Laura Bush urges women’s rights in the mid-East

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.


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13 comments for “Laura Bush urges women’s rights in the mid-East

  1. May 21, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    I don’t hate Laura Bush either, and in fact I think she is likely more liberal than most give her credit for. Take the issues she remains silent on, probably because of the Repub PR machine, and it begins to add up that she likely differs in many areas from the political family.

    While I commend her outspokenness on the empowerment of women in the Middle East, I agree with you that it isn’t enough considering the other travesties women are subjected to in other areas of the globe. That this move is part of the war strategy at home is transparent. The question is how to convince half of the American voting population that this isn’t enough, if that is possible at all.

  2. May 21, 2005 at 7:27 pm

    I am extremely grateful to Laura Bush for starting the book festival here, which is a very real literacy initiative and not the fakey-fake kinds that the Shrub creates. It gives authors a real chance to connect with new audiences–they have a few high profile writers, and that draws the crowds in and then, since you’re hanging around, you wander into other lectures and forums and then, as you leave, you walk through a tent with books by all the writers available for purchase. And from a locally owned book store, no less! Everyone wins with that book festival and I’m sorry I missed it this year.

    Weirdly, I think Laura is actually pretty good friends with Kinky Friedman, too.

  3. BillyHW
    May 21, 2005 at 7:48 pm

    Laura Bush is one classy lady.

  4. Elaine
    May 21, 2005 at 9:06 pm

    I don’t hate Laura Bush. I also don’t give her credit for her silence on choice. George H.W. and Big Babs perfected that have it both ways strategy and Laura Flanders has documented it at length.
    It’s meaningless.
    I do fault her for championing, momentarily, women’s rights in Afghanistan to cheer on the bombing.
    Other than that, I’m inclined to agree with C.I.:
    “Laura Bush appears to be getting out of the White House more. Well good for her. We’d previously fantasized that her days were passed with a gin bottle in one hand, a cheesy romance paperback in another, propped up in bed with a carton of Lucky Strikes at the ready on the end table.”
    And I think that if Hillary told “jokes” that had no factual basis, it would be “That liar!” Laura Bush has proven she will say anything in public and present it as fact to be liked.
    As a librarian, she should have been championing them and using her power as First Lady to save the ones in Salinas, CA for instance.
    She didn’t.
    I don’t hate her I just don’t think she matters. That may result from who she’s married to. But I won’t cheer her on in the name of “sisterhood.” Nancy Reagan was pro-choice and didn’t play the “well we don’t agree on every issue but I won’t say which ones” game that Big Babs and Laura like to play.
    Laura Bush doesn’t strike me as heartless the way Big Babs did (still does) but the valentines to Laura Bush won’t be sent out by me.
    This morning C.I. had a good post on how Laura will say anything and is far from a credible speaker:
    http://thecommonills.blogspot.com/2005/05/stories-to-note-inside-paper-and-why.html
    I agree with it. And agree that it’s past time her remarks were taken at face value.

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  6. jl
    May 21, 2005 at 10:59 pm

    Hipocracy will bring cynicism and deligitimize cause.

    I don’t think I agree with your asessment that…anything is better than nothing, even hypocracy. I think there is a point to have genuine discourse and exchange of idea. Preachy delivery of alien message will not bode well.

  7. May 22, 2005 at 9:28 am

    Did you read the report issued by the World Economic Forum, of which Laura spoke before, championing women’s rights? Jordan, that lowly ranked nation (overall), ranks higer than the US in women’s economic opportunity. That means women have more opportunity for advancement in their careers, or better maternity leave (that sort of thing) in Jordan than they do here in the US. Furthermore, Jordan and the US are ranked neck and neck for the piss-poor health care women receive.

    Quite frankly, based on the quotes of her speech I read, I found her speech disengenuous, particularly once you read the Global Gender Gap report from the WEF, and take that into consideration with her speech.

    Maybe she’s trying, and what was written for her is a compromise between her husband’s handlers’ views and her views. I don’t know, I couldn’t say. But, based on the Global Gender Gap report issued the same day as she spoke, her credibility was pretty much crushed in my view.

  8. May 22, 2005 at 9:38 am

    Laura Bush seems like a nice personn..which raises the eternal question…HOW COULD SHE HAVE MARRIED SUCH A WHIMP!?

  9. May 22, 2005 at 9:55 am

    Here’s my concern:

    Americans tend to assume that Middle Eastern women are so backwards and benighted that they need to be rescued by us. But there are actually indigenous feminist movements all over the Middle East. And Laura Bush’s move, I think, will make it harder for those feminists. Her embrace of “women’s rights” is totally selective and totally tied to U.S. imperialism. She is completely silent on women’s rights, both at home and abroad, except when embracing them suits the interests of her husband’s policies. And that just reinforces the notion, which is very much out there already, that feminism is just another tool of Western imperialism and just another justification for invasion and conquest. Middle Eastern feminists, therefore, have to deal not just with the usual crap about being enemies of family and tradition and religion, but also with accusations that they’re literally traitors, that when they call attention to women’s issues, they literally invite invasion. And that makes their work harder and their lives more dangerous.

    So I don’t think it’s better than nothing. I think it’s probably worse than nothing.

  10. Nancy
    May 22, 2005 at 7:38 pm

    I don’t admire Laura Bush. By the descriptions in the recent book about the Bushes and other places (such as the White House cook recently fired because he didn’t toady to her sufficiently), she is obsessive-compulsive and exerts strong control over the personal household through neatness rules and fiat. She may smile on TV but she is not warm on a personal level.

    I realize that it is not always fair to judge a mother by her children, but Jenna and Barbara are a real mess. It is not typical 20-something behavior to do the club scene to the point of public drunkenness and destruction of property, nor is it typical that they should express lofty ideals for public service after graduating while remaining totally unemployed and drunk every night for a year now following their election speeches. These are not kids raised to be independent, nor are they raised to have personal responsibility for their actions, nor are they raised to avoid the easy way to solving problems (i.e., alcohol and drugs), nor do they fit any measure of character I would apply to my own kids. If Laura Bush knew what she was doing, she would have had them at a family therapist long ago and would not be enabling behavior that is just like their father’s in many respects (by buying them a condo so they can crawl home from the bar instead of drunk-driving).

    How many nifty library programs has Laura Bush founded now that she lives at the seat of power? I’ll bet she is trying to be as numb as her kids until her nightmare is over. That’s about all the compassion I can muster for her — a grown woman who has no autonomy over her own life so she must clean up every wayward speck of dust on the ranch.

  11. May 22, 2005 at 8:59 pm

    I second Nancy. And I shudder to think the kind of numbness and silencing it must take to be in her shoes. Even if she does take a different position than her husband on certain issues, it takes a profound lack of integrity to stand calmly by he and the administration while they tramples all over those positions. Ugh, no, I feel no particular respect for Laura Bush.

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  13. May 24, 2005 at 1:28 am

    Nice? Isn’t this the woman who hit her boyfriend with a car once?

    I don’t think she’s as bad as her husband, or as dumb as she looks, and she’s done a few good things.

    But this is a woman who willingly made herself a part of the Bush clan, and who remains attached to her horrible husband, so I can’t think highly of her. She made her bed, and she seems pretty comfortable lying in it.

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