I’d like to add my two cents to The Other Charlotte’s fine post yesterday on feminist leaders’ post-Abu Grhaib discovery that–women can be bad people too! (See A Time to Speak Out, May 16.) TOC was commenting on an essay in the Washington Post’s Sunday Outlook section by sociology professor Melissa Sheridan Embser-Herbert in which Embser-Herbert voiced her astonishment that female U.S. soldiers helped abuse prisoners in Iraq. Imagine such a thing! Women are supposed to be the nice sex, and the idea was that when they joined the military in critical masses, they would so change the military culture that…there would be no more war!
Embser-Herbert was hardly the only feminista thumbsucker to be shocked, shocked yesterday yesterday that Lynndie England–one of the sisterhood that’s supposed to be powerful–led a naked Iraqi around on a leash. Such angst from the doctrinaire is actually a meme. In the Los Angeles Times’s Sunday Opinion section Barbara “Nickel and Dimed” Ehrenreich wrote exactly the same thing. Here’s Ehrenreich (thanks, Arts and Letters Daily, for the link):
“Secretly, I hoped that the presence of women would over time change the military, making it more respectful of other people and cultures, more capable of genuine peacekeeping. That’s what I thought, but I don’t think that anymore.
“A certain kind of feminism, or perhaps I should say a certain kind of feminist naivet’, died in Abu Ghraib. It was a feminism that saw men as the perpetual perpetrators, women as the perpetual victims and male sexual violence against women as the root of all injustice. Rape has repeatedly been an instrument of war and, to some feminists, it was beginning to look as if war was an extension of rape. There seemed to be at least some evidence that male sexual sadism was connected to our species’ tragic propensity for violence. That was before we had seen female sexual sadism in action.
“But it’s not just the theory of this naive feminism that was wrong. So was its strategy and vision for change. That strategy and vision rested on the assumption, implicit or stated outright, that women were morally superior to men. We had a lot of debates over whether it was biology or conditioning that gave women the moral edge ‘ or simply the experience of being a woman in a sexist culture. But the assumption of superiority, or at least a lesser inclination toward cruelty and violence, was more or less beyond debate. After all, women do most of the caring work in our culture, and in polls are consistently less inclined toward war than men.”
What I find amazing is that women actually believed this sort of thing about themselves and each other. Abu Ghraib may in the end prove to be a good thing if it clears the air of the illusion of female moral superiority, which in my opinion is just the same old Victorian sexist notion of “the angel in the house,” except that the angels were supposed to be in Army field tents this time around. Abu Ghraib may also help finally clear the air of feminist victimology–the idea of women as weak, helpless creatures in need of government programs to rescue them from men.
But don’t count on that. Instead of suggesting that her radical sisters pause for a reality check, Ehrenreich counsels a new and different kind of feminist illusion: guerrilla warfare:
“What we need is a tough new kind of feminism with no illusions. Women do not change institutions simply by assimilating into them, only by consciously deciding to fight for change. We need a feminism that teaches a woman to say no ‘ not just to the date rapist or overly insistent boyfriend but, when necessary, to the military or corporate hierarchy within which she finds herself.
“In short, we need a kind of feminism that aims not just to assimilate into the institutions that men have created over the centuries, but to infiltrate and subvert them.”
Oh, no. That’s really scary.