I have been silent for some time now, because I have gone through a series of major life changes. One of which (perhaps the smallest) was coming to a conclusion about my writing—the more so since many of my fictional characters are female. Which is that I am forced to say, I am no longer a feminist. I can no longer call myself a feminist.
By this, I do not mean that I do not believe in the equal human and civic worth of women—irrespective of cultural and religious bias. Nor do I think work, real work, does not remain to be done towards that end: by men but also by women.
Rather, I refuse to be associated with a movement that has become so disfigured by cowardice that it has become a putrefying corpse of its former self. No woman who even briefly reflects upon this fact can call herself a feminist without admitting her own cowardice. And I am not a coward, which means I do not glorify my own fear, or the fears of others.
Politically organized modern American feminism has been conspicuous by its absence from the two great issues facing America today.
The first is the economic crisis engulfing America, an economic crisis that has been developing since 1975, the last year we ran a trade surplus. This has been exacerbated by the tens of millions of aliens, legal and illegal, imported by the corporations who own our political process, to further enrich themselves by lowering wages for native-born Americans—and exploiting immigrants. This is an economic crisis that will probably turn violent as millions of people run out of money on which to live. Americans—and I have never believed in moral equivalence—now have the same kind of political worth—and are worth scarcely more as human beings—that Soviets did under the Brezhnev years.
The second is the issue of Islamism and sharia. I do not know of a place in the world where canon law—Christian church law—is the law of the land. Halakha—Jewish religious law—is not the law of Israel. But there are Muslims in America who want sharia to supersede civil law, and this is particularly a matter of women’s liberty and freedom. Wearing the burka, the Chador, and the niquab is not about a few agoraphobic women attending to the necessities of life without too many panic attacks, it is about men to imprisoning women. (Nor is it about modesty. It’s really not hard to dress attractively without looking like meat. Indeed, I would argue that dressing attractively requires not dressing like meat.) And, not coincidentally, to hide any damage they may have done to their faces or their bodies. (When veiling is adapted by non-Muslim men, it serves the same function.) The headscarf, like the Orthodox Jewish insistence on women covering their hair, sexualizes women and makes women responsible for men. (But Halakha is not the law of Israel.) And the bodies of Muslim women are the ground on which Muslim men, unable and unwilling to create functional societies that work for most people in them, assert their “superiority.”
Modern American political feminism has refused to confront these two crisis because it has always founded on the issue, and philosophy, of pacifism. Pacifism has been how modern political feminism confronted the issue of equality in the 1960s and 70s, which were a confluence of three major events. First, modern medicine had given women about a generation—the first in human history—of relief from their deaths in huge, horrendous numbers in childbirth. (Oral contraception then gave women a reliable way to control their own fertility.) In America, these numbers outweighed male deaths in combat until about 1940, and the developed world still do: a fact of biology and a vulnerability of women to men that was in no way offset by men’s vulnerability women and that has shaped how we think about the male and the female bodies, the human and civic worth of men and women, and sex itself. Second, the Cold War was entering its seemingly endless phase, and the Soviet leadership did not inspire confidence in its intellectual vigor or flexibility. Leonid I. Brezhnev’s brain was dead for years before his heart got the word. Konstantinople Cheerios—err, Konstantine U. Chernenko—anyone? The only one with a brain was Yuri V. Andropov (his brain functioned pretty well for about a year after the death of his body) and he had been ambassador to Hungary in 1956 (during the Hungarian Uprising) before he became Chairman of the KGB in 1967. These people had nuclear weapons.
And pointed at them were the nuclear weapons of our own leadership, which had had a very public nervous, moral and intellectual breakdown in Southeast Asia, a war in Vietnam that martyred Laos and incinerated Cambodia. More to the point, it seemed that Ronald Reagan was bent upon repeating the same insanity in Latin America, possibly with a draft—and you draft to replace combat casualties. Rather than do the hard work of articulating a rational and humane foreign policy—a foreign policy that accepted that women, like men, might be called upon to bear arms and fight and die, in exchange for creating a republic that made our human equality a point of law—including challenging the draft as anything other than an unconstitutional measure to be employed only in extraordinary circumstances, feminism embraced pacifism. Equality became about “Me” rather than about equality itself—and the ultimate point of feminism: to live in, and contribute to, the world as a human being and a citizen. And yes, when need be, defend the civilization one enjoyed and to which one contributed.
And so pacifism and cowardice have cost feminism, as an organized political movement, its moral creditability. Indeed, you can even date feminism’s moral and political suicide: 12 September, 2001, when NOW, which had quite rightly advocated expanded military roles for women, refused to call women to the colors to fight, amongst others, the Taliban. The only reason so many of us kept calling ourselves feminists was because we had nowhere else to go: we knew that traditional marriage, for example, has never been good for women, had never been a fair trade. Other women—including perhaps many police officers and servicewomen—who would have been delighted to call themselves feminist, had the movement had the image of proud, self-respecting dignity and of the moral and intellectual courage that so often enable physical courage, left a long time ago.
But with catastrophe looming over America, a economic catastrophe brought down upon us by, frankly, a very few wealthy men, and an America increasingly imperiled by an undeclared, violent war on its Southern border and Islamicist colonization, women such as myself who believe in the entire civic and human equality of women can no longer call ourselves feminists. Like any prudent man, while we might help those unable to help themselves, even attempt to rescue them, we will not ally ourselves with a movement that refuses to defend itself or other women—human beings and citizens, with hopes and dreams and responsibilities as well as rights and fears and concerns.
I do not know what comes next for women in the effort, barely a century and a half old—approximately a month in the span of recorded human history—to create a polity in which women’s lives and dignity have the same human and civic worth as men’s. Particularly as America becomes a more impoverished and violent place.
That issue is part of my writing, but it is not all of my writing. And so I will simply say, I am no longer a feminist because I am not a coward. Perhaps there are more women like me.
I will be increasingly writing about American-Israeli-Russian-Palestinian relations. And a few other odds and ends, such as lace knitting.