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Posted in: Feminism

Published on Jan 24, 2011 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for NewsRealBlog

Death and Politics


Over the years, I have lost at least 50 feminist colleagues and friends to the Grim Reaper. But, I lost thousands more when I committed the unpardonable sin of deciding that Islamic gender and religious apartheid, jihad, and politically correct Leftism are even more dangerous to our freedom as women, as feminists, and as westerners, than the most ferociously stereotyped anti-abortion Christian conservative could ever be.

These were heretical words back at the turn of the 21st century and they still are.

This past week, Mr. Death was working overtime in my little corner of the garden. A very dear friend and the most dogged and humble of Second Wave feminist foot soldiers died during surgery. She sought no personal gain, no fame, but could always be counted on to do the tedious work, take up the collection, join the picket line, take the bus to Albany or Washington, work as an unpaid bookkeeper for both New York City's Woman's Center and New York City's Women's Coffee House. She worked with me, tirelessly and selflessly, on the first Speakout on Women and Child Custody in 1986. Her name is Judy O'Neil and I will miss her forever.

The husband of another cherished friend, the brilliant photographer and feminist Joan Roth, also died after having battled cancer for many years. His name is Lenny Sanders and, although he was a real "guys' guy," truly a Damon Runyonesque figure, he supported every one of Joan's amazing projects.

Next week, I will be delivering a small eulogy, one among many such, for a third feminist friend at her Memorial Service which will be held at the Judson Memorial Church. Her name is Jill Johnston, and she is known for many things, including her work as a dance and art world critic; her columns in the Village Voice which, in the late 1960s, documented her own "coming out" as a lesbian; and her many books both about herself and about modern art. She is probably, alas, best known to my current readers as the woman who, back in the day, kissed another woman for a very long time on the stage at Town Hall while Norman Mailer sputtered and fumed—which was precisely the reaction she'd hoped for.

Why is this all relevant? These are people whom I care about deeply but from whom I have parted intellectually and politically. It was painful not to see them very much ever again while they were alive—but painful in a different way when we did meet and could only engage in mere safe pleasantries where once minds truly met.

After yesterday's funeral, I had coffee with a fourth feminist friend, a brilliant Jewish writer, who has fallen on very hard times. She understands the danger which Israel faces, she believes that anti-Semitism really exists and is truly dangerous—but remains a "socialist," Zionist leftist. Out of affection, and compassion, I dared not be totally honest with her. But, I tried.

She said: "We are in danger of losing our freedom more and more everyday."

Said I: "I agree."

"You're not for Sarah Palin, you can't be," she suddenly exclaimed. "Tell me the truth."

"Let me ask you a question. You're not really for Obama, are you?"

""He's a lot better than McCain would ever have been. And Palin is beyond the pale."

I said: "The freedoms that we are in danger of losing will be lost because of a leftwing alliance with Islamism. Islamists are engaged in stealth jihad in the West demanding their right to be intolerant and supremely misogynist as a western human right, as a civil right."

She shook her head, half-comprehending. "I agree with part of what you're saying, but why do you oppose Obama so much?"

I ran down a list of reasons. She said: "But you have no proof, nothing substantial, it's all part of a giant conspiracy theory…just because he bowed down to King Abdullah we can't draw any real conclusion and you can't fault him for trying to make peace with the Muslim world."

I stopped. I realized that this formerly independent thinker was still only reading the Left media. She was repeating canned responses as if she hadn't thought through each point on her own.

"Wait," she said, "Are you also against a Two State Solution?"

I laughed. I said, "First, convince Hamas, Abbas, and Hezbollah to favor a two-state solution, one for the Jews, a 22nd state for the Arabs—and then I might also favor it. Otherwise, you are dreaming, you are not talking about anything real, you are just 'sounding good' so that you can 'keep the faith' with our ideas of the late 1960s and early 1970s when such thinking was potentially radical and somewhat hopeful."

"Oy, you're right," she said but she looked so sad. I had not regained an old political friend. Perhaps her need to live her youth out over and over again or her need to remain close to the people who are still alive (or no longer alive) and who once held such ideas was far more important to her than any desire to face a new and even more terrifying reality. She had no intellectual energy for a paradigm shift, especially if it would mean ostracism and demonization from the only people who still matter to her.

I stopped having such conversations long ago. I shared this today because I'm sure that precisely such conversations stopped for all of us some time back. I do not know how to persuade the genuinely "good" people on the left—not the rabid fanatics but the misinformed illusionists—to read the conservative media. It is essential that this happen.

Our lives—many lives—depend upon it.


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