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Global patriarchy back in business

by Shannon Drury

At the turn of the millennium, when I began my feminist activist career, the idea that the Pill was an instrument of moral depravity seemed as dated as bullet bras and poodle skirts. Feminists knew we'd long be defending abortion rights, but contraceptive rights? It seemed settled among all sides of the debate that birth control was good for women, good for children (it's nice to be wanted, after all), and good for society.

Well, break out the saddle shoes, girls! Global patriarchy is back in style-and it means business.

Periods of great national stress tend to demand scapegoats, even ones as unlikely as Sandra Fluke, the law school student at Georgetown who was called a slut and a prostitute after testifying before a Congressional committee in favor of legislation supporting birth control. The control of women and their bodies is a political imperative in cultures around the world and in eras throughout human history, and nothing brings out misogyny more than global recession, prolonged war and environmental catastrophe. Women are the canaries in this ever-deepening coal mine.

Even the Taliban, undeterred by a decade of warfare, is back to its old tricks. Outside Kabul this June, a woman named Najiba was executed for alleged adultery, her death captured on a cell phone video that also recorded the cheers of onlookers. Unlike other horror movies released this summer, it's real. For another, you can almost hear the architects of the American War on Women using this execution as a tool to distract from their tactics at home.

I can imagine today's conservative leaders insisting that Najiba would be thrilled to earn the minuscule wages women of color make compared to white men in America. She would be delighted to drive 500 miles to obtain an abortion that costs so much she can't pay her rent! And you know she wouldn't mind the fact that the Violence Against Women Act, passed with bipartisan support in 1994, was being held up by Republicans in the U.S. Senate because the 2012 version includes protections for victims who are LGBT, Native American or undocumented immigrants. To listen to the rhetoric of the conservative right, American women have only two options: oppression or death.

On second thought, saddle shoes sound optimistic; I think we'll be spending the next decade barefoot ... and probably pregnant. I began my feminist activism in earnest back in 2002 because I believed, and still believe, in feminism's unique ability to make connections between oppressive systems and to reject binaries in favor of complexity and nuance. To put it plainly, we need not choose between Najiba and Sandra Fluke, as both deserve the right to self-determination, dignity and safety. Feminism hears the canary in the coal mine, tweeting (Tweeting?) furiously, sounding the alarm for everyone else.

So what can we do? We can commit to making the dissolution of patriarchy our business, refusing to accept complacency or to settle for less than what we deserve. If that sounds like too tall an order, consider making one small step in that direction on Tuesday, Nov. 6. If you're casting your vote in south Minneapolis, look for me-I'll be the one in saddle shoes.

Shannon Drury is a self-described radical housewife. She lives in Minneapolis.


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