DISCIPLINING FEMALE BODIES FOR KHAKI:
Title IX , Wars of Terror, And the Rise of Neoliberal EMPIRE
Keynote address for the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS), Montreal,
Canada, October 2003.
Professor Zillah Eisenstein
A note of context first.
These are tumultuous times. Nations and bodies are in flux. The
U.S. government has lost all sense of humility and romps across the globe arrogantly to
consolidate its power. The real and pretend of politics are both extremely important. So,
massive deception is integral to 21
century imperial rule. The deception itself is made more
visible, at least to those of us living in the U.S. I think people living `elsewhere’ have felt the
boot on their necks too intimately to not know what is going on. Nevertheless, it seems that
much covert politics is becoming more overt. And part of this process is the exposure of the
deception itself which depoliticizes the lying. Maybe this is why there is public scrutiny of the
C.I.A. and F.B.I. at this point in time. Ashcroft and his Department of Homeland Security seem
to want the new forms of power all for themselves.. And, the C.I.A. is less needed as overt
military intervention becomes the 21
century politics of choice. Whereas the 1970’s and 80’s
were about economic downsizing and restructuring; the1990’s and especially the 21
more about the political restructuring of the already down-sized nation state.
So where is the female body in all this? It is right at the juncture of the formulation of
century imperial power. Neo-liberalism defines this moment: the relationship between
public and private shift to encompass the continuing privatization of the globe–what was once 2
thought of as public space, and public responsibility is shifted more and more onto the
individual. Public responsibility is down-sized necessitating more from patriarchal relations.
This renegotiating of public and private life is also located and sometimes even initiated in the
relations of sex and racialized gender.
It is no accident that the present demand for gay marriage is publicized at the same
moment that we are told that U.S. troops remain under fire in Iraq. Don’t ask don’t tell is part of
this whole scenario of gender re-negotiation. And this neoliberal approach to sex was first
orchestrated by Bill Clinton; the same Bill Clinton that unveiled the messy sexual politics of
Monica.. Endless stories of sex scandals chart the crisis of patriarchal controls. Meanwhile the
pope speaks defiantly against gay marriage while homosexuality runs rampant through the
priesthood. Kobe Bryant is charged with rape while the rapists in Iraq, and misogyny in general
goes un-named. And our secular president tells us we all are sinners. This is the new world
The new borders of the 21
century are less geographical than metaphorical. The female
body is the site from which life begins and is maintained and sustained. It is therefore the most
democratic and subversive location because it always has the potential for embracing humanity
inclusively. Kofi Anan recognizes this when he says that if the AIDS crisis in Africa is to be
successfully addressed that the women of Africa must be the focus. Even the World Bank finds
that if you want to improve a country’s lot, improve its women; that investment in them means
investment in the community. So although it is true that women, and their bodies fall victim to
the present neoliberal globe and its wars: they are disproportionately the refugees, the war-raped,
the new proletariat, the sex-traffic, they ALSO are the haulers of water and gatherers of wood, 3
and the movers and shakers in the anti-war movements across the globe. Female bodies form the
glu of sustenance and resistance and therefore promise a subversive possibility.
I have several simultaneous starting arguments here rather than one theme. I hope they
make you think beyond the borders of every day life and push you to see how the passivity of
sport is used against its radical potential to maintain systems of power that do grave injustice to
people here and abroad. My intent is to reveal the multiple and contradictory stories that female
bodies embody, and therefore to begin a process of opening and broadening the visors for seeing
and knowing beyond the deceptions of the U.S. imperial state.
Weave these thoughts in and out of the rest of my discussion: the feminist insight that the
personal is political, that a politics of sex is central to really seeing the full notion of power
relations; sex and gender is always racialized–the slave trade was as much a sexual as a racial
economy; the human body is potentially the most democratic site because it knows pain and
humiliation and justice at the start; wars always endanger our bodies. The female body is
continually being written on to narrate and translate politics: soccer moms, Tanya and Nancy,
Title IX, women in khaki, the blue burqa. Each constructs the nation and now the globe. I will
narrate these concerns through the rise of militarism during the wars of/on `terror’.
The U.S. wars of/on `terror’ are justified in the name of democracy….of freedom. (It is
not un-important that the discourse does not name equality.) I want you to wonder whether
other-than-western notions of democracy are ignored and smashed by this notion. And I want
you to wonder whether the marketing of U.S. feminism abroad, what I term `feminism for
export’, is very much enhanced by notions of women’s sports here, abroad.
fantasizes the `freedom’ of `the’ West. Beautiful, healthy, fashionable women, often sports 4
players are used to display western style democracy. This marketing is both promissory for
women and girls, and imperialist, and functions for the powerful, rather than most women. This
is why `women in sports’ need to mobilize a really democratic politics.
A PERSONAL POLITICS
I was born to Communist parents who were atheists and Ashkinaze Jews. The mind was
more important than the body. The only sports I did were the “people’s” team sports: volley
ball, baseball, basketball. I roller-skated a lot down city streets with neighbor friends but this
was as individualized as my sports got. Tennis was bourgeois. So was indoor exercise. My
parents were continually red-baited so we moved around a lot which meant I usually lost my
spot on the school basketball team. Most of the time my parents’ notoriety kept me off the team
in the first place. The few times I got to play, like in Atlanta, Georgia, I played half court
because girls weren’t thought strong enough for the full court press. On Friday nights we played
before the real game, the boys.
I play tennis today but have no serve; belong to a gym and do cybex and body pump
regularly; and run almost daily. I began this routine after a breast cancer diagnosis. Instead of
breast replacement I chose to rebuild my chest muscle. After a radical program of chemotherapy
I decided to nurture my body through alternative programs. I deeply believe that the body
speaks, and does so always.
My daughter has a tennis skirt and tennis bag that I still refuse for myself. She has a
great serve. Times change. 5
I was in graduate school when Title IX was passed. I think of it as part of civil rights
legislation; a form of affirmative action. Both are under attack today despite the recent Supreme
Court rulings in Grutter, and Gratz v. Bollinger, supposedly upholding affirmative action. I say
supposedly because equality of opportunity is no longer the focus of affirmative action. Diversity
has replaced the concern with equality. Sandra Day O’Connor justifies affirmative action on
behalf of the needs of global corporations and the U.S. military–it has become an opportunistic
necessity for neoliberal globalization, rather than a progressive demand of social justice.
Title IX suffers indirectly as equality discourse which applied as much to women of all
colors as men has been downsized to the language of diversity which is narrowed to race.
Gender drops off the map. And, also, when diversity is embraced WITHOUT equality the white
male standard remains in place and difference remains problematic as such. If equality is
embraced alongside diversity differences are radically pluralized while displacing hierarchy.
DOWNSIZING FEMINISM AND THE PERSONAL
As I write from my body towards feminism, and from feminism towards THE body I
stumble on the tensions of its personal and political meanings: between sex and gender, genes
and environs, sexualities and heterosexism, color and race.
As I move toward feminism I always take my body with me. The dynamism of feminism
emanates from the intensity of this connection because the body is as potentially political as it is
biogenetic. This is why the political character of the body, as Michel Foucault says, is the first 6
thing that power conceals.
It is probably why the shorthanded phrases like `the personal is
political’, `the politics of sex’, and `sexual politics’ have such resilience.
Feminism denies the fantasy that sex, meaning bodies and their sexuality, AND politics
are separate and by doing so rejects the neat divide between private and public life.
understanding also reframes the relations between family and nation, sport and politics, and
nation and globe.
But “`the’ personal as political” swallows too much in its phrasing because `the’ personal
stands for a variety of meanings. `Personal’ can simply mean the individual private self. This
self also refers to female biology and its reproductive capacity, its sexual desire and
identification, and its bodily health. And these private selves are also publicly webbed. Each of
these meanings are already constructed through the lenses of racialized gender: the cultural
interpretations enforcing standards of racialized femininity in its differentiated class meanings.
A public politics of gender infiltrates the privacy of sex and sexuality. So sex is never
simply private or personal and yet it is the most private experience we can know. Our bodies
parade publicly and yet we live in them utterly singularly. Sex appears to be everywhere and is
supposedly open and free yet most people reveal little of their sex lives to others. Foucault is at
his best explaining how constant talk of sex controls us more than it frees us. A key aspect of
the Lewinsky scandal supposedly was that it was NOT about sex. Sex is spoken everywhere, yet
regulated and disciplined in all the noise.
Sexgate–the lies of Bill Clinton about his affair with Monica Lewinsky–confusingly
unraveled the discourse of personal privacy. Bill said that what he did was private and was no
one’s business but his family’s. Monica, the intern Clinton had the affair with, says she felt 7
totally exposed; she was left with no privacy. She felt humiliated. What she had done was
meant to be private. No one was to know, not her parents or the public. The exposure left her
with nowhere to hide as the public watched. She felt “naked to the whole world”. Once Bill
finally confesses as President, Monica says she only sees a “selfish man who lies all the time”.
There is no privacy left, and he finally becomes in her mind, a “politician all the time”.
Hillary writes her book, Living History, that is supposed to tell her personal story and reveals
In the post-sexgate era, it is no easy task to sort out the relations between personal sex
and public politics because they are not equatable nor reducible to each other. Sexgate
undermined the feminist recognition that there is a politics to sex; that sex in imbricated in and
through relations of power. Bill’s private acts were deemed unimpeachable, which they probably
were. However, this ruling was used to justify a renewed viewing of public and private life as
separate and apart. AND, very old ways of speaking about women, sex, and their bodies were
validated once again. Much importantly feminist was negated in this drama.
The Clinton scandal resonated because it authorizes a political environment which is
hostile to seeing a relationship between women’s humanity and their bodies, between the impact
of personal choices on larger communities. The masculinist political environs knot together with
the economically racialized agendas of neoliberal politics.
The body as sex object and the body as subversively political are not one and the same
yet they are connected by a masculinist visor. So it mattered that then president Clinton thinks
there are two kinds of women: the kind you fantasize fucking and the kind you marry. This is
too traditionally classic to be interesting. However, he was the president of the U.S. so what he 8
does or does not do matters, and with effects larger than at home. Bill gropes Monica on the one
hand and is married to Hillary on the other. He could not resist Monica even though he tells us
he tried. Those voluptuous full-rounded breasts and fleshiness were simply impossible to resist.
Hillary is his intellectual partner; all brain, and not quite the right sexy body. And Hillary has
staying power. She endures anything.
Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Juanita Brodderick, all spoke of
Bill’s sexual, and sometimes unwanted indiscretions. But the story is more complicated than
simple sex. There were also Clinton’s presidential appointments of Jocelyn Elders, Janet Reno
and Madeleine Allbright. These women show Bill’s political commitment to gender equity in the
public sphere. Gender equity means pretending there are no (sexual) bodies to contend with.
Sexed bodies take us too uncomfortably into the personal and private realm. These women can
be treated just like they are men. Bill’s personal sexual politics is trumped by his public
espousal of gender equity. His sexual exploits become unaccountable at the very moment they
are exposed because they are said to be private.
The aftermath of sexgate is deeply troubling. The realm of bodily sex is reclaimed as
personal and not political. Sexual harrassment law by default is denuded of its political weight
as unwanted sexual advances in the workplace are more readily viewed as simply personal rather
Women become their bodies all over again as Monica’s weight and Linda
Tripp’s cosmetic surgery became the focus of late night talk show jokes. This is not a good contextual surround for Title IX.
The radical feminist insight that our bodies are as political as they are private is washed
away in post-sexgate rhetoric. In this washing the complex relation between my individual 9
choice about my body and the power-claims already written into and on it are re-bifurcated. If
my experience of sex harassment in the workplace or the military is my personal affair so is my
exposure to the masculinist constructs which occupy my body. This bifurcation relocates in
When the “personal is political” just how much of the personal is political? What part of
the personal is not political? Is the political personal in the same fashion that the personal is
political? Liberal individualism begins with the notion of privacy and the division between
politics and the self. This becomes more true as the dominant discourse of neoliberalism–which
emphasizes individual responsibility and favors corporate over government investment in
formerly public domains–takes hold. People think more of the self, less of the public; more of
the personal, less of the political; more of self-help and less of governmental assistance; more of
self-determination, less of unfair opportunities.
In contrast, radical feminism in the late sixties brilliantly understood that by starting with
the self, its sexed bodily meaning, that you could find `the’ political. One started with the self in
order to find its structural constraints; one began with female bodies to uncover their gendered
meanings; one began personally in order to act politically. Consciousness raising groups were
initiated to create an understanding that the politicized meanings of womanhood could be found
in individual lived experiences; or that by consciously uncovering one’s own experience one
found the political ties constructing its meaning. Consciousness raising was not meant to simply
find the self but to find the self as a part of a larger political reality.
becomes uniquely subversive. It is at the heart of Title IX.
Radical feminism named and indicted the system of power as one of sexual classes: men 10
and women were in a class struggle with each other. In its early viewings of this it lacked a
conscious theorization of the racial aspects of the sexual classes they exposed. By default,
women and their bodies were and remained white. Women of color feminists, of course knew
more: that the self was also racially constructed.
When race is de-naturalized as white, then
white-skin is revealed as a privileged site, and whiteness becomes a color unto itself. Then one
can name the silenced race-ing of sex and gender.
How White is the Personal Body?
Flesh has many hues of color. When flesh is thought to be white it has already been
defined by racialized power-differences. White/caucasian is treated as the dominant flesh
although it is a minority coloring across the globe. Breasts, like other body-parts are colored in
this process. Dominant discourses constructed with this visor do not see different colors of
flesh. Instead of seeing a mix of hues, a continuum of dark to light, a racialized whiteness is
naturalized and silenced as such. Because no beginning point is recognized in this process of
coloring, there is no recognition that the process of seeing is defined through powerdifferentiated lenses.
The privileging and domination of whiteness establishes itself by a fixity of color.
process of `seeing’, or `not seeing’ is enormously provocative in and of itself. Because we see
with power-meanings the process of seeing or not-seeing is already politicized, before we look.
Skin color has been given an inherent meaning which does not exist as such. Whatever meaning
is attached to color is done through the racialized and discriminatory visors of what race already 11
means. Whiteness in its racialized form is given meanings that it does not innately have and by
doing so represents the standard of goodness, intelligence, rationality, and so on.
Color represents racialized meaning in much the same way that gender represents the
sexed body. If skin color is genetically determined, race is the cultural/political construction of
its meaning; as sex is to gender. Sex and color are given their meaning through gender and race.
Color matters only because its racial meaning makes it matter. Whereas any racial
identification has a color, not every color is always seen accurately by its racial construction. So
many mixed race people are simply defined as Black; or light-skinned Blacks are defined as
white; or my mother became Negro because her Black doctor practiced in a Black hospital.
Constructed settings make-up color and with it race.
An anti-racist feminism recognizes that once color and sex are denaturalized as not
simply biogenetic constructions then female bodies can be viewed as the environments they are
and house. This feminist episteme spotlights the cultural and political construction of bodies
AND pluralizes their individual variety.
THE `94 OLYMPICS AND POST-COLD WAR FEMININITIES
Femininity, as it is positioned against masculinity defines the contours of nation building.
Feminism is positioned against militarism; Islamism against Christianity; colorations of brown
against whiteness. And these writings are inscribed on women’s bodies which represent the
territories of nationalist identities.
The Eastern European revolutions of `89 exploded the borders of nation states. As the 12
new nationalisms carve out and invent new patriotisms the gendered, racialized, and sexualized
constructions of nation states are recontextualized historically. This is the backdrop which
surrounded the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding rivalry, assault and `94 Olympic competition.
Cold war Olympics were premised on perceptions of nationhood defined within a
superpower network. But now there is no more iron curtain; no more super-power struggles.
Instead there are multiple `new-old’ nationalisms and an internationalized transnational global
webs. The `94 Olympics amidst all the world flux, contrasts greatly with the Sarajevo games set
in the cold war order: the Olympics of Tonya and Nancy were held against the backdrop of mass
rapes in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The `94 Olympics offered an escape from the dismantling of nations and the
disintegration of the former statist communist regimes. One could pretend that things were no
different. The Olympics–the athletic competition between nations–assumes the `fiction’ of `the’
nation. The fiction is real enough but not true; much like the fiction of gender itself. Gender is
real enough; but there are as many kinds of women as there are kinds and types of females,
families, and nations.
Nation and womanhood–and their connected fiction of femininity–are treated as stable,
unitary, and unchanging. However, nation building, and femininity will be anything but singular
in the 21
century. Yet, the unity of the nation is defined by singularity and exclusivity. And
the nation is imaged as the `mother country’. She is also singular; woman is imaged as the
nation. She is seen and silenced simultaneously. Nationalism, as a form of familialism is
naturalized by `the’ mother; women are the mothers of the race.
Seeing, and the visual, are key to nation building. It is why bodies and physicality are the 13
site for marking difference as borders. The body is unique in its utter intimacy as a location of
politics. Nation borders are made of blood/racial lines. Women are needed to reproduce these
lines. War is made with this blood; masculinist racialized nationalisms use these bodies of
women. The annihilation and destruction of the body is an attempt to smash difference itself.
The symbolizing of the woman’s body traces back to racialized and sexual psychic
borders where fictions and fantasies are layered. The signs on/of the body seem naturalized as
they resonate internally. However, nations are not natural. They are invented. And they are
invented as `fictions’ of fraternal belonging. These `imagined communities’ are really male
fantasies of a world with women silenced.
Women then create the outsider border of the
Post-cold war nationalisms are defining `new-old’ patriarchal racial origins as their sense
of community. Tonya and Nancy skated as part of this story-line in the `94 Olympics. No
wonder everyone watched so carefully. Their skating had been laden with the tumultuous and
fluctuating meanings of post-cold war politics where winning and losing is no longer a simple
SOCCER MOMS AND GLOBAL WARS
I want to refine the provocative understanding of “personal and political” without
conflating them as one, AND by seeing the political as both a racial and sexual construction
defined through class. Neoliberalism has forced a selfish politics on the globe. The self–its
body and privacy–is disconnected and abstracted from the systems of power defining it. Under 14
this pressure, mainstreamed feminism has not sufficiently held on to its radical moorings. It
often stops with the self without speaking the power-differences which impact women’s bodies
The more the body is defined as simply private, the more politics is left free to invade it.
Gendered and racialized constructions of `the’ female body, if not de-naturalized, erase the
tensions between sex and gender, and color and race. Instead of seeing tension between them
they become effaced as one. Bodies become naturalized as genetically inherited or viewed as
indicative of `life-style’ choices exactly when they must ALSO be seen as a part of larger
environmental crises instigated by global capital.
Bodies are recontextualized out of the political relations which define them. Radical
feminists discovered the personal as political as they fought against the Vietnam War. Thirty
years later feminist theory was written against the backdrop of the Gulf War, `91. President
Bush, Sr. promised it would be quick and easy. The war supposedly ended but then intermittent
bombings continued, sanctions continued, and a new war was declared, yet again, in 2003 by
Bush. Jr. Saddam Hussein still remains at large. The decade long war was an ecological disaster
and thousands of Iraqi children continue to die of malnutrition and disease given U.S. policy.
There was less media exposure of Rwanda’s horrific war and pillage but this did not make the
travesty of war less. The wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Liberia remain
unresolved. U.S. troops are deployed to places elsewhere in the name of democracy.
Wars damage environments and the bodies which occupy them. Wars redefine nations
and with this race and gender are renegotiated on the globe.
This masculinist militarism
functions even with many more women in the military today than ever before. War rape in 15
Bosnia and Rwanda were part of this masculinist war-machine. Women and children, as
civilians, died in great numbers in each of these wars. This contextual backdrop of war and its
destruction across the globe politicizes bodily environments.
The U.N. reported that the weeks of NATO bombing of Iraq and later Kosovo destroyed
the surrounding environments. In Yugoslavia, land, air, rivers, underground waters as well as
the food chain were affected. Public water supply systems have been incapacitated. There has
been damage to oil refineries, fuel dumps and chemical and fertilizer factories. Toxic smoke
from huge fires leak harmful chemicals into the soil and water. Chemical pollutants like vinylchloride and propylene filter into the air. Many of the compounds released in these chemical
accidents are known to cause cancer. Petrochemical spillage remains a part of the continuous
bombing in iraq. This all is disastrous for ecological systems and bodily health, most especially
Breast tissue may be particularly susceptible to all this damage even if it is not as yet,
understood. According to Sandra Steingraber breast milk is now the most contaminated of all
human food. She says that this is why a breast-fed infant has already received its so-called `safe’
lifetime limit of dioxin in its first six months. “This milk, my milk, contains dioxins from old
vinyl siding, discarded window blinds, junked toys…” which has been incinerated and unleashed
into the atmosphere. There is no question that these dangerous molecules are taken into the body
and distilled in breast tissue and then into milk. So breast milk is dangerous and yet it also
assists the infant’s immune system.
Steingraber sees women’s bodies as the “first environment”. Amniotic fluid, which is
mainly composed of fetal urine is made of what women drink and eat. It is made from the 16
outside world and becomes the fetal environs. The only way to cleanse amniotic fluid of its
impurities is to remove harmful chemicals and residues from “women’s fat tissues, which means
getting them out of the food chain, which means keeping them out of the environment in the first
Political contextualization of women’s bodies brings environmental constructions of
them into complete view. Women absorb their environs and their bodies are an environment for
the fetus. These insights are smashed by masculinist warriors who victimize women by writing
on their bodies with knives and bombs and war-rape. Women’s bodies absorb the political
geographies of their local cultures. Women are stoned and punished by the Taliban in
Afghanistan, suffer `honor killings’ for alleged sexual promiscuity in Jordan, and are victim to
disproportionate incarceration in U.S. prisons. These environments cannot nurture women’s
Yet, there is no one story-line to tell here. Much also happens that seemingly recognizes
the importance of women in public life. Women in Kuwait may soon get the vote, lower-caste
women (panchayat) have been appointed to village councils in India, women are entering the
electoral arena in Indonesia, women lead student strikes in Iran, while then U.S. Secretary of
State Madeleine Allbright led the NATO bombing of Serbia. Women are taking their rightful
place in public life, however it is not clear what this means for their private lives, their sexual
selves, or their bodily health. Nor does it say much of the daily lives of a great majority of
women in each of these countries.
This becomes all the more complex in the U.S. with the corporatist media attention on
women’s health issues and women’s sports. The U.S. women’s soccer team won the 1999 gold 17
cup and there was much adulation about women’s athleticism. Women’s bodies are the focus of
this athleticism, but not passively as they are in porn. Strength and muscle matter for the
physically fit woman. Brandy Chastain threw off her jersey when she scored the winning kick.
One sees her black athletic bra which holds her breasts tight and out of the way, and her muscled
arms. All the players are white except for Brianna Scurry. Her Black body puts her color in
clear view. The fantasized–flattened and not in clear view–breast remains white.
These are women athletes so breasts are not unimportant though not prominent. The
breast, whether visible or not, is fetishized by men and women, even though the routing of this
desire takes different form. Fixation with the objectified breast motivates the NIKE sports-bra
industry worth one-quarter billion dollars.
Women athletes encourage strong female bodies. Their bodies unsettle simple notions of
femininity but not entirely. These athletes can pluralize viewings of `the’ female body. But
more often than not, femininity is center-staged, and not displaced.
Soccer in the U.S. is touted as the suburban sport for pre-adolescent and teenage girls.
These girls are predominantly white and middle class. Their moms are called `soccer-moms’ and
are depicted as the hard-working middle class woman of the new millennium. These moms were
considered the swing-vote in the `96 presidential election. After winning the Gold-Cup
Newsweek’s cover page read “Girls Rule”. Interesting choice of words given almost all the
players are in their thirties and several are moms themselves. Maybe only girls are allowed these
bodies, and not women. Or maybe “Women Rule”, is just too provocative.
Class and race and geographical location define the contours of this spectacle. Those of
us living in the U.S. should not allow ourselves to be stunted by our immediate geographic 18
space. As capitalism continues to dominate the globe, the earth’s resources become more
endangered. As long as a singular focus on profits defines corporate priorities we shall see more
risk to the public’s health. As bodies are assaulted by the effects of war damage to the air and
water; as chemical pollutants compromise people immune’s systems; as dietary habits shift as
part and parcel of global transformations in agriculture; women’s bodies will face new dangers.
So we also need a global lens with localized clarity.
SEPT. 11, TITLE IX, AND NEO-LIBERALISM
Given the flux and tensions that reside within the sexual and gendered relations of
global capitalism, women are a key part of the messy political imagery of the times. During the
Afghan war, on any given day women appeared in the news in an astonishing array of roles:
passive burqa-covered creatures, fighter pilots (although I think there was only one), bereaved
widows of the September 11 carnage, pregnant wives of men who died in the Towers, Pakistanis
holding signs against the war, and Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser to Bush. Rice, a
Black woman, sometimes called the `Warrior Princess’, made her name while on the board of
Chevron oil company and as Provost of Stanford University where the tenure rate for white
women and African American faculty declined during her tenure.
Other key women players of the Bush administration’s Afghan war included Victoria
Clarke as the hardline Pentagon spokeswoman, worldwide advertising agent Charlotte Beers,
chosen to overhaul the government’s image abroad, and main Bush aide Karen Hughes as the 19
coordinator of wartime public relations. Hughes resigned her post claiming that her family
duties must come first. She would tele-commute instead. This instigated much talk-show noise
of whether (Western) women can `really’ have it all. These women, along with the well-known
conservative Mary Matalin, who is chief political adviser to vice president Dick Cheney, were in
charge of shaping the words and images of the Afghan war.
They were showcased as the movers and shakers of the moment alongside the grieving
mothers and wives of September 11th and contrasted to the supposedly non-modern women in
Afghanistan. This U.S. showcase masqueraded as a modernized masculinity in drag. The warroom of Rice, Clarke, and Beers distorts the symbolic of power. They shore up white patriarchy
for global capital by making it look gender and race-neutral. Of course they represent change,
but for themselves, not the rest of women either inside or outside the U.S. Coreene Swealty
Palm, bomber pilot of an F-14, spoke about her love of flying even while dropping bombs, which
were simply a misfortune of war. Again, the United States looks egalitarian in terms of its
women. In reality, the military simply resexes its masculinist privilege for a few.
This distortion became even more corrupt as these women of the Bush administration
supposedly spoke on behalf of women in Afghanistan and their “deplorable conditions” under
Taliban rule. Mary Matalin ignored the facts that in 1979 Jimmy Carter played an important role
in the destabilization of the very government that brought significant gains to Afghan women:
literacy, medical services, prohibition of the bride price, and so forth. This secular government,
the Progressive Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) is credited with promoting the welfare
and liberation of women. And it is this socialist government that the CIA targeted and overthrew
through its earlier support of bin Laden.
Women become easy barter here. First their successes 20
are smashed by U.S. policy, and then they are used in their smashed existence to justify yet
another war on their behalf.
Laura Bush who had never spoken on behalf of women’s rights before found her voice in
order to mobilize women for the Afghan war. She delivered the president’s weekly radio
address—a first for a first lady—in order to speak on behalf of women’s rights in Afghanistan.
She said that the Taliban’s treatment of women “is not a matter of legitimate religious practice,”
that the plight of women and children is a matter of “deliberate human cruelty.” She further
stated that the “brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists” and is a clear
picture of “the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us.”
But I wonder
about the impetus of the administration’s targeted focus on women and its real commitments,
when women’s rights have never been a priority of U.S. foreign policy.
It made no sense for Laura Bush to have thousands of school uniforms sent to
Afghanistan as soon as the Taliban were deposed while most children were starving and too
hungry to concentrate on school work. More recently, as disorder and pillage have returned to
Afghanistan despite the so-called end of the war, many schools have been closed again. But we
have heard nothing further from Ms. Bush on behalf of women and children. She has remained
silent as have the other women of the war room in spite of the return of draconian measures
enforced on women by the Northern Alliance. The “war on terrorism” exacerbated misery,
starvation and homelessness for most Afghan women despite breaking the Taliban’s hold on the
country. The U.S. public is told that the Taliban is gone, but religious zealots are still in charge.
Afghanistan is ruled by thuggery; Osama bin Laden remains alive in hiding; the Northern
Alliance has not improved the economy; U.S. troops remain but they are not remembered much 21
of the time. It is unforgivable to have used women’s rights as a pawn in the Afghan war while
increasing human suffering, and then forget to remember women’s rights once again.
It is worth noting that although U.S. foreign policy has never made the conditions of
women’s betterment a key concern, our first ladies often speak on behalf of women in other
countries. Hillary Clinton was well known for traveling abroad to speak for women’s rights in
Africa and India. Yet here at home, she never chose to speak as a feminist or develop a women’s
rights agenda. I am reminded how she always turned the other way when issues of day care
arose, or when confirmations of women like Lani Guinier or Zoë Baird got derailed.
Bush administration women do the same. Many speak negatively of feminism, and none
have spoken on behalf of a domestic women’s rights agenda. Neither do they seek to deal with
issues like women prisoners, welfare mothers, accessible day care, or reproductive health. None
has shown outrage at the religious fundamentalists who bomb and kill women in U.S. abortion
clinics. None has spoken out against the terror of domestic violence. I am uneasy with an
imperial women’s rights agenda spoken for others while it is not used as a critique for our own
lives here at home.
I am also critical of a women’s rights campaign which chooses to ignore the numerous
worldwide women’s organizations speaking on behalf of women in these countries as well as the
post-Beijing global network working toward women’s equality. The Bush administration women
should have brought attention to these initiatives that are local and homegrown instead of
appropriating these struggles for `the’ West and its exclusionary version of democracy. Nowhere
did the Bush agenda address the health of Afghan women, most of whom still are at great risk for
radiation poisoning due to the depleted uranium in the bombs the U.S. dropped.
Instead, these 22
very bombs were justified by women’s rights rhetoric.
The insider women of the Bush administration should caution feminists across the globe
of the limits and risks involved in insider status. Much has been made of the importance and
difference that women can make from the inside, because they remain in part always outsiders
given their gender. But I am not so sure. Although the main critique of the FBI’s deficiencies in
responding to information leading up to Sept. 11 was leveled by a woman, Coleen Rowley, her
criticism was not of the agency per se, but individuals within it. I am not sure that Anita Hill is
right when she says that Rowley had “insider status and outsider values”.
Rowley rose within
a male dominated institution despite being female and used these very same skills which allowed
her to advance to criticize what she saw as inefficient bureaucratic bumbling. In her bombshell
memo she asks that the FBI update and restructure itself for the changing times.
Globalization and more porous national borders requires a more modern FBI. I might say
that Rowley just did a better job than her bosses at modernizing a nation-state apparatus for a
global militarist stance. She saw the need for `modernizing’ an anachronistic system; and is the
insider par excellence in this instance. Maybe women are better at change and seeing the need
for it. Clearly, most of the women in these high status leagues use their talents as women–
adaptability and multi-tasking–to sustain institutions that are structurally misogynist. These
women are not embracing democracy but rather seek to reform institutions in neo-liberal ways
which wreak havoc on much of the world. What this portends for women on the outside, and for
Afghan women as they enter Afghan politics is fraught with tension.
We must look elsewhere to find an honest embrace of democratic imaginings for women,
like the “Proposal for UN Women’s Strategies for Civil Conflict Resolution” drawn up by the 23
Ugandan women’s delegation. The declaration asks for an end to all terrorism and a worldwide
culture of tolerance, for better conflict resolution and de-escalation of conflict, for an elimination
of rich and poor, that each life be accorded the same human rights as all others, for the creation
of a World Security Council of Women, and for the elimination of all forms of discrimination
against women. The delegation asks the world to embrace the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, which presumes global pluralism and diversity. A twelve-point statement committed to
peace was e-mailed to individual women and women’s organizations all around the globe. Over
a thousand people and organizations responded and endorsed the twelve points for peace.
Earlier, on October 30, 2000, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted
Resolution 1325, which states that “all actors negotiating peace agreements need to adopt a
gender perspective which recognizes the special needs of women and girls.”
It is significant
that the Bush administration women do not speak on behalf of these international women’s
groups but rather as women of `the’ West.
Women in the aftermath of September 11 are captured as both actors and passive
receptors of historical moments. And there is little clarity of what a democratic and freely chosen
femaleness and womanhood should mean. U.S. policy spoke against the Taliban’s mistreatment
of women at this historical juncture, but condoned it earlier. The United States also supports
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan, which all regularly violate women’s rights.
exactly is U.S. foreign policy toward women’s rights, the very rights that the United States
parlays as central to so-called Western democracy? At least one senior administration official
early on in “the war on terrorism” said that the United States could not make women’s rights a
part of the post-Taliban package because we have to be careful not to look like we are imposing 24
our values on them.
The official went on to say that the championing of women’s rights goes well with a
domestic audience, but that we must be careful how it sounds abroad. But who exactly is this
official thinking of here? Hundreds of thousands of women as well as men, abroad, applaud the
rights of women. Afghan women were active contributors and participants in everyday life
before the Taliban. The Afghan 1964 Constitution guaranteed equal rights and the vote for
women; and four women were elected to parliament during this Soviet run period. As well, 70
percent of school teachers and 50 percent of civilian government workers were women. And by
some readings of the Qur’an, it too gave women rights of inheritance and divorce before Western
women had such status.
The anti-Taliban Northern Alliance even had a female lobbyist in Washington and a
position paper on women’s rights, despite criticism by some Afghan women’s groups that the
Alliance has not been a friend to women in the past.
The divide between “us and them” is no
simple divide and should not be used to occlude the similar patriarchal roots/routes of global
capitalism. Also, if U.S. policy makers aggressively think they have a right to orchestrate aspects
of a new Afghan regime, why exclude women’s rights for fear of seeming too pushy?
Obviously, these Western officials do not see women’s human needs as essential to the
transition toward and construction of democracy.
There is no one position on women’s rights to analyze because the government’s stance
has shifted and changed. The State Department released a report, “The Taliban’s War against
Women,” which stated that “Islam is a religion that respects women and humanity,” while the
“Taliban respects neither.” The report then advocated a role for women in a post-Taliban Afghan 25
And although several women became a part of this new government the
government itself has not been able to establish any semblance of order. President Karzai can
travel nowhere without U.S. body-guards.
In interesting contrast, at home in the U.S., post–September 11 became a very manly
moment. The new heroism celebrated the American male worker, be he firefighter or policeman
or welder. As stated in The New York Times: “The operative word is men: brawny, heroic,
manly men. The male hero expresses the new selflessness of masculinism. Physical prowess is
back in vogue along with patriotism.”
New York City police, the same police who have been
repeatedly charged with racist violence towards people of color and the violation of their human
rights, embodied the new heroism.
In the early after-math of Sept. 11 there was little if any talk of women firefighters, or
heroic women in general, for that matter.
Women, who were busy trying to rebuild the lives of
their shattered families while they scrambled to get to their jobs as well, were shunted to the
side—seen only through the veil of motherhood and wifely duty. There may be a few women in
the Bush White House, but it is men who make the system work. They are the heroes and
patriots. Ironically, amid all this, it is the Taliban that were viewed as “living in a world without
women,” not us.
Sept. 11 ignited a renewal of masculinist patriotism. Jashur Piar and Amit Rai write of
this disciplining of the docile citizen as a “heteronormative patriotism”. Bin Laden the terrorist
is made into the “monstrous fag”; and anyone who does not support the war is a fag as well. The
“terrorist fag”, as the “queered other” is “both a product of the anxieties of heteronormative
civilization and a marker of the non-civilized”.
The nation is once again renewed through an 26
exclusionary, anti-democratic `othering’ which smashes the very freedom that it supposedly
The U.S. intervenes across the globe supposedly to bring freedom and democracy
`elsewhere’. Our interventions–into Afghanistan and Iraq have brought neither. In both these
instances women’s bodies were key to these war fantasies. In the first Afghan women were clad
in the enforced blue burqa, in the second U.S. P.O.W. women were symbolized in freely chosen
U.S. imperialism attempts to humanize this extremist militarist phase of global yet
territorial corporate building.
Enter women. Although women have become a significant
presence in the military, their presence has not re-gendered the military democratically.
women have been used to symbolically humanize and democratize war-making: we are told that
mothers now fight alongside fathers; women alongside men.
The gendered role of a
masculinized warrior is now filled by either males or females. But there is little equality to be
seen here between men and women either inside or outside this hierarchy.
Why else would so much attention be paid to the “rescue” and recovery of Private Jessica
Lynch? Because, she is a woman, and NOT a man. She was a P.O.W.–blond and young and
feminine, “a symbol representing the nation’s virtuous identity to itself.” Initially she was said 27
to be the tough soldier–“I kept shooting until I was out of bullets”–but also vulnerable and
feminized by her injuries.
However, despite everything, she still needed to be rescued.
Images of her rescue were shown over and over to the world.
The facts surrounding the “rescue” were more difficult to get: first we were told that she
had gun-shot and stab wounds, then we were told she didn’t; then we were told she was mistreated by Iraqi doctors, then we were told they befriended her and donated their own blood for
her transfusions; then we were told that her “rescue” was not quite that, that she was in a hospital
with no guards. Next we were told that the entire incident when she was captured was a mistake:
a wrong turn, wrong information, etc. She was injured in a humvee accident, rather than a firefight. For now, we are just expected to forget the confusions and not ask further questions.
It is not INsignificant that so much of the presentation, at home, of the initial `03 Iraq war
was with a woman’s face. Humanize the war by showing us a lot of single moms and young
women who were fighting it. But do not democratize the war too much; remind us at every
chance that women are more fragile, more open to sexual abuse by the enemy, not quite able to
fight the war by themselves. Women personalized the war and made it feel more intimate while
it remained completely distanced. We were also told that Jessica wanted to be a grade school
teacher to remind us that nothing too drastic about gender has really changed.
Gender supposedly operates to humanize the U.S. abroad as well. Nicholas Kristof of the
New York Times writes that one of the best modern weapons of the western arsenal is “Claire”–
and she carries a machine gun. Apparently Kristof thinks that Iraqi soldiers are squeamish about
shooting female soldiers so we should let their “chauvinism work for us”. He continues that the
U.S. should use coed military units because they look less menacing, not like rapists who will do 28
harm to civilians. So women are good for fighting wars in Islamic countries because of “foreign
chauvinism”. It is more than a little bit ironic that this is Kristof’s argument for re-examining the
ban on women in the front-lines, as well as “equality for all”.
Other returning P.O.W.s were also a part of this rescue scenario needed to cover over the
mixed and ambiguous rescue that was delivered to the people of Iraq. These six men, somewhat
demasculinized by virtue of their capture; and one Black woman, Shoshana Johnson, a single
mother of a two year old, were miraculously found, and able to return home. I too celebrated
their wonderful luck and the kindness of their captors. I had been quietly watching for word
about Specialist Johnson once I heard of her disappearance. She was an unlucky cook whose
group made a wrong turn in a sand storm and was captured. My heart strings, too, were pulled
wondering if her young daughter would ever get to see her again. For many days no one was
sure if she or the others were alive. But the focus on their stories, and the jubilation that
dominated several days of t.v. reporting upon their return was misplaced. Too many other
Americans would not return. Too many Iraqis had already died. So much of the war that we
saw was not about the real suffering and pain. The war was about Lynch and other P.O.W.s
because this made people in the U.S. feel better about war, and gender too.
Women fly F18’s, launch TomaHawk missiles, and are on the front lines of intelligence
units. There are 200,000 active duty women.
Most of these women join the military to better
themselves in a world with few options for them. Pfc Lori Piestewa, a Hopi Indian killed in the
same ambush as Lynch, represents the multi-racial identities of women in this war. These
women, in particular, symbolize the equality of women in `the’ West, to the rest of the world.
The symbolic is in part true, and in part not. Women in the U.S. are thought to be treated equal; 29
modern and free. Yet, most middle- class and wealthy women are not found in the military.
Private Lynch is West Virginia working-class poor. She is the age of Bush’s twin daughters,
both attending college, far away from this war. Johnson and Piestewa, both single moms, were
in the military in order to go to school. Necessity, more than equality seems to be the guide here.
More often than not, inequity and sexual harassment, rather than sexual equality is the mark of
the U.S. military.
While the U.S. makes war, the U.S. Air Force, February 2003, is charged with multiple
counts of rape. Upwards of fifty women finally came forward to speak out publicly against a
decade’s worth of unfair treatment at the Air Force Academy. Several documented their rapes,
their failed attempts to have their complaints acted upon, and the stone walls they encountered in
trying to do so. One woman, Debra Dickerson tells her story of being raped, Christmas day,
1981. She pressed charges, her rapist confessed, and then the military blamed her. She says she
was born poor and Black, and escaped poverty in large measure by enlisting in the Air Force.
She became their golden girl, but in the end she writes that: “It was infinitely more difficult to be
female in uniform than to be black”.
Yet women in khaki
are juxtaposed against women `elsewhere’, even though these
women elsewhere–as in Iraq– are also trying to scrape together a life for themselves and their
loved ones. It is a tricky scenario to clarify. Women in military garb bespeak new gains for
women who are trying to build a life of economic independence; but this is a track which is
raced and classed by inequities already existing in their lives. Arab women from across Egypt
said no to war in Iraq and were in the front lines calling for peace and the protection of the
environment and natural resources of the area. They condemned the cost of a multi-billion dollar 30
war when billions of people across the globe have no access to potable water or proper
sanitation. Given this context, women’s and people of color’s incursion into a military hell bent
on empire building is one of the saddest contradictions of these times.
This irony may effect the women in Iraq the most cruelly. Although no friend to women,
during most of Saddam Hussein’s regime women worked and studied with few restrictions
compared to women in many other Muslim countries. Middle class women were part of the
professional class. They could vote and maintain custody of children after divorce. These rights
began to be challenged in the last years of Saddam’s rule as he sought support from Islamic
extremists against the U.S. Women were newly required to travel with a male relative. Now in
post-Saddam Iraq women are fearful that if Islamic Shiite extremism takes hold, that they will
lose more freedoms.
It is also newly reported that girls and women are at great risk of rape
given the lack of law and order in Iraq and are thereby relegated to staying at home. But it is
already clear that no one in the Bush administration is watching, or cares, what happens to
women in Iraq.
MS. WORLD, NIGERIA, AND THE GLOBE
Kaduna, Nigeria hosted the Ms. World contest, 2002. Contestants representing Costa
Rica, Switzerland, South Africa, Panama, and Denmark refused to participate in the pageant
because of the choice of the host country. They thought it was unacceptable for the pageant to
condone, inadvertently or not, the practice of Shari’a/Islamic law which notoriously prescribed
death by stoning for Amina Lawal for adultery. These contestants spoke out against what they 31
saw as the cruelty of Islamic law and its unfair treatment of women. At this same time, Isoma
Daniel, a Christian Nigerian journalist wrote disrespectfully in her newspaper that perhaps the
prophet Muhammad would have liked one of these contestants as a bride. Extremist/Islamic led
violent riots broke out almost immediately in Kaduna. Hundreds of people died, and thousands
were seriously injured. The Pageant quickly relocated to London.
Let me try and unpack the messy mix of issues here. Before doing so I should say that I
have chosen to look carefully at this specific moment because it reveals the insufficiency of
established political discourses to represent, without distortion, the tangled webs which map
cross-cultural patriarchal and masculinist continuities. The simplistic oppositional frames, which
always falsely homogenize complexity, make it almost impossible to see new feminisms and
their fault lines as they emerge. The pageant itself is of `the’ West and yet is watched by several
billion viewers around the world. It is a globalized site which offers up women’s bodies from
around the world in western garb, according to western standards. But one should not assume as
I think Katha Pollitt does that this “cattle call” represents secular modernity, while the Islamic
extremists who rail against it are simply religious `backward’ fanatics.
Neither, by the way, are
these extremists standing up for women’s rights. Afterall, remember Lawal and her death
sentence which remains on appeal as I write.
So there are partial truths and partial realities here. The contest itself treats women more
like pieces of meat than human beings. It reduces women’s worth to their bodies. A particular
kind of beauty is what counts: high cheek bones, narrow noses, thin necks, slight muscle, long
legs, lean bodies. These women are to look like the fashion models of the global cosmetic and
fashion industries and beauty models of all nationalities try to mold themselves accordingly to 32
this singular standard. This mold is `a’ Western hegemonized notion of beauty that tyrannizes
women everywhere with its power-filled exclusions. Awura-Abena Ansah of Ghana says that
women need to carve out a more all encompassing notion of beauty respecting their home
cultures. Long necks with fleshy folds are seen as beautiful by Ghanaians.
But what happens to this critique of hegemonic westernized patriarchy when the pageant
is presented as an expression of women’s freedom and positioned against religious extremism?
Instead of seeing the pageant as exploitative and `backward’ in and of itself, Islamic
fundamentalists are characterized and singled out as such. It is not that I do not think that
Islamic extremist masculinism is not `backward’, but that the pageant, in its own way, is
`backward’ too. Although women in `the’ West as well as women `elsewhere’ speak out against
fundamentalist misogyny some Muslim women take offense and defend the `true and
progressive’ Islam against what they see as arrogant western feminism. On Amy Goodman’s
“Democracy Now” Fawzia Afzal-Khan and Azizah al-Hibri criticize western feminists for
“obsessing”over Islamic violence.
Salman Rushdie weighs in and asks why a majority of
Muslims in `the’ West, if they believe in this progressive side of Islam, do not speak out against
the rioting in Nigeria.
Katha Pollitt who usually gets it right, has it partially wrong in this instance. She reduces
the pageant and the ensuing riots to a religious/secular struggle even though she readily admits
that “religious texts mean what people want them to mean, and always have”. Women’s rights
will never be a perfect fit for her in either the Qur’an or the bible. Yet she also says: “Say what
you will about beauty pageants, if it’s bikinis versus burkas, you’ve got to be for bathing suits”.
But exactly who benefits from this oppostioning? The issue is not about burqas and bathing 33
suits as pieces of clothing so it is crucially important to flesh out what the problems really are in
this instance. Pollitt needs to look inside these choices for the silences and the whisperings
One last pluralizing of `seeing’ the pageant from Zohra Yusuf Daoud, who was crowned
the first Miss Afghanistan in 1972. She writes that despite the trivializing of pageants in the U.S.
their role in Afghanistan is different. They mean “we were catching up to the world, working to
fit in, joining the global community”. Her role as Miss Afghanistan involved promoting literacy,
and visiting women’s prisons that were filled with women who had run away from forced
marriages, killed husbands who had beaten them, escaped from domestic violence. She says that
maybe pageants are “silly” but being Miss Afghanistan changed her life. She notes: “I’m no
politician, I’m no activist. I am a mother, a wife, a woman, and a refugee from a country whose
glory has long since passed. Like so many other Americans, I am an immigrant with only stories
of what my life used to be like in a land far away.
Women’s bodies remain a major site of political contestation because so much power is
located in women’s activism and energy for sustaining life. Even a commercialized and
domesticated event like Ms. World reveals this contestation. Women themselves must struggle
to develop ways of seeing beyond the imperial and masculinist divides that prevent new
dialogues for revolutionary action.
It is more urgent than ever given the U.S. wars of/on `terror’ to recognize the imperial
aspects of globalization and their complicity with racialized patriarchal privilege. Women living
in `the’ West need to remove the veils of ignorance which allow them to think that `the’
liberatory notions of democracy are simply western. Then newly democratic progressive notions 34
of the female body and sport can begin to be interrogated.
RELOCATING POLYVERSAL FEMINISMS
Feminisms are humanist theories of inclusivity that attempt to name women in their
cacophonous varieties. This variety expresses the standard of polyversality–a connectedness
rooted in multiplicity–a sharedness expressed through uniqueness. Self-determination of
women’s bodies and minds is expressed through local cultural meanings but with a cross-cultural
recognition of women’s duties and rights. No woman shall be excluded or silenced because of
imperial blinders or cultural domination.
Feminisms have a unity which is also simultaneously diverse. It is multiple and
continues to multiply. As such, feminisms is the most inclusive theory of social justice I know
but I am not sure that this is the same thing as saying, as feminist and friend bell hooks does, that
Feminism is for Everybody.
Because feminisms are about displacing and rearranging
masculinist privilege–with its racist and colonialist roots/routes–there are men and women alike
who will not embrace it. The inclusivity is too revolutionary, the power rearrangements too
This poly/dimensional origin of feminisms means that a variety of feminisms must
dialogue with each other while challenging the limits of each others understanding and viewings.
The tensions between beliefs about family, religion, sport, secularism, sex, veils, and nudity are
not easily resolved. Nor is it clear that they need be in order to recognize women’s and girl’s 35
shared exploitation and oppression. Women’s bodies and the life women live because of them
creates the bridges that are necessary to humanely embrace each other in spite of conflicts. We,
the big `we’ must disentangle ourselves from the imagined West/non-West, modern/backward,
developed/lacking divide in order to creatively see the panoply of women’s activism more fully.
This means challenging U.S. imperial feminism wherever it exists.
Imperial feminism–articulated by Bush’s women–works on behalf of global capitalist
patriarchy and misuses women’s rights discourse for U. S. empire building. I do not want to
confuse all the different feminisms of `the’ West and in `the’ West with this imperial neo-liberal
form. But it is more important than ever that feminists in the U. S. understand these differences
and act to criticize and isolate the neo-liberal packaging of women’s rights and needs.
We, the big `we’, must also acknowledge that most women want freedom and most
women want equality as well. These desires make us similarly human. Women may define these
desires differently, and this also makes us uniquely human. Women’s polyversality allows us to
see one another but not simply as in a mirror. At this moment women across the globe must find
ways to celebrate and blend these different traditions of women’s struggle. The process of
naming, and seeing, and working together dislodges former barriers. New ways of thinking will
allow for more inclusive ways of knowing and seeing so that no one is left behind.
As an anti-racist feminist in the U.S. it is urgent for me and others like me to actively
work towards ending women’s and girl’s exploitation and oppression at home and all places
elsewhere. Alice Walker says somewhat the same thing when she says that “we must see where
our tax dollars flow and try, in awareness, to follow them.”
This anti-globalization position
must also be clarified to demand a fair wage for all. The U.S. government must be pressured to 36
make good on its obligations to Afghanistan and establish peace in Iraq; end the wars of/on
`terror; rebuild a just welfare state in the U.S.; change its policies toward Palestinians. We, the
big `we’ need peace, not war; justice not greed; support not competition; health care not
insurance companies; affirmative action and Title IX not simple self-help rhetoric. For any of
this to happen the right-wing take-over of the U.S., and with it the globe, must be stopped.
The reach of neo-liberalism extends well beyond any one nation. It is the major obstacle
that women face in their struggles for just and humane democracies almost everywhere. What
makes this all even more difficult is that like the wars of/on `terror’, women’s rights is now
embedded in neoliberalism, as a way of containing it. The U.N. Development Program’s “Arab
Human Development Report” says that the lack of women’s empowerment and education is a
key reason for the poverty of the region. The report advises to enhance the freedom of Arab
women. Interestingly, there is no mention of women’s equality, given the report’s neoliberal
framing. Choices should be increased rather than access. And the state should empower the
poor, but not by assuming “the role of direct provider of economic goods and services. This
approach has failed”.
So much for humane democracy because the private sector is preferred.
Nevertheless, hugely viable women’s movements throughout the world speak an
incredible diversity and heterogeneity that pushes out the borders that each of us inhabit. New
bridges are being built as women discover each other in transborder actions across diverse
currents. Latin American and Caribbean feminisms have been newly naming their struggles in
their Encuentros (encounters) since the early 1980’s. Feminists in Arab states lead the struggle
for democracy in Iran, Afghanistan, Algeria. Peasant women in Mexico kept an airport from
being built in the name of land rights for peasants. Women Reebok workers in India fought for 37
better wages and working conditions and won.
It is at each of these locations that the meaning
of feminisms and democracies will unfold for this next century.
Ask me a few years from now if my understanding and agenda for feminisms is the same
and I hope I can say no. Hopefully, the big `we’ will have moved on, beyond neoliberalism and
imperial feminism, to humane democracy for us all. Maybe sports activists who know the full
capacities and possibilities of women’s bodies will be able to vitalize this democratic struggle.
i.Please see my Manmade Breast Cancers (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001); and my
forthcoming Against Empire (London: Zed Press, 2004) for much fuller discussion of many of
the points developed here.
ii.Zillah Eisenstein, HATREDS, Racialized and Sexualized Conflicts in the 21
York: Routledge, 1996), especially chapter 5.
iii.Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978).
iv.There is a huge feminist literature discussing these issues.
For particularly provocative discussions see: Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter (New York:
Routledge, l993); Elisabeth Grosz and Elspeth Probyn, Sexy Bodies (New York: Routledge,
l995); and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Tendencies (Durham: Duke University Press, l993).
v.As quoted in Andrew Morton, Monica’s Story (New York: St. Martin’s Press, l999), pp. 252,
vi.Gwendolyn Mink, Hostile Environment (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000).
vii.Redstockings, Kathie Sarachild, ed., Feminist Revolution (New Paltz, New York:
Redstockings, l975). 38
viii.For a sampling of this huge literature see: bell hooks, Talking Back (Boston: South End
Press, l989); Barbara Smith, ed., Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (New York: Kitchen
Table Women of Color Press, l983); Patricia Williams The Alchemy of Race and Rights
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, l99l).
ix.Richard Dyer, WHITE (New York: Routledge, l997); and David Roediger, Black on White
(New York: Schocken, l998).
x.For a fuller discussion of this see: Zillah Eisenstein and Patricia Zimmermann, “The Olympics
and Post-Cold War Femininities: Tonya and Nancy”, in Cynthia Baughman, ed., Women on Ice:
Feminist Essays on the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Spectacle (New York: Routledge, 1995).
xi.Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
Nationalism (New York: Verso, 1983, 1991).
xii.See my, HATREDS (New York: Routledge, l996) for a full accounting of this argument.
xiii.Sandra Steingraber, “Why the Precautionary Principle? A Meditation on Polyvinyl Chloride
(PVC) and the Breasts of Mothers”, in Rachel’s Environment and Health Weekly #658, July 8,
l999. Available by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
xiv.Sandra Steingraber, “Protecting the First Environment: Thoughts on Toxic Chemicals and
Pregnancy”, January 2000, unpublished paper.
xv. Evan Thomas, “The Real Condi Rice”, Newsweek, vol. CXL, no. 25 (December, 2002), pp.
xvi. Peter Marks, “Adept Politics and Advertising, 4 Women Shape a Campaign,” New York
Times, November 11, 2001, p. 4.
xvii. I am indebted to Minnie Bruce Pratt’s statement: “Dear Friends of Women’s Liberation,”
November 12, 2001 (email@example.com), for this discussion.
xviii. David Stout, “Mrs. Bush Cites Abuse of Women and Children by the Taliban,” New York
Times, November 18, 2001, p. B5.
xix. Sarmad Sufian, “U.S. Used Nuclear Waste”, Weekly Independent, (Pakistan) vol. 1, no. 23
(Nov. 29-Dec. 5), 2001), p. 1.
xx. Anita Hill, “Insider Women With Outsider Values”, New York Times, June 6, 2002, p. A31.
xxi. “Coleen Rowley’s Memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller, TIME, June 3, 2002, pp.12-21.
xxii. Jill Abramson, “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar in the Enron Scandal”, New York Times,
January 27, 2002, p. Wk3. 39
xxiii. See the “Proposal for UN Women’s Strategies for Civil Conflict Resolution,”
xxiv. Lynette Dumble, “In the Name of Freedom: Terror, Death, Hunger, Misogyny, and
Genocide in Afghanistan,” Znet ,www.ZMag.org.
18. Mona Eltahawy and Kalpana Sharma, “Commentary: U.S. Should Heed How Our Allies
Treat Women,” http://www.womensenews.org/join.cfm.
19. As quoted in Alessandra Stanley, “Walking a Fine Line in Showcasing Women and Dealing
with Muslim Allies,” New York Times, October 27, 2001, p. B9.
20.Sunita Mehta and Homaira Mamoor, “Building Communities Across Difference”, in Women
for Afghan Women, Sunita Mehta, ed. (New York: Palgrave, 2002), p. 24.
21. Alessandra Stanley, “Walking a Fine Line in Showcasing Women and Dealing with Muslim
Allies”, p. B.9.
22. U.S. State Department, “The Taliban’s War against Women,” http://www.state.gov
23. Patricia Leigh Brown, “Heavy Lifting Required: The Return of Manly Men,” New York
Times, October 28, 2001, p. 5.
24.For interesting discussions of the aftermath of Sept. 11 see: Susan Hawthorne and Bronwyn
Winter, eds. September 11, 2001, Feminist Perspectives (Australia: Spinifex, 2002); William
Heyen, September 11, 2001, American Writers Respond (Silver Spring, Md.: Etruscan Press,
2001); and “Roundtable: Gender and September 11″, Signs, vol. 28, no. 1 (Autumn, 2002), pp.
25. Barbara Crossette, “Living in a World without Women,” New York Times, November 4,
2001, p. B1.
26.Jashir K. Puar and Amit S. Rai, “Monster, Terrorist, Fag: The War on Terrorism and the
Production of Docile Patriots”, Social Text, vol. 20, no. 2 (Fall, 2002), pp. 126, 139, 140.
27.For important discussion of gender and militarism see Cynthia Enloe, Does Khaki Become
You? (Boston: South End Press, 1983); and her Bananas, Beaches and Bases, Making Feminist
Sense of International Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).
28.Jodi Wilgoren., “The New War Brings New Role for Women”, New York Times, March 28,
29.Jim Lacey, Cath Booth Thomas, et al, “An American Family Goes to War”, Newsweek, vol. 40
161, no.12 (March 24, 2003), pp. 26-34.
30.Melani McAlister, “Saving Private Lynch”, New York Times, April 6, 2003, p. wk13.
31.Nicholas D. Kristof, “A Woman’s Place”, New York Times, April 25, 2003, p. A 31.
32.Jodi Wilgoren, “A New War Brings New Role for Women”, New York Times, April 2, 2003,
33.Debra Dickerson, “Rallying Around the Rapist”, New York Times, March 18, 2003, p. A33.
34.I am indebted to Cynthia Enloe for this phrasing.
35.Nazila Fathi, “Iraqi Career Women Ponder A Future Under Shiite Rule”, New York Times,
May 25, 2003, p. A 19.
36.Katha Pollitt, “As Miss World Turns”, The Nation, vol. 275, no. 22 (December 23, 2002), p.
37.”Democracy Now”, Pacifica Radio Archives, “Ms. World Riots in Nigeria”, November 27,
38.Salman Rushdie, “No More Fanaticism as Usual”, New York Times, November 27, 2002, p.
39.Katha Pollitt, “As Miss World Turns”, p. 9.
40.Zohra Yusuf Daoud, “Miss Afghanistan, A Story of a Nation”, in Women for Afghan
Women, ed. Sunita Mehta (New York: Palgrave, 2002), pp. 104, 105, 111.
41.bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody (Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press), 2000.
42.Alice Walker, sent by earth, a message from the Grandmother Spirit (New York: Seven
Stories Press, Open Media Pamphlet Series, 2001). P. 49.
43.Arab Human Development Report, pp. 72, 107. Available from: 1 U.N. Plaza, N.Y., N.Y.,
10017; or Email Pulbicaiton@U.N..org
44.James Russell, “Land and Identity in Mexico: Peasants Stop an Airport”, pp. 14-25; and
Bernard D’Mello, “Reebok and the Global Footwear Sweatshop”, pp. 26-40, in Monthly Review
vol. 54, no. 9 (February, 2003).