Saturday, September 18, 2004

Feminism and Abu Ghraib

Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and co-editor of Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, published an interesting piece in the Los Angeles Times last May on Abu Ghraib and what it meant for her understanding of feminism. The essay, "What Abu Ghraib Taught Me," can be read here on the Women's Human Rights Net web site.

Ehrenreich mentions the Stanley Milgram experiment in acknowledging that we should have known that ordinary people can do horrendous things. But she admits that feminists have typically thought that women wouldn't do the things that men would do. "A certain kind of feminism," Ehrenreich writes, "or perhaps I should say a certain kind of feminist naiveté, died in Abu Ghraib." For Ehrenreich and many other feminists, facile assumptions about the moral superiority of women were displaced by the images of Lynndie England and Sabrina Harman abusing Iraqi prisoners.

What we have learned from Abu Ghraib, once and for all, is that a uterus is not a substitute for a conscience. This doesn't mean gender equality isn't worth fighting for for its own sake. It is. If we believe in democracy, then we believe in a woman's right to do and achieve whatever men can do and achieve, even the bad things. It's just that gender equality cannot, all alone, bring about a just and peaceful world.