland’s organization subordinated the interests of female liberation to intersectional alliance building.
Support for women rejecting forced veiling both here and across the world should be ranked higher on our agenda than three-week paternity leaves. Instead of Sarsour, Mallory, and Perez, a true women’s movement would champion Hirsi Ali and other feminist activists, like Mona Eltahawi, Sarah Haider, or Yasmine Mohammed—it’s not like there was nobody to pick from. That would promote not just women’s liberation, but peace and prosperity around the world.DONATE
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