Atena Farghadani is a 28 year old Iranian artist. She was just sentenced to 12 years in prison for the crime of posting a feminist cartoon on Facebook. Farghadani is a genuine victim of a repressive patriarchal society—yet you will hear little or nothing about her from the American women’s movement. Why not? AEI scholar Christina Hoff Sommers may have the answer.
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Atena Farghadani was arrested in August 2014. Twelve members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard came to her house, blindfolded her and took her to prison. What exactly was her crime? She posted a satirical cartoon on Facebook to protest actions of the Iranian parliament. The parliament had proposed to restrict access to birth control. She has been charged with ‘spreading propaganda and “‘insulting members of parliament through paintings.’ Once in prison, she continued to paint and draw. She flattened paper cups and made drawings. This was against prison rules. She was then denied paper cups. When she took some cups from the bathroom into her cell, she was beaten and sexually assaulted. Now she is facing the possibility of years in prison. Atena Farghadani is one of millions of women and men whose basic rights have been ruthlessly violated. I have been to international women’s conferences and met women’s rights activist from countries like Iran, Yemen, Egypt, and Cambodia. They are struggling for freedoms that most women in the west take for granted. They are organizing against barbaric practices such as child marriage, forced veiling, honor killings and acid burnings. Many of them are asking for moral, intellectual and material support from American women’s groups. But American feminists are relatively silent about these injustices—especially feminists on campus. During the 1980s, there were massive demonstrations on American campuses against racial apartheid in South Africa. There is no remotely comparable movement on today’s campuses against the gender apartheid prevalent in large parts of the world. I think I know why. Too many young feminists are too preoccupied with their own supposed victimhood to make common cause with women like Atena Farghadani. If you look at texts used in gender studies classes, visit feminist blogs or websites—you find alarm and outrage over the allegedly oppressed status of American women. The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World, is typical of what one finds in gender studies 101. It ranks the United States along with Uganda and Somalia in terms of women being “kept in their place.” Why? Because apparently in both countries “patriarchal assumptions” operate in “potent combination with fundamentalist religious interpretations.” As the editor explains, in parts of Uganda a man can claim an unmarried woman as his wife by raping her. As for the United States, she notes that our state legislators have passed hundreds of anti-abortion measures. But wait a minute– the Ugandan practice is barbaric. The controversy over abortion in the United States is a sign of a messy democracy working out its disagreements. This past year I visited Yale, UCLA, University of California at San Luis Obispo, as well as Oberlin and Georgetown. I found activist feminist students passionately absorbed in the cause of liberating themselves from the grasp of the oppressive and violent patriarchal rape culture. Their trigger warnings and safe spaces and micro-aggression watches are all about saving themselves from the ravages of the male hegemony. It’s not that they don’t feel bad for women in places like—they feel that they share a similar fate. Except they don’t. They are free women. They are the beneficiaries of two major waves of feminism. Their rights are fully protected by law. Samantha Powers is the able U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and she is a prominent champion of human rights. Well, she recently addressed the graduating class of Barnard College. Instead of urging the graduates to support women struggling against oppression in places like Afghanistan, she congratulated them for waging a similar struggle on the American college campus.