Refugees, Families & Feminism
Two stories caught my eye this morning, both relating to families. In one, Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung champions the rights of mothers to return to work the week they give birth. In the other in The Wall Street Journal, Joe Parkinson in Istanbul and David George-Cosh in Toronto analyze the ways Nilufer Demir’s photograph of Alan Kurdi, a drowned, 3-year-old Syrian refugee boy, has gone viral.
What’s the link between the two pieces? “We” still haven’t figured out what our responsibilities are to all families: men, women, and children around the world.
As for Leung’s piece, when will privileged women who work in highly-paid jobs re-frame their choices so that they lobby for the rights of all parents — men, women, rich, poor? I get that women are judged unfairly when they choose to “go back to work” soon after giving birth, while the decisions and behaviors of their privileged male counterparts receive nary an eyebrow raise. The different standards and treatments deserve scrutiny. But. The bigger issue is that they have choices. They have jobs to return to, they can choose when they want to return to work, and, most probably, they can even decide IF they want to return to work. What doesn’t get said? They can afford the best possible child care that enables them to leave their infants behind. To write a piece that does not mention the role privilege plays in women’s choices is to miss the bigger picture…
…of the picture. Nilufer Demir — a woman — captured what may turn out to be the single most compelling image of the Syrian refugee crisis: a toddler, face-down on the beach, drowned in his family’s attempt to find safety in the EU. Several important points, here:
Until we sidestep nationalism and bring our attention to crises around the world affecting families and young children, we aren’t doing justice to the principles of feminism.
The photographer Demir answered questions about the photos she took of dead refugees washing up on the beach. She was asked “as a woman,” how she felt seeing the dead toddler on the beach. “As a woman?” Why would anyone assume that a woman’s grief would be any different from a man’s when seeing dead children washing in with the tide?
Last: why are “we” moved to act when confronted with the image of what “we” consider the most innocent victim, a child? All refugees are innocent victims. What has any of these men, women, or children done to deserve the chaos inflicted on them by people who put power, -isms, and money ahead of the wellbeing of families?