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On The Issues Magazine - Fall 2008
Reading The Times

by Merle Hoffman

It was interesting to open the Sunday New York Times and see that Nicholas Kristof had discovered the differing meaning of terrorism in women’s lives. His column, Terrorism That's Personal, filed from Islamabad, described acid attacks that left women disfigured, blind and outcast.

“It’s a kind of terrorism that becomes accepted as part of the background noise in the region,” writes Kristof, obviously moved by his interview with a Pakistani woman severely burned from acid thrown by her ex-husband. The Online version of the story even shows a full-color picture of the woman’s injuries. Acid attacks, writes Kristof, “are commonly used to terrorize and subjugate women and girls in a swath of Asia from Afghanistan through Cambodia.”

But Kristof didn’t have to travel to Asia to learn about the domestic terrorism commonly used to subjugate women. And he needn’t fixate on acid as the only weapon in the arsenal of terrorism deployed against women.

Feminists have identified for years the dangers that women face. That’s what led us to create What Is Terror for Women (and what can we do about it.) We consciously wanted to turn around the lens of the “war on terror” to women’s lives. We collected articles, art, poetry that described a stunning range of methods used to terrorize women -- from rape and incest to honor killings, deprivations of healthcare, stigma, harassment, attacks on loved pets, murders of abortion providers, murders of women.

In one article, The War I Know: Sidelined A to Z, playwright Carolyn Gage recalls being asked in 2003 to comment on how the war in Iraq affected her, so she scrolled the list of her friends and acquaintances.

“It would appear that there is some kind of war already going on in my world. Terrorism? Oh, yeah. Every single woman in my Rolodex has been subjected to some kind of terrorism. If we weren’t married to, the daughter of, or dating the terrorist, it was someone who followed us on the street at night, or exhibited themselves to us in some corner of the library stacks, or an anonymous phone caller, detailing what he was going to do to us. It was our babysitter, our neighbor, our college professor, our priest, our dentist.

….We women should be so lucky if all we had to fear were some maniac in an airplane. I laugh when they go through my luggage looking for the nail file. Weapons? How about beer bottles, telephone receivers, pencils, stove burners, furniture, appliances, whole automobiles? How about the legal system? The medical institutions? The mental health system?”

Gage’s comments did not make the inside of The New York Times.

But she is not the only one to recognize such horrors. Carol J. Adams describes how male batterers gain dominion and control over women by brutalizing the pets they love. In domestic violence situations, batterers threaten, injure and kill pets, writes Adams, “to perpetuate the context of terror…. Making someone watch the torture of another is ultimate mastery, saying through these actions ‘this is what I can do and there is nothing you can do to stop me.’”

In the 16 years of the print publication of On The Issues Magazine (1983-1998), writers such as Charlotte Bunch, Jan Goodwin, Andrea Peyser, Betsy Swart and Jean Bethke Elshtain discussed the multitude of ways that terrorism diminished women’s lives.

In one article in 1988, I wrote about the gush of stories of abuse, and the denial around them. “Another murder. Another woman or child abused, battered or killed, most often by a husband, father or lover. It happens so very often that I should be used to it by now, made numb by habit, not affected—it should all go into that white noise category of neutral stimuli that gets fused into the nothingness of trace memory. But it only seems to get worse. Every time I read a newspaper or turn on the TV, it hits me, it hits me hard.”

The regions of the world are not at issue, as Kristof states. Their religions do not change the realities, as commentators on his blog imply.

In our edition on women and terror, Mahin Hassibi introduced the topic by providing historical and sociological context. "Even though different societies and different moral, religious and philosophical systems have attempted harm reduction to women through rules of conduct, legal limits and religious sanctions, no woman can truly feel safe from the vicissitudes of terror experienced by her sex. Any woman who has found herself in position to warn a female child about the dangers represented by men realizes this terror."

While it is gratifying to know that the Times brought information about the atrocities against women to their wide readership, the solutions, most likely, will be left to the few -- the feminists who have dissected the topic for years.

In 1995, poet Marge Piercy published For two women shot to death in Brookline, Massachusetts (later published by Knopf) in our magazine after a killer rampaged a Boston abortion clinic.

….Stand up now and say No More.
Stand up now and say We
Stand up and say We will not be ruled
by crazies and killers,
by shotguns and bombs and acid.
We will not dwell in the caves of fear.
We will make each other strong.
We will make each other safe.
There is no other monument.

December 10, 2008

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Merle Hoffman is the publisher and editor-in-chief of On The Issues Magazine.

Also see Sarah Palin and the Apocalypse by Merle Hoffman in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See The Terror-Submission Backlash by Susan Faludi in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


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