March 25, 2003

Panelists Discuss War, Feminism

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With the war on Iraq already underway, a panel discussion called “Women Against War” filled three-quarters of Goldwin Smith Hall’s Auditorium D last night. The war’s consequences on feminism and the international community were the focus of the talk.

Opening remarks were made by Amy Levine grad, a member of the Cornell Anti-War Coalition.

“The idea for this panel was catalyzed with International Women’s Day, March 8,” she said.

In her welcome address, Levine emphasized the findings of a U.N. study which found that women and children are disproportionately overrepresented in the civilian deaths that seem inevitable with such conflicts as the current Iraq war.

Levine went on to talk about organizations such as Code Pink, which confronts “war as a women’s issue.” Code Pink claims that current ideologies of international politics are poisoned because they are “dominated by testosterone and a military which engenders a culture of aggression.”

The five panelists were Prof. Marcia Greenberg, law; Jane Marie Law, the H. Stanley Krushen Professor of World Religions; Prof. Andrea Parrot, policy analysis and management; Prof. Anna Marie Smith, government and Christine Cuomo, Society for the Humanities postdoctoral fellow.

Smith began the panel with her talk, “How to Be a Feminist in an Empire: Feminism and American Imperialist Expansion.”

Smith said that because U.S. women are “situated in a superpower bent on world domination with unprecedented arrogance” where “imperialism and war are often declared in their name,” they especially need to make their voices heard.

“We cannot allow the boundaries of the nation to be written on the bodies of women,” Smith said. “We have to suspect all that is feminine and homosexual will be held in degradation and as such will be rejected as womanly and wimpy.”

Smith went on to point out that already, British antiwar rhetoric has claimed Prime Minister Tony Blair to be a poodle.

She suggested that what is deemed un-American may not necessarily be the best course for women in the United States. “Women need to be un-American enough to shift the current dialogue. We have to suspect the empire will try to use us. Women on the periphery need our solidarity now more than ever.”

Smith concluded, “This war will definitely not install democracy. It will either result in a puppet regime or a fundamentalist government. History will judge us by our un-American international solidarity.”

Greenberg’s talk, “Beijing Platform on Women and Conflict, Human Rights Violations Against Women,” focused on the results of a nonbinding 1995 attempt to forge a coherent international stance by women on women’s issues from the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

“The Beijing platform was an effort to shift focus away from women as victims. That is not to say that women are not all too often the victims of war.”

In 2000, a committee reviewed the progress of the international community in upholding the agreements made in the Beijing platform.

The U.N. tried to respond with Resolution 1325 as an effort to create committees such as the United Nations Women’s Fund.

Still, the Beijing platform committee found that no progress had been made in key areas such as arms reduction, tolerance among military personnel and the screening of international peacekeepers for criminal records.

Next, Law presented her lecture “Images of Women and Domesticity as a Form of War Propaganda.” She focused on the problems of domestic stereotypes and political activism.

Law affirmed that what we are seeing in current politics could very well be “the end of the first republic.” She added, “I woke up the other day and felt as if I were in another country.”

Law challenged claims that to be a good homemaker is a patriotic act. She gave a story of her experiences with flylady.net, a homemaker’s website in which the cooking columnist said that to counter worries of war, women should “go bake their favorite cookie recipes and let the aroma fill their house.”

Parrot gave her talk entitled “Connections Between War and Violence Against Women.”

Parrot argued that in wartime, rape is often used in concert with other military efforts to defeat an enemy.

“All women and all girls are fearful of being raped,” she said. “Rape in war assumes the status of a weapon. Raping women becomes part of the effort to defeat the enemy.” She added, “Rape is about power, control, humiliation and revenge.”

Parrot said that in almost all conflicts, such as the current war on Iraq, we “hear the accounts of rape.”

The final panelist was Cuomo, presenting “Feminist and Women’s Anti-War Activism.” Cuomo began by saying, “My goal is to get you involved.”

She noted her own experiences in antiwar activism, saying that “we are in the midst of a moment with incredible potential to rebuild the American left.”

Cuomo also said that current activism borrows heavily from previous feminist organizations and other media-savvy activist groups.

She gave particular note to the organization New Yorkers Say No to War, a group created on Sept. 16, 2001, founded as “a Ground Zero peace movement knowing where the Bush-Cheney regime was going.”

“We are using the New Yorker identity to counter military aggression. It is no accident that five of the 11 representatives that voted against the war were from New York.”

In the question and discussion section of the panel, Michelle Krohn-Friedson ’05 asked, “Where could I go for unbiased information on issues such as these?”

Cuomo responded that the presence of independent media is especially noteworthy because “in order to get good information these days, you cannot be passive; you have to seek it out.”

Smith commented on the presence of embedded journalists on the front lines of the current war.

“It is definitely part of the military’s psychological operations, but it is still an ambiguous situation and is a testament to the power of the antiwar movement. These journalists can be used to counter claims of the U.S. planting evidence against Iraq, but it is still a huge risk by the Pentagon.”

One of the audience members, Almagul Djumabaeva, a visiting scholar of gender sociology from Kyrgyzstan, said that “this is just amazing, to see this during wartime as Americans voicing against the war. Even if they are Americans, they are thinking on a very high global level.”

Levine said that the panel was a great success “in a time when it’s really necessary; we expressed a lot of ideas that really aren’t heard often.”

Levine also noted that the panel was so successful that organizers had to turn away professors.

“We had 20 or so professors expressing interest in the five spots on the panel,” she said. “With this much of an outpouring, we are considering creating a Women Against War group, and students should contact Students Acting for Gender Equality (SAGE) president Sandra Fluke.”

The event was sponsored by SAGE; the Cornell Anti-War Coalition; the Cornell Arab Association; Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies and the Student Assembly Finance Commission.


Archived article by Brian Kaviar