White liberal women again unclear on the concept

The Museum of Modern Art hosted a symposium about feminist art. The story covering the symposium noted that the only time these feminist artists contemplated Islam they did so, not to discuss how their art could be used to help Islamic women break free from their invisibility and from the abuse heaped upon them, but to attack the Iraq War. Of course, considering what passes for art amongst the political chattering classes, maybe it’s a good thing that they’re not striving to help these poor women. Their efforts, which would probably involve effigies of mullahs soaked in urine, might backfire.


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  • Zhombre

    I find art, literature and drama in the U.S. to be in an abysmal state, the pits. Last art opening I went to, a well known local artist presented a series of global warming themed paintings. Really dull and didactic, the kind of art that was institutionally certified as cutting edge 30 years ago when I was in university but hasn’t changed since, has made itself quite impervious. I had to sneak off to the Greek & Roman antiquities in the museum just to retain my sanity and perspective.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Feminism? There is still such a thing called Feminism? I thought that era (“era”, get it?) came to a fitting end with Bill Clinton’s ravages of the office help. Actually, I submit that the only example of good feminist art was Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”, but that was back in 1893. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scream

  • http://helenl.wordpress.com/ helenl

    Feminism at its best grants that women are fully human. But what’s good for women in one social context (culture) may be very bad for women in another. In fact, it may be downright harmful. Thus, it is foolish to think that (white liberal) American woman know how to set women free from their “invisibility” in Islamic cultures. It is reasonable, and not harmful, however, for any artist to take a stand on a social issue, such as the war, that affects her directly. All art is not created equal, and beauty well may bein the beholder’s “eye.” But feminist women have every right to express their reaction to the war as they see it. This is an interesting story, but I think it shows the artists involved as responsible citizens.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ ymarsakar

    UPDATE: When you have two different ideas in mind, you end up with the post title

  • Danny Lemieux

    HelenL, your comments disturb me for their morally relativist tone…”But what

  • http://helenl.wordpress.com/ helenl


    White liberal American women fought for (among other things) better opportunities for women in the workplace: wages comparable to men doing the same job, more promotions, maternity leave, etc. They know they want these things because they are fighting for themselves.

    Do women Islamic women want to “break free from their invisibility”? If not, are we to force this upon them?

    Now abuse is another story. Abuse comes under the heading of human rights. All people have the right to live unabused. But do these artists have an obligation to speak to that wrong? Is it wrong or negligent to comment on one social ill (say, the war) without commneting on all social ills (including human rights in Islamic countries)?

    I haven’t a clue why you thought my tone was “moral relativist.” I said

    1) it’s legitimate to make a statement opposing one wrong without making a statemenet about another, (just as this thread is about feminist artists and not about Jimmy Carter. Although Bookworm has problems with both, she addresses them one at a time. So may these artists.)and

    2) that maybe the artists don’t necessarily know what the Muslim women need or want and, therefore, don’t speak for them in this particular art show.

    What’s “relativistic” about that? And in you word-switching illustration, you fail to point out that the north and the south were parts of the same country under the same govenmnet. It does matter.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ ymarsakar

    As Book took pains to link to, there are many cases in which people choose their lives over their rights. Simply because people would prefer to be alive and without rights, rather than dead and with them.

    Without force, it will be very hard to convince any of those people to do the right thing.

  • Danny Lemieux

    OK-point taken! But help me to under your positions better: to you last point, do moral absolutes stop at the water’s edge (or the border)? Should we therefore not speak out about ongoing slavery in Africa and the Middle East? Also, I think that you presume a lot about “white liberal women”: What about women of color? They did’t fight for these things? Do you mean that conservatives women don’t fight for these things? I can think of many accomplished conservative women who fought for their place in society and the workforce – white Liberal bugaboo Phyllis Schlafly being one, Linda Chavez being another? I don’t know of anyone trying to force anything on Muslim women – I do know of many (conservative and liberal) that are trying to ensure that all women have free choice and access to information in making their decisions on how they want to live their lives. Compelled submission to Sharia Law is not one of these options.

  • http://bookwormroom.wordpress.com/ Bookworm

    You’ve got a point, Helen. Nevertheless, I find it irksome that feminists turn such a blind eye to the human rights abuses against Muslim women, and I can’t help but think it’s because these abuses don’t fit into the feminist’s political world view, which is that white male domination is the source of all female evil. Yes, we are definitely responsible for ourselves, an attitude I like, but I’d be more comfortably with feminists’ lack of a sense responsibility towards Islamic women if I didn’t feel it was a politically motivated apathy.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ ymarsakar

    Tink still has the best view on feminism in my opinion. But then again, I’m just a tad biased.


  • http://helenl.wordpress.com/ helenl

    No Danny, moral absolutes do not stop at any border. Actually I don’t believe in borders. I wish the US would give Mexico most of Texas back. With King George in it. I wish there were no fences (except to keep small children safe and dogs from doing doogie business in inappropriate places). I wish we were freer as people of the earth to get to know other people of the earth. I wish all people were free.

    If by “women of color” you mean African American women, maybe I can shed a lttle light. Otherwise, I don’t know. White feminists fought for the right to go to work in a man’s world, that is; outside the home. Black women did not fight for this right, because they had always worked outside the home, often as domestics in the homes of the white women. Womanist theology (black female theolgy) acknowledges that the “struggle” for black women is more about race than gender. Black women had no beef with black men, but white women wanted to moved into a white male realm and, therfore, had a beef with white men. Thus, bra-fires!! The struggles were not the same.

    Today many of the struggles for equality cannot be broken into neat parts. Pioneers in both the feminist and the womanist movements were liberal. Today that is certainly not the case. Many politically conservative women are concerned with issues that matter to all women. So are men. A feminist is not necessarily female. A feminist is a person who believes that women ought to be in charge of thier lives to the same degree that men are in charge of theirs. In other words, women and men should both have choices.

    I believe it is always foolish to jump into a struggle (or an discussion) without knowing the facts. Things are not always what they seem. People may or may not want what we think they (ought to) want. If we force “good things” on people, sometimes, due to circumstances we do not know or understand, people die. The dead cannot be free, only dead.

    (And I am not talking about life after death, which, yes, I believe in.)

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ ymarsakar

    I wish the US would give Mexico most of Texas back.

    Don’t think that is an answer Danny expected or was looking for…

    Which is funny it is funny in a way.

  • http://helenl.wordpress.com/ helenl

    It isn’t really related to the question, Ymarsakar. But I get tired of obtuse! Sometimes we just need to lighten up and be.