Social Text 20.3 (2002) 79-99
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Feminisms in the Aftermath of September 11
This essay is about how women's rights as a complicated discourse, and the burkha as a complex symbolic, are the sites from which to understand the complexity of global power struggles at this moment. But first a note of context is necessary to clear some space for thinking—openly, critically, historically—in terms of a before and after of September 11. September 11 has not changed everything. It has just made clear how much context and perspective and location matter. Ask the people of Chile about September 11—when their beloved president, Salvador Allende, was gunned down in a coup d'état supported by the United States. Ask them the meaning of trauma and grief. Think back to the Gulf War and U.S. militarist terrorism of its smart bombs. Think across and beyond to the children of Iraq, today, this minute, who need cancer drugs or textbooks for their schools and cannot have them because of the economic sanctions imposed on their country. Do what women always do—multitask, so that you are not simply concentrated on yourself, or the United States, or this moment.
Please remember: The U.S. economy was in trouble before September 11; Boeing was angling for its defense contract before September 11; the airlines were in trouble before September 11. Also please think about the 3,000 wonderful people who were murdered on September 11, who came from over sixty different countries; the horrible tragedies in Nigeria and Sudan; the high school students like my daughter who were expected to wear flag pins and would not; the hundreds of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs since September 11; the incredible profits being made by the military-industrial complex on the present war; that Planned Parenthood has faced anthrax threats for years; that college campuses are being targeted as sites of antipatriotism.
Try to see what is not easily visible. Rethink invisibility; rethink as overt the covert realms of power that are not being named. Do not give into the falseness of the moment. This is a time of insecurity and trouble. Do not pretend that having to use a plastic spoon to spread cream cheese on your bagel in the airport—instead of a plastic knife—makes you safe. None of us will be safe until the world embraces democracy for us all. [End Page 79]
On Global Misogyny
A masculinist-militarist mentality dominates on both sides of the ill-named East/West divide. The opposition implied by this divide is not simple or complete. Flows between these locations have always existed and this is the case today more than ever. Further, the two sides of the divide share foundational relations, even if differently expressed, especially in terms of male privilege. Neither side embraces women's full economic and political equality or sexual freedom. In this sense fluidity has always existed in the arena of women's rights and obligations between the two. The Taliban's insistence on the burkha and the U.S. military's deployment of women fighter pilots are used to overdraw and misrepresent the oppositional stance.
At present, economic flows of the global economy simply lessen the divide further. The bin Laden family itself represents this form of globalism. The family's money is tied to multiple Western investments such as General Electric, Goldman-Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Microsoft, and Boeing. 1 One can easily assume that bin Laden's fury is directed as much at his family as at the West, which is a deadly combination. The quick and easy East/West divide is also not helpful politically, as the United States champions democracy while banding together with military dictators and kings.
As I try to think through these post-September 11 moments, I feel compelled to locate and name the privileging of masculinist power with all its destructiveness. The silencing of women's unique voices at this moment, but most especially the voices of Afghan women and feminists—who criticized the early...