Democratic Underground

Women's Rights: Don't Take Them for Granted
November 20, 2001
by Richard Prasad

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While we ponder some of the many alarming crimes of the Taliban, we must realize that chief among these crimes is their mistreatment of women. But we must also ask ourselves, are women's right being taken for granted in the United States, and will they slowly erode in an era of do-nothing complacency?

Many people became familiar with the plight of Afghan women when they saw an excellent documentary by Saira Shah called "Beneath The Veil" on CNN. This documentary showed Afghan women, covered from head to toe in burqas, restrictive garments that only allowed the women to see slightly from tiny holes in the veil of the garment. These women were routinely beaten by the Taliban for something as innocuous as wearing makeup. Many of these women were reduced to begging on the street. Some were even shot in front of cheering crowds in a soccer stadium.

For those who think that these women were not well educated and always begging for food, think again. They were doctors and nurses, professional women who were forced from their positions by the Taliban. 70% of teachers in Afghanistan before the Taliban were women, 50% of government workers before the Taliban were women, and 40% of the doctors before the Taliban were women.

The behavior of the Taliban has been roundly criticized by the US, as well it should. Just recently First Lady Laura Bush chastised the treatment of Afghanistan characterizing it as "brutality against women and children." The question now is, can a similar situation occur in America, where women's rights have been atrophying for the last 20 years. And has it already begun?

After years of gains in the 60's and 70's, feminism began to suffer a backlash starting in the 80's when voices like Camille Paglia were first heard. In her book Vamps and Tramps, Ms Paglia says the following: "Let's get rid of Infirmary Feminism, with it's bedlam of Bellyachers, anorexics, bulimics, depressives, incest survivors, and rape victims." "Feminism has become a catch-all vegetable drawer, where moldy sob sisters can store their neuroses." The vitriol of such a statement is self-evident, and it becomes the mantra of the anti-feminist backlash. Women are claiming victimization, and much of their suffering is caused by their own delusional thinking.

Politically, the anti-feminist movement took hold with the likes of Ann Coulter et al., writing scathing views of former President Clinton. They hid their true sentiment behind male bashing, President Clinton was an adulterer, he was a womanizer and so on and so on. The sentiment of these right-wing women would have rang truer if they did not also routinely attack Hillary Clinton. The conservative women's siren song goes like this: That Bill was a womanizer and that Hillary only played a victim to gain political advantage. That she used her position as First Lady and now Senator to espouse militantly feminist dangerously liberal views.

The truth is this: Hillary is an incredibly smart and courageous woman who hearkens back to the early feminists of the 70's, like Bella Abzug. If the voters of New York state did not think she was intelligent and strong-minded they would have sent Hillary packing. But she beat Rick Lazio soundly.

Hillary Clinton aside, there is no one to pick up the mantle of feminism, and so it sits dormant being bashed by right-wing pundits of both gender. And much of the gains of modern-day feminism hang by one vote in the Supreme Court. Is anyone paying attention to the judicial appointments of George W anymore? If he sent up a conservative Supreme Court judge for approval by the Senate, would anyone oppose him or her?

If a conservative Supreme Court Justice was approved, what would this mean for Affirmative Action programs, many of which have aided women? What would this mean for Roe V. Wade? Would women again seek back alley abortions and therefore be relegated to secondhand citizenship again? And who would speak out against such a nomination in a nation striving for national unity?

Things are not nearly as bad for women in the US as they are for women in Afghanistan, but the lack of a group of strong voices speaking strongly FOR women's rights in America does not bode well. There is a feeling that the major victories have been won, and that we can never go back to American society the way it was before the 60's. That kind of thinking is naive at best and dangerous at worst.