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What Went Wrong With Feminists?

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As armies of men all across this world aim their guns and sharp knives, having declared war on young girls and women, the Western feminist movement seems to slip deeper into a strange torpor. Or, it malingers. Or simply ignores the tragedy affecting poor women of the world.

Now, that old American grand dame of the female struggle against discrimination and male domination seems to have cashed in her Social Security check and retreated to some retirement spot. So little is heard from her, one would forget she once was a roaring lioness. That, one supposes, is the way of the flesh. We grow old, toothless and fatigued.

And yet, those issues that Betty Freidan talked about and fought for still confront women - American, African, Arab and Asian. The fact is the present crop of victims was suffering when Freidan and Steinem sounded the clarion call of the feminist battle - to liberate white women. Today it is the girls and women of Darfur, victims of organized and brutal Arab rape; the women of East Congo who are at the mercy of crazed men with guns and machetes; girls of Pakistan tortured, raped and flogged when they complain to authorities; and Afghanistan - where a new law permits husbands to rape their wives.

But they are all far away women; dark and invisible to the educated middle-class American womanhood - the once long ago bra-burning sisterhood - today's bankers, soccer moms and doyens of the middle class hearth. I am sure they wait in vain for the enlightened women in the West to come and rescue them from the darkness that surrounds them.

But there's, much closer to home, a group of women who could use the know how, the mental strength and academic prowess of yesterday's feminist lioness. Black and Hispanic women in American inner city have been abandoned by NOW, and most of the white feminist movement.

The one thing that keeps poor women poor is: lack of education. That in addition to deep mental health issues and poverty. For decades I have watched as poor black women's condition has stagnated or grown worse; as HIV/AIDS has become a disease of black women; as their children are driven into our prison system like cattle. I have, like NOW watched from the sidelines.

But I have not seen yesteryear's aggressive warriors march down our nation's establishment's streets for poor women. I'm still waiting to see large numbers of feminists volunteer to go into the ghetto to train these victims of male domination how to free themselves from the yoke of misplaced masculine power.

It's obvious that the black male dominated organizations like NAACP, the Urban League and the black church have become old and senile, incapable of dealing with the problems of drug addiction, mental health, poverty, incarceration of black males. They threw up their arms in despair, resignation many years ago.

But the feminist movement should not have suffered the same fate; not as long as an important constituent had not been emancipated - poor black women. Black girls desperately need older, educated and better to do women to light the way for them. As is well known, enlightened women are the key to the fate of a people.

I too have to admit that there are small islands of goodwill, women - black and white - not necessarily self-identifying as feminists, who are helping some black girls. It's not something one hears about or sees happen in a large scale. Certainly little has changed in the condition of poor black women. And here I must also add that many religious groups, including the antiabortion and anticondom Catholic Church (as opposed to more liberal groups like NOW) are "helping" women in faraway dark places.

The problem is that, even though, one of NOW's founders was Rev, Pauli Murray, a black woman, NOW was effective in securing white middle-class women's equality to their brothers, as well as propelling white women into positions of prominence. As the goal of white sexual parity was reached, the feminist movement slowly lost its vigor and enthusiasm.

I find it sad that so much of NOW's energy, knowledge, and potential for great works has been lost or simply left to lie, dormant, as millions of poor black American women see little improvement in their condition. They are impregnated early; have many kids out of wedlock; are uneducated and in poor health. The cycle is repeated generation after generation.

One suspects that the intention of the initial feminists had a universal coloration to it. In practice though, the movement served to raise the lot of white American women, while doing remarkably little for poor blacks; and even less for black women.

A small segment of the black middle class womanhood tries hard to fill the void; to help black girls. It greatly needs the help of other races, other groups, to give voice and meaning to the lives of poor black women and their children.

It's thus absurd for me to expect the Americans and for that matter Western feminists to go to the rescue of African, Asian, or Arab women who find themselves within the crashing jaws of primitive customs, unforgiving religious practices and a manhood that tenaciously holds onto its superiority using violent rape and murder as their weapons.

But as absurd as it is, I still can't help but wonder: What went wrong?

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