Friday, March 8, 2013

Still Shocked: Thoughts on Human Rights and Women

Happy International Women's Day! 

Read this article Violence Against Women  
if you are going to read anything. 
It's better written and contains a ton more resources on the state of women in the world
 than does the following blog post of my musings.

If you have the time, then read this: On Oscar Pistorius and Misogyny

If you still have time, you may proceed to my rambling blog post 
of many thoughts on women in the world.

I currently live in the Dominican Republic. As a woman, if I walk in the city here, I am shouted at and approached in the streets constantly (also, of course, as a foreign woman, but it happens to local women too). The women and girls in the immigrant community where I live are often pregnant or raising children (sometimes not their own) at a very young age. They mostly work from home or as venders on the street. Prostitution is common. They are sexualized early. It looks different everywhere, but everywhere women face a struggle. The degree of the struggle, the length of the fight, the look and taste and smell of it are different, but it is everywhere.

I find it terrifying and discouraging that we still have to have a "conversation" or a "dialogue" about the "rights of women" (which are actually just human rights) and women in the media and violence against women. Women are being killed, harrassed, raped, beaten, verbally and physically assaulted in every country, in every city, every day. This is no longer a discussion. This is a reality that must be confronted. There IS a U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and they are having their annual meeting (read more here), but my cynical side wonders how much that will really accomplish. Still, at least it exists.

The world (society/humankind) relates to women in a different way than to men. Media treats women differently. Laws treat women differently. Social expectations are different for women. Much of this may seem natural, women and men are different after all.  But a lot of it is just plain silly, and a lot more of it is just plain wrong. The wrong ranges from female politicians being judged on their hairstyles more than their talking points, to 1 in 3 women being the subject of a rape, assault or form of violence. ONE IN THREE. 1 in 3. Can I say it again? ONE out of any THREE women that you know has likely dealt with violence from men. The statistic certainly holds true in my life.

There might be three women near you on the metro, in a bar, in your class, in your office. One of them was a victim of assault, violence or rape. That means that you personally know a woman who was raped or beaten or nearly escaped it. You might be that woman.  If one in three people, of any gender, were murdered or nearly murdered at knife point in in the USA something more would be done about it. There would be a huge out cry about the state of our country and our streets. Not that people aren't horrified about rape...but statistics sure don't show that anything is being done.

Violence against women is embedded in our language. The world girl is an insult! (That's for girls! That's girly!). THE NAME OF A GENDER IS AN INSULT. Pfft, you may say, that's not violent! It starts there, it starts small. Think of how arguments and anger or wonderful, big ideas can start from the tiniest image or word. Think about children being told they are stupid every day for five years. Wouldn't they start to believe it? It's the same with gendered insults.

Now think of a five year old girl you know (I can think of my students). Maybe she is hyper or rowdy or precocious or loves to sing or wants to be a farmer. Realize that the name of part of her identity is an insult. That is what she gets to grow into. That is what we have grown into.

I read this fantastic article a few weeks ago about fashion and women that shows how the insult of "girly" follows us from being 7 on the playground well into adulthood.
(Personally, I think spending a fortune on sports and clothes are equally silly in ethical terms...however, I would go to the French Open (tennis)  and own a ball gown in a heartbeat if I had the money...)

But that's getting into the ethics of capitalism. This is about the ladies, the fact that something is a problem ONLY because it is about the ladies (fashion) and yet the men are actually running the show and getting the rewards. Can you get anymore duped? This might seem like something small compared to the statistics on rape, but it is all part of a cultural cycle, a self-perpetuating cycle.

Feminist has become a dirty word, and it is much talked about whenever a celebrity actually "comes out" as one.  Equal rights for ladies! Oh, how scandelous! The cultural cycle continues its vicious turn by throwing up yet another degrading stereotype of women. Being called an "angry feminist" or even an "angry woman" is often used as a disparaging remark. It is basic human decency to be angry when a fellow human being is abused, degraded, raped and killed. If you aren't angry by the treatment of women around the world, you must be living in a cave. Alone. Or you must really, really hate women. Oh, and the ridiculous label of post-feminism, as if we've arrived and there is no more work to do - we have arrived when that one in three statistic no longer exists.

This post is rambling and it has all been said before, I know.

It's just that I'm still shocked. Flabbergasted, eternally surprised that so many women, all over the world, can daily face verbal or physical abuse and the majority of the world's population either doesn't care, or doesn't care to show they do.

Women being subject to violence is NOT a woman's issue. It is not a progressive liberal issue, not a hairy feminist issue, not a hippie issue. Starving children, low literacy rates and dirty drinking water are considered issues that everyone can be concerned about. But the basic human right for safety, for opportunity, for walking down the street without being shouted at - that is only for the women to deal with, apparently. What if we did that to every human right's issue? Oh, you kids are starving? That's a children's issue, we adults can't deal with it. Oh, you're desperately poor? That's a poverty issue, us people with money can't touch it.

 I am frightened by the fact that the vast majority of men refuse to publicly stand alongside women in their fight against abuse, harassment and rape. I am frightened that many people refuse to see that using women as sexual objects to sell products, and constantly portraying them as one-dimensional and over-sexualized is harmful. I am frightened that men and women not only don't want to be called feminist, but don't wish to be labeled anything that would ally them in the fight for women's safety.  I am frightened that people have to ask why we still need to be in that fight at all.

We still have such a very long way to go.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I especially liked the last two paragraphs!