Democratic Underground

Feminist Rage and U.S. Foreign Policy
October 6, 2001
by TygrBright

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My grandmother was a member of the first generation of American women allowed to exercise the most basic of democratic rights — the right to political self-determination through exercise of the voting franchise. When I was a young girl, I was active in the next wave of women to demand the basic rights of economic self-determination — property rights, educational access, workplace equity — and the cultural upheaval that accompanied that fight.

It's a long time since I was laughed at and called a "bra-burner" for wanting women to be admitted to building trades union apprenticeship programs. In America, the struggle for equality continues, although the focus has shifted to cultural intangibles more complex than legal codes.

And it's easy to forget, as we address these more abstruse (but still critical) issues, that in a very large portion of the world, women are still regarded, and treated as, a sophisticated form of domestic animal.

Does that seem extreme?

It's hard to make an argument for allowing dogs or cattle to participate in a state's political process. Women are routinely denied this basic human right to self-determination in dozens of states.

One can't imagine a Rhode Island Red chicken or a Welsh White hog strolling into a bank to open an account for themselves. Equally unthinkable, in thousands of banks in thousands of cities, is the notion of a woman owning her own financial assets.

In most of the world, if we see a goat or sheep running around loose, we corral it, and attempt to find its owner and return it to its proper place. Millions of people think the same treatment should be applied to women running around loose.

U.S. foreign policy has largely ignored these abuses by states with whom we must do business. We tut-tut. We participate in, and even co-sponsor, well-intentioned conferences on human rights for women. We earmark pocket change for band-aid economic pilot programs on the sucking chest wound of female oppression. It's the best we can do, we say.

Our diplomats and statesmen make analogies to ethnic and political repression, and point out how dangerous it is for our nation to meddle in the internal affairs of other nations. They have a point. We can't "make" other nations treat their minorities nicer.

Of course, we're not talking about a minority, are we? We're talking about fully half of their population.

Be that as it may, the practical realities of statesmanship certainly militate against attempts by any nation to control the internal affairs of other nations. (Tell that to the CIA.) We can't make them change their behavior.

But we can change our behavior. We can offer potent incentives and disincentives to them to change their behavior. The current global terrorism crisis offers us a priceless opportunity to begin this process, but do we have the moral fiber to seize it? It's easy to make terms and conditions when someone wants something from us, but in this case, we are the ones who want something.

And the people we want it from — many of the middle eastern and south Asian nations — are among the worst abusers.

How easy it would be — how seductive, to put our principles "on hold" for the duration of the crisis. To look the other way in order to get what we want. To offer tacit consent to the dehumanization of half the population of these regions.

How seductive, to cut a deal with factions in the region that will offer some measure of political stability in return for a continued blind eye to unrelenting and often violent abuses of the most fundamental human rights on a national scale. Oh, there will doubtless be some superficial mitigation of the worst of the offenses.

We will convince them to treat their domestic animals more humanely, at least when the cameras are around.

And by this expediency we will again demonstrate that all our high-minded pontificating about principles and human rights and democratic freedoms is just empty posturing. All we really care about is sufficient political stability for business to continue as usual.

This is the same attitude that put totalitarian regimes in power in much of the region. The same attitude that supported them as they disenfranchised their political opponents, and oppressed their religious dissenters and ethnic minorities to the point of revolution and the rise of terrorist movements.

After all, the end justifies the means, doesn't it?

Osama bin Laden certainly thinks so.