College Quarterly
Spring 2004 - Volume 7 Number 2
Notes After Shock: September 11, 2001 – Global Feminist Perspectives.
Susan Hawthorne and Bronwyn Winter, editors.
Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2003

Reviewed by Howard A. Doughty

Sitting comfortably in front of a crackling fire on a chilly March afternoon, I was luxuriating with the Sunday New York Times, the Washington Post, some local Toronto "alternative" newspapers and a bowl of roasted almonds. Occasionally looking up at the television, I momentarily glimpsed images of a bombed Spanish train, some burned and broken child amputees in Basra, and the face of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The face spoke in reply to a typically soft question from CNN's Wolf Blitzer. A clip of John Kerry criticizing George W. Bush had been played and Rumsfeld's reaction was sought. The face, however, declined to answer, saying that the brain behind it did not choose to become involved in "politics."

Rumsfeld's inanity distracted me from an article about what was once called "deviant behaviour" in which the author described in clinical detail a "performance" by York University political scientist Shannon Bell. It involved a scapula and some bawdy enthusiasm. Enough said.

Somewhere between the disavowal of foreign policy as a legitimate instance of politics and the use of the slogan "the personal is political" to justify defining the mechanical probing of female genitalia as a liberating political act, the concept and practice of citizenship seems to have disappeared.

Almost forty years ago, George Grant told a large student audience that "democratic citizenship is not a notion that is compatible with technological empires." Now, it seems that no sort of citizenship-democratic or otherwise-can be shoehorned into public discussions in the vast technological empire in which we are all implicated.

This is a pity. For years, feminism had seemed to me to be one of the most promising signposts on the road to the future. It provided new and useful arguments that not only illustrated how miserably women had been treated by patriarchal society but actually offered insightful methodologies that could be used to explore other than exclusively gender-based issues.

Then something happened. Maybe I just got old, but the entire postmodern enthusiasm for oppression-based interrogations of what passed for reality lost me. Queer theory, postcolonialism and the whole inventory of identity politics made my head fuzzy. My mind was clouded by polysyllabic theorists with a penchant to lose themselves in language while the authentically oppressed experienced directly physical brutality. Visceral pain seemed to me to be more pressing than virtual anguish. I lost sympathy for those who merely chafed under the "gaze" of the "other." I couldn't care less about the distress of Princess Diana.

In the process, I worried that the progressive edge of feminism had been dulled in the quest for tenure. Discourse about discourse about discourse caused me to wonder how far such palaver would go in pursuit of an abstract attack on oppression while leaving behind any semblance of contact with experience. Call me an empiricist, I don't mind.

That distressing disillusionment with so-called radical thought is, I am happy to say, only the background that makes my happiness with a new anthology glow.

Susan Hawthorne and Bronwyn Winter have put together a fine and authentically diverse collection that presents a terrible (but terribly accurate, textured and nuanced) account of the terrorism of September 11, 2001, the terrors that followed it, and the terrors that follow it still.

Composed of no less than eighty-five separate contributions from veteran feminists such as Barbara Ehrenreich and Robin Morgan, Canadian activists Naomi Klein and Sunera Thobani, and organizations including the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan and the Israeli peace group Bat Shalom, the result is a successful deconstruction of the logic and rhetoric of expositions about September 11, and a powerful commentary on the motives behind the violence perpetrated on the world by all current combatants.

Anyone interested in women's struggles, third-world conflicts, and the host of issues related to imperialism and its symbiotic partner, terrorism, will learn much from this book and will learn to find the heart of feminism where it truly resides, in women like those who contributed to this book.


Howard A. Doughty teaches in the Faculty of Applied Arts and Health Sciences at Seneca College, King City. His email address is howard.doughty@senecac.on.ca

Notes

• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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2004 - The College Quarterly, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology