Looking for ways to measure 30 years of Ms., I scribbled down notes: the first issue featured unpublished work by Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, two dead women. Now there are talented writers with rooms of their own, who have no intention of committing suicide. Unnecessary mastectomies, cesareans, breast implants–all these were early Ms. exposs. Now readers need to know more about environmental causes, prevention, wellness. Ms. once had to prove that “women’s lib” was not confined to New York and California. Now the worldwide women’s movement is the most popular part of our coverage. Then come blank pages in my notebook. A few blocks away, terrorism had created an inferno that ended this country’s separation from the world forever.
Like so many women in other countries whose stories have been told in these pages, we had learned the painful reality behind words like terrorism…buried in the rubble…body count. Messages of shock and sorrow arrived at the Ms. office from Afghan women’s groups and Palestinian camps, Bosnia and India. Arab and Muslim women especially wanted us to know: this was not done in our name! Some messages were unspoken: why is your terrorism more serious than ours?
Then the kaleidoscope of memory turned, and the past fell into a new design. I remember meetings, soon after Ms. was launched, among Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. feminists. We were very conscious of invading male turf but hoped to build a bridge. After painful weeks of arguing, we agreed on a two-state solution–a Palestinian state and secure borders for Israel–that was neither original, nor without its irony. Many of us agreed with Virginia Woolf that, “as a woman, I have no country,” yet there we were, supporting two. In the end, male Palestinian colleagues of some of our members asked them not to sign, and we never published our agreement.
I thought again of our meetings when U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell insisted post-September 11 that the U.S. had been supporting a two-state solution all along. Israel’s Sharon responded with intransigence; Arafat with powerlessness. I wondered: if we had just kept on going, could we have cast a rope across the chasm before 30 years had widened it?
In 1980, hundreds of women leaders were invited by the U.S. State Department to hear a report on the Decade for Women. Because the U.S. had just begun to arm the mujahideen in their religious war against Afghanistan’s Soviet-backed government, this seemed hypocritical. Ms. had published reports from Afghanistan stating that “encouraging women to attend political meetings, reforming laws so that women could marry without parental consent, sending girls to school-these were the ‘sins’ of the Marxist government, and the reason that Orthodox Muslim tribesmen took up arms.” I and others stood up in the auditorium to protest U.S. support for gender apartheid.
Were we criticized? No, we weren’t taken that seriously. We were ignored. In the end, the U.S. gave a staggering $3 billion to the religious extremists; refugee camps produced male orphans who would become the Taliban; and Osama bin Laden, one of many who came from other countries to fight a holy war with U.S. arms, was so strengthened by defeating the godless Soviets that he has now decided to take on another superpower.
In retrospect, I wish we had occupied the State Department, chained ourselves to our chairs, and done anything to block these policies. I wish we had reached out to other women who knew firsthand the danger of fundamentalisms: from Hindu extremists in India who bomb mosques and burn widows to Buddhists in Japan who use poison gas in an “apocalyptic war”; from Christian cults in Uganda that rape and murder girls to Christian right-wingers here who bomb abortion clinics and murder doctors. As always with groups that must normalize violence, every one of them had created a hyper-masculinity to make men kill off the gentle