Feminists Ignore Plight of Mao Hengfeng

I consider myself to be pretty much pro-abortion down the line, but there’s one thing I’ve never understood about the pro-choice movement — why does it feel necessary to kow-tow to China and ignore the horrors of that country’s one child policy?

For example, you were about as likely to hear Gloria Steinem endorse George W. Bush for president as you were to hear a major feminist or pro-choice group highlight the plight of Mao Hengfeng.

Fifteen years ago Hengfeng became pregnant in violation of the one child policy. She refused to have an abortion, and so was fired from her job at a soap factory. She was then told she could have her job back if she terminated a third pregnancy, which she did. The state, however, refused to reinstate her job. Since then, Hengfeng has been petitioning China about this gross violation of human rights.

It came to light in October that in April 2004 Hengfeng was arrested and ordered to undergo “re-education through labor.” Information obtained by New York-based Human Rights in China indicates that Hengfeng may have been subjected to torture while in prison.

Amnesty International highlighted her case on October 6 and urged people to write Chinese authorities to demand Hengfeng’s release. Acknowledgement from feminist and pro-choice groups was deafening in its silence.

Consider, for example, the Feminist Majority Foundation which publishes a regular global news feature related to issues important to feminism. The Feminist Majority Foundation has published a couple dozen stories that mention China in 2004, including highlighting China’s plan to send a woman astronaut into space and several about the Bush administration’s decision to withhold international family planning funds from the UN related specifically to China’s one child practice. But mentioning the plight of someone like Hengfeng is nowhere to be found — acknowledging that coercion and violence are still part and parcel of China’s one-child program would be off-message and might embolden anti-abortion activists, so why rock the boat by defending this woman’s human rights?

Most feminist and pro-choice groups continue to paper over the abuses that China commits against women who do not want to have abortions, acting as if conservatives simply invent such charges out of thin air. It was refreshing to see Amnesty International not flinch from the truth for the sake of ideology,

Torture and ill-treatment have also been reported as a result of China?s family planning policies, including forced abortions and sterilizations. Local birth quotas play a prominent part in the policy, upheld by stiff penalties as well as rewards. Women who become pregnant without permission may be punished with heavy fines, and dismissed from their jobs. With pressure to perform, some officials have resorted to violence.

In September 2002, a new Population and Family Planning Law was introduced in a stated attempt to standardize policies and practice across the country and safeguard citizens? rights. However, reports of coerced abortions and sterilizations have continued and few officials are believed to have been brought to justice or punished for such abuses.

Can you imagine the outcry if the U.S. government even hinted that women who had abortions should lose their jobs? Yet, when China does this — and much worse — to women who refuse to have abortions, feminists and pro-choicers look the other way with a wink and a nod. At best, it’s an inconvenient but minor detail for those who claim to hold as their highest value empowering women to have autonomy over their own lives.


Chinese woman fired, tortured after having second child. PolitInfo.Com, October 6, 2004.

Chinese woman campaigning vs. one-child policy ‘tortured’. The Manila Times, October 7, 2004.

Stop Torture of Mao Hengfeng, a Woman Imprisoned in China for Protesting Forced Abortion. Press Release, Amnesty International, October 2004.

That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

An amusing tale of two wanna-be comedians unfolded in the Feminist Majority Foundation’s daily news wire the past couple weeks.

When Slim-Fast dropped Whoopi Goldberg after her round of Bush and Dick jokes at a fundraiser for John Kerry, the Feminist Majority Foundation defended her, noting that “a company spokesperson refused to say whether there was a decrease in sales because of the remarks” and added,

Goldberg was a featured speaker at the massively successful March for Women’s Lives on April 25, which brought more than one million women and men to Washington, DC in support of reproductive rights.

Less than a week later, however, when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger alluded to the Saturday Night Live skit that used to parody him and referred to California legislators as “girlie men” the Feminist Majority Foundation was suddenly offended at such humor, headlining its coverage of Schwarzenegger’s remarks with “Governor Schwarzenegger Unapologetic for Sexist, Homophobic Remark.” According to the report,

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, commented on the misogyny that underlies the governor’s comment: “Women are strong. And to denigrate half the human race is pretty sick. But that’s what he’s doing. He’s trying to denigrate the males by denigrating females.”

Ah, the fresh smell of hypocrisy in the morning.


Slim-Fast drops Whoopi Goldberg after anti-Bush jokes. Feminist Daily News Wire, July 15, 2004.

Governor Schwarzenegger Unapologetic for Sexist, Homophobic Remark. Feminist Daily News Wire, July 19, 2004.

Raising Questions about RAWA

Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, a group called the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) received a lot of media coverage. With its rhetoric about freeing Afghanistan’s women from oppression, its smuggled videotapes of atrocities against women, and the imprimatur of Western feminists, RAWA was the perfect group for the media to contrast with the misogynistic Taliban. But along the way there were some voices of caution about RAWA which culminated in an article earlier this month in The American Prospect which raised some disturbing questions about RAWA.

Wendy McElroy first raised concerns about RAWA back on October 23, 2001 when she questioned what was happening to money that the Feminist Majority Foundation and others were raising and giving to RAWA.

Noting that RAWA had clearly done some very good things, McElroy nonetheless questioned the wisdom of involvement with a group that had appeared to have close ties with Pakistan’s Communist Party. Moreover, the group had almost no accountability with only a P.O. box in Pakistan as an address and the routine use of false names in interviews. McElroy conceded that some secrecy was warranted due to fear of retaliation by the Taliban, but most groups like RAWA at least have some sort of open political structure (even terrorist groups generally have some sort of open, above ground representatives) and urged RAWA to pursue openness.

RAWA did not take that advice. And then on April 20, 2002 a very odd thing happened. As well-chronicled by The American Prospect’s Noy Thrupkaew, on that date Elizabeth Miller, a U.S.-based supporter of RAWA, posted a letter attacking Ms. magazine on a listserv run by RAWA. Ms. had run a special insert on the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Afghanistan campaign which profiled women working at the United Nations and a number of other similar “behind the scenes”-style looks, but failed to mention RAWA. For this, it was attacked as being a “mouthpiece of hegemonic, U.S.-centric, ego driven, corporate feminism.”

The letter also attacked Sima Sama, who was at the time Afghanistan’s interim minister of women’s affairs. Miller claimed that Samar “was a member of the leadership of one of the most notorious fundamentalist factions Hezb-e Wahdat.” As Thrupkaew puts it,

Some probing, however, finds little evidence that Samar has anything to do with Hezb-e Wahdat. Rather, what comes to light is a pattern of RAWA-led smear campaigns against other Afghan women who rise to prominence.

In The American Prospect article, Thrupkaew documents a persistent habit of RAWA attacking Afghan women with absurd charges. In each case the real crime committed by the women is that they have risen to a prominence that RAWA apparently feels threatened by.

The Feminist Majority Foundation comes across as genuinely shocked by RAWA’s reckless charges. FMF’s Jennifer Jackman lamely tells Thrupkaew that FMF did refute the attacks, but did not do so publicly. Which, of course, gives the impression to the casual observer that FMF does not disagree with RAWA’s absurd charge.

Which takes us back to McElroy’s earlier comments on the group’s links to Pakistan’s Communist movement. Because, of course, we have seen RAWA-style tactics before. In fact, reading through the back and forth petty feuds and accusations is like reading some old account of internal conflict at a gathering of Trotskyists.

Thrupkaew notes that RAWA’s behavior has fueled rumors that the group is really controlled by a group of men who are Maoists or Communists, and certainly their behavior is exactly the sort of rigid thinking characterized by such groups.

Either way, the Feminist Majority Foundation should be ashamed of itself for keeping its refutation of RAWA’s attacks “within the family.” It is interesting that the FMF emphasizes the fact that it does not gloss over the Northern Alliance’s failings, but it is apparently more than willing to do so when it comes to the highly questionable actions of an Afghan feminist group. When Eleanor Smeal finally wakes up and realizes there’s something wrong with that sort of double standard, we’ll actually be getting somewhere.


What do Afghan women want? Noy Thrupkaew, The American Prospect, August 5, 2002.

Afghan Women’s Group Raises More Questions Than Answers. Wendy McElroy, IFeminists.Com, October 23, 2001.

The Silence Surrounding RAWA. Wendy McElroy, IFeminists.Com, August 20, 2002.

Feminists and the War Against the Taliban

In an op-ed piece for The Washington Post, Amy Holmes wonders why the National Organization for Women seems to be largely ignoring the United States’ war against the Taliban.

Holmes notes that NOW did put out a press release a few days ago quoting NOW Action Vice President Olga Vives saying, “In this time of national and global turmoil, the reasons we celebrate Coming Out Day are more visible and more important than ever,” but aside for demanding more money for Afghani refugee camps in Pakistan, NOW is silent about the U.S. attack on Afghanistan.

Which is weird since if you search on “Afghanistan” in NOW’s web search engine, you will find numerous press releases condemning the Taliban, including on urging the world to Stop the Abuse of Women and Girls in Afghanistan! But now that a Republican president is actually attempting to end the Taliban regime, there’s not a peep.

Holmes contrasts this with Eleanor Smeal and the Feminist Majority Foundation which maintains that “the United States has a unique obligation to end the Taliban’s atrocities toward women” and explicitly calls for the United States to remove the Taliban and replace it with a constitutional democracy which will guarantee the rights of women in Afghanistan. Though that may not be possible — although the Northern Alliance, the main threat to the Taliban, is certainly an improvement over the Taliban, they are hardly a group of liberal democratic constitutionalists.

Holmes doesn’t mention it, but the obvious question is whether or not NOW would maintain this weird silence over the war in Afghanistan had it been prosecuted by Bill Clinton or Al Gore. The few things NOW has released related to the terrorism attacks are meshed in with NOW’s theme of fighting George W. Bush and the Right. I suspect that for NOW giving Bush credit for trying a government run by misogynistic religious fanatics simply wouldn’t mesh very well with their theme that Bush is “like a vampire who will suck our rights away” as Patricia Ireland described him last October.


Feminism goes to battle. Amy Holmes, The Washington Post, October 14, 2001.