Want to do something really damaging and maybe hugely unpopular and can’t come up with a good sales pitch based on the merits of your idea? No worries, just play the Damsels in Distress card. In 2001, the Bush administration used the ploy to justify our invasion of Afghanistan–after all, we didn’t want to be seen as starting a war just for revenge and never mind that we’d never given a fig about what those women were going through until we decided we wanted to bomb the bejeepers out of their country. It worked so well that Bush played it again when we invaded Iraq, even though women there enjoyed more rights than in most Arab countries prior to our invasion.
Now there is a group called Ethical Oil that is using Saudi women’s human rights as a justification for proceeding with the environmentally devastating Tar Sands project.
While the human rights of Saudi women are unquestionably being seriously violated, that has been true for some time and we have done little to help them because we need Saudi oil. And we continued to support the Saudi regime even though most of the 911 attackers were Saudi. But now it is convenient to say that we support Saudi women, regardless of the fact that Tar Sands will do nothing to help Saudi women and is also detrimental to women who live near the project. Maryam Adrangi explains,
The premise is that supporting “conflict oil” from Saudi Arabia would prop up a regime that is oppressive to women. The underlying motive, however, is not to talk about women’s liberation, but rather to deflect negative attention from the tar sands.
If women’s rights were of genuine concern to EthicalOil.org (and all the individuals that make it possible such as Ezra Levant, Alykhan Velshi, Kathryn Marshall, and their corporate oil buddies) then there would be conversation about the impacts that tar sands extraction has on women.
The tar sands boom has created dangerous jobs with long hours, fostering a culture of alcohol and substance abuse in the off hours. As a result, rates of sexual violence towards women have increased and women working in the industry have reported sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and unequal pay. Gender-based discrimination have also resulted in unequal access to higher paying jobs in communities in the region, and with skyrocketing housing prices and costs of living, there is also unequal access to housing. Increases in female homelessness exacerbate the challenges faced by women in the area.
The, Feminist Peace Network recently started another website, Occupy Patriarchy, which is focusing on bringing a feminist perspective to the Occupy movement. One of the things that has quickly become apparent to us is that for women to participate in Occupy events, they need to feel safe. There have been a number of incidents of sexual assault, harassment and rape and how some of those incidents have been handled has been distressing. It is clear that is something that needs to be addressed but the right, which is fighting a losing battle to control the message in the face of the Occupy movement has seized on this as a reason to shut down Occupy camps.
The reality is that ideological underpinnings of the Occupy movement–such as collectivism, “consensus” decision making, and antipathy towards law enforcement—often lend themselves to the disorder that predators see as opportunity. Far from “empowering” women, the Occupy movement’s anarchist and socialist principles and policies are exposing female activists to greater danger. They cannot maintain order because they are in the midst of rebelling against it.
Right and capitalism, which allows such things as human trafficking and the porn industry to flourish while funding for domestic violence programs is slashed is perfectly safe for women? And unfortunately, it would appear that there are also those in the Occupy movement that feel that damsel rescuing is the honorable metaphor to use. Via Feminists Occupy London:
The fallacy of the Damsels in Distress argument is so transparent that it should really be a litmus test–if you have to invoke it in order to win your point, it is a losing idea, so quit acting like you think we should thank you.
This Sunday, November 6th, Tar Sands activists are planning to encircle the White House to let President Obama know that proceeding with this horribly destructive project is a bad idea. I plan to be there and my sign will say, “Saudi Women’s Lives Are Not A Call For Tar Sands”.