I met my first women doctors and agricultural engineers when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Turkey almost 60 years ago. This year, when I went back to Turkey for a short visit, I learned that an Islamist leaning regime has not stopped women from being doctors and engineers, graduate students and professors. And this morning I read about the women leading a revolution in Iran.
I don’t know that it will be called a revolution, or that it will be successful in overturning a repressive, Islamist government in Iran, but it has marks of success, and echoes the growing power of women across the world. Even a new rightist government in Italy is headed by a woman; and she is credited with taking a small, marginal party with Italian fascist roots traced to the disgraced dictator, Mussolini, into the mainstream. She appears to be angling for broad European acceptance as she bleats an anti-immigrant message.
Women won’t get everything right—from my political perspective—but it is still refreshing to see them taking power. I hate the anti-immigrant stance in any country, including my own, although I can understand its currency, with climate change, repressive governments, and extreme violence upsetting normalcy across the globe.
In fact, many immigrants are women fleeing repression and male dominance and violence. Why shouldn’t there be a wide welcome and broad assistance to the thousands of Yazidi women raped and chased from their homeland in Iraq? Why can’t we—the US—broadly welcome women fleeing abuse in Central America? Are we doing enough to fight sexual violence in our own country?
Which takes us to Indian Country in the US. There is an ongoing problem of dead and missing Native women in the US and Canada. The problem, which has festered on and near reservations for years, is now in the open—with accounts floating off reservations and novelists Louise Erdrich and Marcie Rendon addressing it in popular fiction. The growing number of prominent Native women’s voices, led by Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland and the newest member of Congress, Alaska’s Mary Peltola, will surely work this issue through legislative and judicial roadblocks—and increase on-the-ground assistance to victims and women at risk. Peltola’s background includes work as a tribal judge!
But let’s not forget those Iranian women. The woman who was killed in police custody—and set off the current protests—was actually Kurdish. Kurds are large minorities in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Over 50 years ago, I lived among Kurds and Turks in Eastern Turkey. In the villages, Kurdish women dressed more colorfully than did the Turkish women, and the older ones especially did not shy from looking a young American man in the eye. I know there are well-educated Kurdish women across Turkey today.
In Iran, in 1968, when I spent a month evaluating the Peace Corps program there, women were prominent running traffic intersections from stands in the middle of busy streets, and the miniskirts prominent in upscale restaurants and clubs were shorter than those in New York.
The Islamist regime has repressed women, but not shut them up. In fact, the Iranian graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi told the story of the Islamic revolution in Persepolis, which was later made into a film. She told her story while in exile, and, unfortunately, many of the fine writers from the Middle East live in exile.
But they are telling the stories of women in repressive states. Today, American women are fighting for control of their own bodies. And today, the Washington Post asks American feminists what they are doing to help the women of Iran. We are all in this together.
As an old(er) white man, I can only applaud the courageous women across the world—and here in our own country. I look to them leading us out of cycles of violence and repression. As many have observed over millennia, slaveholders and oppressors are themselves caught in their own traps, and we men—especially we old white men who have dominated so long—will only be truly free ourselves when we give up those oppressions.
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