When I talk with feminists from other countries, whether from Europe or the Third World, I am repeatedly asked: “Where are the voices of the US women’s movement against what the Bush Administration is doing globally, using the excuse of 9/11?”
While I know that many US feminists are concerned about these issues, it is clear that our voices are not being heard much–outside, or even inside, this country. The perception created by the Western media is that virtually all Americans support Bush’s militaristic threats, his “you’re with us or against us,” evil-axis rhetoric, and his unilateralist positions against global treaties from the Kyoto Protocol on the environment to the newly created International Criminal Court. When I mention activities like the weekly Women in Black vigils against US policy in the Middle East held in New York and other cities, or feminists working to change the composition of the US Congress, where only Barbara Lee spoke out against the Bush madness immediately after 9/11, they are somewhat relieved.
Yet it is clear that feminists in the United States do not have much impact on US foreign policy, which is military- and corporate-driven. Even though Bush used Afghan women’s rights to drum up support for his war, this did not lead to a sustained commitment to Afghan women. It is puzzling to many outside this country how a women’s movement that has had such profound influence on US culture and daily life could have so little effect on, or seemingly even concern for, US foreign policy and its impact on women worldwide. The consequences of this failure are disastrous for women in many countries, and they threaten the advances that the global women’s movement made in the 1990s.
Current US foreign policy makes it harder to build women’s international solidarity in a number of ways. The widespread sympathy that the world offered Americans at the time of 9/11 has given way to anti-Americanism and rage at what the US government is doing in the name of that event. On the day of the attacks, I was still in South Africa following the UN World Conference Against Racism held in Durban the week before. People expressed intense concern about what had happened, especially when they learned that I lived in New York. And this was in spite of the great frustration that most felt about the inexcusable disdain for other countries the Bush Administration had just exhibited during the world conference. But now, resentment and anger at the United States is the overriding sentiment in many other nations. Even some feminist colleagues elsewhere tell me that they are now asked how they can really work with Americans, given how little opposition to Bush’s foreign policies they see happening here.
This resentment stems in part from the fact that 9/11 is not seen as a defining moment for the rest of the world–at least not in terms of what happened that day. In many places, people have long lived with terrorism, violence and death on a scale as great or greater than 9/11. So while they agree that this was a terrible and shocking event, they consider the US obsession with it, including the assumption that it is the defining moment for everyone, to be self-indulgent and shortsighted.