An intriguing hypothesis about the Web and the "feminist-hawks" position

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martin dufresne
An intriguing hypothesis about the Web and the "feminist-hawks" position

Today's New York Times has an interesting series of articles on women's rights, including an intriguing hypothesis about the role of the Web in giving way to what Virginia Heffernan calls the "feminist hawks" position: "the one that advocates the use of force to liberate Muslim women from persecution and burkas".

She argues, in an essay called "The Feminist Hawks", that the "ideological Web" created the perfect vehicle for conservatives to coopt feminist and libertarian sentiments in the war on the Middle East.

martin dufresne

The hyperlink doesn't seem to have stuck. Here it is. Also, do check out the other articles in this Special Issue, including "Why Women's Rights Are the Cause of Our Times", by Nicholas KRISTOFF and Sheryl WuDUNN.


Maysie Maysie's picture

A very smart poster on a blog used the phrase "plantation feminism" which stuck in my mind. It describes the kind of feminism that was about a certain class of women attaining equality and equal power with a certain class of men. This same version of feminism has been prominent in the West for decades and has resulted in more women attending law school, medical school, business school, etc.

This is not revolutionary feminism.

Wanting to have more women ad executives, more women as heads of oil companies, more women owning sweatshops, more women working at the executive levels of multinationals, more women at the control panels of all the social control mechanisms of our society exactly how it is today, is not any kind of feminism that I want a part of. Such feminism is classist and racist and many other things. 

I've never heard of feminist hawks, and this may in fact be a media invention. Or maybe that's for the best that I've never heard this term before today. But someone who forces any women to do anything is not feminist, or pro-soclal justice, whatever they choose to call themselves.

B9sus4 B9sus4's picture


remind remind's picture
Maysie Maysie's picture

My point was that the "conservative feminist hawk" phenomenon, which I still question whether it's a phenomenon or not, is simply old school oppression talked about by the mainstream in different ways, an attempt to co-opt feminist and grassroots language while conducting business as usual. 

The discourse around Sarah Pailn is a perfect example.

Faux feminism. Don't believe the hype.

martin dufresne

I am not sure we are talking about the same thing.

To get back to Heffernan's topic, I remember the original sarabande/brandeis e-mail chain that got millions of people to sign on and invite their network to do the same about the Taliban's treatment of women in Afghanistan (Snopes account). I also remember reading that some of the earliest e-mails sent out about this had been traced to a Pentagon server. Heffernan makes the point that conservative promoters of the war against Afghanis (e.g. David Horowitz) took advantage of the e-mail medium and the emerging Web social structure to turn libertarians, pacifists and feminists into armchair advocates of armed agression in the Middle East, through pressure on the United Nations to "show its intolerance for 'the situation overseas'." Heffernan argues that these e-mails "codified a polemical line that has, unexpectedly, become a war horse of hawkish bloggers".

So the idea wasnt to "force women to do anything" but to bring the UN to do something about Afghanis allegedly forcing women to wear burkas.

Not the same thing as the "Iron Ladies", "queen bees" and "power feminists" the MSM are constantly trying to sell us, definitely "faux feminism".

Looking at the current Quebec situation, I can think of a number of honourable feminist activists that could be described as "hawks" on Islam: some of them are neither bourgeois nor traditional conservatives, but fit right in with Heffernan's descripstion of a new pattern of Web-enabled chain reaction, based on anecdotes, inflammatory quotes and the demonization of arguments deemed "relativist" when they insist on criteria such as self-governance and personal freedoms.

Maybe we need a better word than "hawks" to discuss this; indeed, there is a substantive amount of research on the use of traditional morality to enlist women's participation in war efforts, such as handing white feathers symbolizing cowardice to male "slackers" during WW1.


George Victor

Sounds a bit like "Real Women" from here, blood, guts and damn the torpedoes. Nothing "femionist" about it.

Where would Irshad Manji come on the "hawk" scale? (a feminist who is "militant" about saving her sex from "burqanistan" ) 


I'm going to move this to the feminism forum.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I'm with Maysie in the 'this-is-nothing-new' department. I don't see the connection between the Internet and what the writer calls 'hawk feminism', and she doesn't really elaborate on her theory. Clearly, as Maysie points out, this has happened before, without the help of the internet. The sad fact is that there is nothing that capitalism can't co-opt, and it has been co-opting feminism for its own use for as long as it's been able.

martin dufresne

Well, I read it as more of a tussle between liberalism and conservatism (people's feminism and sentiments about Afghan women having been used to pry them away from a pacifist/non-imperialist position). As for the Internet thing, it seems to me a new twist that atomized individuals are more susceptible to be enlisted into active service by a technological interface that gives the impression of a virtual community you can rally to by simply passing on a message to your network. It seems to me that such manipulation would have been be less easy in a real (not virtual) community setting, which allows for retroaction, discussion, confrontation even. As it is, no one ever divulged who was the originator of the "sarabande" e-mail, but no one can deny the huge impact it had in justifying armed aggression in the Middle-East. I find that significant and a new twist on traditional advocacy and/or "false flag" tactics.




A very smart poster on a blog used the phrase "plantation feminism" which stuck in my mind.

I think "bourgeois feminism" is another way of saying it.


If you read Post #3 while humming "La Marseillaise" you'll get a lump in your throat.


Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

An excellent example co-authored by a neo-con and war monger:

(edited to add, violence against women only happens in the Islamic world, don't you know?)



martin dufresne

Not sure where you are coming from with this, but actually Kristoff has been challenging VAW in North America for a very long time.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

Fair enough. I suppose it was the start of his column, where "eradicating slavery" was the imperative of a previous century ignoring that it was the Anglo-American Empire that profited from slavery and at the same time discounting, through omission, African resistance to slavery. And then, I suppose, it was the idea that wealth and improvement in the lives of Pakistani women can be witnessed not through the development of personal lives, love, emotional well being, or growth of community, but through consumer trinkets and, of course, televison - the opium of the market. And then, after that, there was the whole romancing of slums and factories--producing brand name jeans for Western girls freed of the slavery of sweatshops--where young women, often girls, are as likely to face sexual abuse as anywhere else but where being tossed out results in even greater levels of exploitation because, you know, there are no social programs. I stopped reading there somewhat pissed off and thinking how great it is we still have white men so willing to pick up the burden.

I suppose, later, I thought, if there was one thing Western society could do, not just for women but for all the many peoples of the Global South, it would be to get the hell out of their lives and their countries. Return to them their cultures, their ways of life, ownership of the land base and resources, and return to them their future. Let them find their own way. I think we've done more than enough already.

martin dufresne

Sure. If you can sell that to the Seven Sisters + Talisman, Rio Tinto and other continuing pillagers of their resources.

If you don't, just washing one's hands of the problems and telling the ultra-impoverished and whoever would help them that even the slightest step toward self-sufficiency is really collusion and alienation seems like a cop-out.


Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

Why can't there be a message of empowerment that doesn't embody the ideological underpinnings of the very system that is exploiting them? That is the message of the article: don't fight it, join it. But the consumer market economy is built upon the dispossession of indigenous peoples and the exploitation of all people and especially women. Freedom will not be found within the cage. And yes, we must tell the Seven Sisters, Talisman, Rio Tintoand the other corporate rapers and pillagers to leave the people of the Global South alone. We must tell them every single day.