I’ll admit it: I do not hate Laura Bush.
I know this fact probably merits my expulsion from several liberal-minded social groups, but hear me out. I don’t think she’s stupid, and I don’t think it’s fair to call her a Stepford wife. I am deeply disappointed in her refusal to publically dissent from her husband on issues where they certainly disagree (abortion rights, education funding, many issues concerning women and children), but I don’t think that makes her an completely impotent force in the White House. The fact is that she probably is a mostly impotent force, but she has pushed for various educational and literacy initiatives, which, though they are considered “soft” issues in political circles, are nonetheless important. Does she have the kind of life that I’d want? No. Do I think it’s pathetic that she abandoned her own political beliefs when she married her George? Sure. But I think she’s a strong person, and I think she’s smarter than many liberals (and conservatives, for that matter) give her credit for.
And now, she’s championing women’s rights in the mid-east. Only she’s utilizing a pretty poor strategy.
I’m all for pushing women’s rights — in the mid-East and everywhere else. But when the Bush administration does, for example, a survey of all mid-East countries and rank their dedication to women’s rights, they look like they’re specifically attacking one particular region — which, of course, they are. Are many mid-East and North African countries particularly bad on women’s rights issues? Yeah, in truth, they are. But this administration isn’t concerned about women’s rights unless it’s politically expedient. We’re in the good company of countries like Iran, Sudan and Somalia in our refusal to sign CEDAW, and Bush’s domestic record on women’s rights isn’t exactly peachy. So sending Laura Bush into other countries — countries where we have demonstrated a profound lack of cultural, social and religious understanding — spouting her short-sighted, highly Westernized version of women’s rights will no doubt leave a pretty bad taste in the mouths of many people there. They know it isn’t particuarly genuine, and no one likes a hypocrite.
That said, it is better than nothing. But I’m also afraid that this will backfire. The war on Iraq has brought up so much anti-Americanism that anything we do is going to be looked at skeptically, and in an effort on behalf of mid-Eastern nations to be “not America,” women’s rights may only be lessened. Middle Eastern countries, and the people in them, feel as if they are under attack from the United States — from what I can tell, there seems to be a sense that we’re out to change their culture, their religion, their forms of government and their social structures. And when people feel as if their way of life is under attack, they’re more likely to cling to all vestiges of it more tightly. In this case, that may include the history of poor treatment of women under authoritatian governments and Sha’ria law. So while I’m cautiously glad that the Bush administration is even mentioning women’s rights, I’m disgusted that it’s only being done as part of their war-mongering in the mid-East, and that they’re ignoring women’s rights issues everywhere else, while actively violating women’s rights at home and abroad.