Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On Women...

Back on March 8, 2011, an idea for a new blogpost took root.  Women.  And more specifically,  challenges we face that are particular to our sex alone.  This isn't going to be a feminist rant per se (though I would say I'm a feminist), but I've been reading some things of late: The Millenium Series, Columbine, 3096 Days, to be exact, and had some encounters of my own that have gotten me thinking.

So first, a belated reflection on International Women's Day.  What does this day commemorate?  According to the official website, "International Women's Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future... International Women's Day honours the work of the Suffragettes, celebrates women's success, and reminds of inequities still to be redressed."

You may have seen Daniel Craig's video where he's dressed in drag and Judi Dench intones:

"We’re equals, aren’t we 007? Yet it is 2011 and a man is still likely to earn more money than a woman, even one doing the same job. You have a far better chance of entering political office, or becoming a company director. As a man, you’re less likely to be judged by promiscuous behavior…which is just as well, frankly. And hardly any chance of falling victim to sexual assault. And unlike the 30,000 women in the UK who lose their jobs annually due to pregnancy, there will be virtually no risk to your career if you chose to become a parent. Or, became one accidentally. For someone with such a fondness for women, I wonder if you have ever considered what it might be like to be one.

The world has changed. But the numbers remain stacked against us. Women are responsible for 2/3 of the work done worldwide, yet earn only 10% of the total income, and own 1% of the property. It’s not just about money and power. Every year, 70 million girls are deprived of even a basic education. And a staggering 60 million are sexually assaulted on their way to school. We’re afraid to walk the streets at night, yet some of us are even more afraid to return to our own homes. At least 1 in 4 are victims of domestic violence. And every week, two women in the UK are killed by a current or former partner.

So, are we equals?

Until the answer is yes, we must never stop asking."

So much of what she said resonated with me, particularly when she talks about sexual assault, domestic violence, and being afraid to walk the streets at night.  Did you know that one in two women will be a victim of some form of sexual assault in the course of her lifetime?  That, to say nothing of the 1 in 4 who are victims of domestic violence, is a staggering statistic.  I have been fortunate thus far, and have not been a victim of sexual assault, but I know people who have and work with women at DAIS who have suffered in an abusive relationship.  I shook with terror as a neighbor was beaten by her partner, uncertain of what to do (I called the police, but it didn't put an end to things).  I know the fear that comes from walking alone at night and the anger and frustration that comes from being accosted in the street by guys who think it's perfectly okay.  Before I went on my snowboarding trip (at 6:45am!), a dude approached me and said, "Weeds".  Not expecting an English word, and really, it's not a standard conversational greeting in any language, I said, "Comment?" ("What?"), and he promptly took some weed out of his pocket and proposed we smoke a joint before I hit the slopes.  "No thanks, and please leave me alone" was my response.  His reply?  "Je t'encule."  Most offensive, male-to-female insult ever, much to my horror.  I was not a happy camper, but I also wanted to be sure I was safe.  Frustrating that the best way to defend myself was silence, when what I really wanted to do was yell at him.  Sadly, I think this is often the course of action taken in even more serious situations.

This experience was only further thrown into relief by what I've been reading lately.  Take The Millennium Trilogy, for example.  Apparently, Stieg Larsson witnessed a gang rape when he was younger, and part of his goal in writing the series was to create strong female characters who can outsmart and outwit their masculine counterparts.  He also relays stories about real strong women as narrative frames for different sections... like the some six hundred women who served during the American Civil War and the Amazons.  I loved that about the series, but there are also some gruesome scenes of violence against women.  The violence certainly flows in both directions, but there's a certain mentality that is disturbing with regard to the violence against women.  Those scenes, though fictional, are not far from reality, as I discovered when I read 3096 Days, Natascha Kampusch's memoir.  She was held captive and brutalized for 8 and a half years by a guy you would never expect (so much so that the police actually came and talked to him early during her captivity, and didn't pursue further investigation).  EIGHT AND A HALF YEARS.  From age 10 to 18. 

Eric Harris's journal entries in Columbine were no different.  His reflections and fantasies about raping and harming women in particular, to say nothing of his desire to cause the extinction of his entire high school, are, well, alarming.  I know these are extreme cases, but such examples are certainly not few and far between, and I can't help but wonder about the root cause of these types of behaviors and why they are particular to men (studies on psychopathy indicate that about 3-5% of the population exhibit characteristics of the anti-social personality disorder, and 1% are truly psychopathic.  According to this article in the Scientific American, the majority of those are men. It's definitely related to brain chemistry (psychopaths actually respond differently to images of pain!  the parts of the brain related to empathy aren't active!  whoa!), but there are other factors as well. 

All thoughts on psychopathy aside, if I have sons, I want to be sure I raise them to treat women (and everyone else, but particularly women) with respect.  And I'm grateful for the men in my life who aren't aggressive, disrespectful, or violent.

My thoughts on these things are still a little disorganized, disjointed, un peu flou... there may be another related blogpost on the subject in the future, but for now I'll just leave it in the same place Judi Dench did--until we have reached the point of equality, we must never stop asking why that is and how we can change it.  

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