Well-known feminist and writer Katha Pollitt has written an open letter about whether American feminism is taking an unfair bashing for not focusing on global issues enough. Here’s the letter.
An Open Letter from American Feminists
Columnists and opinion writers from The Weekly Standard to the Washington Post to Slate have recently accused American feminists of focusing obsessively on minor or even nonexistent injustices in the United States while ignoring atrocities against women in other countries, especially the Muslim world. A number of reasons are given for this supposed neglect: narcissism, ideological rigidity, reflexive anti-Americanism, fear of seeming insensitive or even racist. Yet what is the evidence for this apparently now broadly accepted claim that feminists don’t support the struggles of women around the globe? It usually comes down to a quick scan of the home page of the National Organization for Women’s website, observing that a particular writer hasnâ€™t covered a particular outrage, plus a handful of quotes wrenched out of context.
In fact, as a bit of research would easily show, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of US feminist organizations involved in promoting women’s rights and well-being around the globe — V-Day, Equality Now, MADRE, the Global Fund for Women, the International Womenâ€™s Health Coalition and Feminist Majority, to name some of the most prominent. (The National Organization for Women itself has a section on its website devoted to global feminism, on which it denounces a wide array of practices including female genital mutilation (FGM), â€œhonorâ€? murder, trafficking, dowry deaths and domestic violence). Feminists at Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations have moved those organizations to add the rights of women and girls to their agenda. Feminist magazines and blogs– Ms, Feministing.com, Salon.comâ€™s Broadsheet feature, womensenews,com (which has an edition in Arabic) — as well as feminist reporters and commentators in the mainstream media, regularly report on and condemn outrages against women wherever they occur, from rape, battery and murder in the US to the denial of womenâ€™s human rights in the developing or Muslim world.
As feminists, we call on journalists and opinion writers to report the true position of our movement. We believe that women’s rights are human rights, and stand in solidarity with our sisters who are fighting for equal political, economic, social and reproductive rights around the globe. Specifically, contrary to the accusations of pundits, we support their struggle against female genital mutilation, “honor” murder, forced marriage, child marriage, compulsory Islamic dress codes, the criminalization of sex outside marriage, brutal punishments like lashing and stoning, family laws that favor men and that place adult women under the legal power of fathers, brothers, and husbands, and laws that discount legal testimony made by women. We strongly oppose the denial of education, health care and equal political and economic rights to women.
We reject the use of women’s rights language to justify invading foreign countries. Instead, we call on the United States government to live up to its expressed commitment to women’s rights through peaceful means. Specifically, we call upon it to:
–offer asylum to women and girls fleeing gender-based persecution, including female genital mutilation, domestic violence, and forced marriage;
–promote women’s rights and well-being in all their foreign policy and foreign aid decisions;
–use its diplomatic powers to pressure its allies — especially Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive countries in the world for women — to embrace women’s rights;
–drop the Mexico City policy–aka the ‘gag rule’–which bars funds for AIDS- related and contraception-related health services abroad if they provide abortions, abortion information, or advocate for legalizing abortion;
–generously support the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which supports women’s reproductive health including safe maternity around the globe, and whose funding is vetoed every year by President Bush;
–become a signatory to The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the basic UN women’s human rights document, now signed by 185 nations. The US is one of a handful of holdouts, along with Iran, Sudan, and Somalia.
Finally, we call upon the United States, and all the industrialized nations of the West, to share their unprecedented wealth, often gained at the expense of the developing world, with those who need it in such a way that women benefit.
Katha Pollitt, writer
Marge Piercy, writer
Alix Kates Shulman, writer
Julianne Malveaux, president Bennett college for women
Anne Lamott, writer
Linda Gordon, historian, NYU
Jennifer Baumgardner, writer
Ruth Rosen, historian
Jane Smiley, writer
Anna Fels, MD, writer
Debra Dickerson, writer/blogger, Salon.com
Margo Jefferson, writer
Jessica Valenti, writer/blogger,www.feministing.com
Dana Goldstein, The American Prospect
Karen Houppert, writer
Gloria Jacobs, The Feminist Press
Carole Joffe, Sociology, UC Davis
Janet Afary, Middle East Historian, Purdue University
Barrie Thorne, Professor and Chair of Gender & Women’s Studies and Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley
Catharine R. Stimpson
Lakshmi Chaudhry, writer
Rosalyn Baxandall, chair, American Studies SUNY-Old Westbury
Judith Ezekiel, historian, Wright State U/U de Toulouse
Drucilla Cornell, prof political science women’s studies and comparative literature, Rutgers.
Sonia Jaffe Robbins, writer/editor
Laura X, activist
Linda Stein, sculptor
Stephanie Gilmore, historian, Trinity College
Ariel Dougherty, Media Equity Collaborative, co founder Women Make Movies
Amie Newman, Associate editor, RH Reality check
Merle Hoffman, Choices women’s Medical Center and On the Issues magazine
Adele M. Stan, columnist, American Prospect Online
Michelle Goldberg, writer
If you would like your name and professional affiliation added to this list, you can send an email to Katha Pollitt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you think male feminists can be on the list too?