Feminism and 9/11

As part of the Carnival, I linked to a post asking why there isn’t more feminist writing about 9/11. But I wasn’t sure what such writing would actually be– sure, there are plenty of feminist things to say about the ways that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been justified, and about their effects on women. Lots of feminist things to say about the way that Islam has been demonised as monolothically anti-woman, and so-on. But specifically about 9/11? I drew a blank. Susan Faludi didn’t, in part because immediately after the event she was told that “this sure pushes feminism off the map!”. In her new book, she argues that the crisis of 9/11 has served as a way of pushing women back into traditional domesticity. She also ties it into American history and national mythology:

Our foundational drama as a society was apposite, a profound exposure to just such assaults, murderous homeland incursions by dark-skinned, non-Christian combatants under the flag of no recognized nation,” she writes. “September 11 was aimed at our cultural solar plexus precisely because it was an ‘unthinkable’ occurrence for a nation that once could think of little else. It was not, in fact, an inconceivable event; it was the characteristic and formative American ordeal, the primal injury of which we could not speak, the shard of memory stuck in our throats. Our ancestors had already found a war on terror, a very long war, and we have lived with its scars ever since.

Interesting and important arguments, though as Rebecca Traister at Salon notes things are complicated by the rise of women to certain positions of power during the same time (Condoleeza Rice, Katie Couric). And as Patricia Cohen of the New York Times notes, invasion narratives are hardly unique to the US psyche. Though I haven’t read the book, I’m a little troubled by all this talk of “our” founding narrative as one of being light-skinned people invaded by dark-skinned ones. Aside from the fact that this really gets the facts wrong about who invaded whom (which needn’t prevent it from being a myth that we believe), very few Americans have family histories that go back to those narratives. Most of us are more likely to identify with narratives of immigration or slavery, surely. Still, interesting and thought-provoking stuff.

5 thoughts on “Feminism and 9/11

  1. Feminism and 9/11, hmmmmmm. I take issue with the notion that the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was to export democracy with feminist values included in the parcel. America isn’t exactly the greatest role model for feminism. Does it strike anyone as odd that the reaction to 9/11 played out as a misogynist narrative? They (Saudis) touched our (America) woman (the towers), and now we must make someone else pay (Iraq and Afghanistan). I realize this is an oversimplification but remember the initial reaction to the attack? There was a lot of macho bravado that surfaced by the public and was nurtured by politicians and media. So it is a tad ironic to claim that America is a champion of equality for women with respect to the Middle Eastern nations they force themselves into.

    Let’s consider the ‘package’ of democracy American exceptionalism offers. Free markets to establish suburbs to sell things to consumers (I mean citizens, as if there is a difference anymore). Exporting American culture disguised as democracy is quite simply cultural imperialism. So if these new suburban kids are consuming American media (or American like media) is this really all that edifying? Is giving them an equivalent to Condoleeza Rice and Katie Couric sufficient to overcoming oppression? Perhaps a better question is should Condoleeza and Katie be considered feminist role model? If this is the case then America is in bad shape. Coming to position of power in a still oppressive environment is missing the point.

  2. Geeze Louise, the towers are our women? Huh? You can’t get much more phallic than those Twin Towers.


  3. The point was that America was violated and needed to be avenged by reactionary force. The same narrative found in every teenage male escapist fantasy.

  4. To say that the towers are phallic symbols is not to deny that the rhetoric in the US around 9/11 was full of macho posturing. I agree with you on that. I also agree (as do lots of other feminists writing in a post-colonial context) that the US capitalist system has questionable things to offer to feminists in other countries in a more global context. The issue raised by the original post concerned whether there is a particular feminist “take” on 9/11. I’m not sure there is. For a trenchant and very controversial analysis (and one with which, I admit, I agree almost 100%), see Jean Baudrillard’s notorious “The Spirit of Terrorism,” http://www.egs.edu/faculty/baudrillard/baudrillard-the-spirit-of-terrorism.html
    I’m not sure we need a specifically gender-accented analysis of 9/11. To the extent Baudrillard’s essay offers even the hint of such, I would point to his argument that the rhetoric around 9/11 is full (on both sides) of useless and silly dualisms, notably GOOD vs. EVIL. Feminist discussions, and this will sound simplistic and is not, but it is too much to go into on a blog, or in other words I am too lazy to go into it here, have often targeted such restrictive dualisms. (I’ll just briefly point to, e.g., Genevieve Lloyd, “Male” and “Female” in Western Philosophy.)

Comments are closed.