Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Violence Toward and Hatred of Women: A Global Epidemic

Three hundred schoolgirls abducted weeks ago in Nigeria and the government there does more or less nothing, even though the crazy group that abducted them has a history of selling women they abduct into sex slavery because that is all women are good for in their minds.  Rampant sexual harassment and abuse in the US military--of both women and men--by serial predators who have carte blanche from their COs to continue the behavior.  Gang rapes and attacks on women by frat "boys" and college athletes that are hushed up by university administrations because it is "bad publicity".  The continuing problem of sexual harassment of female students by (mostly male) faculty members in positions of power over them--again buried and silenced by administrations anxious to present their institutions as enlightened and egalitarian. The list goes on and on.

And now this: a clearly disturbed young man whose own family was concerned about him (but not enough to actually monitor his behavior and engage him directly) goes on a killing spree intent on "punishing" the men around him having sex and the women around him who won't allow him access.

How is this different from the murderers and thugs called Boko Haram?  How is this different from the murderers and thugs called the Taliban?  How is this different from the murderers and thugs we might encounter on the streets every day, who beat their wives, say disgusting things about women, enjoy watching violent pornography in which women are victimized, and terrorize their neighbors, even if they do nothing overtly illegal that could provide some kind of amelioration of the community's victimization?

Here is the problem: the objectification of women is not new and it is not going to be addressed through law (although that does at least give women some recourse) or through handwringing.  The objectification of women derives from millennia-long attitudes by the dominant patriarchal cultures that ALL saw the need to confine, vilify, abuse, and erase women in order to present men as purer, better, and more able to govern and rule.  And why?  Friedrich Engels and Gerda Lerner both saw the sexual enslavement of women as the origins of notions of private property and "civilization": if women were in control of their own bodies, then men would not have guaranteed sexual access to them.  If women had positions of autonomy then men couldn't guarantee that they would be in charge.  So women had to be controlled, confined, and limited.  The only way to do this effectively was--and in many cases still is--to condemn women's sexuality and to equate female-ness with everything undesirable in a "civilized" world.

I consider myself to be something of a relativist in that I don't consider western culture to be inherently superior to all other cultures and I don't have a progressive view of civilization.  I do, however, draw the line at a relativistic view of attitudes about women.  There is nothing sacred about a culture's denigration of women; there is nothing valid about any culture's claim of female inferiority; there is nothing appropriate in any culture's use of law, religion, or custom to keep women enslaved, confined, uneducated, and abused.

The problem is that (male-dominated) governments and organizations, including the United Nations, are themselves highly selective about the times when they intervene on behalf of abused women and most of the time do nothing.  How is it that the United States can conveniently highlight the Taliban's treatment of women but continue to say nothing about the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia or any other country that is allied with the US in which women are enslaved and materially and sexually exploited?  How is it that police departments in the United States can talk about the horrible tragedy of some crazy guy who goes on a rampage of horrific violence and yet refuse to address the issues of misogyny and sexism within their own departments?  How is it that universities can claim to have a "zero-tolerance" policy against predatory violence and yet pressure victims of such violence not to go to the police, not to press charges, and not to air their grievances publicly?  How is it that religious organizations can self-righteously proclaim that they don't discriminate against women while denying them leadership roles in the organizations and burying the rampant predatory behavior of some of their own personnel?

Until everyone steps up and speaks truth to power--no matter the source of that power--nothing will happen.  It is beyond time to authorize the definition of feminism as "the revolutionary notion that women are PEOPLE" and use it to challenge every single incidence of nasty, smarmy, snarky, and denigrating speech against women, and to demand that the presentation of violence against women as "normal" and "culturally-appropriate" be itself vilified and erased.  And then we have to teach our children--and be vigilant in their education--not to tolerate these attitudes at any time.

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