Self-appointed upholder of academic standards Harvey Mansfield, in a column arguing that universities should become depoliticized by adopting a whole bundle of reactionary bromides familiar to anyone who’s seen The O’Reilly Factor, recycles this bit of abject nonsense:
The feminists at Harvard seek to remove every vestige of patriarchy in America, but they have said almost [using the word "almost" here is the kind of skill that's important to learn. It's what separates us from the animals. Except the weasel.--ed.] nothing about the complete dismissal of women’s rights by radical Islam. To do so would be to attack Islamic culture, and according to multiculturalism, every culture is equal and none is evil. They forsake women in societies that repudiate women’s rights and direct their complaints to societies that believe in women’s rights. Of course it’s easier to complain to someone who listens to you and doesn’t immediately proceed to slit your throat. No sign of any rethinking of feminism has appeared in the universities where it flourishes.
The idea that feminists have ignored the plight of women outside of North America is simply a complete falsehood. The tensions between “multiculturalism” and women’s rights and feminism and the struggles of women outside of liberal democracies have of course been the subject of extensive debate and analysis among feminists, but Mansfield cannot be aware of it because he knows exceptionally little about feminist thought. The idea that it’s illegitimate to criticize unjust practices if there are worse practices embedded elsewhere is, of course, a classic technique of those who oppose progressive goals while preferring not to engage arguments on the merits. And the stuff about “re-thinking feminism” is just a non-sequitur; even of feminists should be paying more attention to international rather than domestic issues, this calls for a wider application of feminists principles, not a re-thinking of them.
What’s offensive, of course, is not strawfeminists propped up by Mansfield who don’t care about the oppression of women in the Islamic world, but people who could care less about it using it as a prop to advance goals that are fundamentally hostile to women’s rights. And, by the way, how has the Bush administration’s foreign policy advanced women’s rights? By leading to the imposition of Sharia law in Iraq? Maybe this is the “re-thinking” of feminism that Mansfield has in mind:
So far, enforcing the hijab for women and a ban on shorts for men are consistent in most districts of western Baghdad. In other areas, women are not allowed to drive, to go out without a chaperone, and to use cell phones in public; men are not allowed to dress in jeans, shave their beards, wear goatees, put styling hair gel, or to wear necklaces; it is forbidden to sell ice, to sell cigarettes at street stands, to sell Iranian merchandise, to sell newspapers, and to sell ring tones, CDs, and DVDs. Butchers are not allowed to slaughter during certain religious anniversaries. Municipality workers will be killed if they try to collect garbage from certain areas…
Or maybe this?
For me, June marked the first month I don’t dare leave the house without a hijab, or headscarf. I don’t wear a hijab usually, but it’s no longer possible to drive around Baghdad without one. It’s just not a good idea. (Take note that when I say ‘drive’ I actually mean ‘sit in the back seat of the car’- I haven’t driven for the longest time.) Going around bare-headed in a car or in the street also puts the family members with you in danger. You risk hearing something you don’t want to hear and then the father or the brother or cousin or uncle can’t just sit by and let it happen. I haven’t driven for the longest time. If you’re a female, you risk being attacked.
I look at my older clothes- the jeans and t-shirts and colorful skirts- and it’s like I’m studying a wardrobe from another country, another lifetime. There was a time, a couple of years ago, when you could more or less wear what you wanted if you weren’t going to a public place. If you were going to a friends or relatives house, you could wear trousers and a shirt, or jeans, something you wouldn’t ordinarily wear. We don’t do that anymore because there’s always that risk of getting stopped in the car and checked by one militia or another.
There are no laws that say we have to wear a hijab (yet), but there are the men in head-to-toe black and the turbans, the extremists and fanatics who were liberated by the occupation, and at some point, you tire of the defiance. You no longer want to be seen. I feel like the black or white scarf I fling haphazardly on my head as I walk out the door makes me invisible to a certain degree- it’s easier to blend in with the masses shrouded in black. If you’re a female, you don’t want the attention- you don’t want it from Iraqi police, you don’t want it from the black-clad militia man, you don’t want it from the American soldier. You don’t want to be noticed or seen.
But at least “W is for Women” in Afghanistan, right? Er, not so much; in fact, the administration’s intense interest in protecting women’s rights compelled it to allow the Taliban to regain de facto control of much of Afghanistan so that it could also ensure that radical opposers of women’s rights could form a quasi-state in Iraq that was even more dependent on Islamist militias.
Well, you have to give him this: the fact that Mansfield is given a platform in university presses and major newspapers to spew ignorant nonsense about feminism is a data point for his academia-in-decline thesis…