In my own research I have run across a feminist claim that we should see honor-killings as part of continuum of domestic violence, little different from the assaults on women that take place in western countries (and most especially in the USA). Phyllis Chesler has done yeoman work in this area, making it clear how vast a gulf separates the culture of the US, and those in which parents feel driven by community pressures to kill their daughters for the sake of family honor.
David Thompson, whose critique of post-modernism I have highlighted and commented on here has a new post on the strange world of feminist discourse that sheds light on this effort at moral equivalence. It chronicles the astonishing misrepresentations that come from a radical political agenda disguised as human rights talk.
I’ve previouslynoted the tendency of some academic activists to indulge in wild overstatement, not least those entranced by the Holy Trinity of race, class and gender. As, for instance, when Barbara Barnett, a product of Duke’s infamous English department, claimed that, “20%–25% of college students report that they have experienced a rape or attempted rape.” Barnett’s assertions were subsequently debunked by KC Johnson:
Barnett… thereby [suggests] that college campuses have a rate of sexual assault around 2.5 times higher than the rate of sexual assault, murder, armed robbery and assault combined in Detroit, the U.S. city with the highest murder rate. For those in the reality-based community, FBI figures provide a counterweight to Barnett’s theories: not 20%-25% but instead around .03% of students are victims of rape while in college. Duke’s 2000-2006 figures, which use a much broader reporting standard than the FBI database, indicate that 0.2% of Duke students “report that they have experienced a rape or attempted rape.”
Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Christina Hoff Sommers spies more academic work in which accuracy appears peripheral to a political agenda:
Consider The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World (2008), by the feminist scholar Joni Seager, chair of the Hunter College geography department… One color-coded map illustrates how women are kept “in their place” by restrictions on their mobility, dress, and behavior. Somehow the United States comes out looking as bad in this respect as Somalia, Uganda, Yemen, Niger, and Libya. All are coded with the same shade of green to indicate places where “patriarchal assumptions” operate in “potent combination with fundamentalist religious interpretations.”
Seager’s logic? She notes that in parts of Uganda, a man can claim an unmarried woman as his wife by raping her. The United States gets the same low rating on Seager’s charts because, she notes, “State legislators enacted 301 anti-abortion measures between 1995 and 2001.” Never mind that the Ugandan practice is barbaric, that U.S. abortion law is exceptionally liberal among the nations of the world, and that the activism and controversy surrounding the issue of abortion in the United States is a sign of a vigorous free democracy working out its disagreements.
Needless to say, Sommers’ line of enquiry isn’t universally welcomed. Her points about gross errors, overstatement and competitive victimhood are often met with prickling indignation, not least from those whose activities include some combination of the above. Some denounce Sommers as “conservative” – a synonym for evil – a “female impersonator” and an “anti-feminist,” a term that suggests both the crime of apostasy and a very narrow definition of what “real” feminists should be concerned with and how they’re permitted see the world.
What Thompson points out here is how a small group of “right-thinking” “progressives” try to stigmatize and ostracize points of view that challenge their approach. This is the opposite of real scholarship — which welcomes dissent and tries to build consensus based on the free and informed assessment of empirical evidence — and actually seems to reflect the rules of the playground rather than those of adult — and consequential — discourse.
One taker of umbrage offers the following, entirely without irony:
That Sommers does not get that the vast majority of American women are every bit as hobbled by constrictions around dress, mobility and behaviour as women in developing countries tells me Sommers needs to get out more.
Note the tone. There’s no substance here, merely a call to collective derision. This is similar to the way in which Saïd managed to coerce anyone who did not want to be embarrassed into not talking about “honor-shame” culture.
the vast majority of American women are every bit as hobbled by constrictions around dress, mobility and behaviour as women in developing countries…
Same, same. No?
Who needs to get out?
Thompson continues with a combination of scorn and data:
Readers will, I’m sure, be nodding in agreement. After all, women across America are accustomed to being given a three-day deadline to shroud themselves from head to toe or face imprisonment. And doubtless when American women find themselves pregnant out of wedlock they too have a very real fear of execution at the hands of local government. You see, in degree of constriction, the “vast majority” of American women are indistinguishable from Aisho Ibrahim Dhuhulow, a Somalian woman found guilty of extra-marital intercourse by her local Islamic court. No doubt all across America unfaithful wives risk sharing Dhuhulow’s fate. Which is to say, they too risk being bound from head to foot and buried up to the neck, screaming, while their skulls are pelted with rocks by 50 pious men until, finally, they scream no more. All in front of a crowd of equally pious onlookers.
My experiences in recent years have been more involved with publishing. I won’t use the name of the two university presses but they are both Ivy League ones.
At the first, a project was going fine until suddenly rejected in a routine meeting. When I asked what had happened, my source who had been there told me: “Someone said that we can’t have an Israeli writing about Arab politics.”
At the second, I was commissioned to do a book—their idea, not mine—which had been completed. The readers had raised some issues which had been simple to handle. I had a letter from the editor that the readers’ points had been fully addressed and the revised manuscript accepted by the editorial board.
Suddenly and at the last minute, the book was rejected by the advisory board whose head—obviously uncomfortable with being forced into this unprofessional and immoral behavior by the veto of a radical member of his board—nervously told me that they couldn’t publish the book.
Asked I, Why not? The answer: “You didn’t do what the readers asked.”
“But,” my response was, “I have a letter from your own editor saying I did. Tell you what,” I offered, “let’s send it back to the readers and see what they think. If they have any objections more changes can be made.”
“No!” He said. Can’t be done. Keep the money and bye! Click!
That same once-proud publisher, not much later, did a book by someone with no serious qualifications claiming that Zionism is a mental illness.
As R.D.Laing used to say, if everyone’s crazy, then sane people will seem mad.