Last week the National Organization for Women (NOW) held their convention in Las Vegas. The main topic was of course “The War on Women.” So Amazonian, so Trojan, so superfluous, and so beyond insignificant. This happened simultaneously with the continual abduction, rape, and selling into marriage of young African girls and women primarily from Nigeria, Kenya, and Sudan. Also this week a group of Qatari women were campaigning to retain “modesty” in their country defraying foreigner women who ignore local dress codes and laws. What do these three events have in common? And why do I find them compelling?
In the early 60’s women were compartmentalized into three main life categories: secretaries, teachers, or mothers. With the insurrection of NOW and other women’s movements, women got the courage to demand more of Corporate America and society. Society rapidly embraced the possibility that women can accomplish and be par with their male counterparts in business, science, and technology. Young girls could finally self-develop, compete, and be allowed to excel in facets of education, finance, science, and management; areas formerly dominated by men. That WAS a NOW accomplishment! However, with time and increased political partisanship, the organization lost its primary objective and became entangled in superfluous political irrelevancy. The current War on Women “fad” is a good example of empty rhetoric to keep the organization “current.” NOW and other women activists have taken up the nebulous “war” banner that disguises social entitlement and public funding as a cause of justice and rights. The suffragette cry is as absurd as chewing water. It boils down to a generation of women demanding tax payers to fund personal life style choices under the disguise of women’s rights without accountability or responsibility. The exploitation of women is being propagandized by NOW for political gain and with little substance; for example birth control is offered in Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide, and these clinics are already funded by tax payers, whether we are on the same side of the fence or not; so what’s the beef? Why make personal sexual choices a defined “right?” Why build the trenches? Why go after private enterprise and other women refusing to give in to totalitarians? Why blatantly lie to women? What caused NOW and this generation of women to lose its way in a labyrinth of political polarization alienating those who disagree? How did a women’s organization become so biased against other women? Why does NOW think it has a monopoly on women’s social justice?
Earlier on this week, the BBC interviewed a young Nigerian girl who daily risks her life by attending school. She is bent on becoming a doctor. Every day she takes a gamble on her life. Other African women are fighting for rights that are beyond comprehension to most of us; like the right not to be married off as a young girl. Now these ARE examples of the “War on Women.” These are fundamental and specific human rights denied to young girls and women because of gender bias and under the pretense of religious and cultural significance. Where is NOW? Where is the indignation of women all over the world? Beyond silly social media “hash tag” messages by Hollywood, little has been said or done. Why is NOW not indignant? Why was not this discussed in Vegas? Where is NOW’s social justice message? Why doesn’t the organization join with other women’s groups in Africa and the Middle East to support and assist? I tell you why: that would mean going into a real fight. Getting down in the real trenches of human rights. NOW is in a comfortable political cocoon, funded by major political players and not eager to rock the proverbial political boat that supports it.
Women’s rights are hardly one-dimensional. Cultures and ethnicity are major factors to be taken into consideration when fighting for any right. For example: some women groups in Qatar are getting annoyed with foreign influence on their cultural values especially when it comes to clothing. These Qatari women are not demanding that foreign women wear Burqas, but they are asking politely for courtesy and understanding in regard to what they consider “modesty” within their culture. Their campaign is called “Reflect Your Respect.” I remember how as a child raised on a Catholic Mediterranean Island was brought up with the concept that ladies should always remain “modest.” However, with the influx of tourists and foreigners, “modesty” soon went out of the window. Foreigners and visitors unabashedly disregarded our “modesty” laws especially on beaches. We finally gave in under the misconception that if we do not accommodate we will lose out on the tourist trade. Now everything struts the streets and there is no turning back. What was unique to our country was obliterated for the mundane and at times the vulgar.
Led by Mariam Saleh, a mother of young children, the Qatari women want to take a stand on their cultural values and the right to preserve these values from outside influences. Whether the rest of the world agrees with them, their religion, or their philosophy, is frankly irrelevant. They are asking foreign women to respect their country and abide by their laws. Is it unreasonable? It is a personal choice to visit or live in Qatar, so why find it difficult to abide by the country’s laws and cultural diversity? Why do we only push diversity when it is convenient? This brings me back to NOW: are the women in Qatar less deserving of your attention than those who believe in pro-choice? Should not women’s rights be protected everywhere? It is amazing that Qatari women took it upon themselves to protect their values and rights without envoking any organization or political body to help them. They are fighting for “modesty.” What a concept. They are campaigning for their right to protect their teachings and culture regardless whether the rest of the world is “OK” with it or not. I say bully for them! I guess this was not discussed in Vegas either.
In the last decade we have thrown clichés like bird seed in a park. Words like: values, rights, justice, and equality have been minced into activism sans substance and objectivity. The entitled society has managed to take historical significant milestones (like the civil rights movement), and dilute it into disingenuous childish and often foolish causes for the few malcontents or the flavor of the month. NOW should be a beacon of hope that gives energy and determination to all women around the world. NOW should represent and stand by all women regardless of diverse values and convictions. Picking and choosing politically correct and convenient causes, and affiliating to partisan agendas, has turned NOW into a sad caricature of its former self; an insult to those of us who can actually differentiate between a just cause and inane rhetoric.
How long is NOW going to remain relevant? When is the organization going to take a hard look at itself and go back to the fundamental reason it existed in the first place: to support every woman’s right of choice, whether executive or motherhood, pro-life or pro-choice, straight or gay, young or old, liberal or conservative? At 97, my mother has remained true to her convictions as a mother, wife, and woman. She finds today’s women petty, over dramatic, and unable to cope with a life they chose for themselves. My mother did not need an organization to tell her what her priorities were as a woman. I will never know whether my mother was happy or not being a mother and a wife because she was too busy being both. She never discussed the choices she made in her life but just took on life and the responsibility of raising seven children with energy and love seldom witnessed in women today. Consequently, my mother was and remains the most liberated woman I have ever known. Way to go mom!