Albion Monitor /Commentary
[Editor's note: For more on the "Beijing and Back" class and Dr. Stevenson, see the news item elsewhere in this edition.]

Would you Call Your Mom a "Femi-Nazi?"

by Stephanie Hiller

"I'm not doing anything with you femi-Nazis"

"I had a horrible confrontation with one of my colleagues," said Dr. Tam Stevenson, the faculty member at SRJC who created "Beijing and Back," an innovative class designed to share and implement the Platform for Action developed at the Beijing Women's Conference last August.

Attended by 30,000 women from l89 countries, the Conference was heralded world-wide as a triumphant convergence of women's activists which dared to announce that "women's rights are human rights", that rape is a crime, and that women possess the inalienable right to refuse their sexual favors.

"At Beijing there were twelve topics, and I had to cover them in eight weeks, so I collapsed two -- Poverty, and Economic Development Policy -- into one.

"I wanted someone to talk about women's participation in the economy from the point of view of an economist.

"Specifically, we wanted to look at the impact of economic developmental policy on women, especially women of Third World countries.

"Over the past 50 years, these countries have borrowed money from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for building roads, bridges, electric plants and so on, in order to become primary producers. The interest rates have been exorbitant, and now they owe more money than they will ever, ever make.

"Stipulations are put into their budgets to make sure the lending institutions are getting what they want. They may be allowed to buy arms, for example, but they can't have a rural health center. They can build roads so that multinational corporations can go in and cut down trees, but they can't build schools. It's neo-colonialism, but it's economic, not political.

"No money is left for health, education, welfare and the environment. Women and children pay the highest price."

Stevenson's voice in my telephone is at once demulcent and knowedgeable as she explains to my untrained intelligence how these "structural adjustments" affect women throughout the world, not excluding Americans still facing an urgent thrust in Congress to slice the very same programs in order to "balance the budget."

"I asked this professor to speak because he is the only inter-national economist on the faculty and he teaches a course which extols the benefits of NAFTA and GATT. I wanted to bring that point of view to the discourse, rather than, you know, simply having women say, This is not fair.

"He said, Economics is a science, and science is gender-neutral. There's no such thing as gender perspective in economics."

"Wonderful, I thought. Just what I wanted my students to hear. I said, Please, come talk to my class.

"He said, I'm not doing anything with you femi-Nazis."

"I was deeply hurt. It was completely inappropriate behavior."

Why do men feel so challenged by a woman's claim to equality?

Dr. Stevenson has a PhD in Anthropology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. A widow with five daughters, she is a woman of consummate grace and elegance who shies away from any discourse which attempts to polarize and enrage participants. She objects to the title of the forthcoming San Francisco March to Fight the Right for that reason; warfare is not her intent.

Long after our conversation, the word "femi-Nazi" hangs in the air about my head. It is awful enough that Pat Buchanan referred to the women at Beijing as "lesbians, whores and dingbats" -- women from such outrageous and defiant organizations as the YWCA, the Soroptomists Guild, and the Red Cross, among others -- but for a professor at the JC to use this word "femi-Nazi" about another member of the faculty and her students is desperately damaging, and speaks from a depth of hostile misogyny such as all heterosexual women would prefer to deny. We like men; certainly, we want to be liked by them; more, we want to be understood. And we wonder, Why? Why do men feel so challenged by a woman's claim to equality?

Given the stupendous privilege men currently enjoy, and have enjoyed for ages, their secure position, their monetary and, yes, physical power in the world, why does a word or a sentence spoken on behalf of women cause them to lash out like this professor, without provocation or warning? Why does a statement of self-worth by a woman strike a man's ears like an affront?

The very concept of a female Nazi is loathsome, and completely inaccurate. Nazism is a distinctly male phenomenon, patriarchal in the extreme, militaristic, hierarchical, elitist, utilizing power in its most negative form to dominate and control through torture, murder, and rape.

Beijing was a powerful moment in our history

It has not been women, generally speaking, who have raped and pillaged, tortured and defiled on the road to power.

Instantly, I can hear the choir of protest, the accusation that such a statement is "sexist," the diatribe about sadomasochism among lesbians, as if the private behavior of a very small percentage of women who, for whatever reason, voluntarily submit to physical abuse, could be considered comparable to the massacres wrought by the Nazis, or the Khmer Rouge, or the Serbs, or the Ku Klux Klan. We have endured centuries of such torture, all essentially Nazi in nature. What on earth does the movement for women's rights -- for the rights of all people -- have in common with such as those, for whom the rights of any group are but twigs in their path to glory, insignificant debris to be stepped on, and crushed.

And I wonder, Are good men so deeply ashamed of the inglorious works of man that they must deny the reality of the violence perpetrated almost entirely by their own gender; and in their denial project their fear and hostility onto any woman who dares to say, even with the utmost gentility, that women, too, are entitled to the same inalienable rights which men have held for centuries?

Beijing was a powerful moment in our history, when 30,000 women from 189 countries put into words their assessment of the condition of women, their perceptions of the remedy, their vision for a better world in which women's rights and the rights of all people are dearly cherished.

But Beijing did not bring peace to the world or even establish the priorities that women would like to see approved by their governments. The real work is still ahead of us, and women face enormous opposition. The dark force that would squash them is the same greedy monster which seems impelled to gobble up everyone's right everywhere to eat safe food, to drink fresh water and to sing the songs of their hearts.

This is our work: to stop that relentless machine fueled by desire for power and wealth, and replace it with sustenance. To make the world safe for our children, which it isn't today.

If women are brave enough to take up the gauntlet, boldly confronting that aberration of manhood which we have named patriarchy, which threatens by its very institutions the future of our species, -- if women are willing to take the risk of changing old habits to stop the path of destruction, generously offering to clean up the poison scattered all over the fields by retreating armies, taking a stand for life, for peace, for justice and equality, why should an economics professor be mad?

Men should be pleased.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor April 15, 1996 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page