Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricanes and feminism?

No, this is not a joke (at least, not an intentional one). Hurricanes and feminism. If you thought the racial politics of Katrina were absurd, wait till you see the gender spin.

In the days after the disaster, there was a rather animated discussion of Hurricane Katrina on the Women's Studies List, an email forum/subscription list for women's studies professors and instructors. There, along with standard rhetoric about racism and the awfulness of Bush ("The silver lining is that the Bush administration is completely under fire right now"), there was a lot talk about how to analyze the tragedy in class as a feminist issue.

Funny, I thought that hurricanes and natural disasters in general are pretty gender-neutral (at least now that hurricanes are given both male and female names). But no: "Please," wrote one professor, "let us recognize that the most vulnerable people that were impacted by this disaster were women, such as the disabled, the mothers with infants, the elderly woman in her wheelchair who was left to die, while her rotting corpse was covered over in a white sheet." I will concede that due to high rates of single motherhood in poor urban neighborhoods, there were undboutedly more women in New Orleans who were sole caretakers of small children. But disability is now a female condition? Elderly men in wheelchairs didn't die?

If there was a "women's issue" here, it was the fact that in the lawless atmosphere that followed the flood, women in general were almost certainly more vulnerable to crime and to sex crimes in particular (though men were probably under greater pressure to act as protectors of women and children; and there are media accounts of female perpetrators of violence, as well). But interestingly, the women's studies list discussion glossed over that, since to condemn violence and lawlessness would be racially un-PC, and women's studies is rigidly bound by the leftist orthodoxy of identity politics of all kinds. (For a great analysis of the topic, see Professing Feminism: Education and Indoctrination in Women's Studies by former Women's Studies professors Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge.) The same prof whose comment is cited above went on to say, "And, with regards to GENDER, please let's not forget how black MEN and BOYS were cast in a most familiar trope of criminality through images of 'looting' and 'lawlessness.'"

Others on the list speculated that the federal government ignored Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco's plea for help because, heck, she's just a woman (though Blanco failed the sisterhood test for being so insensitive as to criticize the people who didn't evacuate and for endorsing a shoot-to-kill policy on looters). Then there was this observation:

Another aspect of the disaster that could be construed as a feminist issue is the ridiculous misuse of our country's resources and tax-dollars which have been poured into a pointless war by a male dominated "war-mongering" government. On a spiritual level the feminine principle has been thrown seriously out of balance by a government which never had any intention of nurturing, protecting, or supporting its own people.

War is male, nurturing is female; gotta love the clichés. (Condoleeza Rice, of course, is not a "real woman" on this list.)

Someone also brought up a class discussion of "ecofeminism," "Mother Earth," and "the Goddess."

So, in asking students to think how urban planning, development, and responses to natural disasters would be conceived differently if we viewed our planet as a living Terra Madre (Mother Earth), they began to add a different dimension to feminist analysis of this tragedy.

Many imagined that everything, from saving the wetlands of New Orleans, to placing emphasis on redesigning a city for safety with housing and levees that were built to guard against the wrath of hurricanes, would have been in place.


It has also allowed us to "think globally" in terms of the global warming that will increase the frequency of hurricanes like Katrina and the ways in which even Nature enters into the realm of politics...

Bet you didn't know that building levees to guard against hurricanes required particularly feminist thinking.

Luckily, unlike the race-baiting of the Al Sharptons and the Randall Robinsons, the rhetoric of the feminist wing of the looney left rarely seeps into the mainstream, largely staying confined to the nutty professors and their students. Sadly, however, this is a stark example of feminism marginalizing itself. Is there any wonder that most young women in college today regard it as an "F-word"?


Anonymous said...

Funny, I assumed putting in levees and other flood control measures raped the Earth.

Sarah said...

One of the first questions I asked myself in my college classes was "will this stuff actually help me (or anyone else) at all?" If the class seemed like self-congratulatory nonsense, I dropped it. This may explain why I don't have any credits in women's studies, and have a whole lot of them in science courses.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note: WMST has over 4,000 subscribers and not all of them particpate in every conversation. In my opinion, the hurricane thread was ridiculous, but I didn't have the time or engry to engage in a debate...

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