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Some Thoughts For International Women’s Day

This is a guest post by Sarah

When women are discussed in the blogosphere it’s often in terms of the western/non-western-and-very-likely-Muslim binary. I’ve noticed that commenters often use the situation of one group as a way of trivialising or brushing aside the concerns of the other. It is my sense that the first pattern is more often used by the right, the second by the left.

The first pattern is this. The position of women in non-western countries, it is asserted, is so awful that it is frivolous and self indulgent to worry about any injustice women might face in the UK. I’ve talked about this before.

But this pattern can be reversed. In a comment on CIF, following a discussion of the problems faced by non-western women, someone sneers:

“How ridiculous does it appear when rich white handbag-toting feminists pontificate to the world about the conditions of poorer women. How racist is that?”

(Feminists might begin to wonder what they *are* allowed to talk about.)

And the second pattern is this. People point out that the pressure on women in, say, Iran to conform in matters of dress is not really any different from the cultural pressure on women in the west to look young, pretty and slim. Rumbold (whom I normally agree with) falls into this pattern here.

This move effectively trivialises the real constraints on non-western women and the genuine lack of choice they face in dress (which of course often goes hand in hand with lack of choice in far more serious matters). Perhaps compare the family or internal pressure on a young woman in the UK to wear the hijab with the pressure on a western woman to look well groomed – but don’t compare the latter woman’s situation with that of women in countries where strict dress codes are enforced by law.

So my plea to bloggers for International Women’s Day is this. Don’t use the fact that awful things are happening to women in other countries to try to shut women up who want to articulate a smaller grievance about something close to home. But don’t use the little pressures on western women (and at least we don’t have to shave every day) as a mechanism for trivialising the far greater restrictions on women in many other countries.