To the editors:
A few thoughts for Michael Miner, who spent this week’s Hot Type column [April 23] scratching his head and wondering, “Gosh, why aren’t more women demanding military action in Bosnia?”
First off, I imagine many of us women aren’t naive enough to think that our own troops can be counted on to conduct themselves altogether virtuously toward Bosnian women. If you’re a typically busy man and haven’t much time to devote to the subject, you need only study the section on Vietnam in Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will to learn that good old American boys are as capable of repeated acts of rape as are Serbs.
Secondly, if Miner truly hasn’t “heard from the half of the country that might feel most agitated by their government’s inaction” perhaps he’s not bothering to listen. I know more than a few women who feel we should have intervened long ago. Whenever we express this view, we’re told–by men usually–that we don’t understand the situation, that it’s too complex, that it will escalate into a bigger, messier conflict. I write letters to my representatives, I make donations to relief organizations, and I pray. I’ll bet lots of women are doing the same, but since we don’t have high-profile forums in the media Miner hasn’t heard of us.
Nevertheless, I’m grateful that Miner’s devoted a whole column to the subject. And I have a suggestion for him: why don’t you direct your self-righteous media scrutiny toward your own supposedly alternative paper? I count seven regular columns in the Reader: Miner’s own Hot Type, the Straight Dope, City File, Field & Street, the Sports Section, Hitsville, and Culture Club. They are all written by men. In addition the Neighborhood News is always written by a man as are the movie reviews. The music reviews and even critic’s choices on music are all written by men. Of the 11 staff writers listed on your masthead only one is a woman. It’s true you run some excellent features written by women, and at least as far as your arts coverage is concerned there’s some equity. But for the most part women are relegated to fluffy subjects like cute fashion blurbs and restaurant reviews; THERE IS NO REGULAR FORUM IN THE READER FOR A WOMAN’S OPINIONS.
Therefore, Mr. Miner, since you ache to hear from us, why don’t you step down from your Hot Type throne and hand it over to a woman? Why don’t you (as a Senior Editor you must have some clout) demand that the Reader hire more female staff writers? Plenty of excellent women writers are published regularly in local publications, including quite a few in the mainstream, conservative Tribune. There’s no shortage of women writers in Chicago so what gives at the Reader?
By the way, other than writing this week’s column (which comes rather late in the game, wouldn’t you say?), what have you done to relieve the suffering of Bosnian women or to prevent further atrocities?
PS: In the first section of this week’s Reader there are 26 bylines, 21 male and 5 female. That’s pathetic. Perhaps your editor or publisher (what a surprise–they’re both men, too!) can explain why the Reader publishes so few women writers.
Michael Miner replies:
Ms. Schumacher’s letter gives me an opportunity to return to the column that prompted her to write. As always, I was driven by space and partisanship to make choices, and my choice this time was to give the argument for intervention more room than the argument against it. Ms. Schumacher’s second paragraph raises the latter argument.
Madre’s Vivian Stromberg, whom I quoted very briefly, actually made the case at length when I interviewed her. Madre recently sponsored a series of symposiums in Chicago and other cities on rape in war, and I devoted much of the column to a Bosnian American participant and a woman in the Chicago audience who both felt the program kept wandering from the immediate crisis facing Bosnian women.
Then I asked Stromberg why she supported the convening of a war crimes tribunal to examine the atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, with rape to be among the war crimes judged, but did not support armed intervention. She said, “I would have no problem doing that if I thought that would stop the situation. I’m not a pacifist. I’m not coming from that vantage point. But I don’t feel like there’s any reason to think that one invading army or one armed force will be less dangerous than another armed force. If it’s a United Nations force there are some greater guarantees, perhaps, but there have also been reports of UN forces raping women.”
She went on, “You know, after the gulf war I think we sent 60,000 troops to Thailand for rest and recreation. What the hell did they go to Thailand for for rest and recreation! Because the people there are so poor. Why aren’t women in desperate need provided for in a way that doesn’t require them to turn their bodies over? A person is absolutely entitled not to have her body violated . . .
“I also think that if you’re courageous enough to address one piece of this [Balkan] crisis, that should not require you to pretend to have the answer to the whole crisis. I’ve been doing this work for 34 years and I’m not as smart as some people who started to do it five minutes ago who think they know the right answers.”