When I heard that a group of American feminists recently met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about the treatment of women in Afghanistan, my interest peaked to learn more about their cause.
The group of women, including Mavis Leno, wife of popular late-night talk show host and comedian Jay Leno, and Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, spoke of the deplorable situation of Afghan women under the Taliban regime.
During the course of the meeting, Leno called the Taliban militia "a bunch of sociopaths", and called for U.S. pressure to improve educational prospects for women and girls in Afghanistan.
I certainly applaud their efforts, for women in Afghanistan certainly suffer from lack of education and much needed medical care as a result of the un-Islamic attitudes and policies toward them.
However, I must say that before embarking on such a noble cause overseas, these U.S. feminists should perhaps deal with the dire situation of women living right here in the United States.
Yes, it is difficult to believe that in such a technologically advanced country where freedom, justice and liberty are indoctrinated in almost every instance of political discourse, women suffer. American women certainly enjoy freedoms that our sisters in Afghanistan do not see, but they also live in an unhealthy, exploitative and sometimes hostile climate.
As feminist writer Naomi Wolf so eloquently pointed out in her acclaimed book, The Beauty Myth, American women are victimized by popular images of thin and beautiful women. "Recent research consistently shows that inside the majority of the West's controlled, attractive, successful working women, there is a secret 'underlife' poisoning our freedom; infused with notions of beauty, it is a dark vein of self-hatred, physical obsessions, terror of aging, and dread of lost control."
Unfortunately many Western feminist groups have failed to criticize the beauty industry, which propelled by images of extremely tall and thin young models, has created diseases among American women and girls. It's called anorexia and bulimia--symptoms of which cause women and girls to ceaselessly starve themselves through food deprivation or self-induced vomiting. It is an almost exclusively female disease that can result in death. The American Anorexia and Bulimia Association has reported that this phenomenon strikes a million American women every year.
Western feminists have worked to improve the condition of American women in the work place, but many women still cannot feel completely at ease on the job. In spite of the fact that sexual harassment training has become a routine part of employment training in the United States, last year the U.S. government reported 15,222 complaints of sex harassment. Eighty-eight percent of those complaints came from women.
It is indeed quite unfortunate that in the United States and other Western countries, women make more money taking off their clothes than they do teaching children to become tomorrow's leaders. In fact, in the United States alone, adult films have become a 2.5 billion dollar-a-year industry. And female prostitutes, who haven't died from beatings and drug abuse, still face an increased risk of diseases such as AIDS, herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia.
And while on the subject, I must point out the discrimination Muslim women and girls feel in this country when they so boldly insist upon wearing the traditional Islamic dress to work and school. Muslim girls in the city of Columbus, Ohio routinely complain of having their scarves ripped off their heads by their non-Muslim classmates. The district has yet to formally address this problem.
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington-based advocacy group, has received dozens of complaints from Muslim women who say they face discrimination at work. CAIR recently settled a case with a major company whose managers called Muslim women "goats" for eating their lunch with their hands. They also faced losing their jobs when they refused to remove their hijab (headscarf) and wear the company's uniform of a short skirt and blouse. I have yet to hear of a single Western feminist group to stand up for these women.
There are certainly even more problems I haven't addressed here, such as salary inequality, glass ceilings, incest, spousal abuse, and rape. But perhaps I should leave these subjects for such valiant Western feminists who insist on fighting causes thousands of miles away before dealing with them right here at home.
(Hebah Abdalla is editor of iviews.com)