Feminism as a “movement” in America is largely played out. The work here is mostly done.
At a time when education matters more than ever, more American women attend college than men. More women graduate, with better grades and more advanced degrees. As Kay Hymowitz writes in her new book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys: “For the first time ever, and I do mean ever, young women are reaching their twenties with more achievements, more education, more property, and, arguably, more ambition than their male counterparts.”
Even the fight for “pay equity” is an argument about statistics, lagging cultural indicators, and the actual choices liberated women make — to take time away from paid jobs to raise their kids (never-married women without kids earn more than men) or to work in occupations like the nonprofit sector that pay less.
These are the fruits of feminist success. And, as the father of a little girl, I’m grateful for many of feminism’s achievements. And as a conservative, I’m delighted that so much of the energy and passion on the right is fueled by women, a fact that causes no small amount of cognitive dissonance on the left. For instance, when Sarah Palin was tapped as the second woman on a presidential ticket in American history, University of Chicago professor Wendy Doniger fumed that Palin’s “greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman.”
That is the kind of thing intellectuals say when they have nothing worth saying anymore.
The good news for those who want to continue the fight for women is that there is plenty of work left to do — abroad.
The plight of women in other countries is not only dire, it’s central to global poverty and the war on terrorism. Jihadism is largely a male problem. This shouldn’t be a surprise, given that jihadis commit mass murder in pursuit of a virgin bonus in the afterlife.
Islamist extremism and oppression of women go hand in hand. And while the correlation between poverty and terrorism is often overstated, the correlation between prosperity and women’s liberation is profound. Female education is tightly linked with GDP growth, lower birthrates, and even higher agricultural yields.
It’s also tightly linked with human freedom and decency, which is why no Islamic “spring” is possible without a feminist revolution. Countless Islamist countries practice gender apartheid and countenance wife-beating, honor killings, and female genital mutilation. Islamist radicals have thrown acid in the faces of young girls for trying to go to school.
In Turkey, long the crown jewel of secular, modern, and moderate Islam, the murder rate of women has gone up 1,400 percent since the country lurched toward Islamism, notes my American Enterprise Institute colleague Michael Rubin. In Egypt, those who hoped for a secular and democratic revolution are dismayed by the army’s burgeoning partnership with the Muslim Brotherhood and reports that the military forced “virginity tests” on female protesters taken from Tahrir Square.
After being admitted to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, Iran shepherded to passage the only resolution this session aimed at a specific country. Apparently Israel holds back Palestinian women somehow.
Meanwhile, as Omri Ceren of Commentary has noted, “Iranian prison guards rape female dissidents before executing them, lest their victims go to heaven as virgins. Iranian men get to avail themselves of temporary marriages, de facto legalizing the institutionalized slavery and rape of prepubescent girls. Iranian women are consigned to the backs of buses, have to shroud their bodies from head to toe.”
But there are signs of hope as well. In a widely circulating video, Veena Malik, a Pakistani model and actress, tears apart a smug Islamist mullah berating her for being “un-Islamic.” Not only does she stand up for a modern, humane Islam that can tolerate women and “fun,” she tells the cleric, “I am more angry with you people than you are with me.” Malik offers heroic moral clarity that should cheer anyone who has lamented the lack of moderate Muslims willing to condemn the extremists.
And she offers a reminder for us all that the real war for women’s equality is now a battle to be fought in foreign lands.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. © 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.