Sarita Sarvate

Where are the Women?

Jul 11, 2003

India Currents

BY SARITA SARVATE

The only female voice heard worldwide has been that of Arundhati Roy, who labeled the war the “coalition of the bullied and the bought.”

The Iraqi war has been running on testosterone. George W. and his coterie of blue-suited white men like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Ashcroft, have gone into another country under the pretext of uncovering weapons of mass destruction, and unashamedly destroyed its government, its infrastructure, and its law and order, only to protect its oil wealth for the benefit of the old-boys network.

And all the while, prominent women polticians like Senators Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Dole, and Dianne Feinstein, have been hiding in their offices on Capitol Hill, writing trivial pieces of legislation. After all, what can women be expected to know about smart bombs, high tech tanks, and military tactics, right?

Sure, there have been a few token women involved in the debate; Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes on the right; Congresswomen Barbara Lee and Nancy Pelosi on the left, to name a few. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

The situation is hardly surprising, given my own experience as a careerwoman in America. Over the last 25 years, since I first emerged rosy-eyed out of grad school at UC Berkeley and embarked on a career in energy, I have learned that women in America can only hope to make inroads into the hierarchies of power by catering to men, not by confronting them.

I have sat in umpteen smoke filled rooms, watching oil and gas men strike deals with one another, while women have opted to look pretty.
Predictably, the conversation about American actions since 9/11 has largely been conducted by white men inside the beltway.
The reason is simple.

Once a few token women were given positions of power through affirmative action, they realized that they could only climb up the ladder by going along with the male agenda, not by fighting it on behalf of the sisterhood.
Perhaps, they needed to do so simply to survive. Confronting the prevailing culture only helped you get ousted, not win friends among the old-boys network, as has been my own experience as a professional woman.

Take Condoleezza Rice for example. Her success seems to send almost a “retro” message to women; “You have to be a genius and a child musical prodigy; you have to lack emotion, and not feel a need for a husband or children, to succeed in politics.”

That is why I admire Barbara Lee’s passion. Although she’s African-American like Rice, and belongs to roughly the same generation, Lee had the courage to vote on the war resolution with her feminine heart.

Until femininity reaches a critical mass in the American political debate, women will continue to strive for individual success rather than collective action. And a few feminists will be able to make compromises on behalf of their sisters on matters of childcare, education, and welfare.

On international issues, such as the rise of American imperialism, Mid-East policy, nuclear missiles, and global warming, American feminists will continue to be silent, focusing instead on obscure issues like female circumcision in Africa.

George W. was able to exploit this feminist myopia to package the invasion of Afghanistan as a holy war of liberation for Muslim women under the burkha. With few exceptions like Amy Goodman of Pacifica Radio, female American journalists were assigned to human-interest stories, and lapped up the administration propaganda, producing heartwarming accounts of women going back to schools and jobs after the fall of the Taliban.

George W. and his cohorts could find no similar feminist excuse for the invasion of Iraq. Iraqi women are liberated, and ironically now face the prospect of being subjected to burkha as a result of the Shiite uprising in the wake of post-war anarchy. So, women have been absent from the dialog about the Iraqi war, on all sides, American and Arab, Republican and Democrat.

The only female voice heard worldwide has been that of Arundhati Roy, who labeled the war the “coalition of the bullied and the bought.” Unfortunately, Roy is being marginalized for her gall to stray from fiction-writing into the arena of international politics.

So, 25 years after I first arrived in this country, I am still waiting for the American women to speak up against their government’s international tyranny. I believe that unless women reach a critical mass in the public arena by creating their own “old-girls networks,” American global imperialism will continue to run on testosterone.

Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED.