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Waging war on women
Prayer as the best remedy for pre-menstrual tension? So says one of Bush’s boys as misogyny stalks the US establishment. Plus: the passing of the great writer and activist Howard Fast.
Eamonn McCann, 02 Apr 2003
Laura Bush says the war on Iraq will “help liberate” Iraqi women.
Meanwhile, at home, misogyny creeps steathily across the land. Modest gains made by women in the US over the last 30 years are being quietly reversed.
Bush’s Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reckons that affirmative action is “an affront to democracy”; his nomination to head the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) advisory board on reproductive health is a doctor who refuses to discuss contraception with unmarried female patients; and the official he’s put in charge of family support at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has proposed withholding money from single parents until all married couples have been catered for.
Internationally, the US lines up with the Vatican and repressive Islamist regimes to cut funds from aid agencies with programmes that include abortion in the choices offered to women.
OPM boss Kay Coles James, self-described as “results-oriented and market-driven,” reckons that affirmative action to redress generations of discrimination against women “runs counterwise (sic) to a free market in employment... and rewards lack of achievement.” Anyone opposing this view, she hints, shows disrespect for the dead of September 11: “America demands the best from its public servants and, as the events of September 11 and after have shown, fully appreciates that service when done well.”
David Hager, author of As Jesus Cared for Women: Restoring Women Then and Now, the man selected by Bush to advise the FDA on reproductive health, not only refuses to discuss contraception with unmarried women, but argues that prayer is the best remedy for pre-menstrual tension. One of his main aims is to reverse the legalisation of RU-486, a drug which can terminate pregnancy at a very early stage without any invasive procedure and with no risk to health.
Wade Horn, now in charge of family support at the DHSS, is a major figure in the Fatherhood Movement (naturally violent women are forever beating up on nurturing men… you know the sort of thing) and believes that “spending billions of dollars to support father-absent and non-married households is discrimination against fathers and marriage.” He also wants states to divert funds away from children’s health programmes into “care of the unborn.”
Meanwhile, the women’s equality office at the Department of Education has been “defunded,” the Department of Labour’s women’s offices are set to close and the White House Office for Women’s Initiatives and Outreach – its job was to assess the effect on women of federal regulations – has already been closed.
Bush’s US is one of only three states which has failed to sign the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – a compact described by Kofi Annan as “a milestone” in the quest for gender equality.
Opposition to family-planning and AIDS-prevention programmes has been taken to new extremes. Planned Parenthood claims that the US, in cahoots with the Vatican, has fought against efforts to provide rehabilitation for female victims of war crimes, lest this involve information about abortion being offered to raped women.
“You’d think Saddam would keep Bush busy, but he’s attacking women left and right,” says Carolyn Maloney, Congresswoman from Manhattan’s East Side and one of the few unafraid feminists left in mainstream US politics.
Let’s whoop it up for freedom then, do our duty by democracy, and bid godspeed to the war engines keeping Shannon duty-free.
Richard Perle was explaining on CNN that people who objected to the treatment of the Guantanamo Bay detainees were, “for the most part, enemies of freedom,” but I didn’t have time to swoon. Word came through right then that Howard Fast had died.
Fast’s first published novel, Two Valleys, came out in 1933, his last, Greenwich, 67 years later in April, 2000. He produced over 75 “proper” books, as he called them, of which the best known is Spartacus, plus mystery novels under the pseudonym E.V. Cunningham, science-fiction yarns, countless newspaper and magazine articles, short stories, plays, screenplays, poetry.
In 1950 he was jailed after refusing to tell the House Committee on Un-American Activities the names of friends who had contributed to the upkeep of a hospital for Spanish Republicans in Toulouse with which he had been associated during the Spanish Civil War. Finding himself blacklisted upon release, he started his own publishing company, the Blue Heron Press, to bring out books and pamphlets which couldn’t otherwise find an imprint.
In 1952 he ran for Congress for the American Labour Party. Two years later, he was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize. Three years further on, he broke with Stalinism and published The Naked God: The Writer and the Communist Party, after which there was no excuse for any decent radical to stay within the CP.
Two main reasons for mentioning his death here. The first is as an excuse to quote his timely poem, ‘A Song Of Peace’.
“I closed my eyes in darkness and opened them in light, and over the world, like a flag unfurled, was a sweet sound and a holy sight. A dove spread wings of magic; its shadow was golden and broad, and the people of earth, in a passion of birth, had shattered an ancient sword. Oh, why is my country hated and made such a thing of scorn, this fruitful place with its varied race, this land where I was born? And why is my country darkened, when the rest of the world is light, and cloaked in fear of things once dear, and weak in its frightful might? And why are the people silent, and where is the ancient song that mankind found was freedom’s sound, to shatter injustice and wrong?”
The second reason is as a reminder of the days when being a socially-committed singer meant more than hanging out with incense-impregnated pontiffs and blathering about Bush ’n’ Blair being “honest but mistaken” over Iraq.
At Peekskill in upstate New York in 1949, Fast was scheduled to MC an open-air Paul Robeson gig. There was a 24-hour stand-off before the gig was cancelled. A mob of cops and anti-Red goons armed with knives and cudgels surrounded the site, first to prevent the audience getting in, then to prevent it leaving. Call up Fast’s muscular account on the web – “Fast Robeson Peeksill” will do it – for a glimpse of the men and women whose struggles won the freedoms which today’s war-mongers claim they are out to defend. The forebears of the war-mongers were, of course, leading the mob.
“How easily, when terror is unleashed in a nation, it can take hold, and how thin the line that separates constitutional government from tyranny and dictatorship,” mused Fast.
A few days later, the concert was attempted again. Several thousand members of New York trades unions formed a ring, shoulder to shoulder, around the site, and this time Robeson did get to sing. But on the road back to the city, everywhere it was crossed by a bridge, the goons were waiting, ammo stashed. Every car leaving the ground ran a gauntlet of rocks, was smashed, windows shattered, cuts, bruises, skull fractures, splinters of glass embedded in eyes.
But they won in the end, for a while. “We never win forever,” said Fast. “We only keep what we’ve won by keeping up the fight.”
Keep on keeping on, people.