Another sharp critique of Ellen Willis

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat Mar 29 06:50:09 MST 2003

(From Michael Pollak, one of the sharper minds on LBO-Talk)

On Fri, 28 Mar 2003, Doug Henwood wrote:
 > I was stunned at least twice during the interview [with EW]

I was even more stunned when you asked what I thought was a perfectly
pointed question. You started from her assertion that religious
fundamentalism was the main enemy of progressives, and especially of
feminists. After a passing reference to how there were more religious
fundamentalists in the US government than the Iraqi, you went on to ask
how this position could be reconciled with supporting an attack on Iraq,
which was both the most secular of the Arab states and the one in which
women had made the greatest progress.

That seem like a pretty solid question, and I was interested in how she'd
answer it. It couldn't have been the first time she'd heard it. And I
was stunned. First she essentially admitted that all that stuff about
religion was beside the point. It was really fascism that she was
against, which was "like" religious fundamentalism because they were both
cults. Saddam was a fascist, and this was a totalitarian society, and
that's why it was our duty . . .

And she began to sound exactly like Jeanne Kirkpatrick. Until at the very
end when she added "and I believe all of this fundamentally comes from

At that point my head spun in a circle. She'd shown the essence of
fundamentalism was its worst enemy, and that the essence of patriarchy was
completely independent of the treatment of women.

But worst of all, at this level of abstraction, there is no society in
history that isn't patriarchal. So there is none that her version of
feminism wouldn't grant a warrant to progressives for attacking.

And I thought, what an awful, ironic end for a libratory theory to come
to. And for one of the foremost exponents of its libratory potential.

Because you know she could have left that step out. She could have just
said that Saddam was a fascist, and she was an anti-fascist, and being
against him was like being against Hitler. You could agree or disagree
but it would be coherent. The patriarchy stuff is a wheel that doesn't
turn the mechanism.

But if she did that, it would mean admitting that religion and feminism
have nothing to do with this war, and that everything she's written is
irrelevant. And there really wouldn't be any difference left between her
and Jeanne Kirkpatrick when it came to the US's worldwide duty to rollback
totalitarean regimes.


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