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Don’t Bring Saudi Women Into Your (Misguided) Argument Against Feminism

For women, it seems like it’s basically Internet law that if you tweet or share something about feminism, and you live in the United States or another country deemed “progressive” for women, a stranger will bark a line like one of the following:

“#InternationalWomensDay because spoiled American and European women are struggling like Saudi, iraqi, Afghani, Yemen, and Somali women,” one person tweeted.

“Western feminists whining about sexism won’t do sh*t for the women in the Middle-East,” said another.

“On #InternationalWomensDay , remind a privileged western “feminist” that women in Saudi Arabia can’t drive and see if they give a damn,” tweeted another.

As a reporter focused on covering women’s rights, I’ve seen my fair share of people — most of whom are conservative, at least according to their social media bios — tweeting these types of comments to myself and other women I know.

And I’ve noticed that this has become increasingly common since Trump has become president, and as women protest against a person who has bragged about sexually assaulting women and being anti-choice. It happened during International Women’s Day, as well as during the Women’s March in January, where some conservatives, including commentator Charlie Kirk (who’s been dubbed a “major player” in conservative politics) and Republican politician Mike Huckabee said that if women were truly concerned about women’s rights, they’d “head to the Saudi embassy” or “protest the fact women in Saudi Arabia can’t drive or vote.”

One right-wing website said women in the U.S. who protest against Trump “consciously ignore truly oppressed women around the world who live without the rights Americans sometimes take for granted.” Another said women should protest “real” women’s issues like “the women kidnapped by ISIS,” and not just demand abortions.

But all of these arguments are actually hypocritical. On the one hand, their comments give the impression that they care about the lives of women halfway around the world. On conservative news sites and Facebook pages, they share true articles about ISIS militants enslaving and raping Yazidi girls, and about Saudi Arabia banning women from getting behind the wheel. They say it is an outrage that such violence and discrimination against women can be committed.

On the other hand, they show with their votes that they don’t want women and girl refugees from conflict-ridden Middle Eastern countries such as Syria or Iraq to come into their country, backing politicians with hard-line approaches to banning people from “Muslim” countries and cutting refugee intake.

Meanwhile, Trump’s administration reportedly wants to slash the State Department’s and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s budgets in order to make up for military spending — potentially devastating women’s development and gender equality programs in the Middle East and around the world.

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*In this Op-Ed, journalist and Fuller Project for International Reporting contributor Rossalyn Warren explores the feigned concern about women in the Middle East she often sees as a response to outspoken feminism on the Internet.

[Photo Credit: Kena Betancur/ Getty Images]
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