On Slate's XX Factor blog, Hanna Rosin argues that "Jihad Jane" (aka Colleen LaRose) is a feminist because she's part of a cohort of female terrorist wannabes who have been pushing al Qaeda for a larger role in murder and mayhem.
"Even the [original Daily Beast] headline ["Feminist Jihad"] makes sense to me. Although it’s a tease, “feminist,” in this case, does not mean the American definition of feminist. You could put together a cultural riff about how Jihad Jane and Amy Bishop represent the outer edge of the new American feminist power. (See the Lady Gaga video: Lady killers are hot right now.) But the “feminist” label here refers to surprising changes within the terrorist organizations. Richard Miniter convincingly makes the case that the women have been pressuring Jihad leaders to let them be bombers, and that the leaders were at first reluctant but eventually relented." [Emphasis added] [LB: By the time I clicked through to the Daily Beast article on Friday afternoon, the head had been changed to "Defending Jihad Jane."]"
You couldn't put together a "cultural riff" about how Amy Bishop and Jihad Jane represent the outer edge of feminist power unless you were completely indifferent to the truth--which is pretty much Slate/XX's core brand idea. There's a reason #slatepitches took off as a satirical parlor game on twitter. Players vie to synthesize the most vacuously "counterintuitive" story idea in 140 characters or less.
Rosin's post reminds me of a line from Harry Frankfort's philosophical inquiry, On Bullshit: "It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth -- this indifference to how things really are -- that I regard as of the essence of bullshit." Slate/XX excels at saying things just to say them. In fairness, Rosin was responding to her co-blogger Jessica Grose who took the Daily Beast to task for the article and the headline.
Far from being a symbol of power, Colleen LaRose is a pathetic and marginal figure who may well be mentally ill. I mean, she waged "jihad" with facebook updates. Her neighbors knew her as the "crazy lady" who talked to her cats. Some feminists love cats, but not all cat-lovers are feminists. As far as feminism goes, LaRose allegedly swore allegiance to al Qaeda, one of the most sexist organizations in the world--the guys who brought us global war for perpetual patriarchy.
Rosin incorrectly assumes that any woman who strives to get ahead a male-dominated organization is automatically a feminist. If feminism means anything at all, it is an ideology of women's liberation. In order to be a feminist, you have to value women's equality and women's liberation in general. There are different ways to state that basic commitment, but it doesn't change the bottom line: If you self-consciously dedicate your life to subordinating women as a group, you maybe be hypocrite or a fool (or an alcoholic nutcase like LaRose), but you're not a feminist--even if you have to ruffle some male feathers to get what you think you deserve. The idea that female ambition equals feminism is a serious and widespread misconception. I suspect Rosin knows better, but doesn't care. It's cuter to say, "No, really, it is kind of Girl Power to take on the big boys of al Qaeda."
The original Daily Beast story makes the case that even al Qaeda isn't immune from the rising tide of female agency. Even if the author's right about the historical trends, that wouldn't mean that would-be suicide bombers are feminists. It would mean that feminists changed the world and al Qaeda and other patriarchies are on the wrong side of history. There's a big difference.
Amy Bishop, the professor who shot six of her colleagues after being denied tenure at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, was an emotionally unstable woman with a long history of non-ideological violence. As a teenager, she killed her own brother and allegedly stole a getaway car at gunpoint. As an adult, she was charged with assault for punching a fellow IHOP customer during an argument over a kiddie booster seat. To Slate's credit, Emily Bazelon published a letter from an employee of the University of Alabama who wrote in to debunk the myth that Bishop's crime had anything to do with sexism, in her mind or in reality:
"Yes, Amy was frustrated, and perhaps that led to murder. But she was also nuts. There is no evidence that: 1) Gender was a factor in her denial of tenure; or 2) she thought in gendered terms when she started killing. She murdered those who had supported her case for tenure and shot the department secretary in the face. She put the pistol to the head of her (female) mentor, and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed. Thelma & Louise, she ain't."
Rosin is a feminist, but she's not doing the movement any favors by reinforcing spurious connections between violent crazy women and feminism. Anti-feminists will be able to point to her post and say, "Even feminists admit..." I'd expect to see the "terrorist=feminist" meme on an anti-feminist site like the Independent Women's Forum. Sure enough, in 2006, Charlotte Allen posted "Terrorist Feminism: "You, Too, Can Be a Suicide Bomber" on the IWF blog. Double X is a nominally feminist blog. They need to stop repackaging anti-feminist nonsense as contrarian cleverness.
Photo credit: A mug shot of Colleen LaRose, dated 1997, released by the Tom Green County Jail in San Angelo, TX.