The Ladies Exchange Their Views
It seems that Naomi Wolf is quite upset by what I’ve written yesterday. She has posted a comment at my blog, written to me privately (below), left a message in my office and written to at least one website that linked to my blog. I am answering her here.
Hello and I hope you are well too. My piece is not a personal attack. Please don’t take it as such. It is a political and intellectual critique of what you wrote. There are no “terrible inaccuracies” in what I’ve written or in how I’ve conveyed the general tenor of your article. Your demand that I print a “correction” and issue an “apology” is uncalled for as is your offer to go over my mistakes with me, point by point, on the phone or in a debate. I dare say, this last bit is a wee bit arrogant and frightening.
One woman’s “mistake” is another woman’s “opinion.”
I now understand that you’ve left a phone message in my office, posted a letter at my blogsite at Pajamas Media, written to me privately, and also written to Frontpage Magazine which has linked to my piece today.
Are you going to track down every site that linked to this piece as well?
For a moment I thought: Maybe I only imagined that you’d been advising Vice President Gore on his image, maybe you really were deeply involved in substantive policy issues. Maybe this is the one correction I might have to make. The 1999 New York Times piece (but your husband works there) did suggest that you were involved in policy issues relating to female voting.
And yet: I could not forget reading that you were advising Gore about what colors to wear (earth-colored tones is what I remember) for his Presidential campaign. Indeed, I was right. Both Jake Tapper at Salon and Jodi Kantor at Slate had pieces about this. Here is what Jodi Kantor wrote in Slate.
Eight years later, Wolf has become an image consultant herself. As Time reported earlier this week, Vice President Al Gore paid Wolf thousands of dollars a month for advice on presentation, from the tones of his speeches to the color tones of his wardrobe. The Washington Post relayed that Wolf “has long contended that earth tones are more ‘reassuring’ to audiences” and that she is “the person behind Gore’s recent wardrobe change.”
Wolf’s non-sartorial advice to Gore–and to President Clinton before him, as an unpaid adviser–is even stranger. She coached each to emphasize his manly strengths, relying on hoary, tired gender stereotypes. She reportedly told Gore that he is the “beta male” who must fight Clinton’s “alpha male” for dominance. And as an adviser to the Clinton White House, she informed the president that the nation was searching for a “good-father role model” to “build a house” for the country. “I will not let anyone or anything touch the bedrock,” Wolf wrote in one memo for him. “I will DEFEND/PROTECT the foundation.” This came only three years after the publication of her book Fire With Fire, in which she savaged Republican spin doctors for positioning George Bush as “the reassuring arch-patriarch.
The New York Times piece also tell us that you also advised President Clinton or rather, that you regularly talked to Dick Morris during the Clinton Presidency. (Your husband wrote speeches for Clinton).
Naomi: Are you perchance angling for an image consultancy to one of the Saudi or Gulf state Princes? Something along the lines of how to position the oppression of women in ways that are more palatable to the West? In a way that might even appeal to Western women? God, say it isn’t so.
Since you yourself acknowledge that I am a person of stature, why not consider that what I’m saying is actually true, fair, balanced, and accurate?
You may indeed have complex thoughts about the plight of Muslim women at this moment in history, but in my opinion, they did not appear in this particular piece. What came through, instead, was a naive romanticization of the “veil” and a confusion about how a one-time only, freely chosen colorful headscarf and comfortable clothing (which you donned) compares to mandatory hijab/jilbab (severe head and shoulder covering which allows no hair to show, not even a stray strand); niqab (a face mask); abaya (a long shapless black head and body covering), burqa and chadari (a shroud, body bag).
I know that writers don’t often choose the titles of their articles but your article led your editor to title the piece: “Behind the Veil Lives a Thriving Muslim Sexuality.” I do not want to repeat what I’ve already written but your article asks whether “we in the West (are not) radically misinterpreting Muslim sexual mores?” And, you write that the “Western interpretation of veiling as repression of women and of their sexuality….is not so, (but is rather) rooted in a strong sense of public versus private…what is due to God and what is due to one’s husband.”
This does not sound like a feminist indictment of female genital mutilation, forced face-and body-veiling, forced illiteracy, forced arranged child marriage, polygamy, normalized daughter- and wife-beating, honor killings, or the torture and murder of so many people, both women and men, in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Somalia and Algeria, by Islamist paramilitary forces and by the Islamic government.
You ask that I publish your piece. Indeed, I have already “published” your piece by linking to it in my blog. It is embedded in yesterday’s piece. Check it out for yourself.
Naomi: Both your generation and my much earlier generation of feminists have failed a universal vision of women’s human rights; most have become multi-cultural relativists and politically correct leftists. Such feminists have been more concerned with the rights of formerly colonized Muslim men than with the rights of formerly colonized and still colonized Muslim women. And, they view America and often Israel as the Evil Empires par excellence and give a free pass to Muslim tyranny.
I have stood almost alone and have been condemned by many for telling the truth about Islamic gender and religious apartheid, and about Israel, anti-Semitism, jihad, and America.
At the risk of sounding self-serving: I suggest that you read my latest book The Death of Feminism. What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom. I write about what Islamic gender apartheid is and about what it does and I document how it is has penetrated the West–with the full blessing of western feminists and progressives.
P.S. I never wrote that you supported the burqa per se or viewed it as “sexy.” You yourself have confused soft, voluntary, “veiling” with all forms of hard, forced veiling. If we in the West do not clearly and carefully oppose forced veiling in all forms, especially the burqa and niqab–we are, in effect, being led down a very slippery slope which will lead to our being used to support the “right” of women to wear face masks and body-bags in the West.
HERE IS NAOMI WOLF’S LETTER TO ME
September 02, 2009 7:34 AM
To: Phyllis Chesler
Subject: please correct terrible inaccuracies in your piece
Dear Phyllis, I hope you are well. I was most surprised to see your attack on my piece on Muslim feminism, which is filled with terrible inaccuracies, not to mention personal attacks on me that are I feel unworthy of soomeone of your stature. You need to correct it immediately and reproduce the original piece.
I never advocated for the burka and my piece makes clear that Muslim women face terrible oppressions. My point was that many of them wish we would focus on those oppressions rather than on what they are wearing. I am truly astonished that you would misrepresent my work so seriously — I do feel that you should take some responsibility for these terrible falsehoods being reproduced at all — and insist that you correct the record at once — I am happy to go through the many errors one by one by phone – and I am happy to have a serious debate with you on these issues any time. You are welcome to reprint this letter on your website, actually please do, I don’t know how to do so. But you must also issue a correction, and frankly if it were I I would also add n apology. Yours Naomi Wolf