Toronto Sun

October 6, 2001

Thobani's an insult to western feminists

By RACHEL SA -- Toronto Sun

After a year of Women's Studies at U of T, feminism won me over. It did take some coaxing, but eventually I began to think of myself as a feminist and I still do. And, as a feminist, I was angered even more to hear the words of Sunera Thobani this week at the "Women's Resistance Conference."

Most of the public and media ire was sparked by Thobani's anti-American statements and the reaction (or lack thereof) by Multiculturalism Minister Hedy Fry, who was seated on stage for the speech.

Speaking to an audience of about 500, Thobani, a former head of the National Action Committee (NAC) on the Status of Women, implied the United States deserved what it got on Sept. 11 when she said: "Today in the world, the United States in the most dangerous and the most powerful global force unleashing horrific levels of violence. From Chile to El Salvador, to Nicaragua to Iraq, the path of U.S. foreign policy is soaked in blood ... "

After those words, Thobani must forgive the general public for glossing over her sentiments about feeling the pain of the terrorists' victims "every day."

I bristled when Thobani described the American people as "bloodthirsty, vengeful and calling for blood. They don't care whose blood it is, they want blood." Correct me if I'm wrong, but the U.S. government seems to be taking great pains to find very specific blood - the blood of the terrorists who murdered more than 6,000 of their innocent citizens and attempted to destroy their way of life. I call that justice, not a people who are "vengeful" and "calling for blood." But I digress ...

Obviously, this sort of anti-American (and indeed, anti-North American) rhetoric is, to say the very least, ill-timed in the wake of Sept. 11 and Hedy Fry should have immediately made an effort to distance the government from Thobani's comments (though at least she kept her seat during the standing ovations to voice her protests).

But what made me fume and sent me running to the keyboard was Thobani's claim "there will be no emancipation for women anywhere on this planet until the western domination of this planet is ended."

Could you back that up a little? Let me get this straight: the western world - where women enjoy more freedom and power than anywhere else - must disappear before women can be free?

How Thobani could attack a society as oppressive, even as she was exercising her right within said society to speak her views and make her voice heard across the nation, is maddening. The implication that the women of the West require "emancipation" is insulting, not just to the women of Canada and the United States, but to those women in the world who suffer true oppression.

We may have yet to achieve a utopia of women's rights and equality in the West, but we are free to speak out for the changes that still need to be made. We are free to work for them. North American women enjoy rights, freedoms and opportunities that others only dream of. We are free to educate ourselves and work in fields of our choosing. We are free to speak our minds.

While North American feminists do fight against very real injustices, such as lingering inequality in the workplace, in other parts of the world it is impossible for some women to leave their homes unaccompanied by their husband.

If Thobani wishes to attack a country that truly oppresses its women, then she should look to Afghanistan where women are denied such basic rights as education and access to health care and can be murdered if they are accused of impropriety.

Inflammatory words such as Thobani's do not help, but hinder, the feminist movement in Canada. Such anti-western rhetoric as this was often spouted in my Women's Studies classes, and it frustrated me to be told over and over how "oppressed" I am by my country. I strained to get a new perspective and learned that, beneath the extremist rhetoric that turns many people off, there still remains work to be done for the women's movement in Canada.

Unfortunately, not everyone can move beyond the rhetoric to see that. Too many women think "feminism" is a four-letter word, an outdated movement clung to by radicals and extremists who do not speak for the rest of us.

Women jump to deny being "feminists." With her words, Sunera Thobani ensured that the trend will continue.

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Copyright © 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.