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Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, Feminism in the Time of Coronavirus

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Let me state the obvious: Right now, we could hardly be in a more unsettled moment on a more unsettled planet. And I feel it personally. This old man has deserted New York, the city where I was born almost 76 years ago, the streets where I grew up, the place I returned to in 1976 and have lived in ever since. I've left what's now being called the "epicenter" of the coronavirus pandemic and headed for a possibly (but who knows?) safer place on a planet that, in so many ways, couldn't feel less safe.

Everything seems ever less familiar to me in a once-familiar world on the brink of who knows what in both health and economic terms. Today, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes, considers in striking fashion just how unsettling this coronaviral moment of ours has been (and will be) for women in ways large and small, global and local. Tom

The Future May Be Female
But the Pandemic Is Patriarchal
By Rebecca Gordon

Before I found myself "sheltering in place," this article was to be about women's actions around the world to mark March 8th, International Women's Day. From Pakistan to Chile, women in their millions filled the streets, demanding that we be able to control our bodies and our lives. Women came out in Iraq and Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Peru, the Philippines and Malaysia. In some places, they risked beatings by masked men. In others, they demanded an end to femicide -- the millennia-old reality that women in this world are murdered daily simply because they are women.

In 1975 the Future Was Female

This year's celebrations were especially militant. It's been 45 years since the United Nations declared 1975 the International Women's Year and sponsored its first international conference on women in Mexico City. Similar conferences followed at five-year intervals, culminating in a 1995 Beijing conference, producing a platform that has in many ways guided international feminism ever since.

Beijing was a quarter of a century ago, but this year, women around the world seemed to have had enough. On March 9th, Mexican women staged a 24-hour strike, un dà a sin nosotras (a day without us women), to demonstrate just how much the world depends on the labor -- paid and unpaid -- of... yes, women. That womanless day was, by all accounts, a success. The Wall Street Journal observed -- perhaps with a touch of astonishment -- that "Mexico grinds to a halt. Hundreds of thousands of women paralyzed Mexico in an unprecedented nationwide strike to protest a rising wave of violence against women, a major victory for their cause."

In addition to crowding the streets and emptying factories and offices, some women also broke store windows and fought with the police. Violence? From women? What could have driven them to such a point?

Perhaps it was the murder of Ingrid Escamilla, 25, a Mexico City resident, who, according to the New York Times, "was stabbed, skinned and disemboweled" this February. Maybe it was that the shooting of the artist and activist Isabel Cabanillas de la Torre in Ciudad Juarez, a barely noted reminder to an uninterested world that women have been disappearing for decades along the U.S.-Mexico border. Or maybe it was just the fact that official figures for 2019 revealed more than 1,000 femicides in Mexico, a 10% increase from the previous year, while many more such murders go unrecorded.

Is the Pandemic Patriarchal?

If it weren't for the pandemic, maybe the Wall Street Journal would have been right. Maybe the Day Without Women would have been only the first of many major victories. Maybe the international feminist anthem, "El violador eres tà " (You [the patriarchy, the police, the president] are the rapist), would have gone on inspiring flash-mobs of dancing, chanting women everywhere. Perhaps the world's attention might not have been so quickly diverted from the spectacle of women's uprisings globally. Now, however, in the United States and around the world, it's all-pandemic-all-the-time, and with reason. The coronavirus has done what A Day Without Women could not: it's brought the world's economy to a shuddering halt. It's infected hundreds of thousands of people and killed tens of thousands. And it continues to spread like a global wildfire.

Like every major event and institution, the pandemic affects women and men differently. Although men who fall sick seem more likely than women to die, in other respects, the pandemic and its predictable aftermath are going to be harder on women. How can that be? The writer Helen Lewis provides some answers in the Atlantic.

First of all, the virus, combined with mass quarantine measures, ensures that more people will need to be cared for. This includes older people who are especially at risk of dying and children who are no longer in school or childcare. In developed countries like the United States, people fortunate enough to be able to keep their jobs by working from home are discovering that the presence of bored children does not make this any easier.

Indeed, last night, my little household was treated to a song-and-dance performance by two little girls who live a couple of houses down the street. Their parents had spent the day helping them plan it and then invited us to watch from our backyard. What they'll do tomorrow, a workday, I have no idea. A friend without children has offered to provide daily 15-minute Zoom lessons on anything she can Google, as a form of respite for her friends who are mothers.

As recently as a week ago, it looked as if shuttered schools might open again before the academic year ends, allowing one New York Times commentator to write an article headlined "I Refuse to Run a Coronavirus Home School." An associate professor of educational leadership, the author says she's letting her two children watch TV and eat cookies, knowing that no amount of quick-study is going to turn her into an elementary school teacher. I applaud her stance, but also suspect that the children of professionals will probably be better placed than those of low-wage workers to resume the life-and-death struggle for survival in the competitive jungle that is kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade education in this country.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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